Whenever I think of taking off on foot and seeing where the trail leads me, I always come up against one truth that pops the dream and brings me back to reality.
There is a drought in the west this year. Water is being drained from Lake Mead as if it were a bathtub with the stopper removed. Some communities are warning residents to conserve, while the developers continue to build houses by the hundreds in this area alone, which will cause further problems in the future. Certain watering spots along the southern portion of the Pacific Crest Trail have dried up, forcing thru hikers to carry more water, drink less, or arrange for water deliveries.
A gallon of water weighs almost nine pounds, and hikers generally consume a gallon a day so carrying just a couple of days worth of water makes for a very heavy pack. Some cross-country walkers fashion pushcarts to carry the necessary water through the long desolate waterless areas, but wheels of any kind are usually not allowed on trails in national parks, so that is not a solution for PCT thru walkers.
More than anything else we take water for granted, and yet it is the one thing we cannot live without. Supposedly we can live without food for three weeks, but a mere three days without water puts us in serious trouble. Actually, we’d be in trouble long before the three days were up, with skin rashes, thick tongue, and hallucinations leading the list of dehydration horrors. Add heat and wind to the trauma, conditions that often prevail in the desert west, and we’d have a serious problem within just a couple of days.
Considering that 75% of us are chronically dehydrated, there is a chance that we wouldn’t even last two or three days. And considering that in 37% of Americans, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger, we could be dying of thirst and not even know it.
Even mild dehydration will slow down our metabolism as much as 3%. And a mere 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on the computer screen or on a printed page. And perhaps even lead us to make critical errors of judgment on the trail. To make matters worse, our thirst mechanism often doesn’t kick in until we’ve already lost 2% of our body’s water volume, which means we need to drink before we even get thirsty.
Water is vastly important, more than simply a means of survival.
One glass of water shut down midnight hunger pangs for 100% of the dieters in a University of Washington study.
Lack of water is the #1 trigger of daytime fatigue.
Research has indicated that 8-10 glasses of water a day could significantly ease back and joint pain for up to 80% of sufferers.
Drinking eight glasses of water daily will decrease the risk of colon cancer by 45%, plus it can slash the risk of breast cancer by 79%, and one is 50% less likely to develop bladder cancer.
In addition, extra water can help alleviate pain from heartburn, arthritis, colitis, angina, migraines. It can help lower cholesterol, help cure asthma, hypertension, excess body weight, and ulcers.
And, if that’s not enough to make you want to drink more water, water can also help plump up the skin and make you look younger, especially if you are aging prematurely.
Drinking eight glasses of water a day is considered old-fashioned now, and unnecessary, but who are the ones telling us this? Doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and the soft drink industry, that’s who, the very people who will benefit by our dehydration.
Even though I do drink plenty of water, I tend to get dehydrated easily, which leads to chest congestion (probably to protect those delicate tissues), coughs, and fatigue. I always carry a bottle of water with me, sometimes two. I can’t even imagine going without water for a single hour out in the desert winds and heat, let alone two or three days. (I’m going to have to rethink my water source. I can’t stand the taste of this tap water, though the unpalatable truth is that it takes three times the amount of water to make a water bottle than it does to fill it. Yikes. I always used to attach a filter to my water faucet, but since this isn’t my house, I can’t do that.)
I suppose I could pick a trail with plenty of watering spots and just carry a load of water purifying tablets, though considering all the hikers who have warned me I would need to pack antibiotics and drugs that would cure Giardia if I should get infected, I’m not sure I’d trust those purifiers.
There has to be an answer to my dilemma — going on an epic adventure without having to deal with water issues — but so far, I haven’t found it.
Meantime, I’m going to take a break and drink a glass of water. I hope you will too.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.