One of the aspects about backpacking that I didn’t think about much before I had Sam was all the issues involved with keeping my family hydrated. When it was just Chris and me, I thought of stopping to pump water as a necessary evil that would slow us down and keep us from exploring as much as I would like. For an overnighter, we’d fill up our two 3 liter Camelbak bladders, and often that would be enough for a whole trip, partially because I hated stopping and would unwisely drink more sparingly.
This attitude changed after I suffered from pretty severe dehydration following one of our trips on Targhee Creek Trail. On the first day we hiked over 6 miles to Clark Lake where we camped. On the second, we did four or five miles of off-trail exploration, looking for a number of other small lakes that we saw on our GPS. I never realized how much more tiring it is to hike off-trail, and was completely beat on the third day when we packed up and started heading back down. On the homeward trek we were also trying to beat some rain clouds, so we only stopped and filled up a couple of Nalgene bottles rather than fully replenishing our Camelbaks. We ended up jogging the last mile in the rain. When I got back to the car, I drank too much water too fast, and ended up vomiting from it. Everything turned out ok, but I learned my lesson, and always take the time to pump water.
Now I enjoy the experience of stopping to pump and have started thinking of it as something we get to do. In fact, it has become one of my favorite activities on the trail, especially now that we are backpacking with a young child.
One of the best parts about stopping to pump is that it interests Sam and will motivate him to sit down and rest for at least a little while. He is good about telling us he needs a break on the trail, but that is not the case when we’re in camp. His constant curiosity requires constant surveillance, which means that Chris and I rarely get a true break while we’re out. We’ve joked that we are as tired after a backpacking trip involving 6 or less total miles and a 2 year old as we were after a trip involving 15 or more miles but no child. Sam usually sits on Chris’s lap next to the water, and because we need to replace our filter, it regularly took us up to half an hour to pump enough water to replenish our supply. It is nice to have an activity that involves sitting down and sitting still, when no-one is going to get hurt!
We usually pop off our shoes and splash our feet in the water while we pump. It is such wonderful family time. It forces us to sit together next to the calming waters for a while. Anything to force yourself to slow down is a good thing in my book!
Pumping also creates a number of excellent learning opportunities for Sam. When we pull out the pump, Sam instantly becomes interested, wanting to help assemble the pieces and physically pump the water himself. We use an MSR pump with an interior ceramic filter, a pump, and a hose which is immersed in the water. We attach a Nalgene bottle to the base of the pump, where the water proceeds. Sam understands how the product is assembled, and knows the process of how water is collected. If he doesn’t get the physics of it all – not that I do either – he at least has a sense of what is going on.
We also use pumping as an opportunity to do some more “academic” learning too. While Chris and Sam pump, they count each time they depress the lever, as high as Sam can go. In late May, Sam was counting to five. Slowly but surely, Chris added more numbers to the count. By early September, he was counting to twenty. I think that this real-world counting scenario helped to bring the experience of counting alive for him.
The final reason why I’ve learned to love pumping is that it really sums up what I love about hiking. When I enter into a natural space, so often I feel like a mere spectator, gazing on the scenery, but not really of it. But when I’m active in that space, even just hiking in it, I feel more powerfully that I’m in that space. That experience of real presence is heighted by pumping water or picking berries, when I’m actively participating in the natural surroundings and literally consuming them. I am so grateful for the experience of being fully present in the spectacular surroundings of Idaho, and for being lucky enough to share that experience with my family.