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Wanderer at rest: A Coke please, or the dangers of dehydration in a water-rich environment



By Jamie Balke contributor

With a brotherly introduction, by John Balke

Though she is far too understated to admit it, my sister is a force of nature. Don’t let her penchant for book recommendations or her disturbingly albino guinea pig fool you. Among other things, she has served as a park ranger, a wildland firefighter and an EMT-I in a remote setting. As a senior officer of an outdoors club, Jamie has led various expeditions. I mention the above to illustrate the absurdity of the following story.

My younger brother is one of my best friends. Although we were always close as kids, we went separate ways when I entered high school. It wasn’t until I graduated from college and began my first seasonal Park Service job in Grand Teton National Park that we remembered how much we actually have in common.

John had just graduated from high school, so he came out for a visit before beginning a semester with the National Outdoor Leadership School.

After reviewing different hiking options, we decided on Shoshone Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park. Depending on the route you choose, the 16- to 17-mile-roundtrip can lead past Lone Star Geyser, a personal favorite. I love this geyser because it has a fake-out eruption before the spectacular main one.

Let me preface what I am about to say: When feasible, I try to let fellow hikers know about the second eruption. I also kind of enjoy watching people leave after the first one.

We started down the trail to Lone Star, which meanders alongside the Firehole River. Also intended for bicycle travel, the trail is paved. The asphalt ends at the geyser, where we waited for the eruptions before continuing down the path that would take us to our destination, and a valuable learning experience.

Truth be told, I found the first part of this trail a bit monotonous. However, just about the time I was starting to feel disappointed with the scenery, we emerged into a beautiful series of stream-crossed meadows. We continued along and eventually arrived at the Shoshone Geyser Basin.

There was only one other person there, and after a summer of shuffling along crowed boardwalks past thermal features, it was wonderful to explore this remote basin in relative isolation.

For reasons I can’t explain, on the return trip I stopped drinking water. Even if it had run out, I always hike with a purifier, and water was everywhere. I mean everywhere. Perhaps in my dehydrated brain, the water in my CamelBak had lost appeal after becoming warm, but regardless, the last few miles of most hikes rarely seem like that big of a deal. This is what we call a warning sign.

Several miles from the trailhead, I started fiercely craving a Coca-Cola. In elaborate detail I described convoluted scenarios involving my desire for the Firehole River to be made of this most delightful of sodas. I decided I would need a straw, so as to avoid getting my hair in the oh-so-sweet carbonated river (Brotherly note: At this point I was becoming concerned).

My brother’s misgivings aside, neither of us realized how severely dehydrated I was until we made it to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge Geyser Grill, and I almost passed out in line to order. I sat down at a table, and still insisted upon a Coke. As this particular beverage was the exact opposite of what I actually needed, when it did arrive, it was sickening. I didn’t finish it.

Now, whenever I try to order a Coke, my brother hands me water.

P.S. Sisterly note: Thanks for the cool title.

P.S.S. Brotherly note: You’re welcome. Whether she wants me to or not, I’m going provide further future introductions, so you can enjoy some of our more notable mishaps. Hopefully, through careful study, you can learn a few things not to do.

Jamie Balke moved to Bozeman in the fall of 2009. She can generally be found behind the cover of a book, meandering down a trail or desperately trying not to kill houseplants.

Megan Paulson is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Outlaw Partners.

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