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Bears do it. Bunnies do it. Campers do too

Learn to poop properly in the woods with Back Roads Bill this week -- because it's different outside

This year we are going out more than ever and many washrooms of various descriptions are closed because of the pandemic. Outdoors though when “I gotta go,” care has to be taken.

We have a lot of silly names for it: BMs, number two, caca, doo-doo, turds, and of course, poop. We don't generally discuss it in our daily conversations.

For the person brought up on the spiffy, silenced flush toilet hidden away behind the locked bathroom door, elimination of such conveniences in the great outdoors can be, well, somewhere between an ordeal and a mess.

There is nothing worse than coming upon a campsite ripe with a urine smell and visible human feces with telltale flags of toilet paper; or on the ice (fishing), or along the snowshoe trail. So this story includes a pandemic resolution to include a little outdoor education within the prose. It’s different outside.

Human waste and what we do with it has impacts on the places we visit.

There is a disease impact, water quality impact, social and aesthetic impact — and it's something that a lot of people just have a hard time dealing with. The aesthetic issue is obvious: no one wants to come upon exposed human feces or tufts of soiled toilet paper floating merrily in the breeze or hydroscopic bundles of pulp.

Feces contain a cocktail of germs, and no one enjoying the back roads and water trails wants to see it, smell it, come in contact with it, or worse, get sick due to its improper disposal.

Then there is the winter dilemma.

The poop book by Kathleen Meyer

The bestselling, now fourth edition How to Shit in the Woods is a serious book and is a training guide for many outdoors organizations including the U.S. Forest Service and the military.

I have wanted to secure an interview with Kathleen Meyer for quite some time. She is a white-water rafter and canoeist, sea-kayaker and sailor, she is also a draft horse teamster, having traversed three Rocky Mountain states by horse-drawn wagon.

Ever the non-traditional spirit, Meyer resides in an old, rather unrestored, dairy barn in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley.

Her book has been a staple outdoor education resource since it was published in 1989. This guide is often called the “backpacker’s bible” and has sold more than three million copies in eight languages. Kathleen continues to address a topic that others would not; with applicable humour on a topic that is irreverent, —examining the latest techniques for graceful backcountry elimination.

Her shameless discussion makes How to Shit in the Woods an essential and vastly entertaining reading for anyone who’s ever paused at the edge of the forest and pondered: “Where do I go to go?”

To assist with all this responsible human waste disposal, the book features the latest in product innovations, from classy high-tech to inexpensive do-it-yourself.

She covers the most current solutions to the health risks of drinking straight from wilderness waterways; presents a raft of natural substitutes for the purist swearing off toilet tissue, and offers a wealth of new recommendations for ladies who must make do without a loo.

How did Kathleen get motivated to write this book?

"Meyer honed her squatting skills and found she “wasn’t alone in the klutz department,” she said.

“Etched into my memory are some colossal disasters in this department, but the mental file of my first attempt remains irretrievable. Probably a case of grand suppression,” she said. “I’m supposing what registered right off was an across-the-ages, helpless alienation from my hunter-gatherer ancestors and then a deficiency in the adept squatting muscles of even the clumsiest bear. My agility for assuming such a position was well atrophied – as is most everyone’s nowadays – a side-effect of our refined lifestyles, roosting on porcelain thrones.

"How to Shit in the Woods is an environmentally sound approach to a lost art, many of my misadventures are offered up for mirthful scrutiny (alongside those of numerous, stout-hearted, anonymous others), all for the instruction of still others. So, the word is ‘Take heart!’ If someone as clumsy as I can master woodsy squatting with a bit of grace, you can too.”

She goes on to summarize the process:

OK, you’ve dug your one-sit hole, 6–8 inches (15 to 20 cm) deep, in soil with lots of humus, and 200 feet from any waterway or dry wash.

You have in your hand your trowel and a stick you picked up on the way to your place of easement.

Next, scrape the sides of the hole to loosen some dirt that, after you finish squatting, you will – now, buck up! – stir into your turd, sort of like mixing crumbled crackers into meatloaf (using the stick, which you can drop in the hole).

Conclude by covering it all over and tamping it down like a good gardener planting a tree.

A robust stirring brings soil bacteria into greater contact with your deposit and thus speeds decomposition, which otherwise takes over a year.

Lastly, salute Mother Nature give yourself a big pat on the back, and don’t forget to pack out your t.p.

The Winter

At this time of 2021, there are additional challenges. “In the snow, a plastic bag is easy to use. Just scoop out a small, but deep hole in the snow and line it with a plastic bag. There could be a log, but she explained, “Then sit down. If it’s too cold, carefully rest your buns upon your gloves. Double bag the result and tuck it in the snowbank until it solidifies.”

There is also the milk carton.

“Unlike a plastic bag, a milk carton will stand up on its own. It becomes the better container when you lack snow to support a bag. First you squat and do what you must; then with your trowel scrape up a bit of snow and toss it into the carton. The other advantage is the sturdiness of the carton inside your day or backpack. She has helped design a stainless steel, reusable container, “but use your imagination.”

Do a search for “DIY poop tube kayakers portable toilet”. It is also covered in her new editions. The contraption is made of PVC pipe. Accessories will cost about $20 at the hardware store.

“With so many of us tramping the backcountry, Mother Nature, not to mention the next person down the trail, would love it if, in dropping our drawers, we also kept her in mind. I have a sneaking suspicion that Canada does a much better job of protecting Mother Nature than does the U.S., where toilet trash proliferates, it seems, everywhere. AND, here, everyone is still very prudish about the use of that S--- word,” Meyer said. 

There are YouTube self-help videos to be found by simply typing ‘Pooping in the woods' in the search bar. 

Unsure about the target, we want you to have the right tool for the job; for the winter hole in the snow, the 30" x 32.5" (76.2 x 82.5 cm) biodegradable garbage bag, with the drawstring works well. 

We need to know how to dispose of our human waste properly, probably something your parents or Uncle Vic did not tell you about. And if they did, give them a camp badge.

I always know where How to Shit in the Woods is on the bookshelf and where the garbage bags are. When you think about it many, dog owners have adopted the urban “poop and scoop” protocol; so should we out on the back roads.