I should have known better.
I have been an experienced outdoorsy sort of person since my parents made me live in a tent at the age of seven. I shared it with a raccoon because, like all 7-year-olds, you hoard your food stash (some leftover marshmallows and a can of Jolt!) under the bed.
In my woodsy childhood, I learned a lot about survival in the forest. I learned to not touch porcupines, that moss makes great insulation, and that hanging chicken feet in the treehouse will attract cougars.
I also learned that water is life. We hydrated our house off a tiny stream that ran dry sometime in late August. When the slow trickle turned to dry rocks, we’d fill up five gallon jugs at the neighbor’s house a few miles down the road.
When our city friends would visit us from California, they would gasp and choke at our little creek and fret about giardia, boiling everything they came in contact with. I figured those city folk were just not hardy to the forest life, what with their sensitive little intestines.
I had been living on beans for years. I could handle anything.
We survived our childhood with very little disease, considering the somewhat third-world circumstances we lived in. I recall a bought of strep throat and then the immune adaptation of going to public school and discovering water fountains - the true dispersing agent of germs.
Somehow I grew up to be pretty normal. I went to college. I fell in love. I traveled the world. In all my travels, I have been seemingly carefree in my consumption of things.
I ran out of water while running in India, and stopped at a chai stand where they basically cooked the cockroaches with your tea for added texture.
Overcome by the pristine nature and mountains of the Himalayas, I greedily supped from the glacial streams, as though waters from the distant snowfields may be healing.
Lost in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland, I gathered water from the moss as it trickled down the hillsides and sipped it delicately from my hands.
From sub-arctic Patagonia to the fringes of Alaska, I’ve assessed the water source loosely, and dumped it into my gullet. Thus far, with no recourse.
I would not consider my water habits reckless as I’ve read the basics on wilderness water: know the source, make sure it’s moving, maybe check the immediate area for a carcass.
So last weekend while riding through the incredible mountainscapes of central Idaho, where the peaks and the sky are in such gray-blue contrast – their very crispness suggesting purity – it seemed only natural that I would drink from the clear, rushing stream.
I don’t intentionally run out of water. On long trips I even bring purification methods like an intelligent person should. But famously unprepared like some trail rookie, I had gone out on a ‘short’ ride with a single bottle of water and the day got hot.
Standing at the shore of the creek I grabbed my water bottle as my riding companions assured me they had extra water. Why would I drink their supplies when we had an ample source right here? I filled my bottle, guzzled down the fresh, cool liquid, and pedaled on.
We rolled around a corner and over a hill to a spectacular view – beautiful alpine wetlands of swampy bilge water where apparently hunters clean their prizes, the fish do their spawning, and the wildlife of the state go to die.
If I survive this sludge unscathed, I should donate my impervious intestines for scientific research. Not exactly willing to risk that, I have been subsisting on a diet of bentonite clay, diatomaceous earth, and enough potent botanicals to burn the hide of any parasite. And just in case that doesn’t work, I’ve got a stash of bio-weapons grade antibiotics in the cabinet.
Between now and my next outdoor adventure, I’ll be sure to throw one of those Straws of Life in my pack, just so I can still have that stream water experience without the additional life forms.
Ammi Midstokke can be found examining leftover water samples for single-celled organisms, or perusing the Army Surplus Store for iodine tablets.
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