This I Believe

Joanne - Gainesville, Florida
Entered on July 3, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: nature, setbacks

I’ve always thought that everybody should try to take a backpacking trip at least once in their lives. This occurs to me again after each hurricane warning here in Florida, and it definitely crossed my mind when Katrina hit the Gulf coast.

When you are carrying everything on your back that’s needed to sustain life, you gain a different perspective on what you really need. I expected to eat a week’s supply of food on a typical trek into the wilderness, and almost all of it was assembled from grocery stores. I packed dried fruit, instant coffee, quick-cooking noodle and rice dishes, dried meats and hard cheeses, powdered milk, puddings, and cookies and granola bars. Using a small camp stove and incredibly stingy amounts of fuel, I was able to heat water for hot beverages and cook my main meals.

Water was the biggest challenge. Increasingly, there is no safe surface water to drink while on trips such as this, even in remote areas. When you have to carry it, water weighs in at a pound per pint. Even where sources were plentiful, I took along a water purification device that made virtually any questionable water supply drinkable.

When I went backpacking, I did miss crisp greens and ice cream, but I didn’t suffer. And when I got back to civilization, I exalted in the return to life’s flavors and conveniences, appreciating them more than ever.

During the Katrina debacle, it seems that there was a great demand for ice, and trucks of it were being shuttled around from place to place. My husband and I got into a discussion one day about those bags of ice. Why do people need ice, we wondered? Admittedly, there are prescription drugs whose safety may be threatened if they get too warm, but aside from that, why would anyone need ice?

Maybe emergency services should provide water purification tablets or filters, rather than rafts of bottled water, especially in circumstances where water is still available but of doubtful purity. Maybe citizens should be urged to purchase or drag out their old camp stoves and keep fuel on hand, rather than spending hundreds of dollars on generators. Grocery stores could run ads featuring nonperishable foods that are quick to cook or edible “as is”.

It always surprises me that there is so little emphasis on THIS kind of preparation for natural disasters or manmade power outages. People who have backpacked understand that wilderness can be anywhere.