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

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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 pose 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?

These are excellent questions, and the answers should be shared with a larger audience, as others might also wonder just how long we plan to go without bathing.  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 restrooms, 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 Alcan.

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 call “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 water 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 only four sites in the New Mexico State Parks system 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 are 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.
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Baby wipes, or, as Dale calls them, the “fresh maker”
  • Second, we have a natural advantage in that New Mexico is very arid.  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 for it to get to that stiff, limpid stage.  I rarely go a day or two without washing it, which is a real problem when I don’t have access to 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 to Spain with our friend Tamara last year, she used it and 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 a wet head exposed to cold air could make you sick, and if you were already ill, it could make you worse.  So every time I got a cold or the 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, 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 my 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 advances in the area of dry shampoo since I was nine, because the brand Dale found for me not only smells nice but leaves my hair fluffy and non-greasy, and there’s no icky dandruff.

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

There’s another solution to bad hair, and it’s 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.

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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!)

Truth is, I barely comb my hair most of the time anyway, so none of this is a real stretch for me!

Conclusion–dirt is inevitable

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!”  Hilarious.

Basically we have to accept that there will be some dirt–in our tent, car, and sleeping bags as well as on our clothes and bodies.  We’re learning how to 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, 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