Newsflash: UMass Will Test Your Ticks for Lyme, Other Diseases

Using state funding, the University of Massachusetts Amherst plans to help state residents test ticks they’ve found at a reduced rate.

Since 2006, the school’s Laboratory of Medical Zoology (LMZ) has tested ticks from all 50 states for various transmittable illnesses and pathogens. Anyone concerned they’ve been bitten can mail the parasite in question to the UMass lab, have it tested, and get the results back within three business days.

Normal pricing ranges from $50 for a baseline DNA analysis of one tick to a $200 comprehensive package, which includes screening for 23 tick-borne illnesses. But, thanks to the state Department of Public Health’s $100,000 grant, the LMZ will do the testing for just $15 per critter.

That rate won’t last, though.

“We anticipate that this program will be over by early to mid-July. The subsidy is really going to go fast,” said Stephen Rich, a professor of microbiology and LMZ director, in a statement.

Are ticks getting more dangerous?

The grant comes on the heels of a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. From 2004 through 2016, researchers reported a 300-percent uptick in mosquito, tick, and flea bite-related illnesses. The analysis found the number of reported tick-borne diseases doubled during that 13-year period. That figure also makes up more than 60 percent of all mosquito-, tick-, and flea-related illnesses.

Since the UMass laboratory launched its TickReport testing program and database, researchers have analyzed more than 37,000 ticks, including over 12,400 in 2017. The LMZ expects to test between 18,000 and 20,000 for 2018.

Of the 23 diseases tested, Lyme disease comes out on top. Since 2006, 26.5 percent of all ticks screened have tested positive. The illness, spread by blacklegged ticks, causes someone to experience a combination of fever, headaches, fatigue, and a skin rash. If left untreated, it eventually spreads to the joints, heart, and nervous system.

More than just Lyme

But, Lyme disease is just one condition spread to humans. The LMZ also tests for anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and the lesser-known Powassan virus. Out of these four, Powassan is particularly rare. In fact, the CDC has recorded about 100 cases over the past 10 years. Yet, the disease may cause a combination of fever, vomiting, confusion, seizures, and memory loss, and may even lead to long-term neurologic problems.

Meanwhile, the LMZ plans to use half of the grant to cover the cost of Powassan virus testing on the first 1,000 ticks sent.

Of course, it’s important to note: Not all ticks transmit diseases. The type, time of year it’s found, and region all influence whether one poses a health risk.

As for the blacklegged ticks (also known as deer ticks) commonly found in the Northeast, the CDC says they typically need to be attached for 36 to 48 hours or longer before spreading Lyme disease. With this in mind, always thoroughly check your skin and clothing after outings in the woods.

What if you find a tick on your body? The LMZ advises removing it with a pair of tweezers, and washing the area with soap or antiseptic wipes. Then, mail the tick to the lab in a Ziploc bag.


3 Great Early Season Mountain Bike Rides South of Boston

Spring can be a challenging time for mountain bikers. We’re anxious to resume riding, but unpredictable weather often leaves trails muddy and impassable. Thankfully, some popular destinations dry faster than others. So, if you have the need to ride but your local spot isn’t quite ready yet, check out these locations.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Trail of Tears

With sandy, dry soil and mild winters, Trail of Tears in Cape Cod’s West Barnstable is the perfect place for logging early-season mileage. Offering a 20-plus mile trail network on a large parcel of conservation land, it features fun, mostly fast, and flowing non-technical singletrack, with twists and turns through a classic Cape Cod forest. Riders will also come across occasional boulders to roll over and small rocks to jump off along many of the trails. Just be ready for the occasional short, steep hills, which often leave even the fittest riders gasping for breath at their crests.

As you cruise around Trail of Tears, it’s easy to get lost in the rhythm and forget you’re even on the Cape. The woods are immersive, and stopping at the observation deck at the top of the North Ridge Trail reinforces this, as no beaches, traffic, or roads are in sight. It’s almost as if you’re in the woods of Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine.

Of course, if you’re worried about getting lost, you shouldn’t be. NEMBA hosts rides on both Wednesday and Friday nights, allowing you to get a free tour. However, if you can’t make it, here’s a map. And, because Trail of Tears is the home turf of many Cape Cod NEMBA members, the trails are impeccably maintained, so you can let it rip.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Otis

Located a short drive over the Bourne Bridge, Otis is one of New England’s best early-season riding destinations. While nicknamed after its proximity to Otis Air National Guard Base, the spot is actually located within the Town of Falmouth’s conservation lands and the Frances A. Crane Wildlife Management Area, rather than on the base itself. And, if it weren’t for the hordes flocking to the Cape between late May and August, Otis could be a bonafide summer biking destination.

While very similar to Trail of Tears, Otis takes everything up a level. The singletrack is slightly rootier, rockier, and more challenging. More so, in riding up, over, and in between a series of drumlins, you’ll encounter a surprising amount of steep climbing that leaves many rethinking the Cape’s supposed flatness. Throughout the trail network, look for rock gardens, drops, and jumps, some of which add an extra layer of fun and may take a few tries to send cleanly. The cherry on the cake is the Gravity Trail, built in a natural half-pipe reminiscent of some of the classic trails found in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Don’t leave without checking it out.

Since space is tight, Otis has a well-deserved reputation as a difficult place to navigate. Indeed, the trails twist and turn, almost on top of each other at times. Fortunately, Otis hugs Route 28, providing an easy landmark and a bailout back to the car. If you ever doubt your location, just head toward the sound of traffic or pedal west, and then, take Route 28 South. Of course, this is easier said than done. Did we mention these trails are twisty?

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Wompatuck

Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, Massachusetts, is another great location. Built on land formerly occupied by the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot Annex, it’s a bit closer to Greater Boston than the other two options and home to miles of fantastic mountain biking on single- and double-track.

Wompy has trails for riders of any ability. Ones around Prospect Hill are a must-do for those seeking out singletrack. From the park’s lower left quadrant, riders can take either a moderate (but steep) doubletrack or one of the four singletrack trails to the top. There, they can swoop back down the same fast and flowy terrain as it winds down the hill. Definitely worth checking out, the section between the S4 junction at the top of the hill and the S2 at the bottom offers some of the state’s longest switchback singletrack. Also, consider the descent between the S5, S7, and S10 junctions.

Wompatuck is full of surprises. As such, think about exploring the rest of the park’s trails. Around some corners, you’ll find abandoned military buildings dating back to the 1950s, many of which aspiring artists have spray-painted. Off to the sides, you may spot training sites, with ramps, jumps, and logs to play around on. And, near Wompy’s Visitor Center, you’ll find the Pump Track, an all-ages training course packed with berms, bumps, and jumps.

Although many of Wompatuck’s trail junctions are marked, the many intersecting trails make it easy to get disoriented. To plan a ride that sticks to the area’s singletrack, check out the Friends of Wompatuck’s interactive trail map. Then, keep it open as you ride to ensure you don’t get lost.

Do you have a favorite place to ride early in the season? If so, we’d love to hear about it! Leave your favorite early-season riding destination in the comments, so others can explore.


9 Tips for Taking Your Climbing from the Gym to the Crag

With ropes hung, routes marked, and a trained staff on hand to ensure safety, the rock gym is a great place to learn how to climb. But, pulling on plastic just isn’t the same as climbing on real rock, and many climbers eventually look to expand their horizons to local crags. If you’re considering taking your climbing outside this year but aren’t quite sure where to start, here are some things you need to know.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Pick Your Discipline, Then Get the Gear

Bouldering and top-roping are the main options for most new-to-the-outdoors climbers. Both styles involve some common gear, namely shoes and chalk, but also require some items specific to the activity. Thus, deciding on a style is an important initial step.

Bouldering is a popular way for gym climbers to transition outdoors, because it doesn’t require knowledge about anchor building or belaying. When bouldering, climbers use a crash pad, rather than a rope, to protect themselves when they fall. Bouldering crash pads come in a variety of sizes and styles, and it’s not uncommon to use multiple ones to protect your climb. Although bouldering requires less technical knowledge, the physical climbing encountered is often more difficult than what’s found on top-rope routes.

Climbers who have been top-roping in the gym can replicate that experience outside if they know how to build anchors and have the gear required to do so. The specific gear will vary between locations, but a static line, a few slings, a cordelette, and a handful of locking carabiners—larger carabiners like the Black Diamond RockLock Screwgate are great—will usually do the trick at areas with first-timer friendly setups. In addition to anchor-building gear, invest in a belay device, your own climbing rope, and a harness, if you’ve been relying on a gym rental. Top-ropers should also add a helmet to their kit, as time spent below a cliff exposes you to the threat of something being knocked down on you.

Some climbers who lead in the gym may also want to take the sharp end their first time climbing outside. For those looking to jump right into sport climbing, check out our sport climbing gear list.

2. Get the Guidebook

Doing some research before picking a destination saves a lot of time and aggravation. For example, does the area you’re planning on visiting have fixed anchors, or will you have to build your own? Guidebooks are a valuable resource for learning about what to expect at a climbing area, and offer up information on everything from where to park to what gear to bring. Although guidebooks are helpful, an internet search lets you broaden your knowledge of an area and get up-to-date information about access and conditions.

Pro Tip: If it’s your first time out, avoid routes that the guidebook says require trad gear (camming units and nuts) for building the top-rope anchor.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Pick the Right Location

Choosing the right location for your first time climbing outside can make the difference between success and frustration. Boulderers will want to find spots with a wide variety of problems and safe landings. A few popular destinations for newer boulderers in the Northeast are Hammond Pond, just outside of Boston, Massachusetts; Lincoln Woods, a short drive from Providence, Rhode Island; and Pawtuckaway State Park, about 30 minutes from Manchester, New Hampshire. Fellow gym climbers can also be a great resource, so don’t hesitate to ask around the gym’s bouldering cave about nearby areas to visit.

New outdoor climbers looking to top-rope should seek out sites with easy setups. Ideally, the location will have a diverse grouping of climbs, easy access to the cliff top, and simple anchoring solutions. Greater Boston has a plethora of excellent crags for first-time top-ropers, including Hammond Pond, Quincy Quarries, Rattlesnake Rocks, College Rock, and Crow Hill. So, too, does Connecticut, with Ragged Mountain being a popular destination.

Pro Tip: A 75- to 100-foot static line is a great solution for when the guidebook recommends bringing “long slings” for top-rope anchors.

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4. Partner Up

No matter if you’re bouldering or top-roping, a good climbing partner is critical. Although bouldering can be a solitary sport, it’s much easier and safer (and more fun!) with a partner. A good bouldering partner spots you when you fall and moves the pads underneath you as you climb. They also are great for helping you decipher moves and keeping the stoke high.

A top-roping partner is essential, as they will literally be holding your life in their hands while belaying. In a perfect world, a new outdoor climber’s partner will have more experience and can serve as a mentor through the transition.

5. Don’t Set Your Expectations Too High

Although gym and outdoor climbing have many similarities, the transition may be challenging. For instance, the grades are harder. So, even if you’ve sent all the “hard stuff” indoors, don’t plan on crushing your first day on real rock. You’ll also need to re-train the way you think. Outdoors, the routes aren’t marked with brightly colored tape and may be difficult to follow. In addition, real rock holds may be hidden and may be greatly different from what you’ve encountered at the gym. Along with these points, indoor climbers often start to learn a gym’s holds. While the gym may change specific routes, climbers have likely gotten familiar with approaching particular holds.

6. If You’re Climbing on a Rope, Learn Some Basic Skills

If you’re going to be climbing on a rope, get familiar with some basic skills. Even something that you’ve been doing in the gym, like belaying, can be complicated outside due to hazards like rocks, uneven ground, and roots. Furthermore, if a climber is heavier than the belayer, the use of a ground anchor might be necessary. Speaking of belays, if you had to execute a belay escape, could you? To prepare, spend a few minutes at the end of each gym session to practice these skills before going outside.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Hit the Books (and Not the Guidebook)

Before heading to the crag, take a moment to hit the books, and brush up on the techniques and systems needed for outdoor climbing. A Falcon Guide: Toproping is one of many great books available to new outdoor climbers. For climbers interested in learning to advance their systems, in addition to their skills, to the next level, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills covers everything from basic to advanced topics in all climbing genres.

8. Safety is Critical

Whether you’re climbing inside or outside, the sport is dangerous. But, the outdoors has far more hazards to manage. Here are a few tips to keep you safe:

  • Close your top-rope system by tying a knot at the end of your rope. That way, you can’t lower the climber off the end.
  • Always be mindful about where the cliff edge is, especially when you’re setting up a top-rope anchor. Anchoring yourself in while building your anchor is a great way to stay safe.
  • Rocks break and nearby parties sometimes knock stuff off while they’re setting up. Wear your helmet even when you’re not the one climbing to protect your head.
  • Boulderers should scout the descent and be comfortable with it before committing to the climb.
  • For boulderers, falling is almost as important of a skill as climbing. Practice correctly falling—ideally, with slightly bent legs to absorb impact, and avoid leading with your hands to protect your shoulders, arms, wrists, and fingers—and spend some time identifying safe landing zones before you head up.

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9. Take a Lesson

If you’re interested in getting outside but don’t feel confident doing it yourself, sign up for a lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. In no time at all, the Climbing School’s AMGA-accredited guides will have you familiar with the fundamentals of building a top-rope anchor and mitigating outdoor climbing hazards.

Can you think of any other gym-to-crag tips? Share them in the comments!