WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE
AND NOT A DROP TO DRINK
Deciding that my family needed a memorable bonding
experience, I recently suggested we go backpacking in the High Sierras for
a couple of nights.
The kids were, of course, thrilled to spend some
quality time with their parents. "Okay, weíll go," they
responded, "as long as we can bring a friend."
As for my wife, who is not fond of dirt, she had a
similar reaction. "Okay, Iíll go," she said, "as long as
you bring a friend who knows what the hell heís doing."
Once again, a stab at my manhood. Fortunately, I had
already evaluated the situation and realized our chances of survival were
slim if I was to be the leader. Her cuts missed the mark.
"Done. I already asked Bob. Heís a veteran
backpacker and heís agreed to be our leader."
So we rounded up some naÔve friends of the kids,
rented some backpacks and headed for the high country, stopping at the
final little outpost for some last-minute supplies.
"You didnít bring a filter for the water?" I
asked Bob, incredulously. "What are we going to drink?"
"River waterís fine," he replied. "I drink
it all the time and Iíve never been sick."
This was our leader and we believed in him. Until then.
I yelled to the kids. "Stock up on Crystal Geyser,
whatever you can carry." And to my wife: "Sorry."
Our first lesson in backpacking came very early: water is
heavy. Our second lesson came shortly thereafter: Despite warnings to
conserve water, itís pretty clear that the more you drink, the lighter
your load. Halfway to our destination, the water was gone.
Coincidentally, this was exactly where we crossed the
one and only stream. Actually, "stream" is stretching it.
"Piddling little creek" is a more accurate description.
"Trust me," said Bob, bending down, way down, to
fill up his water bottle. "I guarantee you this water is fine to
To prove his point, he took the bottle to his lips and poured
the water down his throat as all of us watched, horrified.
"Ahhhh," he smacked, "nothing like the taste
of mountain spring water."
We cringed, waiting for something to happen. My wife and I
knew bacteria took a little time to get to the stomach, but by the looks
of the dirty little creek, we thought about 20 seconds ought to do it.
These thoughts, of course, were tempered by our incredible
thirst. The kids had all filled up their bottles and, following their
leader, were happily pouring the water down their ignorant little throats.
Seeing no one toppling over, or worse, heading off into
the woods, my wife and I reluctantly filled our bottles and took measly
sips of the piddling little creek water. Our leader had guaranteed us, and
even if we didnít quite believe him, we were really thirsty.
I watched my wife drink. Any bacteria would have a
tough time getting past her clenched teeth. She was probably safe.
"Hey, Dad, look at this." It was my 11-year
old son, running up to me from up--piddle with his water bottle.
"Look what I caught."
I donít know if bacteria has legs, or if they swim
with a frog kick, but this bug was not something Iíd want to pour down
my throat. And as the water settled in the bottle, it was clear that the
big bug had hundreds of little friends swimming around that might grow up
to be big bugs---in my stomach.
Bob took a good look at the bottle, studying it,
turning it, putting it up to the sun for a closer look. We all stood by,
wondering how much weight we were likely to lose in the next few miserable
weeks. Finally, he turned to us, as all leaders must, and gave us his
"I still guarantee you this water is safe to
drink," he announced, "but just to be extra certain, we should
probably boil it from now on."
Although no one actually got sick, I swear that from
that exact moment, my stomach has never felt the same.