Campsite Restrooms: An Appreciation

camping, campsites

By Angela Noel

June 13, 2018

Only sixty percent of homes in 1940’s America had indoor flush toilets. Seventy percent had running water. Both amenities reached near ubiquity by 1970, the decade in which I was born, according to The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon.

Naturally, I take toilets and showers for granted. My guess is most of us do. But a recent camping trip brought me a new appreciation for the gift of potties and showers amidst the wilds and wonders of nature.

Before meeting my husband, Paul, I did not camp. But, given our first co-owned dwelling was a tent, it’s safe to say nature and I are now close friends.

This spring, Paul felt inspired to buy a hand-me-down pop up trailer. He spent hours researching prices and features. Finally, the day arrived when I heard the news: We were the proud owners of a fifteen-year-old Eagle by Jayco.

Camping, campsites
Our Eagle.

Paul committed to the project of spiffing up the trailer. Aided by nine-year-old Jackson, he set about the cleaning and tinkering. My mom, visiting from California, sewed us beautiful new curtains. I provided encouraging words and appreciative noises upon each milestone reached.

Soon our camper was ready for its maiden voyage.

Location, Location, Location

So, we set out mid-afternoon on a recent Friday for a campsite about an hour away. Arriving at around six, we had plenty of time to set up the trailer and get a fire going. The site itself was perfect. The location within the campground, however, must be assessed separately.

For anyone familiar with camping, the placement of the campsite restrooms relative to your site can be tricky. Too close to your campsite and every camper walks by, sometimes using your space as an unofficial corridor to reach the potties.  On this trip, we didn’t have that problem. But we were far enough that a bike would have been handy. However distance did provide compensations.

camping, campsites
Jack and a deer share a moment on the way back from the restrooms.

For example, when Jack and I visited the restroom for the first time, we came across a deer standing in a green field munching on the colorful, and no doubt delicious, honeysuckle.

Later that night, when the bugs persisted in sucking our blood despite the helpful smoke cover of the campfire and generous bug spray application we headed inside our new trailer for a game of UNO before bed

Camping, Campsites
Playing UNO. Aren’t those curtains perfect?
The Undeniable Joy of  Running Water–Rivers and Restrooms

On Saturday, we decided to hike the trails lining the St. Croix river and ringing the prairie. At one point, Paul slid in the mud on the banks of the river and Ace, the golden retriever, decided to take advantage by leaping into the water without permission. We couldn’t really blame him; the air hung heavy with humidity. The inviting cool of the river could not be denied.

Camping, campsites
The accidentally-on-purpose leap into the river gave Ace reason to smile.

Warned that ticks and bears could molest us on the trail, we took precautions against both. Despite the bugs, possible carnivore encounters, and the stickiness, we enjoyed the eight-mile walk through the woods and grasses. When we arrived back at our campsite, we pulled ticks from our skin. Paul took pleasure in cleaving their tough exoskeletons with a hatchet. We decided nothing could be better  at that moment than a cold beverage and a cleansing shower.

I went first. Toiletries and towel in hand, I set out on tired and sweaty legs towards the restroom. Freshly mopped, I was warned by the camp cleaner to watch my step on the tile. Inside the stall, I stripped  off my sweaty clothes and soaped my hands. The water pouring from the nozzle overhead was both the perfect temperature and pressure to rinse off the sweat and silt from my skin.

Not wanting to waste water or time, I didn’t linger. But, I left that restroom with a lighter step. I walked back to our campsite, and took a cold beer from our cooler. Paul, babysitting the dog while I showered, took off for the bathroom for his own experience with cleansing nirvana.

Modern Miracles Seen Through New Eyes

When he returned we grilled veggie burgers and and laid side-by-side in a hammock strung between trees with bright green leaves. The campfire crackled cheerfully. We talked and ate chocolate-covered pretzels.

Later, I fell asleep grateful for skin no longer sticky, and no longer tick-y. The power of that distant shower transformed me from hot and tired to clean and comfortable.

Now back at home, with a bathroom just ten feet away, I appreciate the miracle of running water far more.

Born into the conveniences of a modern age, it’s easy to forget how lucky I am. Camping isn’t just for itself–for the trees, the rivers, and the wildflowers. It’s also because we see the things we take for granted with new eyes.

Your turn: What have you discovered a new found appreciation for lately?

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Author: Angela Noel

Seeker and promoter of awesome people and ideas.

36 thoughts on “Campsite Restrooms: An Appreciation”

  1. Love it. Showing my age in that I still cringe at the thought of holding the torch to see myself out to the outdoor long drop at my Nana’s place and all those cockroaches around the outhouse. Camping is such an enjoyable activity that we soon forget about having to deal with inconvenient ways of relieving ourselves. Thanks for the trip down memory lane Angela with this post 🙂

    1. Hi! Camping, summer, and a much-needed break from online life to enjoy my “real” one. Felt great to disconnect for awhile. But, I missed a lot of great stories I know–but I did get your newsletter–very cool.

    1. I wasn’t sure I would be either! A lot of credit goes to my husband. He grew up camping and while my family did a little “roughing it” when we were kids, I don’t think I’d ever put up a tent before my husband came around. I think having an expert camper on board definitely helps!

  2. Love it! We started going camping with friends when you were barely 2 years old. Also in a tent trailer. One of your first phrases was “Go away bug!” in a perfectly mimicked tone. You even got the swatting motion down pat. We stopped the camping gig 5 years later. Our friends moved away. There went our motivation for the glories of camping. I love the beauty and inspiration of nature, and we now live in the forest, surrounding by trees and bugs – but we have indoor plumbing and air conditioning, and large plate glass windows.

    1. What a lovely memory. I definitely wanted to say “go away bug” when I found all those ticks on me and Ace. But, I can safely say at least I was less freaked out by them than before!

  3. I’m not a camper, but I love the outdoors. Your trip sounded very idyllic. Am very glad to have you back. I’ve missed your blog over the past few weeks.

    1. Thanks, lovely friend. It’s good to be back. Though I must say things might be a little different. Less regular most likely. I’d like to keep going with the inspiration from you to stay “unplugged” more.

        1. Absolutely better. Even when I was putting this post together, I thought about how it was a challenge to focus on both the post and my family. I’m still working on balance and believe both online and offline can coexist. But in all–my brain likes unplugged better!

  4. I’m not a camper but this reminds me a bit of my trip into a remote village of China where the ‘toilet’ was a hole in the ground behind a wooden board or a community trough. In my younger days I managed fine but not sure I could anymore!

    1. Wow! That sounds like a unique experience. It’s so interesting how “normal” is defined so differently throughout the world and how experiencing something new can help us appreciate both new and old. Though I’m not entirely sure I’d love a life without an actual toilet!

  5. What a gift Paul brought into your life. There is nothing like being immersed in nature – waking up to birds chirping in trees, and going to bed listening to the churning water of a nearby creek – it’s all amazing. We also invested in a Jayco pop-up camper two years ago. It has taken us through seven states so far, and hopefully many more to come.

    I do have to say that I, for the most part, hate campground bath houses – well, any public restroom really. I prefer the more rustic camping where a shovel is brought into the woods, and a bar of soap is carried to a nearby lake. 🙂 But, I cherish a hot shower when I return home.

    1. I definitely understand not liking public restrooms and bathhouses. I can honestly say I’ve never done the shovel thing. 🙂
      But your point about nature hits home. There really is nothing like it–even with ticks and bears, I’d rather be out there then not. And you’re right, it’s because of Paul. I loved long walks and seeing trees and flowers. But the true appreciation of nature comes from a deeper relationship to it, I think.

  6. When a friend and I backpacked in Indonesia, we absolutely loved the mandi – instead of a shower, it was a tank of cold water with a bowl, and you tipped it over yourself. It was the most refreshing way to wash. I was thinking the other day as I was cleaning the bathroom that I would quite like to go back to that arrangement.

    1. First, it sounds amazing to backpack in Indonesia. Second, that does sound so refreshing. And definitely a better way to avoid wasting water. Thank you for sharing the experience!

  7. We had an outside toilet until I was about 9, even though I was born in 1971! Baths were taken in a tin bath in front of the fire…So I can very much appreciate the advantages of modern bathrooms, and it looks as though you had much to appreciate on your trip.

    1. Wow! It’s so easy to assume we’ve had these conveniences forever and we just haven’t. As a kid, I’m assuming you really didn’t know any different, right? Outside toilets were normal. Do you remember what you thought when you had running water all the time? I’m curious.

      1. That’s right, it was just normal. I can’t remember what I thought about having an inside bathroom, but I do remember when a friend got a shower installed – that was a big thing and 3 of us went round to her house so we could try a shower!

  8. This sounds like a perfect trip! I spent my childhood and young adulthood in the woods, camping all over Michigan, VA, WVA, and NC. Once we get a little more settled here in Germany, we plan to obtain camping gear.
    Great story, thanks for sharing!

    1. We did a little camping as a kid, but your experience sounds amazing. Raising an outdoor kid–or being one–sounds like the right way to keep us all connected to things that matter most. With your big move I can imagine stuff like camping gear didn’t make the cut. But, it sounds awesome to get out there again. I’m jealous of all the sights you’ll see!

  9. Strongly relate to your point about the trickiness of campsite placement. This can sometimes be avoided by travelling at quieter times of year and hitting up the smaller, less visited spots but its not always a good solution. I’m glad you’ve given some props to campsite restrooms. They can sometimes be a harrowing experience and that’s maybe what gets talked about more often. They can be a major port in a storm though.

    1. Hi, Luke! We found once the camper was purchased we’d already missed the window for reserving the “best” spots. But, you and my husband must be on the same wavelength because he can’t wait for fall camping when the summer rush has died back a bit. He also read about a tip on a camping blog to keep a small notebook in the camper to record a review of the campground and an assessment of the best “spots” for the next year. I think that’s a good idea!
      And I agree that a campsite restroom can be a port in the storm. Though that imagery makes me giggle a bit. 🙂

  10. Not truly a camper but a motor home couple. We do like a good bathroom block though. Your trailer looks brilliant but have to say putting the brake on and making a cuppa within three minutes of arriving has its place 🤣😂😃
    My #SundayBlogShare post is akin to yours … or at least mentions the facilities on our camp site with a different view. Happy camping, you are giving the family a lifetime of memories to laugh at and love.

    1. I suspect we’ll move to the motor home in future. My husband has dreams of cross-county motoring which requires a more comfortable moveable abode. I’m looking forward to reading your post!

  11. I left a long comment that seems to have vanished 😣😲. But thank you for the post. My #SundayBlogshare has, shall we say a simular theme. You are making fond memories as a family that will last a lifetime in your super set up. Great trailler/ motorhome you have there.

  12. You brought back memories of us camping when we were kids. It was so much fun. Back then, ( a long time ago) we didn’t mind the community showers and the community toilets. Now, I think I would. 🙂

    1. I’m so glad it brought back memories for you! Community showers are a little less than ideal–and yet in some ways it seems a simpler time. And for that reason, maybe if not a better one, still worth remembering.

  13. I haven’t done a lot of camping, but I’ve spent a lot of time hut hiking in New Hampshire. That means that you don’t shower until the end of the trail. To me, the best shower was the one at Pinkham Notch at the base of Mount Washington. Quarters for you shower and it felt do good to get clean!

  14. I love this sooo much!

    Although I spend as much time outdoors as possible, I have not been camping for yeeears! I love this appreciation for campsite facilities! I also have an appreciation for the worlds most picturesque toilets(!) I know toilets out in the wilderness are kind of an eyesore, but I’ve been keeping photos of the best views from loos!! 😉

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