“Enjoy being smelly!” My niece asks questions about the camping life

Lacey and I, in Madrid last year


“I read the blog post yesterday; loved it!   I have two very important questions related to that…”

A day or two after we announced our road trip on the blog, I got an email from my beautiful niece Lacey.  One of the things I love most about Lacey is that she’s not afraid to speak her mind or ask the questions that no one else will.  Here’s what she asked:

-How long do you plan to go between showers?

-Where do you go to the bathroom?

I thought these were excellent questions and that the answers should be shared with a larger audience, as others might also be curious just how long we plan to go without showers.  So here goes:

First up, the bathroom issue–that’s an easy one.  All of the campsites that we’ve stayed at so far have had bathrooms, and that shouldn’t be any different in the near future.  Even the campground in Denali National Park, Alaska, has facilities.  The only exception may be if we have to do some remote camping on the Al-Can.

We have, however, encountered different types of restrooms.  Davis Mountains State Park (Texas) and Cimarron Canyon State Park (New Mexico) both had full-service restrooms with flush toilets and running water.  Hyde Memorial State Park (New Mexico), on the other hand, is a bit more primitive and has what they called “vault toilets,” which are basically like Porta-Potties but permanently situated rather than portable.  Toilet paper?  Yes.  Sinks?  No.  We keep hand sanitizer, soap and bottles of water handy for the after-business.

Believe it or not, it hasn’t been terrible.  And this is coming from someone who dislikes using public bathrooms.  We have to work a little bit harder because conveniences like indoor plumbing aren’t available, but I’m proud to say that we’ve adapted well.

Showers, on the other hand, are a different story.  The Davis Mountains campsite had perfectly serviceable showers with hot water and good pressure, and when it comes right down to it, that’s all one really needs! Sure, there were bugs, and sure, I’d recommend wearing flip flops, but I had no complaints about their showers, and considering how hot and humid it was, they were a necessity.

Unfortunately, neither campsite in New Mexico has had showers.  The park host at Cimarron Canyon told us that there are only four parks in the New Mexico State Parks system that don’t have showers, and we happened to stay in two of them.  So yes, we’ve been camping in New Mexico for 12 days (and counting), and that means we’ve been twelve days without showers.  While that sounds positively disgusting, we’ve found compensatory tools that have actually worked quite well:

  • First, baby wipes a marvel.  They’re cheap, so you can use, like, a dozen at a time, clean all of your pertinent parts, and feel like you’ve had a bath.  Really.
Baby wipes, or, as Dale calls them, the “fresh maker”
  • Second, we have a natural advantage in that New Mexico is very dry.  While we may be fighting dry skin and dehydration, sweating and stickiness (and therefore stinky-ness) have not been an issue most days.  If you’re going to camp in July, make sure you do it at high altitude in an arid climate!
  • Third, we wear a lot of wool clothing, including underwear, socks, and shirts.  Wool is less likely to stink and (with the exception of our socks) dries quickly.  Also, we both brought plenty of extra clothing so that we can change as needed, but wool doesn’t have to be changed as often as cotton or synthetic fabrics, either.  Wool is the wonder material, and we love it so much that we’ll devote an entire post to it one day.

My hair is a different challenge.  You know when you buy hair products and you have to identify your hair “type”?  Well, mine ranges from  “normal” to oil-can greasy, and it doesn’t take long to get to that flat, stiff, limpid stage.  I rarely go a day or two without washing it, which is a real problem when I’m going days without a proper shower.  I can (and have) washed it by heating water on the camp stove, but that’s not always convenient.

As a potential solution, Dale suggested that I try dry shampoo.  When we travelled with our friend Tamara last year, he observed that she used it and that it seemed to work wonderfully for her.

But I have a serious prejudice against dry shampoo that stretches way, way back to my childhood.  My mother believed that the combination of a wet head and cold air could make you sick, and if you were already sick, it could make you worse, so every time I developed a cold or flu, she’d make me use dry shampoo.  Even the night before I was to return to school, when my hair was good and greasy from days of being unwashed, instead of letting me wash it, she’d dump a clot of dry shampoo on my head and rub it in.  I was left with flat, greasy hair as well as an added layer of dandruff thick enough to scrape off my scalp.  So embarrassing.

My childhood experiences with dry shampoo were so traumatic that, as an adult allowed to make her own decisions, I swore I’d never touch the stuff again.  Needless to say I initially rebuffed Dale’s suggestion out of hand (it was more like, “Hell no”), but since it worked for Tamara I decided to reconsider.  And apparently they’ve made some advances in the area of dry shampoo since I was nine, because the brand Dale found for me on Amazon not only smells nice but leaves my hair non-greasy without all the icky dandruff-type side-effects.  I use it every few days with good outcomes.  It feels clean and my hair returns to a somewhat fluffy state.  That’s not to say it looks any more styled; without a curling iron to calm it, my hair flips out in random places, and the cowlick on the crown of my head–difficult to tame under the best of circumstances–runs wild.  But at least my hair isn’t greasy.

Dry shampoo that I don’t want to throw into the campfire

There is one last solution, one that I rely on often—the hat.  No matter how terrible my hair looks, I can almost always get away with wearing a hat, or a beanie, or some other variation thereof.  If you see me wearing a hat, odds are that it’s because my hair’s a mess and I don’t want to deal with it.

The final truth is, I barely comb my hair most of the time anyway, so none of this is a real stretch for me.

This photo was taken around day three of New Mexico camping. The reason I’m wearing a hat is either: a) It’s sunny outside and I need to protect my skin; b) My hair’s an absolute mess; c) Life IS good. (Answer: All of the above!)

In my reply to Lacey’s email, I gave a much more succinct version of the answers above, and she replied with, “Well, enjoy being smelly!” which we thought was hilarious.

Basically we have to accept that there will be some dirt–in our tent, car, and sleeping bags and on our clothes and our bodies.  We’re learning how mitigate what we can and live with the rest.  I’m also working on being a little less fragile, and that’s part of what this trip is about.  Dale teasingly calls me his “delicate little flower” when I’m being high maintenance.  But I don’t want to be a delicate flower!  I want to be an oak (or some other kind of awesome tree), unperturbed by whatever comes my way, whether it’s dirt or something worse.

If I’ve shared too much information and you’re totally appalled by it all, I apologize.  But if you have questions about our camping lifestyle, don’t hesitate to ask!  We won’t be shy about answering.

Keepin’ it real (smelly) from the road,

Dale and Cheri