Aspen Princess: ‘Business’ of camping makes being outdoors stink
August 9, 2018
"Did you just poop in the woods?" Ben asked, his tone somewhat nonchalant, considering the subject matter. He was still laying in the hammock where he slept, with one foot and one arm draped lazily over the side, sipping a cup of coffee.
I tried to match his casual attitude. "And this matters to you, because?" I was probably not that witty and cool, but that's how I tried to play it in the moment.
We were camping up in Twin Lakes with a group of friends, and Ryan was beside himself with excitement. In the nine years we've been together, we've only camped together a few times.
This is mostly because I prefer hotels, or at least a nice Airbnb with high thread count sheets and fluffy towels and indoor plumbing and a special amenity like a pool or hot tub. As much as I love the outdoors and want to be active, I also love returning to the kinds of comforts I associate with leisure time, things like chaise lounges, a great restaurant, and a good hard yoga class followed by a spa treatment.
The last thing I want to do is poop in the woods.
It's not that I haven't been camping in my life or spent extended time in deep in the wilderness before cell phone reception was even a thing. I grew up back east, where in addition to boarding school and SAT prep courses, some form of outdoor adventure school is a pre-requisite to getting into a decent enough college that your parents can bring it up at dinner parties and/or display the school's name proudly with a sticker in the rear window of their car.
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I did a 30-day wilderness course in the Wind River Range in Wyoming with the National Outdoor Leadership School. The ironic part is that I was stupid enough to enroll for a grade even though pass/fail was an option thinking it would be an easy A. It wasn't. I got a C and it absolutely killed my grade-point average.
It was that experience, in fact, that ruined me for camping. After that month of torture, I would not carry a heavy backpack again. I would not, contrary to the praises sung by past participants, want to sleep under the stars even after I got home. I did not fall in love with my backpack and give it a pet name or acquire life skills like map reading or learning to start a fire with two sticks.
I learned that a blister is a major minor injury. Bug bites are a similar breed of torture, not the kind of thing you're allowed to write home about, but one that can rob you of sleep and drive you half insane nonetheless. Then there was that time I almost got struck by lightening with my pants down and tumbled down a ravine in the middle of doing my business, all hog tied and humiliated, as if by god herself.
Sure, we trekked almost 100 miles through the Wind River Range of Wyoming and I got to feel the essence of remote wilderness in my bones. We ate fresh trout with wildflower greens and learned how to bake brownies over the fire in a Dutch oven. We read topo maps and never traveled on established trails, essentially bushwacking our way through the backcountry and finding every 39-foot cliff in the state of Wyoming. Forgoing the weight of tents, we slept under flies the entire time, and were not allowed to use toilet paper, forced to find alternatives such as rocks, sticks and leaves instead.
See, I know all about pooping in the woods. It's just not my favorite.
"What, you're not going to have vacation constipation?" one of the girls on the trip joked, breezily confessing to basically holding it in every time she goes camping.
It never ceases to amaze me how most people worry about the same things. Even when I traveled with professional athletes, men who made a career from careening themselves off cliffs with skis or snowboards strapped to their feet, had their own anxieties. I remember being terrified to travel with an all-male crew, certain I'd be the weakest link in the chain, only to learn that they all had their anxieites too. One was terrified of flying in the helicopter and would bury his face in my shoulder. Another hated the trams in Italy, hung precariously from one long cable thousands of feet above ground with no support towers. And the photographer was so paranoid about jet lag and getting sick that he downed enough supplements to kill a small child.
Here's the thing: Ryan loves camping. It's one of his favorite things, a pastime he wants to share with his son. Of course I want to be there to watch him pass this joy onto our child and share those experiences with him. Plus, while most men might get off on sexy lingerie or a tight fitting dress, for Ryan it's seeing me in a plaid flannel shirt with my hair wild and curly, far removed from the flat iron I use to tame my Jew-fro.
We've talked about ways to make camping a little more my speed, considered Airstreams and Sprinters and various pop-ups and pull-behinds. But at the end of the day it was my friend Catherine who pointed out that the true essence of camping is that outdoor experience, not trying to find ways to recreate the creature comforts of being indoors.
When I woke up in the morning after a relatively sleepless night trying to stake my claim on the smallest bit of real estate in the family sleeping bag, I grabbed that damn shovel and tried to be discreet as I walked as far away from our camp as I could to do my business.
There's nothing like getting caught with your pants down, especially in the woods.
The Princess is excited for fall. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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