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Smoothing It Made Easy

Exploring Camp Comfort, Room by Room: The Bathroom

By Tamia Nelson A Room With a View

July 22, 2014

I introduced you to Luci and George three weeks ago. Though they're not yet members in good standing of the Over‑the‑Hill Gang, these former hard chargers have decided to give life in the slow lane a try, and they've found they like it. There are plenty of reasons for this, but I've been focusing on only one — comfort. And my narrative vehicle has been a virtual tour of Camp Comfort, Luci and George's temporary home from home. So far, we've taken a look at the bedroom, living room, and kitchen. Which means there's only one room left to visit:

The Smallest Room in the House

Admittedly, this dated euphemism for bathroom (another euphemism) is pretty stale by now. And anyway, once you've left the parking lot at the put‑in behind you, the whole world's your toilet. With a few common sense exceptions, of course. I don't recommend bogs, for instance. I've not infrequently found myself searching for a patch of dry ground in an honest‑to‑goodness bog, often with little success, which only serves to highlight how wonderfully inapt the homonymic British alternative to "loo" and "lav" really is. If you want to know why bears eschew bogs and do what comes naturally in the woods, instead, you need look no further. Fortunately for paddlers, many established campsites boast a proper privy, a well‑appointed, comfortable, sanitary backcountry convenience. The sort of place that makes answering a call of nature more of a sensuous pleasure — that's "sensuous," not "sensual" — than a duty dance with the end products of digestion.

In your dreams, perhaps. Truth to tell, few privies live up to the name. Many lack even a door to protect the temporary inmate's, er, privycy. Does the photo at the head of this column bring back happy memories? I'll bet it does. And there's worse to come. Not a few privies play host to a wonderfully diverse array of resident fauna, from black widow spiders to slumming porcupines. In fact, the fondness of black widows for the underside of privy seats — where they wait patiently to sink their poison fangs into anything dangled before them — is one of many reasons that women need not consider themselves second‑class citizens in the backcountry.

These unsettling reflections may explain why our two comfort‑loving campers prefer less‑developed sites. Luci and George are both passed masters of the gentle art of squatting, after all. But time has taken its toll, and like many paddlers before them, they've discovered that their knees will no longer bend to these demands without painful protest. No matter. The marketplace has been quick to address the clamor for portable accommodations that are more genteel, and far more accommodating, than the time‑honored cat hole. Moreover, the agencies having jurisdiction over many heavily traveled rivers have now extended the leave‑no‑trace doctrine to its logical endpoint, requiring that paddlers bring out all solid waste, including the much‑altered remnants of last night's chicken vindaloo, carefully packaged for efficient and sanitary translocation. Welcome to the call of the wild, 21st‑century style.

The upshot? Some sort of portable toilet is often needed — one that incorporates seat, support, and sump. And you'll probably see an example in Camp Comfort's bathroom. It could be as simple as a big ammo can lined with a plastic bag (how good is your aim?) or as elaborate as a simulacrum flush toilet, complete with horse‑collar seat. blue water, and sloshy holding tank. A Web search will yield a superabundance of alternatives from which to choose. You'll find something appropriate to every purse and temperament.

Yet acquiring a pot to poop in is only half the battle. Of equal importance is having a generous supply of the Eleventh Essential: bumwad, aka "toilet paper." On any trip, whether long or short, bring more than you think you'll need. Be sure to keep it dry, too. Pre‑wetted bumwad is enough to dampen any camper's spirits. And if you'll be paddling during deer season, give serious thought to something other than basic white. You'll find offerings in a variety of camouflage patterns, as well as international ("hunter") orange. Call this covering your bum, if you like. But while we're thinking inside the (thunder)box, why not take the next step? Go paperless, or at least paper‑light. It's easier than you'd think. True to Camp Comfort's name and purpose, the bathroom also offers the fastidious paddler a bidet. This takes the form of a repurposed bidon, or bicycle water bottle, whose flexible sides make it easy to generate a suitably vigorous stream of cleansing water, readily directed to wherever the need is greatest. Seldom has luxury come cheaper — or lighter.

It's possible to dwell too long on the bottom line, however. And Camp Comfort's smallest room wouldn't be complete unless it provided the weary paddler with proper …

Shower Facilities

To my mind, the hot shower is one of the crowning achievements of human civilization. I can easily understand why the Romans built heated baths in all but the remotest corners of their far‑flung empire. It can't be denied — well, I won't deny it, anyway — that there are few greater pleasures than sluicing off the legacy of sweat and salt from a hard day's paddling. Which makes the humble shower bag a necessity, rather than a luxury. (Real luxury can be had in the form of pressure showers with dedicated propane heaters, but these will appeal only to the most determined sybarite. They'll look good next to the simulacrum flush loo, though.)

Some shower bags use solar radiation to heat the water, and occasionally these work as intended. But the sun is a sometime visitor to Canoe Country, even in high summer, so you may still have to resort to your stove or fire. It's not much of a hardship. Once you've heated a quart or two of water almost to boiling, simply gentle it with enough cold water to bring the temperature down to a tolerable level. Since you're not likely to have a 2½‑gallon pot at your disposal for the tempering operation, use a folding bucket. Pour the cold water in first, followed by the hot. Then, when the temperature is just right, decant the water into the shower bag, hang the bag high, and enjoy the fruits of three millennia of human progress.

But …

What Will the Neighbors Say?

This question reflects a two‑fold concern. Even if your party is the only one at a campsite — a rare event on well‑traveled waterways — you may find yourself wishing that the smallest room in your home‑for‑the‑weekend had walls. And if there's a scout troop on the other side of the spit of land on which you're camped, you certainly won't want to risk baring all in front of the kids. So some sort of privacy curtain is essential. A cunningly pitched tarp may be enough. But a state‑of‑the‑art Camp Comfort requires something more, and you can now buy purpose‑built portable toilet and shower enclosures. Many go the whole hog, with translucent windows, zippered doors, towel racks, and even pockets for the latest copy of House Beautiful (or Guns & Ammo, if that's more to your taste). Then again, if you're handy with a sewing machine, you could make your own enclosure, adapted to your every need.

What more is there to say about the amenities of Camp Comfort? We've moved from bedroom, to living room, to kitchen, to bathroom. That pretty much covers the ground. Which is just what you won't be doing once you settle in. But that's OK. Having got to where you want to be, why would you be in a hurry to leave? The search for utopia ends when you arrive, after all.

Riverbank Court


Waking follows sleeping as day follows night. Poets have made much of this. But there's a similar temporal relationship between activities occurring at the opposite ends of the human gut, and for some reason the poets haven't found that subject quite so enticing. Paddlers can't ignore it, however. What goes in must eventually come out. And that's why our tour of Camp Comfort ends here, in the smallest room of the house.



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