The trail wound around the rim, rising and falling, weaving through the pines. Occasionally, an ATV would blow past, leaving us in a cloud of dust. We walked to the side of the trail, which was made of limestone and cinder. Maya's pads were suffering from the sharp stone and the day was hot, so we stayed off the path and in the shade and soft grass.
Just as I was wondering if my calculations were off and we had passed the first of the mapped water holes, we dropped below a small hill and in the distance saw the small green sign identifying Johnson Spring. My heart raced with anticipation. Would it be flowing? Would it be safe? With the fire ban in place and no filter, I had no means of purification.
My research told me to avoid stagnant or brackish water. Also to watch for white encrustation around the edges that might indicate the presence of poisons or alkali. It took a few minutes of searching through the tall weeds to find the source of the spring.
The water from Johnson Spring seeped out of the ground and formed a tiny pool just shy of a cubic foot in size. A narrow stream bed, dry and overgrown, extended both north and south from the shallow depression. There were a few plants growing in and around the water. The spring looked clean and cool and flowed slowly from the bottom, avoiding stagnation. It had no discernible odor.
Next I looked for the presence of hemlocks, belladonna, or other noxious plants that can leach toxins. I wasn't able to identify the few plants that grew there, but none were recognizably poisonous.
Like with water, there are warning signs that unidentified plants may be hazardous. I saw no furry plants, resinous plants, or plants with red or white berries or flowers. Again, no guarantee.
Maya's canine constitution could handle any likely micro organisms. I let her drink her fill.
The most prevalent danger from untreated water is Giardiasis, a protozoan infestation that wreaks havoc on the small intestine. The Giardia are carried in the intestines of humans, cattle, other small mammals, and is spread to water through fecal contamination. The affliction these little bastards cause is known by the colorful name Beaver Fever. Most animals who carry the protozoa are asymptomatic, as are some people. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide suffer the symptoms of
Symptoms can appear any time between one and fifteen days after ingestion, and begin suddenly. There are gut wrenching cramps, explosive diarrhea, and projectile vomiting. These occur along with loss of appetite, general weakness, and odorous belching. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to six weeks and when its all over, it can cause varying degrees of permanent lactose intolerance.
Everything I knew about water, I learned in books before I hit the trail. The one thing all of them had in common was the assertion that untreated groundwater cannot be assumed safe without extensive study and high powered microscopy. Even boiled or filtered water can contain unseen dangers like salinity, alkalinity, heavy metals, chemicals, and pesticides,
I cringe to see people drink untreated water of any kind, and would have preferred another option. The only tracks I saw near the spring were from birds. I saw no sign of cattle, and the dry stream, even at full flow, would too small to support beavers. With the added assurance that it was spring water and only just broke the surface, I drank.
The rural folk I grew up around taught me that the bowels are the barometer of health. I subscribe to this adage and generally pay attention, more so in survival situations. For the next two weeks, however, I would be worriedly monitoring all of my bodily functions. Each fart or rumbling of belly could be cause for concern. I was properly hydrated and feeling fit, but had condemned myself to weeks of apprehension and fear. Time would tell.
I had to make the decision whether to continue on or spend the night near the spring and start the next day refreshed and with full bottles. My maps indicated there was another spring three miles distant. There were a few hours of daylight left so after stashing half the gear, we took our chances and moved on. If Kehl spring wasn't flowing, we might have to return anyway.