We have a policy in my hiking club — never hike alone! This past summer, on the Teton Crest Trail, Randy, Russ and I took a break at the Cascade fork. We had about a mile and a half to hike to our campsite. Three friends were in front of us and three behind us. Since I struggled up Hurricane Pass in the morning, a climb of more than 1,000 ft. in less than a mile, I told Randy and Russ I would take off early to start the climb. The last mile and a half to the campsite was all uphill.

I found I actually had more energy than when climbing Hurricane Pass and was making good time. As I rounded the bend, I saw, in the middle of the trail about 50 ft. in front of me, a very large black bear. My heart began racing a mile a minute. I immediately grabbed my bear spray and started to slowly back up, keeping my eyes on the bear. Then, off to my left, I noticed a bear cub eating just off the trail. The problem was that I was closer to the bear cub than mama bear. In other words, I was in big trouble if mama bear noticed me.

Then I noticed a couple of dumb day hikers on the north side of the trail above the bear. They were foolishly trying to sneak up on the bear to get a better picture. In a way, I felt relieved because the bear would eat them before she ate me. Then I got angry. Those of us who backpack get a back-country permit from the National Park Service. We have to go through bear training every year before we can start hiking.

Day hikers can just take off without a permit, without bear spray, and without knowing the dangers of bears.

After backing up about 100 ft., I reached for my camera. Then I started to yell. You are supposed to make noise so the bears will run off. Bears are more afraid of us then we are of them — or at least that is what they tell us. With the noise, the bear noticed the dopey day hikers and reared up on her hind legs. Mama bear was taller than me. I took a picture with one hand while holding my bear spray in the other hand. It was a poor photo since I couldn’t hold the camera steady.

Russ and Randy arrived just in time to see the bear disappear into the woods. My heart finally calmed down. Luckily for them, the dopey day hikers were safe.

My hiking club is an eclectic group: three doctors (including a heart surgeon), a dentist, a truck driver, a high school teacher, a retired middle school teacher, a retired salesman, a pipefitter, a minister, a college professor, an IT professional, an accountant, a publishing executive and me. Yet, we all have fun together.

Bear encounters are very rare. That was a first for our group. We have seen bears off in a distance, but we have never had to pull out our bear spray with the possibility of using it, until this hike. This prompted the question of, “Do bears do it in the woods?” The answer is yes, we see bear scat (the polite term) on the trail all the time.


Worldwide sanitation issues

So what does this have to do with plumbing?

One day, I was hiking with Ted, one of the doctors, and the subject of sanitation came up — started by that joke about what bears do in the woods. Ted knows what I do for a living, so the conversation was appropriate. He and Mark, another doctor in the group, started Anidaso Health, a medical mission, about 10 years ago.

It is neither politically or religiously based. Ted and Mark simply go to Ghana, Africa, to take care of the medical needs of the people. They bring a team of doctors and head into the villages to perform surgeries and take care of general medical needs for roughly a two-week period.

Ghana is a stable country and the language is English. Ted was telling me that, on their last trip, more than 70 surgeries were performed. The medical team spends two weeks traveling through different villages in Ghana. From the United States, they land in Accra, the capital of Ghana, hop on a bus and drive four hours into the remote villages.

Their next trip is scheduled for the end of February and beginning of March in 2016. That is when Ted said to me, “You need to go. We need engineers and plumbers, in addition to doctors. The sanitation is dreadful.”

He explained that Ghanaian people in these remote villages defecate in the lake and then use the lake water for drinking. He also said they defecate anywhere. I asked if they at least have outhouses. His response was no. Wow, they do need help.

Ted thought I could start off by educating the people about sanitation and water. The villagers will listen to what must be done to improve their health.

My bigger concern is how do you bring clean water and proper sanitation facilities to a village in two weeks’ time? The answer is, you educate and show them how it is done. Then when you leave, they can continue to improve conditions. But without the knowledge on what needs to be done, they cannot start.

Ted and Mark ship a container of medical supplies to Ghana before their trip. On every trip, the container arrives safely and on time. I thought of the plumbing supplies that could be included in the container. What could be shipped to get started?

Then I had to stop myself and ask, “Do I have time to take off two weeks to help the people in Africa?” That question I have not answered. But it will keep me thinking for the next month or two before I have to make up my mind.

Can you take off two weeks to help the people in Africa? They can always use your help.

To learn more about Anidaso Health, check out the website at www.anidasohealth.org. The site includes photos of some of their medical mission trips. You can make a donation or volunteer for the next trip.

If I do go, I’ll be in touch with my manufacturing friends looking for plastic pipe and fittings, nonwater urinals, bucket and regular water closets, and water filtration equipment.