Dozens of nude Blacktip Island residents will brave swarms of voracious mosquitos at dusk Saturday in the small Caribbean island’s annual Running of the Skeeters, celebrating summer on the island. (photo courtesy of James Gathany)
Blacktip Island residents this week stocked up on running shoes and cortisone cream in preparation for Saturday’s 23rd annual Running of the Skeeters, celebrating the height of summer, when dozens of residents will sprint nude down a jungle trail at dusk when the island’s mosquitos swarm the thickest.
“Started years ago as a drunken dare, and it’s grown every year since,” RotS organizer Wade Soote said. “The aim is to run from the west coast road, down an overgrown path through the mangroves 100 yards to the beach, then race back out, wearing only shoes or boots.
“It’s become a rite of passage for locals, a way to surrender yourself to the island, and for the island to accept you,” Soote said. “Everybody does it at least once. Some folks do it every year. It’s like a blood sacrifice to the island gods.”
Runners echoes that sentiment.
“It tests your fortitude. Your resolve to live here,” Corie Anders said. “Anybody can come to Blacktip and sit in the air conditioning. Or just go out midday, when the mozzies aren’t feeding. But to be a real Blacktipper, you need to get well-bitten, like our pre-air con ancestors did.
“The secret’s to keep moving—they don’t bite you too much until you stop, usually on the beach or at the road,” Anders said. “Hydrate beforehand and wear good running shoes – you fall, they’ll suck you dry, and no one will stop to help you.”
Some residents voiced concerns about the event.
“They make ‘No Malaria, No Worries’ t-shirts for the runners, to make light of it,” Vera Cuda said. “But that’s ingenuous, at best. Blacktip may not have malaria, but the region has dengue, yellow fever, zika, chikungunya and elephantiasis circulating all around us. It’s utterly irresponsible to purposely get bitten by mosquitos and potentially spread those deadly diseases.”
Island health authorities are prepared for the uptick in bites.
“I’ll be ready at the clinic with cortisone, Benadryl and epi-pens,” island nurse Marissa Graysby said. “And most of the bars will be offering discounted rum for all runners, to help ease the pain. I won’t be on site, of course. If people want to get bug bit, that’s their affair. I’ll be comfortable inside away from the mosquitos.”
Most runners brushed aside concerns.
“Getting bit 80, 100 times, it helps build your immunity to mosquito saliva and to whatever viruses they carry,” Jack Cobia said. “Sure, you feel like a human pincushion, but after the first few minutes, you start to kind of like it.”
“We encourage first-time runners, and’ll give them any pointers we can,” Cobia said. “And nobody’s ogling each other—folks’re running too fast, and swatting too wildly. And it’s not cheating to rub DEET over your sensitive parts.”