It was supposed to be a fairly easy backpacking trip. We started in a meadow and, for the most part, would be following a series of rivers and creeks the entire time. The weather was going to be fairly mild, so while sun bock was (always) a suggestion, heat stroke and dehydration weren’t too much of a concern.
I loaded up with two 1-liter bottles of water – one with plain water, one with Gatorade mix to help restock electrolytes. 1 With ample streams nearby and bearable heat overhead, this seemed to be more than enough.
Except it was a dry heat that sucked the moisture right out of your throat; we all ended up drinking twice what we were used to. My 2 bottles of water, which would have lated an 8-mile hike any other day, were both completely empty in less than 4.
I stopped at a river crossing and filled up – both my bottles and those of the rest of the group. Then we pushed on.
And the mosquitoes followed us.
I’m not affected by mosquito bites aside from being annoyed at being bitten. Everyone else, on the other hand, was itchy and swollen. We hiked even faster to avoid the clouds of insects, and the majority of our water was gone long before we reached our destination.
I made it to camp about an hour after my water ran out. Severely dehydrated, I’d stopped sweating, had a horrible headache, and despite having eaten nothing but trail mix since daybreak, couldn’t even stomach the thought of food. We pooled our bottles together, and two of us braved the clouds of bugs to trek back to the creek for refills.
I’ve never been thirstier in my life.
The next day we arrived on more heavily trafficked trails – that featured real campgrounds 2 and even running water from a drinking fountain. Every time we passed water, or a lake, or a stream we’d stop and top off our already full water bottles. No one, not even me, wanted to risk running dry again.
The day after we made it home from the trip, I met another group of friends to attend a conference at the Rose Garden Arena in Portland.
It was a hot day, hotter than it’d been in California where I was backpacking. I had an empty water bottle with me so I could fill up from a drinking fountain when I went inside (sports arenas have this stupid rule about no outside beverages, including water). It was so hot, though, that the vendors from inside started coming outside and peddling bottles of water to the crowd waiting in line.
Just as the line started to move.
I saw men and women by 1.5-liter bottles of water, remove the cap, and pour the water out on the ground so they could take the bottle into the arena. After spending a week in the mountains where every single drop of water was a precious, valuable, life-giving, hard-earned thing I watched people purchase water for no other reason than to pour it on the ground so they could use the container.
Before that day I thought people who cried over water were insane. On that day I joined in their insanity.
Through a lack of drinkable water I discovered just how vital it was and just how much I’d learned to take it for granted. I was angry at myself and ashamed for how I’d lived before learning that lesson. It’s fundamentally changed me as a result.
This week starts an event called Seven at my church. It’s an event where my church, in partnership with churches around the city gather to fast and pray together for a movement of God in Portland.
The goal is a seven-day fast. This is intense for anyone not experienced with fasting, and still intense even for those who are. The first year I participated, Seven happened to coincide with the Portland Marathon – I pushed to fast for the entire week before running a marathon. 3 Since then, I’ve used this week as an opportunity to reflect on things in my life I’ve begun to take for granted.
Things I don’t normally consider.
Things of this world that separate me from God.
Having limited access to water on a hiking trip taught me to better respect the gift of plentiful, drinkable water we have on hand. Fasting from food before running a marathon taught to to appreciate the wonderful food we have available – and just how available it is – and how it empowers us to do reckless things like run for 5-6 hours straight.
Fasting from television (and the horrors or myths of horrors perpetrated by the media) helps show other places and avenues to look for information and entertainment. The world is full of beauty, and that beauty is deeper than an electronic box of light in the corner of the room.
I can’t say for any one person what kind of a fast will be helpful or educational to them at any given time. That’s between you and God. All I can say is that scarcity, planned or unplanned, helps shine a light on the dependencies in your life. It exposes the lack of gratitude we have for gifts of our existence. It helps bring us closer to the God of the universe.
- I typically carried 3 liters of water while backpacking, 2 for me and 1 for whoever was dumb enough to forget theirs. Hiking with experienced friends, I figured the extra liter wasn’t a necessity, so I left the bottle and the weight that came with it in the car. ↩
- I have a skill of being able to walk randomly off trail and find a level area with a pre-existing fire pit for camp. We camped in the middle of nowhere every night, but at least had a fire. ↩
- This is not something I would ever recommend. After the constant urging of my brother (with his background and education in fitness and sports nutrition) I finally gave in and started eating the Thursday before the race – ending my official fast at 4.5 days. Still, the marathon that weekend was far more strenuous than I’d expected and I barely made it. ↩