The Healing Power of Water by Mary Kirlin

For me, an hour at the ocean can erase weeks of worry or stress. Rivers and streams at their headwaters, high in the mountains are equally mesmerizing. Paddling my kayak on flat early morning lake water is soothing.  Being in, on and near water is deeply restorative for me. 

But it turns out, I was missing an equally powerful property of water. 

I spent most of my life knowing I had a low tolerance for altitude. I could count on headaches if I spent the night anywhere over 4,000 feet.  And when I ventured above 6,000 feet, nausea was likely to set in. For a long time, I just thought I had bad travel juju.  I have literally gotten IV fluids and anti-nausea medication in emergency rooms in Yosemite, Yellowstone, Snowbird, Lake Tahoe, Estes Park and Big Bear. I specialized in high mountain clinics.  It didn’t keep me from going, but it was costly and unpleasant.  Eventually my doctor prescribed acetazolamide, the medication they give climbers as they head to places like 28,000-foot-tall Mt. Everest.  I took it to go to Yosemite Valley, a measly 4,000 feet above sea level.  

Somewhere in my travels I picked up lyme disease, that’s a post for another time, but I was lucky enough to see a world renowned lyme expert. Months of waiting and a very expensive hour awaited me.  At the exam he did the classic “pinch” test on my hands, how quickly did the skin recover?  “You’re dehydrated” he said.  Yes, I explained, I’d never been a fan of drinking water.  Then he said something that stopped me in my tracks.  

“Don’t bother seeing me again if you aren’t drinking at least half your weight in ounces of water every day.”   

There were a lot of things I expected but that wasn’t one of them.  I was doing many things to try to get rid of lyme and I added drinking water to my list. I’m not going to lie.  I hated it at first.  I didn’t like the taste of many waters.  I didn’t like the plastic aftertaste from my bottles.  And I really didn’t like all those extra bathroom trips.  But I complied.  For every two pounds of body weight, I drank one ounce of water daily. 

The first trip to Yosemite Valley was about a month after my water intake increased.  No headaches.  The next summer as we headed to our favorite camping lake at 7,000 feet I wondered if the extra water would ease my usual 2-4 day acclimation period.  Normally I would sleep fitfully for the first 2-3 nights and have a nasty headache. I slept somewhat better and only had the smallest headache.  The next trip I increased my water intake 3 ahead of time.  Voila.  I still get winded, but I no longer suffer from altitude sickness. 

It’s still a conscious effort for me to get enough water but I’ve learned a few tricks to keep me hydrated at home, on the road and while I’m camping.  I aim for 2.5-3 liters a day now.  Here’s how.  

Get half the required water in early in the day.  The first liter goes in following my morning coffee.  I found a one-liter container I like, and a wide-mouth straw seems to help me drink more.  If I’m hiking or in higher elevations that day, I try to get the second liter in within two hours.  I know I’ll get the last liter in over the course of the day.  

Use a backpack with a bladder.  I love my Camelbak hydration pack. It holds 3 liters of water and has plenty of room for everything else without being too bulky.  I keep it packed for day hikes with the essentials; a first aid kit, water purifier, pocketknife, whistle, and snacks.  It even swallows up a down vest.  But the most important feature is the tube that puts water in front of my face.  I can drink easily without stopping and the weight of 3 liters of water provides an incentive for me to drink.  Making my pack lighter is motivating! 

Drink hot water with lemon.  I learned this trick from my lyme recovery, lemon helps your system filter out the yucky stuff more efficiently.  And hot water just makes everything feel better.  Zojirushi, a high-quality brand from Japan, makes a thermos that will keep your water really hot for 6-8 hours and hot enough for up to 24 hours.  My thermos holds 35 ounces and has a camping theme on it.  Perfect!  I drink hot water on long drives and fill my thermos in the morning when I’m camping.  

Water is indeed healing.  Be near it, in it or on it.  But don’t forget to drink it!  

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