I’ll Drink to That

I try to keep this website focused on the Apache Wars and one incident in particular in that long and tragic conflict. Most of my other public thoughts are at NM News Service. But since I encourage people to get out and explore Apachería on the ground and experience the country for themselves, I feel the obligation to offer some occasional cautionary advice for those who take up that challenge, I sometimes stray into what I think of as “lost in the woods” stories, not to engage in vicarious thrill-seeking or voyeuristic schadenfreude but to explore whether these incidents carry a valuable life lesson.

Such a one is this recent story from California, where a young couple wandered away from their vehicle in the Imperial Sand Dunes on the Cal-Mex border and were finally picked up by the Border Patrol five days later, very hungry and very, very thirsty.

I won’t criticize these poor folks; I got lost on a quarter-mile nature trail myself, years ago, and still haven’t lived it down. Dunes are so alien a terrain it’s very easy to get disoriented. To me the only more bewildering country is the hoodoos in De Na Zin and the Bisti in northwestern New Mexico. In those places even a compass is of limited utility; a good GPS is a must. The lesson, as always, is “Be Prepared.” Never get out of sight of your vehicle without the equipment you need to survive if not thrive.

A more interesting aspect of the California story is the report they drank their own urine to relieve their thirst. This detail shows up occasionally in survival stories and always raises the reaction: uck! The response to that, of course, is you’ve never really been thirsty. Overcoming that first hurdle, the question becomes: does it work?

There is water in the desert, of course – if you have the time and tools to get to it. You can dig a hole, if you have an entrenching tool or sturdy knife, and cover it with plastic, if you have plastic sheeting, to condense water from the air. Certain cactus plants will yield some moisture, but it’s often bitter and obtained only at the cost of more sweat than you want to expend.

So urine is if not an attractive option at least an efficient one. Your pee is 95% water; the problem lies in the waste products your body wants to discard. Plus, while I won’t get into the whole dehydration thing here, suffice to say your body is discarding less liquid through the kidneys and so the concentration of toxins increases as you recycle.

As you expect with any weird topic, there’s a lot on the web about all this (including some sites that are really disturbing). Short answer is, yes it will work, for a very short period of time. These two hikers were lucky to make it as long as they did.

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