It wasn’t until I almost passed out at the top of a mountain that I really understood how much I underestimated the effects of dehydration. I have the Dalai Lama to thank for this, you know. No, really.
Sure, I knew hydration was important for everyone else, but I figured, meh, I can do without for a bit. When I went out hiking last week, I packed a little water bottle for Brody- he hikes with a fur coat on, after all, and filled my little Camelbak running pack and set it on the counter, where it remained for the rest of the day because I forgot to put it in the car.
By the time I had realized my mistake, we were already on the road. It wasn’t a huge deal. I knew the weather was going to be hot, so I steered towards the coast where the temperature was a little more temperate. Plus, the coastal trail has plenty of water fountains.
But then his Holiness intervened.
No accident. Just, you know, the Dalai Lama talking to 20,000 enthralled admirers at San Diego State, which resulted in what one might delicately describe as a traffic situation. So rather than sit around and wait for all 20,000 of them to find the five available parking spaces on campus, we turned around and went to my alternative trail.
I love this trail, actually. 6 miles of beautiful country, 3 miles up, 3 back down. And when it’s not 85 degrees out, it really is lovely. But when it is 85 out, well, it’s a bit more of a slog.
Especially since there are no water fountains. Perhaps this is a sign, I thought. The Dalai Lama teaches courage, after all. I can do this. I’m tough. Brody trotted alongside gamely, goading me up the mountain. Sure, it was a little slow, but it was a good trot.
Halfway up we came across a tiny creek, where Brody joined a Corgi and rolled around for a bit. I briefly considered joining him but had to content myself with letting him shake off on me. With a nice soggy wet coat to evaporate and cool him off, Brody was good to go, so we soldiered on as the sun beat down on us.
“Let go of worldy anxieties,” the Dalai Lama exhorts. It was with this in mind that I decided I needed to let go of my worries about turning myself into a raisin, shrivelled up like a husk on the hillside. I lapsed into a state that could be either meditative or hallucinative, I’m not really sure which. I felt fine, that’s all I know.
We reached the top, and plopped down on the inexplicably placed mountaintop picnic table for a minute. I took out Brody’s bottle of water. I looked at Brody. “Be compassionate,” his Holiness whispered in my head. So I gave the dog all the water. I felt just fine.
Then I stood up, and the world started to swim.
“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry,” said the Buddhist in my skull. Despite his advice, I was a little bit worried. We had three miles to go, after all, and I had just given my last bit of water to a dog whose only concern in life was making sure the cat didn’t get all his food.
I don’t even remember taking this picture. Why do I look so happy? I felt like garbage. Anyone looking at my phone for clues as to my untimely passing would have thought Brody pushed me off the top- because surely, this is not the picture of a person in distress.
I’ve heard it said that freezing to death produces a state of euphoria shortly before your actual demise. I don’t know if heat stroke provides a similar experience- though based on what I’ve seen, I’m guessing not. All I know is that I entered a thoughtful state on the way back down, wondering what you all would have made of my sunburned carcass being found on a backwoods trail with Brody nosing through my pockets in search of Powerbars. I’d like to think you all would have known I died giving my last drop of water to the dog, but I think a just as likely assumption would have been: “Dr V saw a mountain lion- or just an Irish setter that she thought was a mountain lion- and died of a heart attack. What a shame.”
But my point is twofold here:
1. Don’t be a dummy like me. Always assume you’re going to be stuck in conditions more extreme than you were planning on. And always have a backup water bottle in the car, if you tend to the absent-minded like I do. Just in case.
2. Never invoke an ascetic Buddhist when heat stroke is on the line. Next time, Brody’s sharing the water bottle.