We went for a quick relaxing camping trip last weekend. Well, actually we went on a donkey ride to hell punctuated with the occasional pleasant moment. So yeah…camping.
We set off as we are prone to do with no planning and visions of an undiscovered uncrowded Yosemite an hour and a half drive from Los Angeles in our heads. I wanted to leave on Friday night just in case anyone else in California decided that a warm fall weekend would be camping weather but Dr. Wife was chained to her pager until Saturday morning (can you believe they still use those?). We promised each other we would leave at the crack of dawn.
By the time we were driving through beautiful downtown Burbank towards the forest, it was 11am. My wife had the camping spot guidebook and our older boy was honing his psychological torture techniques on his little brother in the back seat. We’re hoping for a career in the CIA for that one. Dr. Wife picked a campsite called “Buckhorn”.
“Ooh this sounds nice,” she said. “The guidebook gives it a 9 on scenery!”
We did not stay at Buckhorn. We are not the only ones who own that book. We stayed at a US Forest Service horse camp with no running water and a group of Ukrainian pop music fans. It was almost a “9”.
We did the usual camping things, yelling at the kids for doing dangerous stuff, which is what you do in the woods and why we drove there. Burned a fire, burned some marshmallows, burned a finger, etc. Then my five year old said those magic words, “I have to poop.”
“OK buddy, your dad will take you,” my wife said.
“C’mon, Dapper,” I sighed, knowing it was pointless to argue.
We walked to the vault toilets provided by the US Forest service. “Vault Toilet” is a fancy way of saying “shit hole”. For those of you who aren’t experienced, I don’t know what to tell you, it’s as bad as you’d imagine, and if you haven’t seen Sleepaway Camp 2, well…just don’t.
We opened the door to the “camping potty” and it wasn’t so bad. A white toilet looking thing sat there with the lid closed, a lonely fly buzzed around, and illuminated dust shone in streaks of sunlight through the vents.
“Oh, this isn’t bad” My kid ventured.
I’ve seen what passes for bathrooms in countries where running water can be optional in the town, let alone the woods, so I was ecstatic that it wasn’t that bad because I too would probably be using it at some point.
“I’ll wait outside” I said, and turned to leave.
My son reached over and opened the lid, and a satanic plague of flies erupted from the vault.
He jumped back a foot and let the lid slam shut. Flies swarmed around us.
“I don’t have to go anymore,” he said flatly.
I couldn’t blame him, but anyone who is the parent of a small child knows that you have to be the manager of all things poop, including timing, locations, effort, or that stuff will surely turn around and bite you in the ass at some point. So to speak.
“Are you sure, pal?” I asked. “It’s not that bad,” I lied. “At least the sun is up, it might be scary later…in the dark. If you want, I’ll go first.” I offered, thinking, please don’t want that.
“No, I don’t have to go anymore.” He walked out of the outhouse and I followed him back to camp.
Later I would take the three year old to the same potty, he happily sat there trying to count the flies and exclaiming with glee that he could hear his poop hitting the bottom of the hole. Kids are weird.
The next day we packed up our stuff and made sure our campfire was cold. I was a Boy Scout after all. And we headed back to Buckhorn to do some day hiking before we returned to civilization. Buckhorn, after all is a “9”.
When we pulled into the parking lot for the trail head, there was another toilet there. We basically had a repeat performance of the day before.
“I have to potty” he said. This time he didn’t even open the lid. We walked into the out house and he saw the same toilet waiting for him and a couple flies buzzed in the autumn heat and he balked.
“I changed my mind,” he squeaked, and ran out the door.
Finally on the way home we stopped at a biker bar for hamburgers and culture. An overly loud band of aging hippies were rocking some Neil Young covers as we walked in. We sat down and ordered cheese burgers and fried chicken fingers.
“Hey Dapper, I bet they have a real potty here!” I said.
He got really excited and we both trotted off to use indoor plumbing. When we got to the men’s room, the stall was occupied and we were about to turn back when we heard a flush.
“You’re next!” I said.
He beamed at me with the enthusiasm of someone in a laxative ad. Ah, sweet release.
The door opened and a guy in the outlaw biker leather and denim uniform who weighed slightly less than your average Kodiak Bear lumbered past us.
My son peeked in the stall. Despite the flush the bear had left a cub behind.
“I don’t have to go.” He said and turned around, grim determination plastered on his five year old face. Mom said there were no real monsters in the world.
That kid does not shit in the woods.