Sunday, September 12, 2004

wash or wipe; squat or sit.

My fiancee sent me an article which talks about washing vs. wiping.

What a wonderful topic. One that's very dear to me.

I just got back from Alaska a few weeks ago. And questions of washing vs. wiping were high on my mind for the past few months.

Denali National Park is pristine. Traveling in the back-country is an amazing experience. The park is divided into areas and you need to get a permit to sleep in a given area. There are only a few permits per area per night, so the chances of you running into someone else are pretty slim. There is a lot of wildlife (bears, caribou, dall sheep, wolves) so any food or fragrant items (toothpaste, deodorant) you carry has to be in a bear proof container.

How does any of this relate to the topic of this post? Consider the problem of taking a dump. You start by digging a hole 8-12" deep. Then you squat over the aforementioned hole and populate it. The next logical step is to wipe, bury the mess, and be on your way, right?

Well.. the problem is that your excrement falls under 'fragrant items'. So if some of the wildlife comes sniffing and digging, they're going to find not only your mess, but your toilet paper too.

And Denali National Park would no longer be pristine would it?

So what do you do? You wipe, and then you put your wiping materials into a ziploc bag. And then you put that ziploc bag into another ziploc bag. And then you put that ziploc bag into your bear proof container. Along with your toothpaste. And your food.

ugh. The thought of carrying my used toilet paper (albeit double bagged) in the same container as my food is scary. I don't see how people even consider this a viable option.

So I spent the month before the Alaska trip practicing washing. How does washing work?

Well, you start with an emptied out yoghurt tub filled about half way with water. You hold it in your right hand. Then you bend forward on the commode. Then you extend your left arm behind you. At this point, both your arms are behind you and you're leaning forward.

You tentatively start pouring the water and aim it just right so it pours down your butt crack but doesn't wet you too much. At that point you curl your left hand around the water stream and start scrubbing out the debris while water pours down onto your fingers.

It's actually not as disgusting as you think. The first sensation is weird (when you start the process) but then as you pour water to clean off your fingers, it all feels nice and clean; much cleaner that wiping.

The next problem is combining the washing with the squatting. If you're not used to squatting, you already have the daunting task of maintaining your balance (so as not to fall back into your own mess). So there's already some mental tension. Now, you somehow have to maintain your balance while keeping both hands behind you and coordinating the pouring and scrubbing.

To add to the pain, it's cold so you're probably going to be wearing several layers. Half of these layers are bunched up around your tummy and threatening to slide down to the hazmat zone, while the other half are bunched up around your legs, inhibiting your ability to squat. There is the fear of the water run-off splattering smack down into your trousers. I'm not sure if you're disgusted yet. These thoughts kept me awake at night but since anything seemed better than the alternative (paper + food locked into the same bearproof container), I persevered.

I was worried enough that I actually approached a work buddy of mine (more legitimately from the motherland than me) to ask for exact directions. He got a kick out of it. Being a fellow engineer, he immediately proceeded to draw diagrams on the whiteboard to address my concerns.

Armed with a shovel, yoghurt container, extra water, and some hand sanitizer, I proceeded courageously into the wild. This is me at the end of my first try.

the first time Posted by Hello

And no. That water was not from the run-off. It was from me nearly losing my balance while reaching for the mug and spilling half of the precious water on my pants. Nevertheless I had to return to camp with wet pants. The second and third days I was much more successful.

I'm back from Alaska reunited in spirit with the Motherland. And you'll find an empty yoghurt container sitting on the floor of my bathroom if you should need to use it.


wooyan said...


Anonymous said...

interesting.. some pieces were hilarious.. :D especially the one that spoke (read?) about maintaining the balance with both your hands behind u :)):))


ps> btw, i hope that u know that there's more to the "spirit of our motherland", than just this..

Nigel Williams said...

BEEN THERE; DO THAT! I find if I work with hands between my legs from the front and putting the water on my 'working fingers' rather than running it randomly from the rear that its much more controlled and I'm only attending to the small messy bit rather than trying to wash the whole moon.

And its nice to think I'm removing a personal need for a forestry and pulp and paper industry just so I can defecate!