After reading stories about a French family’s disastrous experience with the a desert hike in the American Southwest, I felt awful.
If you haven’t heard, here’s the quick version: A vacationing French family went for a hike near White Sands National Monument in Mexico. In August. With barely any water. The parents died; their 9-year-old son, Enzo, survived, but will have to live with the most awful memories and probably a terrible case of survivor’s guilt.
“How stupid! Didn’t they realize what they were doing”” squawked many people.
I understand this knee-jerk reaction: The national park authorities did everything possible to alert people of the dangers, with more than adequate warning signs. I can’t say why Ornella and David Steiner didn’t obey them. This unbelievably sad situation was unnecessary and easily avoidable.
But I feel a great deal of sympathy. Maybe they just didn’t understand the basics of human physiology and the critical role water plays in it. Or exactly how the hot, dry and unbelievably vast desert can suck moisture from a person’s body, especially during physical exertion. There is just nothing in France that can prepare a person adequately for the desert Southwest; it may as well be a different planet. Irresponsible articles like this mind-boggling piece of shit in the increasingly out-of-touch and haughty New York Times don’t help matters. The staggering ignorance of the comments is nearly equaled by the author’s ridiculous generalizations. The writer also failed to prove the harm in drinking 64 ounces a day, even in cooler, more humid conditions.His attitude encourages American to stay inadequately hydrated, fatigued, over-caffeinated and overfed.
Where I live, people need to get rescued from Camelback Mountain – which is right in the middle of a city – every single year. In 2014, first responders went on 120 rescue missions (remember, this is just one mountain among many in the Phoenix area). Nearly every one of these rescues can be traced to dehydration – from getting immobilized by heat exhaustion to the lack of mental sharpness induced by dehydration. That leads to bad decision making, which leads to falls and injuries. Note to the New York Times: Precisely zero people have been rescued from Camelback Mountain due to the effects of hyperhydration. No adult is going to get hyper-hydrated by drinking that often-stated 64-ounces-a-day standard.
My foreign friends, especially those from Europe where deserts aren’t really in your frame of reference, I don’t want this to happen to you. I want you all to get back home safely. So I’m going to give you a few things to think about:
- The deserts in the American Southwest are huge. In many cases, they’re bigger than the countries you live in. Do not underestimate their size.
- Drink a lot. If you drink three liters a day as a baseline (more for increased heat and/or physical activity), you’re going to be in at least somewhere close to your needs.
- If you’re exercising or hiking or doing any physical activity, you need some electrolytes to go along with your water. Drop a few Nuun tablets or a few scoops of Skratch Labs mix into a liter of water, and you’ll stave off cramps and other effects of heat exhaustion. (NOTE: Nuun and Skratch Labs did not compensate me in any way for being mentioned. They’re just what I use whenever I exercise outdoors in the desert. Use whatever tastes good or makes sense to you.)
- Don’t forget to bring a snack. Raisins and nuts are compact and calorie-dense, and can balance the calories you burn.
There are a great many tips for staying safe in the desert. I can’t even scratch the surface here. If you plan to visit a desert region, I recommend picking up a copy of 98.6 Degrees by Cody Lundin. You will learn incredibly valuable information on hydration, desert safety and other wisdom that can be the difference between life and death. I’m not exaggerating. If Ornella and David Steiner had read this book, they’d still be alive and Enzo would still have parents.
- “A French Couple’s Love for the American West Ends in Tragedy.” (althouse.blogspot.com)
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