You’ve seen that part in the movie,the part when the angry bees or wasps or hornets—their nest unknowingly jostled by a passerby—descend upon the unwitting actors with a rage befitting Old Testament God. The swarm, a black, vibrating cloud of sound and needles strikes blindly at our characters, leaving them swollen, itching, and useless. This is Laurel and Hardy, Marx Brothers, Keaton stuff, gag stuff, set up stuff, the stuff of make believe. Surely these tiny little arthropods have better things to do than risk their lives in a Kamikaze assault on travelers who have no wish to do them harm. I am here to to tell you that no, these little airborne vehicles of misery absolutely do not have anything better to do. As it happened, our expedition had the chance to discover that these little yellow venom missiles love to get up early and they love to sting you over and over and over again.
My best guess is that while the sun rose to meet our early morning march, the penultimate morning of our trip, our earliest morning, and the morning of what would become the longest and most arduous day of our trip, one of our party managed to jostle the ground-based hive of a Ground Hornet colony. Unaware of this occurrence I thought nothing of the hornet as it landed on my hand, “Good morning mountain friend,” I thought, “please explore my knuckle hair, I know you are only passing through and mean me no harm.” This little creature, seemingly in compliance, quickly flew off—but just as quickly returned to the crotch of my right elbow. “Strange,” I thought, “I thought you had seen enough of my body to understand I mean you no harm.”
Pain is not immediate. There is a delay when injury occurs: the neurons fire in their chain, carrying the newsflash to your brain. Then your brain has to process this news and send a message back to the point of injury: “React damn it, react.” In retrospect, I probably watched as this lace-winged flying monster sunk its poison-tipped keister dart into my sensitive arm flesh. By the time the pain set in I sensed similar notices being relayed from various areas of my legs. At this point, other members of our group were reacting with shouts and gesticulations.
This was a full-fledged panic; our voices pierced the din of buzzing wings and we sprinted up the side of the mountain in adrenal-powered leaps.
Steve was the most susceptible to their poison, so it only made sense that he had the most stings (double digits if memory serves). He would later note that though the swelling made it feel like he was hiking on watermelons, the incessant scratching from the trail’s overgrown brush along with the periodic whack of a leg against a pedal actually helped to quell the irritation. Folks, you can’t account for being unaware of jostling awake the sleeping nest of some ornery mountain rock hornets, but if you take a trip like this one, then you should probably expect it.