Monday, March 26, 2018

The Nighttime Head Call

Here’s a post on truth and reality.  It’s maybe more truth and reality than you want, but there ya’ go.  It’s a delicate subject I wouldn’t bring up in most camping posts, but it’s a real-life necessity---the middle of the night head call, pee, leak, seeing a man about a horse, or whatever you nickname your pressing relief.  For those that are younger, taking a pee bottle along is considered a convenience.  As age takes over, a sufficiently larger bottle is a priority on the pack list.  The first consideration is that your middle-of-the-night call to nature will not only interrupt your deep sleep, but also that of anyone around you.  That is one good reason for even couples to use separate tents.  Weight is not really as great an issue as it used to be, making a two-man tent advisable even for solitary campers.  There is not only room to move around, to change clothes, to have a dry place for gear, but also to get in and out of the tent or relieve yourself without destroying the sleep of others and otherwise being a nuisance.  Proper clothing and food, and some other items, are strongly recommended for any trip, but sleep is essential for performance, mood, and enjoying the trip.  The call of nature is also one of the issues that will make a tent preferable to a hammock for older folks. 
And there’s the ugly subject of age.  I remember, barely, being young enough to sleep through the entire night without having to get up.  The greater the number of birthdays, the greater the number of nighttime head calls.  More birthdays also mean you don’t sleep as well, your body doesn’t regulate temperature as well, and with poorer circulation, legs and especially feet, tend to get bitterly cold.  Once you become a senior citizen, are having prostate problems, or have already had prostate cancer, the number of head calls can easily be four or five times a night.  This is why some older folks head off to bed before the campfire burns down.  If you are likely to lose at least a half-hour of sleep as often as five times a night, it is going to take some time to get enough sleep to rise rested and cheerful in the morning.  Add to this the other aspects of old age, like snoring and flatulence, and you can quickly see how you may want to give some thought not only to your rest, but to those close enough to be disturbed.  You don’t want others to start fantasizing about how greatly their lives might improve if you were mysteriously to drown in the river. 
There are a few suggestions that may or may not appear obvious.  However, I’m not even going to attempt the subject of hygiene and comfort for women.  That’s totally beyond my experience except for having seen the plastic devices that enable them to pee standing like a man, or without having to remove all their clothing to get the job done (the Female Urination Device), and for being able to pee in a bottle at night rather than traipsing through the woods in the middle of the night and rain.  Here’s a review of a number of these devices by Backpacker Magazine.  (  I love the added warning at the end---“Do not pee into the wind.”  There’s a lesson the boys learn at a very tender age. 
First of all, carry a container that enables you to relieve yourself without having to get out of the tent every time.  That’s a real asset especially if it is freezing cold, pouring rain, or you don’t want to carry mosquitoes back into the tent on your return.  It is best if you carry a couple or it has enough capacity that you don’t have to leave the tent all night.  A cheap disposable container, like an empty wide-mouthed energy drink bottle, is fine if large enough.  There should also be a bottle of water in the tent, so the obvious initial requirement for a pee container is having one with a unique shape, or that tape, a bunch of rubber bands or something has been added to the outside surface, to make it impossible to confuse it and the water bottle in the dark.  An error won’t be fatal, but it will certainly be disgusting.  The bottle should hold enough to be used at least two or three times without having to get out to empty it.  A pack of disposable wipes, like baby wipes or towlettes, are also nice for cleanliness and freshness. 
Now we get into the ‘fun facts’ part of the post.  Many campers and gardeners alike have learned to keep small critters away by collecting urine and then pouring it around the tent or veggies in the garden.  This proves that there is indeed money available to do research on anything.  Yes, studies indeed prove that this truly works.  However, there’s a caveat.  Animals apparently know as much as humans about the food chain, and where they and you are on the list.  If animals that invade the camp are smaller than humans, they recognize the mammal that left the scent, and are inclined to stay away.  This means that tents and packs may be protected from rodents and similar small animals by this practice.  For years I thought this practice applied universally, however, more recent studies have shown that animals higher on the food chain, like bears and mountain lions, are actually drawn by the scent.  In this case, advertising who you are may have a harmful side-effect, like getting you invited for dinner.    

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Down the River

Down the River, by Edward Abbey, pub. by E.P. Dutton, New York, 1982, pb, 242 pp.  The first word is that this is not a paddling or camping book.  Abbey is a good author, and the book is well written, but the title does give the impression that there is something here that isn’t; that is unless you are looking for some whitewater rafting or Sportyaking, and even that is just mentioned in passing.  The book is a series of short stories or essays on a variety of topics.  The message here is the same as in “Freedom and Wilderness,” which is a call against the stripping and development of the American West. 

In spite of service in the military and employment as a park ranger, Abbey was so outspoken against the government and its policies of managing public lands that the FBI kept a running file on him for most of his adult life.  When he learned that the FBI was watching him, he said he’d be disappointed if they weren’t.  It’s a blessing that he passed away in 1989 and isn’t here now to see what is going on with Trump, Ryan Zinke, and Scott Pruitt and their open destruction of all things related to nature and the environment.  Abbey devoted his life to preserving the nation’s natural beauty. 

Abbey wrote 23 books, both fiction and non-fiction, and three anthologies.  Several were made into movies and documentaries.  The two listed as his best and most influential were “The Monkey Wrench Gang” and “Desert Solitaire.”

Abbey is capable of producing some memorable smiles.  For example, he complains about the conspicuous and attention-zeroing sound produced by the opening of a can of beer.  He supposes it “would be helpful if some clever lad invented a more discreet, a more genteel mode of opening beer cans.  A soft, susurrate, suspiring sort of …s i g h… might serve nicely.  A sound that could pass, let us say, for the relaxed, simple, artless fart of a duchess.”  Now there’s an image to conjure every time you open a beer!  Another memorable quote of his, which he in turn attributes to Louisa May Alcott, is “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

Some of the topics covered in “Down the River” are the court proceedings for trespassers and protestors at an atomic weapons manufacturing plant, the beauty and simplicity of the family farm, Thoreau, bears, glaciers, river rafting, fire tower employment, and Sonora, Mexico.  My favorite was the story on the mining ghost town of Bodie, CA.  However, if paddling is what you are after, you may wish to draw a line through this title.  It’s good reading for any lover of nature and the environment, but off target for those wanting the pages to conjure up the sound of the paddle.