Am republishing this story because my friend hadn’t read it yet. Originally published 26 December 2006.
My sibling, Redd, has been bugging me for over a year to post this story about hand sanitizer and outhouses. It is a fairly embarrassing story, but I thought–since it was on my list of things to do in 2006, I should at least make the attempt. In July 2005, Redd, my brother-in-law, my niece, and myself set out to climb the Chilkoot Trail. I posted my report here. At the end of it all, there were exciting things like bears, 3600 vertical feet, and eight very sore feet. We sang. We laughed. We swore at each other. I taught my niece how to pee in the woods. Jim was the hero of the day for carrying his pack on his back and throwing Redd’s up the Pass. In retrospect–it was a very good trip. It started out, though, with a bit of a surprise.
I grew up at Mile 906.84 Alaska Highway, which was right across from the Wolf Creek Campground just south of Whitehorse, Yukon. My siblings and I spent a lot of time each summer playing in that campground. When I grew up, outhouses were terrible, beastly things. They were completely disgusting holes in the ground with claustrophobic closets built precariously around them. In fact, I just Googled worst outhouses and I found these results. Have a look at the type of outhouses I was used to. The doors rarely shut. You had to get your friend–or in my case, one of my siblings–to stand guard outside to make sure somebody didn’t walk in on you while you were in the middle of doing your business. You would have to prepare yourself outside: unbutton your pants, hook your thumbs and forefingers into your waistband for rapid descent, take a deep breath outside, open the door, duck in, do your business without touching anything inside and finish while you were still holding your breath. Hopefully, you would finish before you had to take a breath. In the end, you would realize that you would have been way better off finding a tree or a secluded log. Terrible, beastly things those outhouses.
When we started our Chilkoot trip, we stayed the first night at Dyea Base Camp. Over the 18 or so odd years that I haven’t been living in the Yukon, outhouse technology has improved by leaps and bounds. Leaps and bounds! The outhouse I used that evening was wheelchair accessible, had a concrete foundation, and a stainless steel toilet–all-in-all–it was definitely a considerable improvement from what I was used to. In fact, it also had a hand sanitizer dispenser. Now, how can you top that in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness? A stainless steel toilet and hand sanitizer? I think it might have even had enzymes to facilitate decomposition and decrease the stench because I definitely don’t remember a stench.
Also, at this particular point in time, Redd, brother-in-law, and niece were outside the outhouse waiting for the Park Rangers to come and take care of the black bear that was rooting around our camp. I was fine. I was taking refuge in the outhouse. Well–not really. I was using the outhouse. Here is the picture.
I am hovering over the stainless steel toilet. Hover. Always hover–good for those thigh muscles. As I am doing my business, I was looking straight ahead and I noticed the hand sanitizer. That’s where it was placed–by the way. Right at eye-level as you are hovering over the stainless steel toilet. In one microsecond (because I didn’t really think about it) I thought: “Hmmm. I am going to be on the Trail for the next four days. I will be sweating and stinky and I won’t be anywhere near a shower, bath, or anything that I may care to wash my private bits with.” The only thing I knew was available was glacier-fed streams. How enticing.
In that microsecond, I rationalized that I could probably see how that hand sanitizer works on my nether regions. You don’t want to be stinky going out into the wilderness. That could result in other nasty things happening. Bears for example. Bears might be more attracted to something that smelled like it was dying. Imagine what I would smell like on Day 4? In that microsecond, I decided that it would be a good idea to use the hand sanitizer not only for my hands, but well–for the potentially nasty stinky bits that could make me more desirable to a bear. I reach out and squirt some on some toilet paper. (Oh. Did I mention that my new-and-improved outhouse also had toilet paper?)
I wipe. From front to back. In one fell swoop. Before my hands finish the motion, the shock set in. It hit me right in the stomach. It knocked the breath right out of me. I stood there–well hovered there–completely breathless. I gasped for air like a guppy out of water. My eyes bugged out and started to water from the sting–like when you taste horseradish for the first time–but a million times worse. Redd knocks on the door: “Jen? You OK? You’re awfully quiet. What happened? Did you fall in?” Snicker, snicker. I still can’t breathe. I can’t say a word. I think I end up grunting something like: “Just a sec. I’ll…um…be just a minute.”
I finally got my breath back. I was no longer hovering. I was dancing. My pants were around my ankles, I was lightheaded from the pain and lack of oxygen, and I was dancing around the new-fangled outhouse with its wheelchair access, cement foundation, and stainless steel toilet with enzymes to facilitate decomposition and temper the stench. How the hell do you get rid of the sting of industrial-strength hand sanitizer from your nether regions?
So that’s it. That’s my outhouse story. The moral of my story is: Hand sanitizer is strictly for hands. I think it’s a pretty useful story because it may save some poor, unsuspecting, mindless soul from the pain and embarrassment of it all. Take it from me–you would rather read about it than experience it.