Posts Tagged With: camping

There Are Always Chores, Even in the Woods

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Ah, the great outdoors. It’s wonderful. Spending time with your family in the bounty of nature is truly one of the best things in life. Too bad it sucks so awfully to pack up the car, set up your campsite, take down your campsite, reload the car, then put all the crap away when you get home.

There are ways to make all of that packing and unpacking less painful, but those are for another blog post. This post about is an often-overlooked aspect of spending time in the outdoors: basic, regular, everyday chores.

Chores actually can happen at any type of outdoor activity, but for this post, I’m focusing on camping. The kids and I have been on three multi-day camping trips since school let out in May, and only one of them was actually just for the purpose of going and having fun. The other two were functional; we had somewhere we had to be, and camping was the cheapest, most fun option.

My oldest recently attended a super-cool dance intensive at a university a few hours away. It was pretty pricey, but absolutely worth it. The only thing is, it didn’t include room and board. That meant she had to stay somewhere, so we camped. Yup, my kid was the one who had to camp every night, then get up at the crack of dawn to go dance for ten hours, then do it all again the next day. That’s because a campsite at the state park costs $34 a night, and a hotel in that town is over $100 a night.

So, camping it is! But that also meant six days’ worth of meals, showers, and (ugh) laundry. Kiddo had to wear several different dance outfits each day for the different types of classes she would be taking, and  I had to have a way to wash the sweaty dance clothes.

Well…THIS is how you wash clothes in the woods! There are several different methods, all based on how long you’ll be gone and how often you plan to stay in the woods for an extended period of time. You also have to consider your gear, and how much room you’ll have to bring a washing system.

One of the most popular and most effective washing methods involves a five-gallon bucket with a snap-on lid, a toilet plunger (new, please!), and a hole drilled in the lid for the plunger to fit through. This method will remind you a lot of churning butter. However, this method also means carrying a five-gallon bucket with you; if you can use that bucket for some kind of storage or as a stool or a table when it’s not a washing machine, that might be okay. But we already had to bring gear and food to camp for six days, so an extra bucket wasn’t really in our space allotment.

This method is for a much smaller stash of laundry, like leotards and dance tights. If you’re not dragging a future Broadway dancer with you on your camping trip, this method would also be perfect for making sure you have two clothing essentials: clean socks and clean panties. You can actually wear a t-shirt until the smell frightens away woodland creatures, but socks and panties really need to be clean for optimal health. You can wash your socks and undies with this method.

NOTE: I know some readers will ask why I didn’t just go into town and use a laundromat, and I want to say that on our first long-stay trip this summer, that’s exactly what I did; we spent eight days camping, so I went over to the state park’s wash room and popped in some quarters one morning. But on this trip, those dance clothes had to be washed every night. Besides, washing one pair of tights, two leotards, some socks, and a pair of shorts in a washing machine is very wasteful of water and quarters.

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HOW TO WASH CLOTHES IN THE WOODS:

  1. Get a large wide-mouthed jug with a screw on lid. Wash it thoroughly several times before you try to use it.
  2. Get some kind of “agitator” to go in your jug. I used a nylon sock filled with rocks that I’d washed. The sock is just to keep my rocks together so when I’m rinsing and draining, I’m not dropping the rocks everywhere and getting them dirty again.
  3. You can use powdered or liquid soap, but I would recommend powder in case it spills in your gear. It’ll be far easier to clean up than liquid.
  4. Place the dirty clothes, the agitator, and the soap in the jug. Fill with just enough water to cover the clothes. Shake the jug for about three minutes. You can do this by just holding it while you cook dinner, by having your kids play with it back and forth, by putting it on the roof of the car and driving back up the bumpy road to the camp store, whatever. Just get it moving!
  5. After you’re sure it’s been agitated, drain the water and refill the jug with fresh water. Agitate it again for about a minute, then let it soak for a little while to make sure the soap comes out of the clothes.
  6. Final rinse: drain the rinse water, then take each piece of clothing out of the jug one by one and rinse it under running water. Then hang it up to dry! That’s it!

Again, washing your clothes while camping isn’t something you need to do on a weekend getaway, but if you will be staying for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea, especially for personal items, any cooking cloths you’ve used that might attract animals to your campsite, or basic spills.

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There’s Danger in the Woods

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DISCLAIMER: I review great (and not so great gear) on this blog with the purpose of helping people who don’t already have a lot of experience in nature realize that they can have a lot of fun out there with a minimal investment. This product I’m posting today is one that I actually sell myself, and therefore make a profit off of.

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The whole purpose for this blog is because I was tired of hearing the same thing every time I set off on a mini-adventure with my kids: “Aren’t you afraid to be out there?” I couldn’t stomach the thought that people were ignoring the beauty of nature and denying their kids a great childhood in the outdoors because they were afraid of something.

So let’s talk about shark attacks:

*93% of shark attacks from 1580 to 2010 worldwide were on males.
*Most shark attacks occur less than 100 feet from the shore.
*On average, only 5 people die from shark attacks yearly.
*In 1996, toilets injured 43,000 Americans a year. Sharks injured 13.
*You have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark.

So why all the shark info? To illustrate a point. We tend to fear the wrong thing. What’s so scary about the beach? NOT. SHARKS.

Picking a random beach town (because it has BEACH in its name!), here’s some info:

*Long Beach, CA, saw a nearly 20 percent rise in violent crime and a 15.4 percent spike in property crime last year.
*Long Beach PD reported an 18.8% increase in violent crime
*The city had a 15.9% increase in murder, non-negligent homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny-theft and arson.

Since the headlines and the crime dramas seem to focus on rape (ignoring all of the other violent crimes, for some reason), here’s some info from RAINN:

*There are about 293,000 REPORTED sexual assaults per year.
*68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police (meaning the number above is actually about half the actual occurrence).
*Four out of five assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, NOT a stranger.

But we still fear sharks? We fear strangers in alleyways? We fear the outdoors because we all watched those bad horror movies in the ’80s with half-naked blondes running through the woods, being chased by axe murderers?

There are definitely things to be cautious of when you’re heading outdoors, just as there are things to be cautious of every single day. If people spent more time watching the road and less time watching their cell phone screens while they drive, for example, we’d all be a lot safer. Trust me, it isn’t a bear that’s gonna get ya, it’s a 16-year-old reading a breakup text from her boyfriend. But I digress.

Now for what you can do to protect yourself: besides arming yourself with lots and lots of knowledge and understanding what the ACTUAL, genuine dangers to you and your kids may be, you can carry protective gear. NO, I did not say you should arm yourself like a militia member, although if you’re comfortable AND TRAINED with a licensed gun, fine. I signed up as a sales rep for a company that sells self-defense gear (stun guns, pepper spray, auto kits, and more). The reason I went with stun guns instead of an actual gun? A) My kids, and b) a lot of the places we camp are state parks and national parks, and many of them have a ban on firearms. In order to protect myself, I’d have to break the law. But with some pepper spray within reach and a stun gun nearby, we’re safe from many common threats, both human and animal. If you’re interested in learning more about the stun guns, click HERE.

But again, the most important weapon any person can carry is information. Know what the actual threats are and stop wasting your time and energy on the things that are not statistically dangerous. Stop avoiding the ocean because of sharks while making yourself a target to the criminals standing on the beach behind you.

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When Adventure Becomes Emergency

My original goal with this blog and the upcoming book was very simple: get more people out there. I meet so many people who are astounded–yes, actually in amazement–that my kids and I do so many things in the great outdoors, and that yes, we typically do them without my husband leading the way. That’s not a judgment call against him or a rallying cry of “we don’t need no men!” It’s simply a fact. My husband doesn’t enjoy many of the things the kids and I like to do, so we don’t let his absence stop us.

But I had another purpose for sharing our stories. When I see people who are blown away by our recent hike or kayaking trip or camping excursion, I feel sad that they’re not getting to take advantage of a great experience, but I’m also afraid for them. If you’ll let your fears stop you from going on a camp out at a secure, well-lit, well-populated state run campground, what are you going to do when disaster strikes and you really have to take care of yourself?

If you’re prepared for outdoors fun, you’re more likely to be prepared for outdoors emergencies. But what about those emergencies that bring the outdoors to you?

Around Christmas time, our state experienced some bizarre sever weather threats. Our particular region went through fairly intense flooding, or at least it was intense for us since flooding isn’t usually at the top of our threats. We all sat huddled in front of televisions or social media, watching the news updates and hearing what towns had closed all of their roads. At one point, we were watching a video someone had uploaded to Facebook of the severe flooding near where my husband works and where I do our heavy-duty grocery shopping. We were literally trying to piece together the location of the roaring waters by squinting at the business signs in the background.

At our house, the water from the drainage gully that runs between our yard and the road had risen to the point that our fence was getting wet. My husband and I kept a close watch on it, taking turns heading out on the porch and seeing how close it was coming.

When it was time for bed, our oldest was more than a little frightened. “What do we do if the water comes up to the house?” she asked almost tearfully.

I looked at her and smiled. I pointed to the window. “See the trailer with the kayaks on it? If the water comes in the house, we’ll go out the window and get on the kayaks.”

I took a few minutes to remind her of some of the very real dangers associated with flooding: rapid currents, unexpected surges in the water, sharp and dangerous debris that has been carried along with the water, and sewage backup that carries waste in the water. So we formed the plan. She was to put on her boots to protect her feet, hold onto the rope we attached to a pool noodle from the garage, and make her way to the kayak while keeping the water out of her nose and mouth. We packed several of our dry bags (the waterproof bags we take kayaking) with hand gel, food and bottled water, emergency mylar blankets, and a first aid kit, and placed those next to the window with the rope. Then she went to sleep and (knowing her) never thought of the danger again.

Did the water come up to the house? Of course not. Our land is built in such a way as to feed the runoff away from the property. Did I try to erase her fear by telling her that? Of course not. She’s fifteen. She doesn’t know what a flood plain is or that landscape architects and city planners factor in water flow when they design a town. And trying to convince her that she wasn’t in danger from a flood was a bad idea because a) the water was right in front of her face and b) there were better ways to help her get over her fear, namely by reminding her what she was prepared for.

My daughter is a really capable kayaker, and the kayaks were right outside the window in the back yard. By reminding her that she had the skills to save herself and then assembling the tools she’d need, she went to bed happy and confident.

And that’s what I want parents to get out of this blog. I want them to get out there with their kids and equip their children for unexpected obstacles by teaching them to be calm, capable, and confident. There’s no time for hand-wringing when a crisis occurs, but there’s also no need to scare people into becoming rabid preppers who live in fear of the next catastrophe. Just use some common sense and develop the skills to protect yourself, while also having a great time developing those skills.

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RECIPE: That Stupid Foil-Packet Cooking Everyone Loves

Can you tell how I really feel about foil packet cooking? 🙂

Okay, let me take that back. Foil packet cooking is great. There, I said it. I mean, I admitted it. But here’s what I hate about foil packet cooking: it’s become the gold standard of camp cooking, as though you’re somehow a gourmet AND a Sherpa-level guide if you cook your food in the coals and then eat it right out of the foil.

For the rest of us, though, it’s a good way to eat raw potatoes while your kids gripe about why you can’t just go to the McDonald’s they saw when you turned off the highway.

Foil packet cooking involves prepping your meal at home and cooking the whole packet in the coals of a campfire, but is a flawed, hatefully system:

  • Problem number 1) You’re going to prep all these great packets and they’re going to leak all over your cooler.
  • Problem number 2) It takes quite a while for a campfire to reach the coal stage for you to cook these.
  • Problem number 3) It takes even longer for raw food to cook down in the coals. This is NOT like putting them in a skillet over the fire.
  • Problem number 4) Much of the food that cooks well in a foil packet isn’t something your kids are going to like anyway. They wanted a hot dog on a stick that they could have eaten two hours ago, but no, you made brisket with carrots, potatoes, and slices of corn on the cob by slow cooking it in the coals.
  • Problem number 5) By the time this stuff is actually ready to eat, you get to fish a molten-hot metal packet out of the coals without ripping the tin foil and dropping all the food on the ground, and you get to eat it while holding a black, soot-covered foil packet.

They make it look so great in the LL Bean catalog, but please remember that the image of the man in the flannel shirt eating his fresh-caught trout out of a foil packet (which inexplicably has lemon slices and rosemary sprigs… because he brought those with him in case he caught a trout) is actually a staged photo shoot with a crew of about fifty people making it happen. I could eat this way, too, if someone else did all the prep work and I just had to sit there and look outdoorsy.

But since we’ve somehow gotten it into our heads that it’s just not camp cooking without at least one foil packet meal, here are some tips and photos:

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First, I never cook the meat in the packet with the veggies. I get the fire going, get the packets in the coals, and cook the meat over those coals with a grill grate above them. That way I don’t serve my kids raw meat with overcooked, dried out carrots. When you’re assembling your packets, it’s good to line a salad bowl with the foil since it keeps your ingredients from rolling all over the place.

Hint number two: you can prevent much of the burning and sticking of your food to the foil by lining it first with a little olive oil, and then with fresh herbs. The basil is going to be black and wilty, but the rosemary in the picture above has a woody stem and will help hold the veggies off the foil a little bit.
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Hint number three: please, for the love of all things holy, precook them taters! You don’t have to cook them all the way, but please do yourself and everyone you care about a favor and zap them in the microwave for a few minutes. Then cut them up. The coals can take over where the microwave left off. I’d personally do the same thing to the carrots. For the purposes of this exact blog post I made up these packets and cooked them on our camping trip, and the potatoes were perfect. This time, it was the carrots that were disappointingly chewy!
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And then you roll. Get the ends first and then make a center fold. This big center fold is how you’ll reach down into your cooking inferno and retrieve your food.
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Finally, take all of your packets and put them in a giant container that you don’t care about. This will keep them from spilling in your cooler and will keep them handily organized in case you were crazy enough to try foil packets for multiple meals. Oh, and don’t forget the salt. If you pre-salt your food in the packets, it will be slimy and gross when it comes time to finally eat it. Salt it after you cook.

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Loving the Wildlife

This post will happen again many times over the course of this blog, mostly because these situations keep coming up. There are a lot of factors that make people afraid of outdoors adventures, but one of the several recurring factors is the local wildlife.

“Don’t go kayaking in that creek, I heard they spotted a gator two years ago.”

“You know the news said there’s a bear wandering near that mountain.”

“ACCCCK! SPIDER! KILL IT WITH FIRE!”

This is what many people think wildlife encounters are like.

This is what many people think wildlife encounters are like.

Those are just a few of the things people tell me whenever we talk about the outdoors. Yes, folks, there are animals out there. Some of them could even hurt you. Once in a blue moon, there’s an entirely unprovoked animal attack, literally where a human was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing, and out of nowhere a wild animal comes after him. Even in those “out of nowhere” cases, you have to understand there could have been extenuating circumstances that prompted the attack–even though they were absolutely NOT the human’s fault–like perhaps the bear had cubs nearby or the animal in question happens to be highly territorial. (Interesting trivia: did you know that more people are killed by hippos every year than any other animal? They’re uber-stingy with their territory.)

I’ve had some interesting encounters with wildlife, but when I say encounters, I only mean that I WAS THE ONE who’d encountered it. The animal could have cared less that I was standing there.

Exhibit A: I was in the woods one day and a mountain lion walked right in front of me. It looked at me, flared its nostrils, and walked away. It had smelled me and decided I was NOT useful. The fact that it took about ten minutes to finally vacate the area enough for me to get my back off that tree and race to the car was MY problem, not the mountain lion’s.

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Exhibit B: I was hiking in the woods with my husband after a night of heavy, heavy rain. I love hiking after a big storm because the paths turn muddy from the rain but the heat of the next day dries the mud enough to walk on. That means you can walk around pretty easily and still see tons of fresh animal tracks. I pointed to one in particular and said, “Hey look! A mountain lion track!”

A short time later, I got to point and say, “Hey look! A bear track!” My husband laughed and said, “There aren’t any bears in this part of the state!”

I wear a women's size 11 hiking boot.

I wear a women’s size 11 hiking boot.

No sooner had the words left his mouth than his phone beeped. We had a friend who was going to join us that day but he had something come up that morning. He told us he’d be along later in the day and would try to catch up with us, but not to wait on him.

The phone had beeped with a text from that friend. It was a picture of the bear he’d just seen. (Man, do I love being right, and do I love to punish a non-outdoorsy husband when I am!)

Exhibit C: We just got back from a camping trip to go kayaking in the southern part of our state. Yes, folks, that’s the alligator that was floating in the middle of the lake, right in front of our kayak. As it turns out, just the week before, someone had caught the record-setting gator at 920 pounds. I wasn’t actually aware there ARE gators in that body of water… now we know.

Hi there, gator! Nice camouflage.

Hi there, gator! Nice camouflage.

Here’s something important to remember. For 99% of the animal-human wildlife encounters, they don’t want to hurt you. There’s a reason it makes the news when there’s an animal attack. Even the famously-feared shark attacks are rare enough that it warrants sending a reporter to the now-empty beach to stand there and tell us what happened.

As a general rule of thumb, if you leave them alone they’ll leave you alone. Yes, there are animals out there. Guess what? They also walk through your yard at night! But with a little respect, some forward thinking, and a promise never to attempt to take a selfie with an armadillo, you’ll be fine.

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Anyone Can Do This!

We’ve been gone from the blog for a little while because we had some back-to-back traveling to do, most recently to a state park in the southern part of our state. The camping-kayaking trip served a specific personal purpose.

My mother was once wheelchair bound and eventually with enough physical therapy has gotten to the point that she can walk with a walker. She decided over the summer that she wanted to try kayaking, and even wanted to drive five hours to my house so I could take her on the local river run. With her bad hips, I worried that sitting in a kayak with her legs in front of her could eventually start to hurt; after all, when you put in at one location and then have to take out at a farther point along the river or creek, you can’t just stop and say, “I’m done. This hurts!” You HAVE to finish it.

I suggested we camp at very large lake in her part of the state, and then we could paddle as much or as little as she wanted to. I’d stay out there all day if she liked, but if her hips couldn’t take it, then she would know that a river trip wasn’t feasible.

It took some effort, but after only a few minutes (and several fishermen offering to help, for which I thanked them profusely and replied, “If she’s gonna do this, she has to learn how to get in and out of the kayak!”) we were paddling! We’d used the state park’s concrete boat ramp, and that worked for her really well. I got my two-man kayak situated in the water and then helped her walk down the ramp. Basically, she just had to sit down and then put her legs in. The real trick was finding a sitting position that accommodated her hips since they no longer bend at the waist at a typical angle. The adjustable back rest helped, and she felt great.

We paddled close to the boat ramp until she got the hang of her paddle. Just to make things even more interesting, she’s had shoulder replacement surgery in the past couple of years, so I wanted to make sure her shoulder didn’t hurt from the repetitive motion involved in paddling. When she felt confident that she could do it pain-free, we left the little slough near the boat ramp and ventured out further.

“What’s that up ahead?” she asked when we’d made it a good distance away. I squinted, and said I thought it was a stick. She said, “Oh, it looks like a bird!”

We went to check it out, just to get close enough for her to see the aquatic bird take flight when we came too close for comfort. Oddly, the bird in question didn’t seem to feel threatened by our presence.

That’s because it wasn’t a bird. It was a twelve-foot alligator. He was just lying in the middle of the lake, getting some sun. The stick/bird was actually his head, and when we got too close the rest of his body floated to the surface.

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You know how in cartoons when someone’s trying to run away the little character’s legs will spin in a circle while he goes nowhere? That was our paddling effort for a couple of seconds. I quickly got us turned around but finally told my mom, “Let me handle this! You’re making us go backwards, TOWARDS the alligator! I’ll paddle, you watch the alligator and tell me if he comes towards us!”

And he never budged. Once we turned around and started paddling away we were no longer a threat, so he eventually lowered his body back into the water and left his head sticking up, just like before. Even if we’d been stupid enough to try to get closer to him instead of leaving slowly, he probably would have just swam away. He most likely lifted his body in order to make his getaway, NOT to come eat us. It was actually over an hour later that I walked back around and took this from the opposite bank with my zoom lens.

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I’m glad to say that after our “brush with toothy death” my mom and I paddled for another forty minutes or so. We took some kayak selfies to show my dad and her friends from church, we talked about good places to paddle and proper technique, and she was able to get herself back out of the kayak with a little help. We talked about a contingency plan if she couldn’t get herself out of it, which would be to paddle a little way out from the ramp, fall overboard, and swim to the ramp where she could stand up (she didn’t love that thought…after all, there was a gator out there somewhere and lake water isn’t exactly see-through). The only reason we cut our kayak trip short was some thunder clouds rolled in and we didn’t want to be caught in the rain.

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Basically, the purpose of this entire blog is to help people who otherwise don’t have any experience with the outdoors–and therefore don’t have confidence in what to do in an unexpected situation–realize that they can do it, they can be self-sufficient, and they can have fun. They can do it… you can do it. Your kids can do it. Just don’t pet the gators.

We did finally see a bird. (Where were you earlier, dummy?)

We did finally see a bird. (Where were you earlier, dummy?)

Suspiciously stick-like gator head.

Suspiciously stick-like gator head.

I get the concept of camouflage, but he shouldn't match the lake water this closely!

I get the concept of camouflage, but he shouldn’t match the lake water this closely!

See? He's under there somewhere!

See? He’s under there somewhere!

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Pottying in the Woods: Part 3

No, we’re not done yet. Boy, how many times have you heard THOSE words through a closed bathroom door after sending your little one in there? So here we go, POOPING IN THE WOODS.

Fortunately, pooping is pretty much the same for boys and for girls, with the only stereotypical differences being in their willingness to comply. When I worked for the military and got to see my first open-bay bathroom (a room in many male barracks that contains twenty or so toilets, with no stalls, no doors, not even a fluttering paper towel to separate you from the guy pooping next to you), I was ready to run screaming from the Army base, let alone the room. That’s a big no… I’m not sitting close enough to high-five another human being while having a bowel movement. I’d be in the best physical shape of my life since I’d be running to the nearest gas station bathroom every time I had to poop.

I guess when the drill sergeant orders the men to potty, they either learn to potty or learn to love push ups. Oddly enough, the female barracks didn’t have this monstrosity of an open bay. It’s just one of those quirky things that makes us all different, right?

But all stereotypes aside, kids of both genders may either have zero problem pottying outside, or may really balk at the thought. I have two girls, but I got one of each in terms of “meh, no big deal, where’s a tree?” and “oh my dear lord I’ll just hold it ’til we reach civilization.”

So… pooping. In the outdoors…

This one’s a little more sensitive than peeing because it involves both contaminated human waste AND removing your clothes. That’s a daunting thing, so much that society even has a term called “caught with your pants down.” No one likes the thought of someone coming up on them at this sensitive time, so make very sure you’re in an isolated spot. You can also carry a jacket, shirt, or other long piece of fabric to tie around your waist and offer a little more privacy. Just remember that if any hiker comes up on you during this process, there’s a 98% chance she’s been in exactly your same position, quite possibly that same day. It’s natural, all humans do it. You guys just happen to be doing it in nature.

After tying your shirt around your waist (or not) and finding your secluded spot, again work the downhill so that nothing slides or rolls back onto your shoes. If you’re able to find an indention in the ground, that’s considered very polite because you can cover it with some rocks and leaves when you’re through. Be sure you’re not pooping into a convenient hole in the ground, since it’s quite possible a snake or other animal won’t appreciate the sudden arrival of waste in his den. When you’ve found a spot, it’s pants down, squat with your feet wide apart, and go.

But now that the hard part is over, the real fun begins.

There are (believe it or not) many schools of thought on what you should next. Most of these opinions come from die-hard hikers and adventurers and therefore aren’t as applicable to a mom and her kids out for a two-hour hike. The more avid outdoorsy people will spend months at a time through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, which means covering the entire distance from Maine to Georgia. That means how they poop and leave behind the evidence is of greater environmental impact. I just read that in 1990, almost 300 people actually hiked the entire ATC… that’s a lot of human poop, especially when you think about how many thousands of other people were just hiking parts of it.

Some die-hards will tell you that toilet paper is a thing of the devil and that you should never bring it with you. After all, leaves, rocks, and pine cones will suffice just fine (I wish I was kidding). Other hikers will tell you there’s nothing wrong with TP so long as you bring it back out with you. Yes… used. Still others will say that burying your TP or burning it is good enough.

My opinion? Well, using TP is a given unless it was a surprise potty attack. I’m not yer girl when it comes to wiping with a pine cone unless I’m only out there pottying in the first place because my plane has crashed and TP is the least of my survival worries. So I believe that after using a perfectly nice piece of TP, you should pack it out. Here’s why: it’s the least labor intensive version of the process (I promise I’ll show you how in a second) and you don’t risk burning down your local national forest. You’re also not trying to watch your kids hit each other with rocks while you dig a hole with your hands to put this used TP in. I’ll show you the Potty Pack in the next post, and trust me, you do not want to head outdoors–or walk out your front door, EVER–without these.

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Pottying in the Woods: Part 2

This installment is a great way to get our feet wet with wilderness pottying. Wait. Strike that. We do NOT want our feet wet while PEEING IN THE WOODS:

Boys… well, it’s a little more obvious how to handle this. You’ll treat it pretty much the same way you’ve covered their potty needs since they first got the hang of it. HOWEVER, don’t overlook the fact that you can’t just point your boy to the nearest tree and tell him to go for it. He will need to walk a respectful distance off the trail so as not to see-or-be-seen, and that will involve hiking off the path, potentially through ticks, spiders, snakes, unsteady rocks that can turn an ankle, and more. Help your son choose a spot away from the trail, but then stay nearby (back turning may be involved depending on your son’s age). The reason for sticking close is in case of snake bite, it helps the hospital immensely if you can describe the snake. If you send your son off to potty and only go looking for him after he screams or doesn’t come back, you can’t tell them what it looked liked.

Girls, this one’s a little tougher. If it’s seasonably warm, you have the easiest job in the world, especially if you’re wearing shorts. You simply find that same more remote spot, squat down, and pull the crotch of your shorts and undies aside. Make sure to pull them far enough that you aren’t actually peeing on the leg hole, not just because it’s no fun but because the rest of your hike will involve urine-soaked fabric rubbing against the spot where your leg and privates join. You will have raging blisters and possibly open sores from that. It’s important for everyone but especially girls to get the hang of the downhill, meaning the spot you select and the direction you face needs to be with the downhill going away from you so that your own pee doesn’t flood your shoes.

This is a tough one for girls/women to grasp, but we don’t actually have to have toilet paper after peeing. A good tushie wiggle to get any drips will suffice if this potty trip was unexpected. Simply stand up and let your clothes fall back into place. If the thought of not using toilet paper after peeing horrifies you, never fear, the next post will contain the instructions for a potty packet. Don’t forget your hand gel!

There is a product you can invest in that lets women pee more discreetly, even while standing up. It’s got mixed reviews, as you can see from this blog post.

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I Was Gonna Have to Talk about It Some Time: Pottying in the Woods

Whenever I talk outdoors fun with people who are unfamiliar, the conversation inevitably takes a strange, personal, halfway inappropriate turn. You can kind of see the look on their faces that tells you they want to ask a burning question, but then they don’t. Finally, I have to say, “I know what you want to ask me, it’s okay. Go ahead.”

My hapless victim will usually start to laugh and look sheepish and then finally stammer, “But how do you go to the bathroom?!”

When nature calls, and not just the call of a beautiful fall day in the mountains but the actual call of having to suddenly find a bathroom, how you’re going to react depends on a lot of factors. One of the most important factors is: what are you doing?

If you’re camping, are you at a state park or a back country spot? Because at a state park you go to the nearest bathroom. In the back country (a primitive campsite…be aware of those words “primitive camping” if you’re booking a trip to an actual campground, since they mean no amenities whatsoever), there’s an excellent chance it’s going to involve a tree for privacy.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not ready to head off on an unsupported backpacking trip. Important note: if you’re heading off on an unsupported backpacking trip and are still having to Google “how to potty in the woods,” you’re also not ready for this trip yet. I’m already envisioning a cruel prank where a new boyfriend has duped you into primitive camping and you don’t know what to expect.

A more likely scenario is that you’ll be on a hiking day trip or kayaking on a creek with your kids and one/all of you will have to go. There are a few schools of thought on how to handle this type of crisis.

First, is it number one or number two? If it’s number one, you’re basically going to leave behind an almost-sterile liquid that will not cause any harm. If it’s number two, you’re going to leave behind a pile of human excrement for the next hiker to enjoy, along with some litter in the form of your toilet paper. More importantly, how you actually accomplish the pottying will differ based on whether it’s number one or number two.

In the follow-up posts, I’ll provide step-by-step, gruesomely detailed instructions on how to handle each of these, as well as how the steps are different for boys and girls. I’ll talk about handling squeamish kids who can’t do it in the woods, as well as give you instructions for making a potty packet. Enjoy!

Animals have zero qualms about pottying in the woods. This happens to be turkey poop.

Animals have zero qualms about pottying in the woods. This happens to be turkey poop.

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Travel Review: Myrtle Beach State Park

We were looking to squeeze in one last camping trip before school started, and of course, I’m completely addicted to the beach. We’d already been to our usual haunt earlier this summer, so I decided to branch out and go somewhere new, while still getting to camp.

I’d always heard people talk about Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, so I looked into the State Park. It was completely reasonable, with the option to choose my own campsite during reservations (as opposed to places that just assign you a spot and tell you what number it is when you check in); the total including any taxes and fees for three nights came to just at $111.00 and some change.

In true State Park fashion, there are plenty of regulations to keep up with, and they’re serious about the warning to keep your trash secure to avoid run-ins with raccoons. The entire campground area–and the day use locations, for that matter–had tons of trees separating each campsite and surrounding less desirable areas like the garbage dumpsters. I distinctly remember seeing a stand up placard at the main gate one night during our trip that said the campground was full, but the trees between each campsite afforded it a lot of privacy.

Typical campsite at the State Park. Lots of trees, but be prepared for sand.

Typical campsite at the State Park. Lots of trees, but be prepared for sand.

There were plenty of bathhouses scattered around the property, and plenty of garbage sites for campers to deposit their trash. As a nice added touch, each of the dumpster sites had two recycling bins as well, something you don’t always see from a State Park but should. We saw signs to a playground but never used it; it must have been halfway decent though, judging by the numbers of kids and parents who were always coming or going down the path. There was also a good-sized, fully stocked camp store that carried souvenirs and a few basic campground essentials, enough to tide you over if you’d forgotten something, at least until you wanted to make a trip into town.

Here’s one of the nicest features: the State Park is on the ocean, so it has its own beach. We never once left the park for the purpose of going to the beach. It has a long wooden pier out over the water with fishing and marine life watching available. If you choose to go to the beach north of the pier, there’s a life guard on duty. The beaches south of the pier were less crowded, but were not guarded. Each beach access walkway has benches and showers for getting rid of the sand, and for walking to and from the parking area along a sturdy surface.

The State Park has its own beach, and we never needed to leave the park to go elsewhere for a swim.

The State Park has its own beach, and we never needed to leave the park to go elsewhere for a swim.

Be warned that this is the Atlantic. I’ll admit we’re used to the white sand and gentle waves of the Gulf, so it was a little bit of a surprise to walk across sand that’s comprised of broken shells (it was cool, but rough on the feet…little ones might want those water shoes) and waves that will throw you down. There was a red flag warning the entire time we were there, but the waves offered just enough time between them to stand up, wipe the water out of your eyes, and get ready to get hit again. Sitting in the water and relaxing wasn’t feasible, but body surfing was a BLAST!

The coolest part was the turtles. At check-in, a park ranger told us that there had been a sea turtle hatching and that there would be an egg inventory on Friday. We were given the time and location, and when we arrived at the designated spot, some hundred or so people were already waiting to hear a ranger’s presentation on the work the state conservationists were doing with sea turtle preservation. While she spoke, members of the volunteer Sea Turtle Patrol began to uncover a nest that had recently hatched in order to count how many eggs had hatched and how many had been “duds.” In all, there were 138 eggs in the nest, and more than eighty had hatched! We got to see and feel a preserved hatchling that hadn’t survived, feel a “dud” egg, feel the shell remains of one that had hatched, and learn a lot about the work of the Turtle Patrol and the conservation program. It was a really, really great presentation but even the park staff can’t know when it will happen since it occurs after their patrol team indicates a nest has opened. All you can do is plan your trip during the hatch season and hope it lines up. The ranger did say the put the information on Facebook, but again, they only have a couple of days’ notice themselves.

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The only downside of the entire park is that it’s situated awfully close to an airport. From the beach, it was neat to watch very large commercial jets taking off overhead, as in, low enough that you could read the company logo on the plane and count the windows. It was less neat when a military jet was doing flyovers at the campground; they were low enough and loud enough that it would interrupt a cell phone conversation at my campsite, and I had to tell the person to simply hold on until the plane had passed. I don’t remember hearing any during the night, but I’m a heavy sleeper. Light sleepers will want some earplugs, a fan for background noise, or some other way of keeping the planes from waking you up.

As for the town of Myrtle Beach itself, there is a lot going on. There’s a great outlet mall (to appease our shopping teen), a ton of seafood buffet restaurants to choose from (to appease our crab leg fanatic other child), and an actual ocean-front boardwalk that was awesome for sightseeing, window shopping, people watching, and just enjoying the sunset. We’d never been to a beach town that had a real boardwalk, so this was a huge treat for the kids. Be sure to stop in at any of the major stores or visitors’ centers when you arrive and get the vacation guides/coupon books; the seafood restaurant where we ate the first night even asked us if we had a coupon, and when I showed her a book I’d picked up at a gas station she flipped right to the correct page and tore out a coupon worth five dollars off per person!

The boardwalk was actually really cool. We ate at a restaurant one night that sat right on the walkway, so we ate and talked while people watching and enjoying the waves.

The boardwalk was actually really cool. We ate at a restaurant one night that sat right on the walkway, so we ate and talked while people watching and enjoying the waves.

Overall, it was definitely worth the trip and a really great camping trip. Due to the distance it isn’t somewhere I’d just pop over for a couple of nights, but for somewhere as a total destination, it would be well worth a week-long trip.

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