How Thirst Gave Me Perspective On What Matters Most


Andrew Clair

Withered trees surrounded parts of the trail, giving much needed protection from the intense rays of desert sun.

Andrew Clair, Assistant Editor

Smoke drifted in from wildfires farther south, graying out the otherwise beautiful sunset, coating the sky above me while strangling my lungs with each breath. As I desperately strode for the freshwater that I eventually would find babbling from a hillside spring, I began to realize that much of the struggle I experienced previously, back home, had been manufactured by school or the expectations I “needed” to live up to, whereas the thirst I felt now struck me as starkly real. Much of the 400 mile Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail had been desert, and I commonly found myself with no water source for up to 10 miles; sometimes 20 miles in particularly dry areas where the fauna was long shriveled into nothing. 

I had failed to ration my water properly, and came to regret it more with each passing moment.

Smoke nestled into the valley, coating the sky and lungs of each hiker traveling though. (Andrew Clair)

Though my boundless daydreams of water were often comforting and sweet, they increasingly left me disappointed when confronted with the reality that there is, in fact, no oasis, real or imaginary, in sight. Consequently, my skin was dry and hot to the touch, and my insides felt like a burning flask long emptied of any substance, yearning for the satiating relief of water. 

In an ironic twist, even with 21st-century technology at my fingertips connected directly to a satellite allowing me to communicate with nearly anyone anywhere in the world, water, the most basic, necessary, and inexpensive commodity, was painfully far from reach. Like clockwork I reached for my phone, for what must have been the seventh time that mile, and gave another peek at the distance so innocently placed near the water drop icon, symbolizing the next source to filter water…

12 miles further.

Despite the intense desire to reach my destination and relieve the overwhelming ache that swelled in the pit of my stomach, I found myself drawn to the soft beds of grass that hadn’t quite been eradicated by the wildfires years before, sparsely scattered across the landscape, poking out from the otherwise desolate trail. The trees, though far and few between, and often looking as wilted as the scenery itself, still provided a modicum of comforting shade.


Scree stretched across the landscape for miles, baking in the summer heat. (Andrew Clair)

Commonly this conflict occurred; on one hand, I knew slowly reclining into my backpack and resting in the shade would provide a moment of relief from the sun, and on the other hand, surrendering to the trail would only diffuse the momentum I needed to reach my destination. I chose temptation.

Separated from civilization for nearly three weeks, I found ordeals on the trail, though not as drastic as this, consistently revealing the power of the raw perspective we find in struggle, connection with others, and the pursuit of the passions we have regardless of profit or praise.

I was completely alone; my sweaty hands gripping the trekking poles with every step, my feet bruised and battered from the relentless days I had to endure, my eyes readily fixed on the craggy trails leading off into oblivion, and most importantly my existence only perceived by my own mind and heart, completely distanced from the ideals of success American culture is so foundationally based upon.

This disconnection from society was the cornerstone of my growth. Where I once chased the approval of my teachers to obtain the highest grade, I now simply did what was necessary to keep hiking to the next mound of sand or the next windy crest. I find my peers often treating that one missing homework assignment or that C test grade as if it were the missing water from their trail. Luckily, it never is.

Here in this untamed wilderness I found myself slowly coming to the terrifying realization that the things we value so much — our social status, our material wealth, the grades we get, or the titles we have — all pale in comparison to the mighty mountains that towered above me with their icy peaks and tranquil glacial streams. Ironically it was there in the desert, and in so many other places where I craved water, food, and social interaction, that I found what I believe American society to be desperately thirsting for.