August 14, 2015
Forest Road 961 (1853.1) to Bradley Creek Trailhead Junction (1879.7)
26.6 PCT miles today
1922.0 miles total
Today’s Elevation Gain/Loss: + 3,663 ft, – 3,194 ft
Today is the day. I mentioned a while back that at some point I would write a blog post all about going to the bathroom while out here on trail, and now here it is. I was waiting for a less-momentous day, one that I could summarize in a few sentences, so that I could take the time to discuss this other very important topic. All that really needs to be said about today is that we woke up to some thicker smoke, and that, mixed with cloudy, foggy weather made for a wet, cold, and dark morning of hiking. We hiked past the impressive Mt. Thielsen, mostly shrouded in clouds, and carried a significant amount of water weight all day since the sources on this part of the trail are all about 15 miles apart. We are now cozied up in our sleeping bags, resting our feet, eating double dinner (since we have a few extra) and dreaming about Bend, just 3 days away.
Okay, now onto the fun stuff. First of all, let’s talk about peeing in the woods. This is pretty self-explanatory for the guys (don’t piss into the wind), but for the ladies, there is actually quite a bit of technique involved. First and foremost, and I can’t believe how many ladies don’t know this when they start out backpacking, you must carry a bandana with you to use as a “pee rag”. Use it just like toilet paper and then hang it from your backpack. The sun will dry and sterilize it and you can wash it as frequently as you’d like in flowing water sources. It is very easy to get UTI’s on trail, and using a pee rag is absolutely necessary in helping prevent them (along with changing your underwear daily and staying clean in general). Do not use toilet paper…you’ll have to pack it out and it is more weight and inconvenience than is necessary. If you don’t believe me and you continue to use toilet paper, please please please pack it out. It is unacceptable to bury toilet paper, even if it is biodegradable. Rain, wind, and animals have a way of exposing it to the world and it can ruin another hikers’ experience. More on this later.
Now, ladies, let’s talk about splashing. I used to think that the best solution was to squat as low to the ground as possible, but after accidentally splashing pee on my shoes, socks, and pants more times than I’d like to admit, I can promise you that there are better ways. My go-to this summer is to find a bush or plant that I can pee into. It absorbs the splash and leaves you in the clear. Experiment with different plants and know that you’ll have to change it up as the environment changes. The other technique that I like to employ is to either sit on a clean log that is about 1 foot in diameter, or just stand over it with my feet on one side and my bootie hanging over the back. Then you can pee just as you would in a toilet and the log will block any splashing. I only get to use this technique if the right log presents itself when I need to go, but it is definitely my preferred method.
There is one rule of PCT peeing that I have found needs to be stated…please do not pee in the middle of the trail. Specifically, if you’re a guy, please do not pee while hiking. The hikers behind you don’t want to walk in your pee and you’re not running a marathon. Canada is still a long way off, so take a minute to step off trail and do your business.
That’s about all there is for peeing. If you’re staying hydrated enough you’ll probably go at least 6 to 8 times a day/night, and nowadays I simply give the trail a quick check, and then go right out in the open. I haven’t been walked up on yet, but even if I was, I honestly don’t think anyone out here would care. Now pooping, that’s another story. One of the greatest joys of backpacking is getting incredibly in touch with your body and its needs and patterns. Part of that is pooping at the same time once a day every day. It’s important that you pay attention to your feces, because it is the best indicator of your overall health on the trail.
There are a few different techniques that you can use for pooping in the woods, but however you choose to go, everyone must follow a few basic rules. You must dig a cathole about 6″ deep (we use our hiking poles to dig so we don’t have to carry the extra weight of a trowel), you must cover it up when finished, and you must mark it somehow, either with a large rock or with 2 sticks in the shape of an X. This is so that other hikers who happen to also spot that perfect pooping spot, complete with an epic view and tree shade, don’t accidentally dig up your poop when they go to dig their hole. You might think it too coincidental that someone else would choose the exact same spot, but with over 2,000 hikers using the same trail, it is actually more likely than not. The only other rule is that if you use toilet paper you absolutely, positively MUST pack it out. For most people, this means carrying a plastic baggy (sometimes covered in duct tape for privacy) that they use just for dirty toilet paper. You may be thinking that it is okay to leave TP behind if it is special “camping” TP and you bury it with your poop. Still not okay. As I mentioned earlier, it will get dug up and scattered all over the trail and you will ruin someone else’s hike. Plus, it might decompose someday, but until then you are just plain littering.
Most people dig a hole, poop, wipe and place dirty TP in their personal trash bag, cover and mark their hole, and then use hand sanitizer. Others might use “natural materials” to wipe (a technique that isn’t quite as suited to a thru-hike since materials aren’t always available). Those are both perfectly fine methods, but Pickles and I have a technique that we think everyone would utilize if they understood how clean and sanitary it really is. I learned this technique from my NOLS leaders while on a one-month outdoor educators course in Alaska, and I have used it ever since. I introduced it to Pickles on our bike tour and after a hesitant first try, he was also a convert. It is as simple as this. When I go to use the bathroom, I bring with me my pole (to dig a hole), my water bottle (with Smart Water cap), and my little squeeze bottle of biodegradable soap. After I do my business, rather than use toilet paper (which I’d then have to carry around until we got to town), I squirt some water on my hand and use the water to clean myself. I continue to squirt water on my hand (being sure to designate one hand as dirty and one as clean and to not use the dirty one for anything else) until I feel satisfyingly clean. I then pick up my soap with my clean hand, put some on my “dirty” hand, and scrub until clean, still using clean hand to squirt more water. When this is done I cover up my hole, mark it, and walk back to camp as clean and fresh as could be. I’ll point out quickly that when I first explained this method to Pickles years ago he came back out to our bikes with a pained look on his face and asked if I didn’t think the soap burned a bit. We both got a good laugh when I explained to him that the soap only gets used on your hand, not down there, and he hasn’t had a problem since.
I am sure this technique comes as a shock to some, and I don’t expect everyone to use it, but I will point out that this is in fact the way much of the world goes to the bathroom, and that our dependence on toilet paper is as much cultural as it is sanitary. I hope that some of you might give it a try and experience the freedom that comes from not having to carry clean or dirty TP in your pack, and feeling like you get that perfect clean after every go. Also, one more piece of pooping advice is this: dig your hole on ground that is at a slight angle and then face downhill. When you squat, you’ll bend less at the ankles and knees and put less strain on your already-sore feet.
I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this often-silenced backpacking topic. I’m sure others also have good advice, but I think the best way to figure out what works for you is to get out on the trail for an extended amount of time and practice. I hope that if you got nothing else out of this blog, you’ll at least agree to never again leave behind toilet paper. We all have to do our part to leave no trace, and no one wants someone else’s TP distracting them from their time with nature.