Arts & Leisure

Pooping during a pandemic: What to do with No. 2 when public restrooms are closed

FIVE-YEAR-OLD Emmett and his family are prepared for bathroom emergencies when away from home by keeping essentials in their minivan.

I was on vacation with my husband Bryan, and 5-year-old son Emmett camping in Florida when the pandemic rapidly unfolded. We managed to ride out the rest of our trip, easily social distancing in the Ocala National Forest in a very low-use, primitive campground. As it got closer to the return trip home we knew that we would once again drive through the night as we did on our journey down. Although this time we definitely would not be using any public restroom facilities between Florida and Vermont. The virus was in full swing, and some states had already closed their rest areas. Signs blinked along the highways “Stay Home, Save Lives.” Thankfully we weren’t stressed about Number 1 + 2. We have a great system for going to the bathroom in our minivan, and anywhere else for that matter.
Bathrooms have become loaded with “touchpoints” and places we all recreate are keeping restrooms closed. I have volunteered as a campground host for two summers at Silver Lake in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area and currently I keep an eye on the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail. Without fail I can see where people have gone to the bathroom … behind the closed bathroom. Leaving behind feces and whatever paper products were in the glove box. 
I’ve answered the call of nature all over the United States and Mexico during two years of bicycle touring. Public, private, the woods, even in my tent (rarely!). When I traveled by bicycle the outdoors was my home and I learned how to deal with my waste in a simple, efficient way.
These days I’m staying close to home with Emmett but we are adventuring in the forest on foot, by bicycle, and in our minivan. I always have my poop bag, a carryover my bicycle touring days. It has a trowel, baby wipes, plastic bag and hand sanitizer. When Emmett says “Momma, I have to poop!” I’m ready.
In my vehicle I have a more elaborate setup. I have a large vintage Tupperware pitcher. It’s easy enough for all of us to pee in, I’m even able to sit on it to pee! There’s a small bucket that I can line with a plastic bag to poop in. Hey, we pick up dog poop with bags, why not ours? Another handy item is a bike water bottle, for washing hands, along with a small bottle of Bronner’s soap and a hand towel. I also have baby wipes, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and some latex gloves. Thanks to tinted windows in my minivan and the removal of one seat we have space to do our business in it if we’re in a public setting. 
I’m motivated to share this with our community because I’m concerned. I’m worried that not having a bathroom limits some people from venturing out. I’m worried that the places we’re flocking to recreate will become unsanitary. With a little preparation and practice we can all care for our public potty needs in ways that are safe for everyone. I hope this helps!
Debi Waters lives in Ripton. She and her family volunteer some summers as campground hosts at Silver Lake.

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