|John Muir: The reason we have to bury our poop.
I have to admit, hiking 60 miles of the John Muir Trial (JMT) in the forest over 5 days with a backpack was not my idea, it was my dad’s. I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I’d been camping before, I’d even been backpacking before, but not for this duration or length of hike. For some reason, I was not intimidated. (I’m typically convinced I can do everything.) Even amidst my father’s repeated warnings about being “in shape” enough or the need for bug nets, water filters, and “Bear Mace,” (yup) I had visions of camp fires, swimming holes, meditating on rocks, and mornings spent writing in my journal, creekside, with my steaming hot Starbucks Via. A relaxing escape to become one with nature. Well, I was wrong. (If I was right, this post wouldn’t be any fun, would it?) Any second you’re not hiking or sleeping, you are pooping, looking for a place to poop, or figuring out what to do with your poop after you’ve pooped. And I did become one with nature, but not in the way I expected. Nature and I are closer than any two entities can possibly be now. Nature has literally watched me with my pants down, angle it just right, and hard squeeze, (because I'm trying to do it as fast as possible for lots of reasons) to get a poop in the 6 inch hole I just dug in to Nature, with a stick, while I lean against a tree or rock (because my legs are so fatigued, they have literally become noodles in protest, rejecting their host body,) and try, TRY not to let anything coming out get on your one pair of pants, socks, or shoes. Nature has some serious dirt on me. (Real, sad pun.) It will be a while before I can look a tree in the eye. I realize I am not the first person to do it, nor will I be the last, still, the entire experience changed me. If you ever feel like you’re getting a little too big for your britches or you’re finally at that place where you’re handling with ease all that life is throwing at you and you need to feel challenged, I suggest the humbling experience that is backpacking.
Day 1. I started the first leg of this hike with confidence. I left the reading of the topographic maps to the experts, my father
who assured me that while we would be doing “a little climbing” this day, this would
surely be the worst of it for entirety of the 60 miles. So, we began. We
climbed out of Yosemite Valley toward Half Dome. It was one of those cute,
little uphill climbs that lasted forever, had a set of never ending stairs like
an M.C. Escher painting, and forced me to call into question whether or not
life was worth living. It was very sweet. After approximately 7 miles, I
volunteered to watch backpacks while the other 3 members of my group ascended
the Half Dome cables. (See photos) I totally would’ve done it, but SOMEONE
NEEDED TO WATCH THE BAGS. They went another 1 ½ miles round trip while I waited.
We then hiked the additional 1 ½ miles to our campsite. We set up our
the late afternoon at a beautiful spot next to a creek. I had not yet pooped,
and I began to think I could, quite possibly burn exactly enough energy per
caloric intake to never poop again or maybe have one of those mind-over-matter
experiences and I could just hold it in for 5 days. Which was going to have to
be the case for at least the evening because there were no bathrooms in this
particular campsite. Confident and energized, I took a whore bath in the creek
like a good backpacker and ate my Mountain House beef stew. A few hours later,
as we retreated for bed, it hit me. Hard. I was
not a super human and I was
going to have to use nature’s restroom. It was dark so this meant choosing a location
was going to be challenging. You must go far enough away to find privacy, but not
so far that a bear eats you before you can pull your pants up and call for
help. Keeping my poop training in mind, (no joke, they train you, those crazy
national park people,) I found a tree and began to dig my 6-inch hole. I looked
around one final time to ensure privacy. There were some lights from some guys
at a campsite across the creek, but they were too far away to see me in the
dark, for sure. So, I went to work as swiftly as possible. I should mention here that I was wearing a
head lamp. A hands-free flashlight
experience is ideal for nighttime restroom use. HOWEVER, because of the nature
of wearing them correctly, they illuminate everything in the direction you’re
looking. I looked down at my situation to make sure it was all going well and
IT WAS. Just then, I heard some light laughter off in the distance. I shot a
glance in the direction of other camp to find 4 bright headlamps shining in my
direction. OH SHIT. (Literally.) I HAD JUST USED MY OWN HEADLAMP AS A SPOTLIGHT
AND I JUST POOPED IN FRONT OF 4 STRANGERS. I quickly turned my headlamp off and
began rustling my pants back on in horror! Hearing this fussing and rustling,
my boyfriend, the 4th, and not yet mentioned member of our party,
began to walk with his flashlight in my direction to make sure I was ok. I hadn’t
told him I was going to the bathroom, dammit! Thankfully, I had my pants back
up before he could light me up for our neighbors to see again,
but I had not
yet buried my poop! (Part 2 off the “pooping in Yosemite” lesson.) Furiously, I
began to bury, but I was too late. He was there. Shining a flashlight upon my
handiwork. We’ve been together a long time, and I like to think we still have a
little spark, but whatever was left of that spark was permanently extinguished
as we looked at each other, then at my poop, and then at each other again, and
all I could think to say was, “That’s not mine.” He made sure I was ok and left
me to my work. I buried it, in shame, in the dark and came back to the tent. I
slept surprisingly well despite the evening’s events. I had conquered the first
day and it was hard, but this “was the worst of it,” so I was not worried.
|Dad and cousin, Tyler on top of Half Dome.
|"Leave no Trace" is a real, important thing, I guess.
Miles hiked: 8 ½
Total Poops: 1
Pride: All time low
Lessons Learned: 1- Turn off headlamp during nighttime outdoor restroom use. 2- Tell people you’re going to the restroom so they don’t try to come find you.
Day 2. I poked my head out of the tent to see if our neighbors who got the hilarious show from the night before were still there and thankfully, they were not! I could eat breakfast with my dignity intact. We had a long day ahead of us. Today, we would be hiking 17-18 miles. That is crazy, I know, but according to our topography experts, my father and cousin, it would be “relatively flat.” I’ll interject an early lesson learned here and tell you that they are both liars. There were not 1, not 2, but 3 different climbs that day. Sure, 11 miles of it was flat or downhill, but the other 6-7? Big, fat, annoying climbs. Fine. No problem. Surely this was the worst of it. At about mile 8, we came upon High Sierra Camp and it had a bathroom! Do you have to poop? I thought to myself. I did not, but that was ok because that evening, we were staying in the well-developed campground in Tuolumne Meadows, where I could surely have a peaceful movement with a stall and flushing toilet. I just needed to hike 10 more miles. Upon arrival and further reading of our map, we realized that the ranger station where we had cached our food for the remainder of the trip was actually 1 mile FURTHER than our campground. Now, I don’t know what super-human strength came over me, like the kind where people lift cars off of other people who are trapped and the like, but like a true hero, I said, “Not to worry, Father. You stay here and relax. I’ll go get our food so that we might eat.” (Truth: My dad was done, so my cousin and my boyfriend volunteered to go. In delirium told my cousin I’d go instead because I was “feelin’ it” and I stumbled like a freshly walking baby, 50 paces behind my boyfriend for 2 more miles.) But I did it! We finally got back to camp and happily ate our bean burritos, provided by my dad. (Quickest way to my good side: Beans.) Full and happy, I waited for my bowel movement to come. It would be a lovely evening walk to the restroom and undoubtedly a good sleep. But it never came. I went to the restroom and stood around the toilets, looking into each stall to encourage my body to take the opportunity, and to my ultimate dismay, I didn’t have to poop. Dejected, I went back to camp and crawled into bed. Surely that bean burrito would work its magic over a good night’s sleep and I could poop in the morning. Just as I drifted off, a drunken group of campers began to play the guitar and sing. (The worst kinds of people are those who bring guitars to campsites.) The star of the show had a heavy (comical) accent and was from Poland (I would find out later) and was a BIG fan of American music of the 90s. After a version of “Santeria” that surely had Bradley Nowell turning over in his
grave, I broke my cardinal
rule of cool and like a very old, very tired lady, I reached my head out of the
tent and screeched “SHUT UUUUUP!” at the top of my lungs. I would’ve gone over
in person and asked them nicely, but it is A LOT of work to get in and out of a
sleeping bag, especially when it’s cold. I’m not proud, but I have no regrets.
Shortly after, another camper backed me up with some similar verbiage, and the
music quieted. But my night of sleep was already ruined. Tomorrow would surely
be a bad day.
|"Oh, maybe yuf heard VunderVall?"
Miles hiked: 20
Total poops: 0
Pride level: Non-existent
Lessons Learned: 1- Do not believe a word my dad or cousin says about a topographic map. 2- I need to learn how to read topographic map. 3- There is a Polish guy on the John Muir Trail that needs to die.
Day 3. I emerged from my tent very groggy. In fact, this morning was somewhat of a blur. If I had to poop, I had forgotten how and never did. The stench on my clothes had become potent but was still in the “you like your own scent” stage. I put on a fresh pair of socks and my dad assured me today would be flat. Whatever. In this case, thankfully, he was right. This hike was pleasant. We stopped for lunch by a creek and I finally got to get in a “swimming hole.” I splashed around and soaked my feet and happily ate my trail sandwich while I dried off. Re-energized, I finished the day’s hike with ease. We stopped to camp by another creek. I paused for a moment to admire the beauty around me, and it HIT me. Before I could get my bag down, I knew it was finally time. It was still daylight, so I had to walk pretty far off to do my business. “I’m going to the bathroom!! Do NOT come find me!!” I called to my boyfriend. I walked with haste, scurrying to find a good tree or rock, all the while checking the sightlines of my group. If I go here, can they see me from the waist down and am I okay if they see me from the waist up or if we accidentally make eye contact while I’m pooping? I was not. Thankfully, there were no other hikers around because that would have made this even more difficult. After about a ¼ of a mile, I
began to set up. Without going into even more detail,
that bean burrito had, in fact, worked its magic. In a desperate attempt to
protect my clothes, I hoisted myself in a position no human should have to ever
have to be in to use the bathroom. Not an inch of it made
it into my freshly dug hole. I tell you that so you know, so it’s clear, that I
had to scoop it in. All of it. With a stick. Because a scary ranger lady told
me to “leave no trace.” It was one of those surreal moments where you wonder
what terrible things you did in life that lead you to this exact moment. I
|Me, pooping in the woods.
|The beginning of the Donahue Pass climb.
Miles hiked: 11
Total Poops: 1
Pride level: There will never be measurable pride again.
Lessons Learned: Only 1- Bean Burritos are not a good hiking meal.
Day 4. Consider this the "montage" paragraph. I could not yet read a topographic map and my dad and cousin are still liars. Mountains appeared out of nowhere. I would celebrate the summit of a climb only to be met with an even bigger, dumber mountain. I pooped upon waking, on the trail, and
arrival at that evening’s campsite. My holes got shallower out of sheer fatigue.
I was so sore and smelled so bad that I wondered if I should burn my clothes
and just Jungle Book/Dances with Wolves this whole thing. I decided to sleep on
it, but not before one more poop.
|Me. Because I pooped outside once.
Miles hiked: 12
Total poops: 4
Lessons learned: 1- Four days is plenty for a backpacking trip. 2- Four poops is plenty for a backpacking trip.
Day 5. The last day. The only thing that got me out of bed on this morning was knowing that I was near the end. We packed up, and headed out without a morning “movement.” Maybe I’ll make it to the end where I can use a real toilet?! I hiked so fast and so hard, I surprised my group and myself. However, about 7 miles in, hiking and chatting with my dad, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Of course not. Now nature was just one big toilet with running streams everywhere and beautiful big rock and tree toilet seats, and my body knew it.
In broad daylight on the trail, I had to
stop my dad, and go find what would be my last bathroom. This time, I didn’t care. I was
looking for waist down coverage only. I angrily dug my dumb hole, and tried to
hurry. I heard my dad call, “Hey, Andrea! There are people coming!” I closed my
eyes and sighed. This is a process you can only rush so much and at a certain
point you can’t interrupt. I looked over my shoulder and saw them coming. I
didn’t care. Who was I trying to impress at this point? I thought about picking
it up and throwing it at them, like our ancestors did, but I didn’t. I just
waved and turned to look vacantly into the distance. I used to have dignity. I thought. I used to be somebody. They passed in awkward silence. Everyone
knew what I was doing. It was the pits. We finished the hike at Devil’s
Postpile where again, with a beautifully functioning bathroom, I did not have
to go. I had blisters on my feet, dirt caked on my body, a weird rash on my
legs (that went away after a shower,) a slight sunburn, and no feeling in my
legs. I sat for a second, looking at my car, my beautiful car, trying to figure
out if I remembered how to drive it. And then, for a moment, I looked back at the trail, at the trees and majestic mountains. And I whispered, “Sorry I pooped all over you.”
|Me. Between poops.
Miles hiked: 12
Total poops: 2 (1 came later on at home.)
Lessons Learned: 1- I can hike 60 miles. 2- California is beautiful. (See Photos.) 3-Pride is overrated.
|Idiots on Half Dome.
|Me. 18 hours since last poop.
|Campsite # 1
|Me and Tyler. Morning of last hike.
|"Trees are Dyin'"
|Two lucky ducks.
|Cookin' future poop.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF MY ROOMMATE, TRAVIS SPENCER @CompanyBlaster