“Ugh,” said the day hiker, a bit pompously, watching me fill up my water bladder and squeeze it back into my pack, “I hate drinking out of a tube like an animal.” But you are an animal, I want to say. I don’t. I drink out of my tube.
At first I didn’t mind sucking my water out of a tube over my shoulder. But now it’s a pleasant treat when we’re in town to sip from a cup. We have our filters in-line, so the flow is sometimes slow, and it feels like a full time job to drink enough. I make up games to try to stay hydrated. Drink every time we pass a giant boulder. Drink every time I hear Eric drink. Drink for fifteen seconds every time I drink. It never feels like enough. At the end of the day I’m always thirsty.
I love water. I grew up swimming, thinking of myself as a swimmer. In the pool, in the ocean, in the lakes and rivers. When I start to feel the tornado of anxiety swirling, just sitting with my feet in flowing water calms me down. Even better if I can get all the way in. In Oregon the water taunted me, how it was so clear and so beautiful and always too cold. Out here I watch the trout swimming in creeks and feel pangs of jealousy. I want to glide like that. I want to be able to stay under and never come up for air. I’ve studied the guidebook and figured out which words mean good water. “Streams” are small, too small for swimming, usually just enough of a trickle to scoop out some water for drinking. But “creeks” and “branches” are wonderful. When we get to camp by good water, which isn’t often, it practically makes the whole day.
I hate water. For the past two weeks, water has been pouring down on us from above so often I’ve thought I would lose my mind sometimes. It puddles beneath the edges of the tent no matter how carefully we stake it out, or it condenses on the inside and drips on the top of my head during breakfast. The air is absolutely saturated with it. You can’t breathe, you’re soaked in sweat at 9AM, and nothing ever dries. Which means it always reeks. We climb mountains all morning, all afternoon, sweating and sweating. The whole time I think of the river I want to jump in, to wash off the grime and effort of the climb. It would be so easy, so effective. But at the top of mountains there is never a river. And lately, not any water at all.
Hikers complain when water is difficult to collect, when someone has to engineer a rhododendron leaf into a spigot so a bottle can catch the water as it runs off. We also complain when the water is .3 off trail, especially if it’s downhill. We complain if there’s no water source for ten miles, so we have to carry more at a time (two liters instead of one and a half, or four pounds instead of three). Sometimes it’s further, and this is like a catastrophe.
But there are people who must walk much further than that for their water. They walk for miles and carry back all they’ll use for the day. We use four liters just in the evening at camp, or eight pounds of water. And they don’t do this as an aspect of some adventure they’re on. They do it because that is how they live.
On the same planet, we build huge commercialized cities in deserts not meant to support our kind of life and bleed the surrounding rivers so dry they no longer reach the ocean. We throw plastic out of our windows and let the rain wash it down to the rivers, into the oceans. We let our chemicals leach and poison and ruin. It’s insane.
You turn on the faucet and expect clean water to come out at the temperature you’ve asked for because that’s what it does day after day. It lulls you into thinking water is somehow under control.
Out here I realize it’s another thing I’m nearly helpless before. If I walk ten miles and arrive at a water source thirsty and find a muddy puddle, that’s what I’ve got to drink. If water pours down from the sky, if it soaks under the tent and begins to leak in, if it’s everywhere or nowhere, cool and clean or shiny with road runoff, I can’t change it.
Certainly I’ll never take it for granted again.