Isle Royale is 99% wilderness, which means no roads, cars, or reliable, potable water. There’s plenty of water to be found, but I was going to have to process it to drink. This was new to me, as I have always had access to clean and safe drinking water—a luxury I realized I had been taking for granted. This made me a little nervous.
Before I left, I packed 128 ounces of water with me, but between cooking several meals, and the fatigue that comes with lugging a 40-pound pack up and down four miles of wilderness, most of that water was gone by day two.
After I made camp, not far off the shore of Lake Superior, I decided to try my hand at processing water. So, I grabbed my brand-new water filter kit and gave it the “old college try.” About 10 minutes in, it occurred to me that I hadn’t considered the amount of effort that I would have to put in, just getting one 32-ounce water bladder to fill with lake water. The water pressure from the lake kept collapsing the plastic bladder, which meant that very little water made it into the reservoir. It took me almost an hour to gather, filter, and then boil all the water I collected; this was a lot more work than just turning on a tap.
During this process, I was tired and frustrated and felt a little out of my depth. Then, a lightbulb went off in my head: People have to do this every single day to survive in some parts of the world. Growing up with the privilege of safe drinking water literally at my fingertips, I never had to work very hard to quench my thirst. I had been taking that for granted for 27 years.
It was during this trip that I realized the true importance of water operators, and the industry I help support with my job at WPI. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I never truly thought about how clean water gets to me until I had to get it myself. All of that changed this summer—and I am so thankful for this new perspective.
I learned a lot on my trip, but the most important lesson I learned was that clean, accessible water should never be taken for granted. Thank you to all the water operators for doing what you do and ensuring we have clean drinking water, especially during a global pandemic!