Wednesday, September 23, 2009

9-18-09: Bath Night and Basic Bush Hygiene

One thing you learn when you don’t have instant running hot water is just how dirty you’re willing to let yourself get before you take a bath. Sure, you wash your face in the morning and before bed; wash your hands before eating and after the toilet; maybe even give your pits a quick wipe with the washcloth every couple of days. But real bathing, like wash your hair and scrub your bits kind of bathing, is pretty much only once a week. Part of it is that you hate to waste all that water (1.5 gallons [6 liters] for both of us – gasp!); but you also need a lot of firewood and time. Getting totally naked and then completely wet is not a smart idea when it’s cold, so you have to seal up the tent, stoke up the fire, and get it Gobi Desert hot inside first. While you’re doing that, you have the perfect opportunity to put the big kettle on the stove to heat up your water (or cheat like we do and have a water jacket installed on the side of your stove) and get out your basins and bath mat.

Once the water is hot, the cleanest person wets themselves down with the washcloth using the small basin and begins lathering up… you have to repeat this process several times since it’s so hot in the tent that the soap starts to dry on your skin. Wipe, wring, wipe, wring in the small basin until you think you’ve got most of the soap off. Then you stand in the big basin while your partner holds the camp shower reservoir up and hoses you down for the final freshwater rinse. Towel off and then kneel over the big basin on the bath mat and douse your hair with the teeny bit of water left in the shower – shampoo while your partner refills the shower reservoir. Then use an entire gallon to rinse your hair several times (this is the biggest water usage in the whole ordeal!) while your partner holds the shower reservoir up. Repeat process for next person reusing the soapy water in the small basin from bath #1 to lather and fresh water for the rinse; douse your hair with the shampoo water from bath #1 then shampoo and fresh water rinse. Voila! All clean in just 1.5 gallons. Then you both stand as close to the stove as possible until your hair is dry so you don’t catch a chill. This is the perfect time to soak your feet in the warm, soapy water and drag a pumice stone around your calluses.

Our little camp shower (a 6 liter Platypus Water Tank with hose attachment) is also great for general hand washing, etc. It’s our equivalent to running water. For general use, we have the reservoir fastened to one of the angle braces on the tent frame. Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite work out so well for showers, since our ridge pole is 9+ feet high… but we may eventually rig a pulley system that lets us heft the water up and save our partner the ache of holding a gallon of water above their head for several minutes. Additionally, we have a large, round, vertical water cooler with a push-button tap that we use for drinking and cooking, and the occasional rinse of a coffee mug. All the gray water is collected in a basin which we empty once or twice a day – if you’re just washing your hands you can dip your hands in the dirty (coffee) water for the first lather up, don’t need to waste fresh water for that step.

Dishes are also a lot of fun. First step is to scrape as much off the plates and flatware as possible. Then get the fire going to heat up some water, as well as to boil off anything baked/dried on to your cast iron or other pots. This is the perfect opportunity to sweep the floors. Next, fill the small basin with about a quart (1 liter) of warmish water (water jacket isn’t really hot yet) and soap and wash all the dishes, placing them in the drain board still relatively soapy. If you have any stainless steel pots that are done bubbling off the muck, wash them last. Wipe down the top of the stove and warming shelf (quickly!), and any other grotty surface, then go outside and fling the dirty dish water. Wipe and rinse out the basin, then fill with about a quart of hot water. Rinse the soapy dishes, then dry and put away immediately (before you get ash from the fire or dirt from the yard on them). Go back to the stove and use your bristle scrubber to clean the cast iron which should be bubbling away nicely by this point… NEVER use soap on cast iron or you’ll have to re-season it! Go outside and fling the dirty pot water, rinse with fresh a couple times, dry thoroughly then put back on the warming tray and apply a thin coat of bacon fat or vegetable oil.

Your hot rinse water should have cooled down enough to use for general cleaning (like mopping) since it’s just soapy enough to cut dirt and grease but not soapy enough to need a fresh water rinse afterwards. Voila! Clean dishes and clean kitchen in just over half a gallon of water.
Socks, undies, washcloths, dish & hand towels are easy to wash by hand in a large kettle (1 gallon to wash, 1 to rinse) on the stove with a little soap, wring them by hand, and hung to dry on a rack by the stove. Shirts are a little more difficult, but you can do one or two at a time in that same big kettle and hang them out to dry on hangers inside or outside.

Washing jeans, linens and towels requires some creativity if you don’t want to spend hours plunging and scrubbing. On dump, water and mail day we’re currently putting them in a large rubber tote, adding a little Dreft & Borax, pouring in hot water until 3/4 full (about 3 gallons) and snapping on the lid. Then we stick the tote in the back of the truck and let 30 minutes on the bumpy trail and road do our scrubbing for us. We pitch the soapy water into the trees when we get to the well house, and fill the tub up with fresh (COLD!) water while we’re filling up our Aquatainers and let them rinse while we continue on in to town to check the post office box. Stop back at the well house to pitch the soapy rinse water and fill the tub up with fresh water for the final rinse, then drive to the Washateria where we wring everything out in the wash sink and then spend $2-4 on the dryer while we check the Internet via the Tribal Council’s wireless network (or we might cheat on bath night and take a 15 minute hot shower at the Washateria).

Needless to say, we’re getting very comfortable wearing clothes until they are really dirty. On any given week, we have 2 pairs of jeans… the dirty “work” jeans, and the mostly clean “town” jeans… at the end of the week, the town jeans become the work jeans and the work jeans go in the laundry. Same goes for shirts, except we have a short sleeve and long sleeve of each category. We might use the same linens and towels for 2-3 weeks depending on how funky they look and smell. Socks and undies might last 2-3 days depending on the weather and work load.

Yes, I know – we’re positively FILTHY by modern standards.

Other hygiene tips and tricks:
  • Baby wipes work great for a quick freshen up after your morning constitutional and help you not smell so rank when you catch a whiff of your privates during the day
  • Antibacterial hand wipes are a must even though you don’t use them often; but when you’re out in the bush, you WILL put your hands in something completely disgusting that you want off RIGHT NOW (like porcupine poop or slimy fungus!)
  • If you get a cut, especially on your hands and feet, stop what you’re doing, go wash it with soap and apply a heavy-duty adhesive bandage. If it’s deep, you might also want a thin coating of antibiotic cream. Same goes for burst blisters… in fact, you should check your hands and feet for cuts, blisters and calluses in the morning and before bed. A bandage and moleskin can keep a blister from popping or tearing, and some petroleum jelly at nice and a pumice stone on bath night helps soften and remove calluses before they become painful.
  • When brushing your teeth, swirl your brush in the cup to rinse it BEFORE you rinse and spit… you use less water that way (less than 1/2 cup for both of us). It also helps to set the water near the stove for a couple of minutes since the water is just above freezing and hurts even the least sensitive teeth!
  • Cotton swabs are the only way to get sooty, dusty, mucky gunk out of your ears. Flush them with warm water and hydrogen peroxide once a month to minimize ear infections from foreign matter and wax build up in the canals.
  • Blow your nose in the morning and before bed, even if you don’t think you have too… trust me, there is soot and dust in there that will turn to concrete if you let it sit.
  • Have three washcloths – the face cloth, the body cloth and the “ass rag” – keep them separate and different colors (make sure your partner knows which is which!). When the face cloth gets dirty it becomes the body rag, body cloth becomes the ass rag, and the ass rag goes into the laundry
  • ALWAYS have a pair of work gloves on you or within reach. Better yet, get several pairs and stash them in the truck, in the shed, on the back porch, etc. Trust me, the one time you don’t have your gloves will be the time when you have to pick up something muddy, or nasty, or sharp, or prickly, or worse!


Anonymous said...

Hmmm - I'm beginning to appreciate the fact that there's quite a few miles separating us. ;)

Anonymous said...

Sam... LOL... gosh.

You guys, I think more and more of you every time I read what your daily life now entails... I know I am really going to enjoy my shower this morning!

Hats off to both of you!... Stay safe, Cat

Anonymous said...

Holy mackerel, man... I have a new respect for common sense-type stuff the more I learn about your life in the A-K. (facecloth becomes bodycloth becomes a-rag etc.). Funny thing is once upon a time pretty near everybody lived in such a way.

Can't wait for the first huntin' story. (Prepping to go our deer hunting for 1st time in another month or so....)

You two should be really proud of yourselves. I am!

VIVA, ya'lls! Sager

Anonymous said...

Just remember dear old George Carlin's advice on efficient bathing: " don't always need a shower! All you really need to do is to wash the four key areas! Armpits, ***hole, crotch and teeth! Got that? Armpits, ***hole, crotch and teeth! In fact, you can save yourself a lot of time if you simply use the same brush on all four areas!" :^)

Glad you two are doing well,
- Nickbert

Anonymous said...

This post reminded me of my Vietnam tour. I seem to recall that I had only one washrag though. It was green. Memories fade over time. The green could have been the dye or the mildew...

It is fascinating reading your blog. My wife and I follow your blog with interest and we wish the two of you success and happiness. What resourceful people you are! You are an inspiration. I suspect that many people are rooting for your success.


Cloudfire said...

Hiya, Plickety and Gungnir;

Oh, I remember the trials of hygiene from my tour in the coastal mountains of B.C. . . . It is amazing, indeed, how long one can go without a shower . . . You might try doing sweat baths . . . They make you feel even cleaner than a shower, and you really don't need soap, at all. We used to do them by building a wigwam of bent-over small limbs, embedded in the ground, covered with whatever you've got . . . canvas works well, but so would animal hides. The size would depend on the number of "bathers" it is intended to accommodate . . . For two, I'd think 8 feet diameter would be plenty sufficient. In the center, dig a shallow pit. Outside the sweat lodge, build a hot fire, and let it reduce to a substantial mound of coals. Put rocks, about 8 inches in diameter, into the coals, and heat them thoroughly. Caution should be used to avoid using rocks that have been submerged in water, as they may have sequestered water, and could explode, unexpectedly . . . When you've got the rocks good and hot, transfer them into the pit (a heavy forked green branch works well for this). Then, draw a gallon or two of water in a bucket or skin, and sit yourselves down in the wigwam. Pour the water over the rocks to create steam, at a rate that creates a tolerable hot, steamy environment. When you can't stand the heat any more, exit the sweat lodge, and either jump in the nearest stream or snow bank, or pour a carefully rationed amount of water over each others' head to rinse . . . and repeat, until you feel cleaner than clean . . . I guarantee you that this will not only make you really, really clean, but will also envigorate you and ease sore muscles. Additionally, you'll be ridding yourself of all of the toxins you've accumulated while living the "civilized life". One caveat: Don't do this when you may be dehydrated or mineral depleted from strenuous labor . . .

Without sweat lodges, I'd never have gotten clean up in B.C. . . . Hope this is useful . . .

Until then,


Foster Family said...

We are getting ready to put our wall tent (14x16) to the test and we can't seem to find a good replacement for an indoor shower. We tried showering outside and that was...well FREEZING! I won't do that again. Any ideas on how to keep the water off the floor and still be able to bathe in the tent?

Plickety Cat said...

Get yourself one of those big rubber totes, put a shower curtain around it (either tied to the tent frame or on a pole & ring) then get a 5 gallon "solar" shower bag. Works like a charm if you're quick and don't mind standing in a few inches of water. Then you can dump the tub when you're done and hang it outside out of the way.

MUCH warmer to do this inside by the stove than try doing it outside!

Anonymous said...

Just "caught wind" of your blog and am enjoying reliving some of my own experiences. We live outside Fairbanks these days, used to live remote on an island in southeast, and can relate to a lot of your experiences, what some would deem hardship. We're looking to head back to the bush again once we sell off some properties, and in the meantime it's refreshing to read some notes from some who do/did it in familiar fashion. It's especially nice to see you've been keeping up on the posts, too, so you can be sure you've gained a faithful reader.

Yuly in Florida said...

Wow, and I thought it was a PITA to do dishes in the bathroom sink when I lived at my grad school dorm. I've been reading your blog for the past few weeks and have made it to January, 2011 so far. I wouldn't last 2 days up there because I'm allergic to the cold, but the "living in your own little world" aspect sure does appeal to me. Keep on truckin' you guys!