Camping In A Crapper - More Than Once.

Most people would be deeply offended if you asked them if they had ever spent the night in a public bathroom. Yours truly has slept in a men’s room on more than one occasion. Twice, to be exact. And I have never been elected to public office. Yet.

My purpose today is to offer up not one, but two completely plausible explanations for my bathroom lodging. I assure you this is being done without the aid of a handler or PR firm. The fact of the matter is that both instances of my having to seek shelter amidst toilets, urinals, and sinks came on successive days. It is only now, after decades of time and hours of therapy, that I can discuss these nights without breaking down (or cracking up?). Two completely different bathrooms for two similar, but different, reasons.

As you may have read elsewhere, I decided to cross the country at 19 on a Honda 750 motorcycle. My plan was to stay at KOA Campgrounds, so I could enjoy sleeping the outdoors and still have access to a bathroom with a shower. My first Crapper Camping happened at just such a campground.

If I recall the campground was near the Oklahoma/Texas border. I checked in and the nice guy behind the counter asked me if I would prefer to be out away from all the family campers with kids and dogs. Sounded good to me, so he assigned me a site all by my lonesome at the western end of the campground. I can still picture it clearly. I was setting up my tent as the sun began to set. The sky was starting to fill with some pretty big clouds, but it was just beautiful. After a long day in the saddle of my trusty Honda, there was nothing like stretching out on the earth by my tent and watching the sun sink. It was exactly as I had dreamed it.

I got my tent pitched and rode back into town for a dinner. Topped off the bike so I could take off early and went back to my camp. When I pulled up to my tent I noticed that no one else was close to me, but that was just fine as I was completely knackered and looking forward to some serious Z Time aided by being in a quiet neighborhood. When I walked over to the bathroom for my evening ablutions, the wind was starting to pick up a bit and most of the sky was covered with clouds.

I read a little bit with my battery powered lantern and checked my progress on the map. I bet I fell asleep by 9 or so. I am not really sure how long I had been asleep before my little tent started getting pelted with some pretty heavy rain. The wind was strong and steady. My first reaction to the rain was to congratulate myself for putting up the rain fly and for having all of my gear in the tent with me. I made sure everything was zipped shut and rolled over, falling back to into Snoozeville.

A pretty intense crack of lightning woke me next. Oh, and the fact that water was seeping through the tent where I was laying up against it. Damn! I sat up and pulled my stuff to the center of the tent so that nothing was pressing against it. Whoa - it was really starting to pour and the wind was really rambunctious. Oh how well I remembered the lyrics to “Oklahoma” - you know, the part about “where the wind comes sweeping down the plain”. During my stint as an apprentice at the Hope College Summer Repertory Theater I had been in the chorus and must have sung that 842 times or so. Now I was living it. But in the real life version the rain came BEFORE the sweeping wind.

Things got worse - my little tent was almost flat out in the face of that sweeping wind. There was no tree line to the west of me - just whole bunch of flat earth over which the wind picked up speed in order to better smoosh my little blue nylon abode.

I hastily got dressed and grabbed everything I could for the dash to the bathroom. I tossed my sleeping bag on a wooden bench to see how wet it was. Not terrible. Some of my clothes, like the ones I was wearing, were soaked and I hung them up around the bathroom. I dried off using my towel, hung it up, put on some dry clothes and laid down on a slatted wooden bench to get some sleep.

The next morning found me living out more song lyrics - remember the one about the eensy-weensy spider and the sun coming out? Ahhh, it dried up all the rain and I found a clothes dryer and dried up all my gear. Then it was back on the road. I dare say if my crystal ball had been receiving a clear signal that morning, I would have headed south before heading further west. My westward push resulted in my seeking shelter from the storm in yet another public restroom.

You might think that a young man who spent several years living in Tucson, AZ would remember certain things when planning a trip west in the spring. What “certain things” sez you? Well, for starters I might have recalled how much of a difference one can experience in the weather when going up to mountainous elevations. To be more precise, I might have recalled that higher altitudes get SNOW - even when it is nice, sunny and warm - even hot - a few thousand feet lower.

You guessed it, my second night Crapper Camping was brought about by falling temps and falling snow as I climbed up past the six thousand foot mark riding over the Sandia mountain range on the way to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The clue phone started ringing as the temperature kept falling. Did I answer and maybe check into a motel or stop and figure out what I was riding into? Nah, my nose was pointed west and that is where I was going.

In my later years, I helped form an internet based motorcycle group of men and women who tried to ride all year round. We called ourselves Rounders and people from all over the country and the planet joined in. (www.Yearroundriders.com) As a Rounder I often rode in snowy conditions, but did so with proper gear including a heated vest and a liner in my riding suit. On this trip, the best I could do was squeeze as many layers under my leather jacket as possible. By the time I slowly, slowly pulled into the rest area I looked like the Michelin Man - my leather was bursting with a couple shirts, a sweatshirt and a down vest underneath.

Riding in the snow is great - if you have the proper gear.


It started to get kind of hairy when the cold rain started becoming snow - or as Rounders like to call it: Snain. The snain quickly became snow. Damn and double damn, what should I do? I did not want to back track, then I saw a sign for a rest area in a few miles. Problem solved - I could handle this for a few miles. There was enough traffic that the road was just wet, not icy or slippery. I have never, ever been happier to see a rest area as I was on that day. By the time I pulled the Honda over it was making like a snow globe.

I rode it over to a picnic table area that had a roof over it and parked there. Thought maybe the snow storm would pass. Not! Once I could see there was not going to be any let up, I walked over to the bathroom to check it out. BONUS - there was an electrical heater on the wall that would work for something like 15 or 20 minutes when you turned it on. I ran back to my bike and grabbed my sleeping bag and some of my gear.

Just as I was walking back to the john, another motorcycle pulled into the lot. It was a guy from Mississippi riding a cool Triumph to California. Not only was he without a windshield or fairing, he was wearing an open face helmet. The bandanna covering the lower part of his face was not a lot of help. I was cold, but this poor guy was a talking popsicle. He parked next to me under the cover. I introduced myself to Bob and told him about the heater in the bathroom. He had on a couple pair of pants and some stuff under his leather jacket, but he was taking the full brunt of the cold on his naked bike. For the uninitiated, a "naked bike" is one without a fairing or windshield. My Honda offered a lot protection compared to his Triumph as mine was complete with a Vetter fairing. Bob snuggled right up to that heater like it was his new best friend.

There was no sign of a cessation to the snow, so Bob and I bedded down for the night on the floor close to the heater. That put us about 2 feet away from a row of toilets. Thankfully those toilets had doors, so we did not have to see what went on in them over the following 10 to 12 hours. However, we could hear things that no one wants to hear when they are trying to sleep through a snowstorm on the floor of a rest area men’s room. While we were still awake, we had a lot of comments from the guys coming in to take care of business, most of whom were truckers. After we dozed off, one or the other of us would wake up when it got too cold in there and push the “start” button on the heater. I have never, ever been so dang grateful for electricity as I was that night.

Wish I could say that the next morning dawned sunny and warm, but such good fortune was not to be repeated. Bob and I got some sustenance from vending machines as we looked out over the snow covered landscape. Happily, the plow trucks had been doing their job, so we could see pavement, albeit wet pavement, on I-40. One of the truckers we talked with assured us that once we got down out of the mountains into Albuquerque, we would be rewarded with sunshine and warmth.

So we went back to the bat cave and put on pretty much every piece of clothing in our bags. Then we duck walked our bikes down to the plowed lane and made our way west. Once we started descending into the valley, we pulled over a few times. The first couple of times we did so because neither of us could feel our fingers. But the last time or two, we actually removed some of our clothes as the temperature mercifully began to rise.

Albuquerque was a sunny paradise that day. If I recall correctly, a bank thermometer read 70 degrees. Yes - thank you Lord! Bob and I pulled over and celebrated with a beer, a couple of hamburgers and a mountain of fries. Then we sat on the ground in the parking lot for a little while doing our best imitation of solar collectors. After a few minutes of lizard like behavior, Bob continued west on 40 though northern Arizona on his way to California and I went south on 25 to 10 west into Tucson. Funny thing, by the time I arrived at my mom’s my nose was sun burnt like a piece of bacon.

Crapper Camping is far from ideal. But the motto of riders and sailors the world over is “Any Port in A Storm”. Amen and amen.
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