Using the Potty in the Boonies
(Special Contribution To The Northeast Texan)
A week ago, a group of people had a picnic in the park, and I was invited. The park has pit toilets, so I parked upwind from them. Other folks parked downwind and complained of the smell.
I’ve been around pit toilets since I was a kid. When I was a small boy, my Mom rented a cabin with an outdoor toilet. Being a smart Mom, she killed every spider in the outhouse then painted the inside of the outhouse white. That left the creepy-crawlies no place to hide.
She also put a coffee can full of white stuff in the outhouse. I was instructed to put a teaspoon full of it in the hole on any fecal matter. Later I learned that this was lime, and what I was doing was for good health.
When I was a Cub Scout, my mother divided up the troop gear among us Scouts when we went on a hike. I often got to carry the little shovel. It was a World War II entrenching tool — a little shovel and folding pick with a wooden handle 2 feet long.
Digging the Hole…
After we reached the campsite, we went a long way away from it and started digging. She wanted a hole about one foot wide, two feet deep, and four feet long. That’s a major project for Cub Scouts, so we traded off on the digging. By the time the hole was dug, we all knew its location. Mom had put a rope through a roll of toilet paper and had hung it on a nearby tree branch. Ready to go!
The rules were pretty simple. Have to use the bathroom? Use the hole. If you’re going to the bathroom, let everybody know so they don’t think you’re lost. Tell everybody when you come back.
It could get scary to go find the potty hole at night. It was way off in the bushes, and we knew that there were bears. We also knew that the bears would be attracted to human smells – like potty holes! – and who could guess whether the bear would appear when we were perched over the potty hole in the dark?
Before we broke camp, we covered up the hole and patted it down. In theory it looked just like the land around it. I suppose we could have stirred dirt into the fecal matter to give it a head start on decomposing, but nobody had thought of that then.
Precautions for Location…
While we assume that the fecal matter decomposes in the hole, the truth is that germs and viruses from the fecal matter can travel through the ground in ground water. Assuming that water flows downward, it matters where we dig the hole for the potty.
I’ve been told that a potty hole should be at least 100 feet from any visible water such as a stream, tank, or pond. A potty hole should be at a lower elevation than a tank or pond so polluted ground water flows away from the pond or tank. The idea is that fecal matter should not pollute groundwater or streams, tanks, or ponds. If it does, we’ll be drinking that fecal matter. It won’t be healthy for us.
Over the years, I’ve dug potty holes in Alaskan tundra, Wyoming desert, and even West Texas. Sometimes I have come back to the same spot to camp, and I couldn’t find the original potty hole. That’s a good sign.
The 5-Gallon Bucket Option…
Another option is using a 5-gallon plastic bucket that has 2 or 3 plastic bags in it. It will hold 4 gallons of urine and feces, which will weigh about 30 pounds. Two people produce that much in a week. After each bag is individually tied shut, put the lid on the bucket, and get a new bucket.
A 5-gallon bucket is exactly as tall as the toilet seat on your toilet. A 5-gallon bucket needs a toilet seat on the rim of the bucket, which you can make from cardboard. With the cardboard seat on the bucket, and yourself on the seat, you’ll notice that the bucket is very unstable. If you fall off the bucket, you will be teased about it forever.
After you get home you can take the bucket with the bags in it to a trailer dump station or ask the authorities what to do with it. Whether you use a potty hole or a plastic bucket, you’ll want a safe way to dispose of fecal matter when you’re camping.
Kerry Cartier, the “Disaster Guy,” writes about potty holes and plastic bucket toilets because he has built and used them. Check out his website at www.DisasterGuy.com. Contact him by e-mail at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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