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Hiking the North Country Trail: Building a tolerance for puddle water

The month of May came and went before I could even blink my eyes and now June is nearly over and July is fast approaching.

I’m ashamed to admit that the adventures on the trail for me and my hiking buddy have been few and far between.

As we all know May is the month of graduation parties as well as local events, and it’s the official kickoff of wedding season.

Getting my feet on the trail has been nearly impossible and now my mother and I are behind the pace we set for ourselves earlier this spring.

Just in the nick of time, I got simple yet brilliant advice from Bruce Johnson. Bruce is an active member of the Itasca Moraine Chapter of the North Country Trail Association, he’s far more experienced than I am and a very kind and helpful man. 

I was griping to him about my inability to find time for hiking; with my work obligations and personal commitments. He reminded me that people make excuses all the time why they can’t do things and he told me that I just needed to make an excuse to go hiking.

In today’s world we are all bogged down with work, to-do lists, responsibilities, agendas and so many things that absorb our time and attention. It becomes necessary to take the time to make time, so I took Bruce’s advice and I made the time.

On our last hike, we parked the car at the Halvorson trailhead located on County Road 4 and then hitched a ride to the Itasca State Park south entrance trailhead off of Highway 71.

We planned to hike from Itasca to Halvorson, which is nearly 12 miles.

It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining with a nice light breeze, making it the perfect day to be on the trail.

We started hiking sometime after 10 a.m. and stopped for lunch at the first campsite, which I would say is about three miles east of the park.

The campsite overlooks a small lake, so small I’m not even sure whether or not it has a name and as we ate, we silently watched two swans casually swimming in the cool water enjoying the beautiful afternoon.

I took the opportunity to test out my new water treatment drops for the first time, since I was not in dire need of water, it seemed like the right time to give them a try.

The swans watched me with vague curiosity as I scooped water into my bottle, filtering it through a handkerchief first. I added the bacteria killing drops then slipped the filled bottle back into the side pocket of my pack to let it sit for the required 30 minutes.

Let me tell you that "scummy puddle water" as my mother dubbed it, doesn’t exactly taste all that great.

If I were in desperate need of water and dying of dehydration it would serve the purpose but being the spoiled American that I am, my first choice would be river water that is constantly flowing and doesn’t become stagnant.

Luckily, I had filled my hydration reservoir before we left so drinking the puddle water was not going to be necessary.

Before I continue, let me emphasize one simple fact. Anything can happen on the trail, no matter how diligently you plan you can never truly be prepared; obviously I was never a Boy Scout.

The pleasant morning breeze had died out as the brush became thicker. The trees had not fully budded and the sun was excruciatingly hot so with no breeze and very little shade along the trail our journey became more difficult.

I quickly drained my water to stay hydrated but the exertion of the hike and the heat of the sun was the perfect collaboration to create a massive ocular migraine.

I started seeing a crystal kaleidoscope in my right eye which is a familiar trigger for me to immediately take something before I even have a glimmer of discomfort to avoid the excruciating pain that inevitably follows.

But I did not pack a single med and neither did my mother and so the pain set in and I was certain that my skull was going to split open.

I was forced to drink the scummy puddle water. With every sip all I could envision was the waterfowl that had been swimming just yards away from me.

The handkerchief had served its purpose with excellence. There was not a single bit of debris floating in the bottle but the drops could not eliminate the earthy flavor.     

We hiked another five miles, with more stops than would typically be necessary before I couldn’t go any further; the pain became unbearable.

We found an ATV trail and hiked out to Highway 71; at which point we  called my brother for a rescue.

We only made it 10 miles rather than the 12 we had planned on, but there was a few lessons learned.

Hiking is always an adventure and I am now indebted to  my hiking buddy for her patience with me that day. I felt like that little girl being tugged along by her again.  

I’m sure you won’t find "scummy puddle water" among the Kool-Aid drink mixes in the grocery aisle. But I can appreciate the necessity of water that won’t kill you; no matter how bad it tastes.  And it gave me a new perspective on what it must be like for those that go without quality drinking water.

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