I checked the temperature on my phone as I wiped the sweat dripping down my temple. Eighty-six. Not really that hot. But the morning weather report said the humidity was supposed to be at nearly ninety today. It felt like it. I walked on. I was thirsty. My map listed the next water source as twelve miles away. I had a liter and a half of water left. I took a swallow to moisten my mouth and thought about all of the advice about what to do when you were short of water.
As a hiker it wouldn’t be the first time I’d face a lack of water on this through-hike, but this was the first time since I’d started my trip. One school of thought was to drink sparingly until the next water source was reached. Wetting my mouth was in this vein. On the other hand, some people thought it was better to drink my fill, store the water in my body where it was needed anyway. Camel up, some called it.
I hitched my pack and adjusted the right strap. It was another two miles before I took another drink. Ten miles to go to the spring. Time to make a decision. I took a deep breath, then drank my fill. Cameling up it is, I thought. I just hope this isn’t a mistake. I trudged on, three-quarters of a liter of water left.
The next part of the trail was uphill. Olive Mountain it was called on the map. Halfway up, I was on the south side of the mountain, shadeless, and the trail was a rock scramble. My breathing was heavy and my mouth was dry but I resisted taking another drink. At the top, I told myself as I struggled over the rocks. The trail switchbacked up the mountainside. I never understood why a mile going uphill seemed longer than a mile on the level. I reached the top and took a moment to look around. This mountain was bald and the view was three hundred and sixty degrees of awesome. That was one of the best things about back-packing. It felt like the whole world was mine alone. A breeze helped cool me and I rewarded myself with another big drink. My water bladder was about a quarter full when I finished.
Eight more miles. The trail down the mountain went fast and the next part of the trail meandered through a swamp. The mosquitos were fierce and once past the swamp I stopped in the shade of a tree to dig some hydrocortisone cream out of my pack. The bug bites were already itching. While putting the lotion on, I wished for the breeze that was at the top of Olive Mountain. The sweat ran down my back. I flapped the back of my shirt, trying to dry off. That was a waste of time. There were five miles to go.
I eyed my water bladder. Drink the rest of the water now or wait another mile or two? I reached over and grabbed the bladder. Then drank it all. I was sweating so much, I really needed to drink. It would have been nice if the water was cold but beggars couldn’t be choosers. I packed everything up and pulled on my pack. Five miles would be about two hours. I started hiking. Two hours without water. In this heat. I was going to be thirsty.
As I hiked I started thinking about the water source at my destination. It had been a dry summer. Some of the trail’s water sources had dried up. I sincerely hoped that this one was still good or I was going to be in big trouble. I didn’t even want to think about having to hike without water. Just thinking about it made me thirsty. The trail wound out of the woods and into a wide-open grassland. The mid-afternoon sun beat down and I took off my hat, wiped my face and put the hat back on. Trudging on, the grassland lasted about a mile, then back into the woods. My shirt was soaked and I wanted water but it was gone. I cleared my mind. Forget about the water, I told myself. I hummed a tune, then took notice of all the flowers I passed and birds flying by. Another mile went by. Three to go.
It had been just an hour since my last drink, but I was thirsty. I dug a piece of hard candy out of my pack and popped that into my mouth. That helped. Anything I could do to trick my body into thinking it had water. The next mile went pretty fast. Then the next section was another climb. A deep breath and on I trudged. Up, up, up, a rocky trail that threatened my ankles.
I didn’t have enough spit in my mouth to swallow and my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth as I gasped for breath. I sure hoped the water source wasn’t dried up. The next water was six more miles away and I really didn’t want to have to hike six thirsty miles in the dark and try to find the water once I got there.
The sun was setting, and I was going slower. One more mile I told myself. Then you’ll get your drink. I went down the other side of the mountain, glad for the downhill. The sign post for the camp site was on my left, pointing out the trail. Four hundred feet. I straggled into the site. There were three other hikers already there. “Water?”
“Over there,” a young woman pointed.
I hurried over. A small spring trickled out of the side of the hill. Someone had dug out small pool lined with rocks. I dug out my cup and scooped water into my bladder and added the water treatment. Half an hour to wait for it to work and a nice cool drink.