Then again, size isn't everything. Whatever a female paddler's choice, practice always makes perfect, and it's best to practice near home—but not in your backyard, unless you have a high fence or no nearby neighbors!—with dry clothes close by. The learning curve is guaranteed to be both steep and soggy.
That's a point which was taken up in another letter, this one from Anna Mallin, who noted (with wonderful tact and great good humor) that my treatment of drysuits had been a touch perfunctory. Anna wrote to flesh out the details:
Your article on the lavatory aspects of paddling is great fun, but there is another aspect which might BARE mentioning.
Recently I contemplated the purchase of a Kokatat® drysuit and wondered if I wanted the female version (with its large rear zip opening) or the male version (with its less bulky front zip). As I can manage the timing of [poop]ing more easily than the timing of peeing, and as I had tried (and not particularly liked) the rear window arrangement, I purchased the male version of the Kokatat dry suit.
I can report that at rest stops I remain toasty warm while using a female peeing device [i.e., the Lady J or Freshette or something similar –Editor] to emulate my male colleagues. The hard part is persuading one's body that one really (yes, really!) wants to pee while standing up. I had to work fairly hard to overcome my bladder's natural reluctance to do what it had been trained from childhood NOT to do.
I have yet to face up to the problem of peeing while on the water and, so far, have been able to rely on planned shore stops to avoid the problem.
Anna's letter highlights another important fact: Cross-dressing isn't just a lifestyle choice. It can offer real, practical advantages. And, like Anna, I've often found that gear intended for men was indeed more functional than that designed for women. Form necessarily follows function here. The dictates of fashion don't carry much weight in the backcountry.
Still, it can't be denied that even with all the help that technology can provide, women continue to labor under a disadvantage in matters micturatory. Men have an easier time on pit stops. No doubt about it. But that doesn't mean they're home and dry under all conditions. David W. of Fairfax, Virginia, is a pilot as well as a paddler, and he has some advice for every boater, male and female alike:
If you think the middle of a lake is [a] bad [place to get caught short], picture two miles up in the clouds at two miles a minute and no reasonable way to come down for two hours. I carry a couple of the TravelJohn™ disposable urinals in my flight bag. The TravelJohn has two levels with an absorbing powder in the lower compartment. Everything turns to gel, and it is spill-proof, even without the seal.
I have a Little John®, but did not use it after the first time. The angle is too low, and it has trouble containing the liquid, even with the cap.
Right on, David! Paddlers have it easy when compared to pilots. And the TravelJohn, a disposable urinal designed to accommodate the needs of both men and women, looks like a winner. With an advertised capacity of 20 ounces, it ought to be good for several uses before reaching saturation point. That's certainly a plus. Moreover, the manufacturer claims that the gellified urine is biodegradable. This can't hurt, can it? (Though it's not a license to litter, of course. Packing out used TravelJohns is still de rigueur.)
David's criticism of the Little John—that's the companion urinal to the Lady J—rings true, too. Molded along the lines of the classic hospital urinal, the angle of the neck makes it awkward to use when seated in the cramped confines of a kayak cockpit. You need the vigilance of a playground monitor coupled with the agility of an acrobat to avoid being nailed by a mini-tsunami, and the threat doesn't end when you tuck the Little John away. As David has pointed out, the seal on the threaded cap is less than bombproof. Moreover, our Little John came with a sharp flange along the mold line on the inside of the neck, something that got Farwell's undivided attention the very first time he used it. A little work with the file on a Swiss Army knife took care of the problem, but it has to be said that this episode put the phrase "caught short" in a whole new light.
So far, so good. But what happens if nature calls when you're completely unprepared: no Lady J, no Freshette, no TravelJohn, and no handy pit stop? What then? Well… There's one obvious answer. Relax and go with flow. No one's looking, are they? And a little more liquid in the bilge won't send you to the bottom. Are you feeling house-proud? Tant pis, as the French say. A few minutes with bailer or sponge will restore your boat (though not your dignity) to its former unsullied state. Or you could do as Naftali Kidron does, and make your boat self-cleaning:
Here in Israel, in my open-water rowing shell I have a suction Elvstrøm-style bailer. This small device mounted flush with the hull takes care of excess fluids in the bilge.
Good idea, Naftali! Self-bailers have long been used in sailing dinghies and rowing shells, but there's no reason why they can't be mounted in canoes and kayaks, too—and they sometimes are. That said, there's just no such thing as a free lunch, afloat or ashore. Self-bailers of this type only work when you're moving along at a pretty good clip. Rowing shells and sailing dinghies are the maritime equivalent of racing thoroughbreds. Most canoes and kayaks are—how can I put this?—more pedestrian. So be prepared to sweat a bit if you want to avoid the nuisance of mopping up. And there's another thing to consider: Self-bailers also require cutting a hole in your boat's keel line, and the non-return flap valves are prone to damage from impacts and the ordinary wear-and-tear of beach landings. Worst-case scenario? Your self-bailer becomes a geyser. That isn't so good.
Let's return for a minute to the scenario I invoked earlier. You're caught short away from shore, and you decide to let nature take its course. This may go against some of our earliest training, but as John in Austin, Texas, rightly observes, wetsuits are called wetsuits for a reason:
I'm surprised that you did not mention that a wetsuit is called a wetsuit because it functions best with a small amount of trapped liquid between the neoprene and your skin. If you are not predisposed to jumping into the water to provide the liquid, then let go of the morning's coffee after donning the suit, and you'll be warm and comfy for the day ahead.
Fair point. I'll concede the "warm" without so much as a quibble, but "comfy" might be a bit of a stretch. Still, I have referred to the wetsuit option in a recent column, at least in passing. I'm not entirely surprised that John missed that offhand comment in the million-plus words of the In the Same Boat archives, however. In any case, I rounded out my earlier remarks on what could be called the paddle-and-pee approach with this observation: "It's an unpleasant throwback to our days in diapers, but…"
"At least it's warm"
And so it is. When I subsequently introduced the subject of adult diapers—in my first "Light Relief" piece—it was only for the sake of completeness. It seemed a logical extension of the paddle-and-pee strategy. But it's something about which I have exactly zero experience.
That can't be said of Ken Anderson. Now in his mid-70s, Ken is proof positive that there are invigorating alternatives to what I've sometimes branded the La-Z-Boy® lifestyle. (There's nothing wrong with La-Z-Boy chairs, by the way. They're extremely comfortable. Maybe they're too comfortable, in fact.) Ken took up kayaking a bit over a decade ago, and he jumped in at the deep end, joining a group of like-minded souls on a little outing along the east coast of Greenland. Now that he's back home, he frequents the waters on New Hampshire's Atlantic shore, a somewhat more densely populated part of the planet than Greenland, and one where there are few places to pull ashore for a pit stop. Rather than tailoring his paddling excursions to the limits set by his bladder, however, Ken opted to wear adult diapers. Here's his rationale:
Diapers are especially useful in inhabited or rocky areas where it's not easy to get out and pee. They are ideal for the local several-hour paddles which I do on the seacoast of New Hampshire. These diapers, which fit like a pair of briefs, are not bulky and are quite comfortable as they offer a bit of padding. They never feel wet when used for peeing which is all I've ever used them for. The brand I use are a drugstore brand from Brooks, but there are many brands available. The ones I use look and fit just like a pair of underpants. They have elastic on the left and right sides, and are very comfortable to wear under a wet suit. There are also diapers with various straps available, but I've never used those.
As a grandfather, I got used to changing diapers on one grandson. When he'd just peed, I noticed that the diapers felt dry. A polymer in the diapers takes up liquid so the diaper never feels wet. [Probably the same stuff used in TravelJohns, or something very like it. –Editor] Many people don't know that. They think that wearing a wet diaper is like wearing wet underwear. It's not. An interesting experiment is to rip apart a baby diaper and put the urine-absorbing polymer—it looks like sand—into a glass and add water. The water turns solid. So you see where my idea of using diapers comes from.
I do, indeed. And it's good to have the straight poop on adult diapers from a fellow paddler. Thanks for the timely heads-up on this very important bottom line, Ken!
Many thanks, too, to everyone else who contributed tips and pics to this column. When nature calls, you can't say you're otherwise engaged. But you can make the inevitable much easier to bear. Depend on it.