Posts Tagged ‘arachnophobia


Road Trippin’ Down Under: Arachnophobia

When we last saw our weary travelers, they had landed in Perth, picked up their rental car, and arrived safely at their hotel in Fremantle. While we wait for them to check in and take the elevator up to their room, let’s take a moment to reflect on the fact that they are riding an elevator in Australia.

When you think about it, going up in an elevator in Australia is, in effect, like going down in an elevator in North America. Or close to it anyway. Since (according to Wisconsin’s polar geographic opposite—aka antipode—would be somewhere in the Indian Ocean, it’s not a precise equivalency, but it’ll suffice.

But, as usual, I digress.

Now when some folks think of Australia, they imagine cuddly koalas, cute kangaroos, and beautiful sandy beaches bounded by a big blue ocean where one can swim, snorkel, and surf the day away, while laid back Aussies wander around saying things like “g’day” and “no worries.” When other folks think of Australia, they imagine a dry and dusty place landscape literally crawling with a vast and deadly array of spiders, snakes, and scorpions.

Regular readers of this column are likely to assume—and reasonably so—that I am among those who equate the continent of Australia with the imminent, constant and entirely inconvenient threat of danger, death, and doom. So it may come as a surprise that, as we made our plans to visit Australia, the idea that some of its non-human inhabitants might have it in for me never crossed my mind.

Maybe I was too focused on getting there. Or maybe, I was too obsessed with the thought of never coming back. Or maybe I was just too enamored with the word “biodiversity” to fully appreciate its meaning. Either way, in the course of planning this trip I apparently failed to consider some of the more likely means by which I could meet my end.

That is, until I mentioned it to my doctor about four days before we were scheduled to leave.

I was there for a routine checkup but decided to take the opportunity to inquire about any additional immunizations the Jarhead and I might need, or if there were any areas of the country we should avoid, or any epidemics that might justify cancelling the trip and allow us to qualify for a full refund. Having been a patient of his for five years, I fully expected Dr. J. to nod and smile patiently in response to my queries, and then to gently allay my concerns while jotting down a few notes to add to the mountain of evidence he and the Jarhead would rely upon when the time finally arrived to have me committed.

But that did not happen. Or, more accurately, that’s not ALL that happened.

For although he did in fact nod, he most definitely did not smile patiently. In fact, he did not smile at all. At best it was a grim grimace. And while he did attempt to allay MY concerns (while jotting down a few notes to add to the mountain of evidence he and the Jarhead would rely upon when the time finally arrived to have me committed, of course) he then proceeded to—gravely and resolutely—express a few concerns of his own.

Like the fact that Australia is home to some of the deadliest creatures on Earth—including the single most venomous snake in the world (the inland taipan, in case you’re wondering) and the redback spider whose bite can send you into anaphylaxis and kill you in less than five minutes. Not to mention all the scorpions, sharks, and other life forms that have evolved in isolation and whose impact on visitors to Australia has yet to be fully quantified.

How’s that for a plot twist? I go into the guy’s office just a little worried about one or three minor things, and come out of there completely terrified about five or six others. It was like going to bed with the faint sense that you may have forgotten to lock all the doors, and waking up to find your normally sane and supportive spouse speculating in rambling fashion about how many armed intruders may be rummaging around and wreaking havoc downstairs.


From there he advised me as to the places to stay away from and the activities to avoid. In the interest of time, I’ll put it in these terms: Wilderness, bad; urban areas located near medical treatment facilities, good. Alone, bad; crowds—especially crowds comprised of licensed medical professionals—good.

Although I took his advice very seriously, I also took a moment to have a brief panic attack in the privacy of my own car before calling the Jarhead to tell him what we were up against. He laughed and said we would be fine. We had no plans to go hiking in the outback, after all; and snakes were not likely to venture into the city. As far as deadly spiders were concerned, he reasoned that we would be staying at the largest and most popular resort in the area, and that the place wouldn’t enjoy the ratings it had if it were infested with spiders of any kind.

Flash forward a week. We have arrived at said hotel, entered our room, kicked off our shoes, and set down our bags. At first we just stood and marveled at the layout and the modern décor. Then we spent some time commenting on the differences between the furnishings and fixtures in this room and the rooms we’d seen in North America and Europe. Like the toilet, seen here, attached to the vanity, with the flush buttons (one for when you go number one, and the other for when you go number two) at the far left side.

Aussie Loo 3

And this tub/shower combo, with two water outlets—one for when you want to stand, and another when you want to sit or lie down.

Aussie Tub

We were just about to flush the toilet to see which direction the water would spin when I made a startling discovery: a big, juicy—and most assuredly deadly—spider was clinging to the ceiling above our open suitcases.

My first instinct was to run over to my suitcase, slam it shut, drag it out the door and onto the elevator.

Okay, that was a lie. My first instinct was to scream.

But I didn’t want to make a scene, so instead I clasped one hand over my mouth and shrieked through my fingers while pointing at the ceiling, all the while RESISTING the urge to run over to my suitcase, slam it shut, and drag it out the door and onto the elevator. I resisted in part because slamming it shut would not be enough to keep the contents inside as I bolted from the room, but mostly because I KNEW that no matter how quickly and masterfully I could dash over, grab the bag, and whisk it out the door, that spider would have rappelled—even more quickly and masterfully—from the ceiling and down into my shirt, and instead of streaking out of the room with my suitcase in tow, I would have wound up running and jumping up and down in place while screaming and crying at the top of my lungs and tearing at my clothes until I was naked and they were little more than a pile of fabric scraps on the floor.

The Jarhead, as usual, failed to grasp the gravity of the situation. “It’s just a spider.”

“In Australia, there is no such thing as ‘just a spider,’” I informed him.  “It needs to go,” I added, turning and moving my arms as if trying to disperse an encroaching mob, “They all need to go.”


“You know what they say. For every spider you see there are hundreds more you don’t.”

“I think that’s cockroaches.”

“Whatever,” I breathed. “Just kill him.”

“I can’t kill him.”

“Why not?”

“This is a vaulted ceiling. I’ll need a ladder just to tap him with a broom.”

Crap. He was right. So I grabbed the phone and called the front desk.

To my delight, they promised to send someone up right away. Okay, I told myself. They are on the ball. They know that spiders don’t belong in resort hotels, and they are going to dispatch this one tout suite.

Relieved, I sat down on the bed to keep watch over the eight-legged invader.  I wasn’t about to let him disappear before help arrived.

The Jarhead wasn’t happy about this turn of events. He had been in the process of stripping down to his skivvies and laying down for a nap when I noticed the spider. Now he would have to remain both clothed and awake until the spider was removed. Normally I would have felt bad, but this time, I was tickled pink to know the beast would soon be exterminated.

Until I met the exterminator.

He was old, tired-looking, and none too thrilled to be assigned to spider duty. He showed up with a dirty, cob-webby broom and a can of the Aussie equivalent of Raid.

My confidence flagging significantly, I thanked him for coming, and then pointed at the spider.

“Oym gunna nade ah ladda,” he informed me, before setting down the broom and departing the room. A short time later, he was up on the ladder, swatting at the spider but not quite hitting it.

Oh my god, I gasped, as I imagined all the ways this could go wrong. At best he was going to knock it down and allow it to find a spot to hide. At best I was going to live to die another day. In another room.

Just as I said it—but before the Jarhead could get our bags out from under the area, that sucker literally jumped off the ceiling and landed godonlyknowswhere.

“Well, he’s gone now,” the man announced as he climbed off the ladder.

“No he’s not.”

“Yeah he is. Oy got eem with the broom.”

“Show me.”

The man held up the bristles of the broom but it bore no corpse.

That was it for me. Bags or no bags, I had to get out of there. I grabbed my purse and my CPAP case from the nightstand and bolted out into the hallway.

“It’s okay.” the Jarhead called. “I found him.”

Poking my head back into the room, I saw him move his suitcase to reveal the still living, breathing juicy black spider. I could only hope it was the SAME living, breathing juicy black spider.

A moment later, the Jarhead had him flattened with one of our travel maps, and was flushing him down the toilet. “He’s dead. You can come back inside now,” he announced as he and the maintenance man approached the door.

Backing up to let them join me in the hall, I looked up and nearly fainted.

On the wall above the doorway to our room—the doorway in which I had been standing only moments ago, were seven—yes, SEVEN—juicy black spiders. I thought I would literally crack up and melt away.

In desperation, I grabbed the Jarhead’s arm. “I can’t stay here,” I whispered as if I feared the place was bugged (pun totally intended.)

“It’s okay,” he replied with a nod to the departing maintenance man. “I’ll protect you.”

I guess I wanted to believe him more than I wanted to find another hotel—and definitely more than I wanted find out what might be lurking at another hotel. Because I didn’t argue and I didn’t flee.

Instead, I popped open my laptop and a bottle of water, and sat down to draft a killer political rant while the Jarhead napped. Outside in the park between the hotel and the water front, some crazy bird I’ve neither seen nor heard before squawked wildly from a tree.

View 1View 2View 4View 5

Against that backdrop, I took a vow not to obsess about the spiders, and to make the most of this trip of a lifetime. I knew my commitment to that goal would be tested repeatedly over the next week—along with the Jarhead’s patience—but with a little effort—and perhaps a little wine—I knew I could do it.


Road Trippin’ 2015: Flight or Fright

There are people who crave adventure and excitement. They are the daredevils. The thrill seekers. The adrenaline junkies.

Somewhere on the adventurer spectrum is another group of people. These folks don’t exactly laugh in the face of danger, but neither do they run from it. They know their limitations and will take calculated risks for the right reward.

And then there are people like me, who avoid danger—real or imaginary—at all cost and in all forms, be it animal, vegetable, or vehicle. We feel absolutely no need to ride a moped, much less a motorcycle, and haven’t even a passing interest in giant waterslides or amusement park rides, never mind hang gliding, sky diving, or zip lining.

We are perfectly happy to stand by and let others have all the fun, thank you very much. Send me a postcard, a few pictures or a video. Hell, I’ll even sit through your slide show as long as I get to stay right here on terra firma and can move about at my own speed wearing a seatbelt, comfortable shoes, and a helmet. Although I may need to see the video once first without the sound on to reduce my risk of triggering an anxiety attack, as long as I can have a supply of St. John’s Wort and maybe a bottle of vodka handy, we’ll be good to go.

My friend LaVon, on the other hand, is a speed freak. Since I’ve known her she has loved to go fast, see new places, and try new things. With the exception of boat rides, reading my books, and learning to drive the speed limit, she’s always up for just about anything, and has more than once been frustrated by my more timid nature. We always have a good time but I suspect she thinks we’d have a lot more fun if I wasn’t such a stick in the mud. That’s okay with me, since I think she’d have fewer concussions if she could develop a tolerance for standing still.

Our differences boil down to this: I have an exceptionally vivid imagination, and can ‘experience’ things in my head without actually doing them with my body. Which means I don’t have to drive a motorbike up a vertical incline or break any land speed records in order to get an adrenaline rush. Plus, I can feel my skull being fractured and limbs being crushed and/or severed just thinking about flipping over, falling down, or flying over the edge of a mountain road, so why not save the gas and avoid the bruises and bloodshed?

So, what, pray tell, does any of this have to do with our road trip? Not much, other than this: We were going to Alaska. To stay for a week. With LaVon.

It had been a couple years since we’d seen each other so I was excited. I was also ready to take on the challenge of saying no to a motorcycle ride—again and again and again if necessary. And we could walk, talk, hike, and see the sights without exceeding 60 mph, so I had little to fear.

And then came the day of our departure. Having checked into our hotel room—the night before our tour of previous homes—I went to the window to take in our view and stopped dead in my tracks. For there, on the wall above the desk was the largest spider I had ever seen in person. With the Jarhead having gone to bring up a couple items we’d left in the car, I had no one to whom to babble incoherently while pointing at the wall and trying not to wet my pants. And in that situation, I had no choice but to stand there frozen with fear and a scream coiling up in my throat.

“Don’t scream,” I told myself. “There are people in the adjacent rooms trying to sleep.”

“Awesome,” I countered. “I’ll awaken them with my cries of terror, and someone will come running in with a firearm.”

Fortunately the Jarhead arrived before I could test that theory. And fortunately he had remembered to take a room key, or else he would have been standing in the hall all night while I died of fright. And fortunately he swiftly dispatched the offending arachnid to the next realm. He did this not because he fears spiders like I do, mind you, or because he loves me. No. The truth is, he killed the spider because he knew if he didn’t, I wasn’t going to sleep a wink—and neither was he.

Despite this initial brush with death, I was still pretty jazzed about our trip. In fact, it wasn’t until we were on board the plan to Anchorage and buckled in our seats that I was hit with another wave of mortal fear. The flight attendants had just finished telling us about the emergency exits and what to do in the event of a water landing. At that moment, I grasped the Jarhead’s hand and looked into his eyes. He could clearly see the concern in mine.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“What if the plane takes off,” I said, swallowing hard, “and I need to use to the bathroom before the captain turns off the fasten seatbelts sign?”

It was a fair question, I thought. Apparently reasonable people can have differing opinions, however, because at that point he smiled patiently and went back to reading whatever was up on his tablet.

Three restroom visits, two movies, and one bottle of wine later (it was a five-hour flight, after all) we were on the ground in Anchorage. My fear of flying without emptying my bladder had subsided and instead of 9pm Central Daylight Savings Time it was 6pm Alaska time.  So now the only thing I had to worry about was how long it would be before the Jarhead fell asleep in his plate of enchiladas, and who was going to help me put him to bed.

Until the next morning, that is, when we set off for a hike up Portage Glacier…


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