Jumping Into the Wild

by Kathleen Meyer, April 2011

Last September our wild-country world sadly lost a great friend, James “Walkin’ Jim” Stoltz.

        To launch this blog, which is in large part focused on the safekeeping of wild country, it seems altogether fitting to begin with a tribute to Walking’ Jim . . . as long-distance hiker extraordinaire, song writer, troubadour, showman, and conveyor of—to the many who knew and loved him—a mountain of joy, wisdom, inspiration, and sweet old goodness. He, and all he stood for, will remain with us forever. You, too, can get to know him through his phenomenal lyrics and voice (meaning, not only the great baritone resonance of his vocal chords but the strength of the words he put behind protection of wild habitats and wild critters and speaking for all sorts of brothers and sisters without voice) . . . as well as through his magnificent outdoor photography; his journal entries; his award-winning children’s video “Come Walk With Me”; and his amazing bio—all at www.walkinjim.com.

        Several months before Walkin’ Jim’s body succumbed to an aggressive cancer, he granted me a brainstorming session for publication—specifically, on Giardia in the high country. Giardia is a subject we’d all rather not address because it brings up humping along filters, pumps, tablets, crystals, whatever, on our forays back to Nature and Simplicity. What irony! It’s only natural then that serious off-the-grid hikers—purists, minimalists, go-lighters—would grow thrilled at the slightest prospect of drinking straight from clear, sparkling headwaters and remaining Giardia-free. I had come to suspect, however, that by the time these enthusiastic reports filtered back to me they had probably picked up a bit of campaign spin, and I was of a mind to sort it out. If incidence of backcountry Giardia were overblown, we would all want to know. Thus it was that I sought out Walkin’ Jim. With his having planted one foot after the other along 27,000 miles of wilderness, he was surely the person to ask. Thus, the high points of his philosophy on “treating/not treating” backcountry surface water are included in the third edition of How to Shit in the Woods.

        But for the time being, hold your cogitations on Giardia. And let’s bask together in warm memories of Walkin’ Jim’s voice, persona, and spirit.

What’s up with Giardia? Myth or Misery?

by Kathleen Meyer, May 2011

In recent years, hot controversy over Giardia’s backcountry prevalence has arisen from corners of the outdoor community. It boils down to a few questions. Is it worth humping around field water treatment apparatus to protect yourself? Or is Giardia’s incidence overblown? Is fearmongering what’s promoting an industry of water treatment kits? Or is caution the sensible way to go? 

        Airing divergent views has always seemed to me a worthy endeavor. For the sake of focus, let’s confine the discussion to protozoa and not wander off into viruses and bacteria, which entail different field water treatment approaches. I’ll just get us started with a little background . . .

As usual, not much but pore size is absolute, or even simple. Got an opinion? Jump in. Survived Giardia, yourself? Share some details (anonymously, if you prefer).

Giardiasis is the name of the nasty intestinal affliction caused by the Giardia lamblia parasite. More commonly called Giardia, its symptoms can included the sudden onset of explosive diarrhea; a large volume of foul-smelling, loose (but not watery) stools, accompanied by abdominal distention, flatulence, and cramping; plus, nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite, headache, and low-grade fever. Acute symptoms can last 7–21 days, and chronic symptoms can persistent or become relapsing. Giardia is spread by fecal-oral transmission; meaning, it’s shed in the feces of one person and then ingested by another person, generally via contaminated hands and food. If you’re traveling and cooking in groups, a good preventative is to have all engage in obsessive hand washing, Howard Hughes-style.

         Seemingly, to complicate matters, it’s possible for a person to have Giardia and not know it. Such individuals are called “asymptomatic carriers” and, although they remain untroubled by symptoms and do not appear ill, they can pass along the affliction. The waterborne dormant cyst stage of Giardia is what’s known to survive in field water, particularly cold water, for long periods of time. Many animals carry strains of Giardia, and it’s an unfinished story as to which are zoonotic (passed from animal to human). Lucky for us, a filter with an absolute pore size of 3.0 microns will screen out all protozoan cysts.

         For some thirty years now, the U.S. Center for Disease Control & Prevention has not guaranteed that any of the world’s surface water is Giardia-free. And yet, that doesn’t mean every bucketful scooped from a stream contains cysts.

         As the breathing repository of countless divulged shitty stories, I hereby offer a couple of pertinent fringe observations. (1) Blanket statements when issued by a federal agency have a tendency to spark, especially among us fiercely independent (I won’t say anarchical) outdoor sorts, an automatic contrary opinion, coupled with the ineluctable challenge to disprove.  (2) The sunny-of-heart high-country trekker—or determined “go-lighter” (term for trimming down gear to a minimal few pounds)—will sometimes pride herself on scouting out trustworthy headwaters and not having to tote a field water treatment kit. If she/he can do it, could not we all?

A Dog Owner’s Shreeek

by Kathleen Meyer, June 2011

In the northern Rockies, we’re headed full swing into the delights of summer—creeks booming beneath snow-capped peaks, carpets of wildflowers, and, should you be especially lucky, a glimpse of moose or bear. No worries, right? Beyond a too-close encounter with wildlife, only a couple. If you’re planning to cover territory near the snow line, be vigilant about your tick inspections. The hordes of little buggers must be wired on caffeine. And then, also get educated about poop disposal—yours, of course, but also your dog’s. The only thing worse than a dog getting into human shit is a human getting into dog (or human) shit, not to mention the ruination of a lovely day, and a beloved trail. This next will plunge me into deep doo-doo with all my women friends who like to hike with their dogs: I’d personally rather see the dogs stay home! Unless their owners bring along Pooper Scoopers. As for the human poo, pack-it-out. Cat holes behind the bushes are no longer appropriate on heavily used trails.

        The following is a reprint of a “Letter to the Editor” that showed up in our local paper exactly a year ago:

PET PEEVES                                               

      Sunday afternoon I took my dogs for a hike to the Blodgett Overlook, accessed from the Canyon Creek Trailhead. It was a pleasant day, the skies were threatening rain that never came. We started up the switchbacks on our way to the overlook happy to be outside. I wasn’t too surprised to find a pile of dog poop in the middle of the trail, and I took a moment to push it off the trail with a rock out of courtesy to other hikers. I have done my best to teach my dogs wilderness ethics…i.e. No Pooping on the Trail. We continued on our way, enjoying the day, the dogs happily running through the woods chasing squirrels. About half way up the trail, one of my dogs turned right to sniff in between two large fallen trees. As I came along I noticed two large piles of toilet paper and called him to me. However, the damage was done and his muzzle was covered with human poop!  I did my best to scrub his chin with handfuls of dirt and moss, stuffing it into his mouth to get rid of the stink. There are no streams on the overlook trail so I couldn’t wash the filth off any other way. Needless to say the mood of the day was altered drastically after that. How could some moron take a dump in the woods less than 10 feet off the trail, and about 15 minutes from the trailhead where there is a perfectly nice and very clean forest service outhouse?!?! Couldn’t they have at least buried it properly?  They used enough toilet paper for five people! How GROSS!!! The really sad thing is this is happening on all our forest trails. What is wrong with people?! It’s bad enough when they won’t clean up after their dogs….worse yet when they act so thoughtlessly themselves. My dogs got a bath when we returned home, and the young one got his mouth washed out as well….Now I challenge all forest users to “Clean up their Act” and keep the forest free of feces!                                           

Hear! Hear! All Solo Poop Packers, it’s not so difficult anymore. See Chapter 4 in How to Shit in the Woods. And Check out these products:        

                        RESTOP 2

                        GO Anywhere Toilet Kit

                  Biffy Bag   

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