Bring extra water

WATERThere are two items that are essential for sustaining life.  Both are abundant and readily available on most of the surface of the earth: air and water.   Without an adequate supply of air human life will expire in a matter of minutes, and a bit longer without water.

Why is that? 

Oxygen carried in blood is essential for the human body to function – it facilitates the exchange of energy throughout the body.  Oxygen assists in the transport of energy to every tissue in the body.  Without air, oxygen in the blood drops rapidly, and energy rapidly depletes throughout the body.

The body rapidly shuts down without oxygen.

Water is essential to life, but not quite as time restrictive as oxygen.  Water is necessary for all the body’s functions, and is stored within the body’s cells and in the blood.  The human body can function several days without water.  However, the efficiency at which the body operates degrades after several hours without fresh water.  This degradation will occur even faster in harsh environmental conditions, such as heat and humidity, where water is lost through perspiration and breathing.

There are two instances in my life during which a lack of water were of note.

After my son had his wisdom teeth removed, he had a negative reaction to the general anesthesia administered during the surgery.  He became nauseas and vomited.  After two days without eating or drinking, he became dehydrated and his body reacted severely.  The first indication that things were truly amiss is loss of motor skills.  He was unable to speak coherently.  His skin paled.  He became catatonic.  It was not a pretty sight.

Fortunately, a quick trip to the emergency room at our local hospital and two liter bags of intravenous liquids helped recovery with no ill effects.  If we had been in a remote location and not able to get rapid medical care, I am certain that the outcome would have been more severe.

My second example was a hiking event.  I was a novice at the challenges of mountaineering.  Although my new hiking partner was experienced, he wanted to test out my hiking endurance on this outing.  I did not anticipate that we would be out more than a few hours, so I carried a mere liter of water.

We started early on this particular August morning along the Front Range.  As normal, we had a great time; Cheyenne Mountain was beautiful and afforded a significant altitude gain.  After about six hours of hiking, I realized that the day was now hot and sunny and that my water supply was running low.  I began to conserve.

Two hours later, we were both out of water, and still a few miles away from the car.  When we reached civilization, another three hours later, we drank deep and long from the first clean water source we encountered.  We were out for eleven hours, covered almost eleven miles of terrain, and gained approximately 3000 feet of altitude primarily off trail.

Needless to say, we used up all our resources: water, food, and physical energy.

Yet the most crucial and potentially dangerous was the lack of water.

We had not reached a severe situation, but we were close.  If one of us had become injured and had to wait hours for assistance in the back country, dehydration was very likely.  In this case, an emergency room was not so close or readily accessible, as in my son’s situation.

The moral of the story is to be prepared – especially when traveling in remote areas.  Carry an adequate supply of the essential ingredients of life, and then a little extra.  Either carry extra water or make sure that safe water is available (and bring a water purifier) – especially in the back country and remote locations.

Although contrary to my minimalist tendencies, carrying a little extra weight is worthwhile, if it is an essential supply of life.

Be smart.  Think through the most likely negative outcomes when you venture outside the confines of your home.  Having the margin of a little extra water, extra food, and spare clothing could be the difference that saves your life or avoids injury.  It will also allow you to relax more and enjoy your adventure.

Be mindful when you hike or venture beyond the ordinary.  Your body and health do matter.

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About John Forrest