Today’s post comes from Steve
A week ago I was hospitalized in an obscure room of Saint Paul’s United Hospital. My doctors were divided. Some wanted me to avoid all liquids. Some wanted to hydrate me immediately. Hours went by with all sorts of tests, and meanwhile I kept getting more desperately thirsty. I couldn’t talk because my tongue kept getting stuck to the roof of my dehydrated mouth. And then the decision came down: I could drink as much as I wanted. They serve cold water in paper cups in that hospital, with most of the space filled up with soft, easily crunched ice. I went on a crushed ice binge that was so joyful I almost wept as I chewed.
We should never take good drinking water for granted. The Saint Paul city water I get from the tap has won prizes for palatability. I keep a jug of it in the fridge, and it is a treat. Great water is the start of great coffee, which I appreciate. When I moved to Happy Valley, a suburb of Portland, the local water reeked of chlorine. I couldn’t bear drinking it, and coffee made from that water was grotesque. I had to install a filtering system before I could tolerate that water.
I was guilty of bad planning once, shortly after we moved to Oregon. Some family and friends decided on a whim to hike up a trail to a mountain peak overlooking Crater Lake. The trail was not short, and it ascended rapidly. We all began suffering from thirst in the 90-degree air. We finally hit the crest and could enjoy the view, but we all were in distress because we were so thirsty. Bright spring water bubbled out of the hillside. Water never looked so delicious, and yet we knew the prettiest spring water could be filled with giaradiasis, the dreaded “beaver fever” bug. As I recall, half of us were strong enough to resist the most tempting water we had ever seen. And in the end—which with giardiasis usually involves both ends of the body—nobody who drank that water got sick.
I was even thirstier than that once. I made a plan to “through-hike” the Superior Hiking Trail. Through-hiking means you start at one end and walk to the other end of a big trail. A day after hiking south from Grand Marais turned bad when I got confused by the trails. The Superior Hiking Trail itself is not terribly large or obvious, and on that afternoon I got lost when a bunch of smaller trails intersected with the SHT itself. It was August, blazing hot, and all streams along the trail were low. I knew I was in trouble when I began hearing traffic from Highway 61, which should have been well below me but was not. And then I found myself hiking the shoreline of the big lake.
Superior is so big and clean it is safe to drink in most places. Those places do not include shorelines, but I was not in a position to be picky. Out of my mind with thirst, I threw my body along the shore, plunged my head in the lake and began inhaling. I was there a long time. When I got up it seemed to me the lake had lowered a few inches, but I couldn’t be sure.
On the first BWCA trip I took with my father, we camped a week on a Lake called Bichu. It is a pretty place. But our campground did not give us access to water except right near shore, and my dad discovered that the lake water by the shore was absolutely filled with wriggling aquatic life. He solved the problem by dumping in enough grape Kool Aid so we couldn’t see the bugs we were drinking. That trip taught me several lessons about my father’s outdoor camping limits, but none were more memorable than the water that we drank, water surging with life if you allowed yourself to look.
Have you ever had especially good or bad water? How did you cope? What do you do now for drinking water? Ever get really, really, really thirsty? Have you found a way to justify drinking water from single-use plastic bottles?