“I do believe that deprived of the softness of dirt beneath our feet, the freedom of fields, and the warmth of the color green, we all get a little thirsty no matter how urban and new age we think we are.” I wrote that a month and a half before I left for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike attempt but had not read this until several hours ago. At the time I was thirsty for adventure and for a natural setting. When people asked me why I came out onto the trail, my response became, “I had itchy feet.” It was a simple response for the complexity of emotions that brought me to this place. I wanted to move, to live, and to experience and I felt that what I was currently doing was robotic and boring and in some sense it was. I had lost the “thirst” that I have always used to define myself.
Less than a month into my adventure, with an empty bottle in the midst of an enormous thunderstorm on top of a mountain, I attempted to sleep in a shelter with two other hikers and a very, very persistent mouse. After having the mouse crawl across my face in search of the crumbs hidden in my scant beard, I zipped up my sleeping bag all the way with only my nose exposed. With a winter sleeping bag, a short time later I became overheated and extremely dehydrated. Frustrated and exhausted, I put on my camp shoes and donned my headlamp.
“Where you going?,” a man called Tahoe asked.
“I’m going to get some damn water. I’m tired of this,” I responded. They were running on minimal water as well but knew the condition of the source at the base of the mountain and were willing to go thirsty. I began the descent of the cliff that the shelter rest on in search of the puddle at the bottom. Having slipped and fallen several times along the way, I managed to find a mud pit at the bottom. I took one step and two into the mud but when I went to take a third step, my shoe stayed in the mud. And likewise for the fourth step. I dug around in the mud to retrieve the shoes but only found sticks and rocks. The shoes were lost. A hundred yards away, through the thick mud was the trickle of water. Once there, I scooped the thick murky mess into my bottle. The orange substance was less water and arguably just watery mud. With mosquito larvae scattered throughout the murk, I did not hesitate to get the fluid up to the shelter to sterilize it so I could have something I felt was safe to drink.
I climbed the cliff face in bare feet to find the other two guys waiting for my arrival. Having come all the way from Georgia, they were excited for the show of new hiker’s mistakes. They were enjoying witnessing my inexperience as much as I was about to enjoy some orange water. I showed up with mud covering my arms and legs. I took a UV pen to the murk, a water neutralizing technique that does not add or remove anything from the water but instead kills the pathogens within it. This is great for enjoyment of the natural taste of refreshing mountain springs, but not so good for this kind of water.
“You’re gonna drink that?,” Lone Wolf asked.
The light from the UV pen lit up the mosquito larvae and other fun unknown specimens scattering the concoction. Before I could answer the first gulp was down my throat. And the second. And soon half a liter was gone. But with my thirst quenched, I saw past the hydration and realized what it was that I was drinking.
The next morning the two decided my trail name would be Thirst. Having brushed off meaningless names like mousetrap and late start, I was willing to accept Thirst.
I kept the original meaning of Thirst alive by only carrying a maximum of one liter of water for the entirety of my trip. Frequently throughout my hike my bottle would empty well before the next water source. I would ask hikers heading northbound where the next water source was and upon asking my trail name, they would realize this is a common occurrence.
But the name evolved to mean so much more to me. I embraced it for the thirst for adventure and answers and love. My explanation for my hike turned from itchy feet to instead a thirsty heart. I have been harassed for my silly trail name so frequently and compared to the hardcore names of some mountain men, it seems a little dainty. But when I found myself in situations where becoming a frozen corpse became an option, my thirst for life kept me warm. When the option to win and suffer or lose and be comfortable has faced me, my thirst drove me to a win. But the thirst is more than simple persistence. It is recognition of so mething greater within me. I’ll embrace my trail name and my thirst and if nothing else it’ll help keep me alive.