Off-the-beaten track almost universally means a place and activity too far or too difficult or dangerous or damp to appeal to the middle-class, two-weeks-in-July-and-a-week-at-Christmas traveler.
But on rare occasions it can mean a particular slice of time and place that occurs only every 17 years and on the east coast of the United States from New York down to the Carolinas and involves a billion horny flying insects humming in harmony an uncanny impersonation of a subway train passing at close proximity.
The famous cicadas of the Eastern Seaboard mate every year in Spring and the show is an annual aerial spectacle of males of the species emerging from their nymphal stage and underground lair to molt and mature in the sun before soaring to the trees and producing their unique mating call. Soon enough, hopefully, they attract their soulmate and pick out names, find a little privacy, and set about the business of fertilising about 600 eggs, after which the male duly dies.
However each subspecies of this bizarre creature have varying life-cycles and the Magicicada breed every 13 or 17 years. Brood II, though it sounds like a delightfully bad sequel to an even worse horror movie, is the most numerous and densely populous variation for whom this ritual occurs once every 17 years. It’s breathtaking and terrifying and unique and unlike any other vacation activity you may be considering this Spring.
Unfortunately, it’s also tremendously difficult to predict. The cicada begin tunneling to the surface when the ground temperature reaches 20°C (68°F) and so they tend to start as early as the end of April in the more southern habitats and as late as the end of June in New York state. So planning a trip around the magicicada’s brief mating cycle is going to be an adventure in itself. There are, naturally, cicada fancier organisations to help you with an educated guess, particularly this handy historical database which will at least give you the best known previous sightings. Possibly even more helpful is this map of predicted occurrences colour-coded by likelihood.
Once you’ve selected your destination or, ideally, destinations, you might consider camping in a tent to get the full effect. You might also want to educate yourself about what you’re witnessing and, for full immersion, learn some simple cicada recipes like cicada enchilada and cicada stir fry.
If it needs to be said, placing oneself among hundreds of thousands of swarming insects isn’t to everyone’s taste and many locals plan their vacations to escape the cacophony and the rotting corpses and general ickiness of the otherwise completely harmless little bug. But if you’re not squeamish and you’re serious about your unique vacation this is an opportunity that can’t be repeated anywhere else on earth and not again for another 17 years.