Saturday, August 18, 2007

Coginchaug Cave revisited

Today's hike: 2.3 h | 5.8 mi | 2.5 mph

Weather: spectacular, cool, dry. I did the Coginchaug Cave section of the Mattabesett today, starting at Harvey Rd and going out to Old Blue Hills Rd. I guess the last time I was there was about a year ago on July 8, 2006.

After crossing Higganum Rd, I began to hear the voices of hikers ahead, and slowed my pace because I didn't want to run into them.

After hiking for about five more minutes, I felt a sharp pinching pain on my right ankle. I looked down to see about 10 yellowjackets grasping tightly to my socks and boots (left and right). Obviously, one had managed to hit my ankle with its stinger! I began frantically to brush at them with a stick. They seemed incredibly determined to finish me off, even at the cost of their lives, and would not easily release their grip on my socks. At some point I began to notice a few flying around, so I took off at a dead run down the trail!

I stopped again soon to continue brushing them off my feet. I do not understand why they went for my ankles. My socks were a kind of heather blue and my boots are brown. Do yellowjackets find those colors particularly provocative? I can't understand why they didn't land on my skin, but I'm glad that they didn't. Anyway, I started off running again, when it seemed there were still a bunch flying around me.

Soon thereafter, I almost ran straight into a crowd of hikers. They asked if I had been stung and one guy noticed a yellowjacket on my (olive green) shorts! Apparently this group of hikers had just been through a similar experience with the yellowjackets. I asked if they knew why these insects had attacked - I've never been attacked by yellowjackets, although they do sometimes bother me when eating outdoors. One hiker thought that someone at the front of the group must have disturbed a nest of them, though it wasn't really clear what happened. Perhaps there was a yellowjacket nest built in the ground along the trail? Scary stuff.

I crossed through the group and moved onward quickly, hoping to leave them behind because I had planned to hunt for a letterbox up ahead. I kept my pace fast, got to Coginchaug Cave, and found the letterbox quickly, retrieving it and moving off into the woods to stamp in. The hikers began arriving shortly after that, but I don't think they noticed me where I was sitting. Since I couldn't rehide the box at that point, I left the letterbox at my hideaway and circumvented the hikers via a side trail, hiking on out to Old Blue Hills Rd. By the time I got back, the hikers had left and I could hide the box back where it belonged - whew!

I wasn't sure how long the yellowjackets might hold their grudge, but apparently things were back to normal soon, since the trip back was uneventful. The sting on my ankle hurt a lot at first, but by the time I'd hiked to the Cave, it was feeling a bit better. This evening it only hurts a tiny bit, on occasion, and I can hardly see where I was stung. I regret that I panicked when seeing the critters on my socks. I wish I'd had the presence of mind to pull out my camera and get a photo.

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