Arctic Adventures: Volume 5 – Living Without Water – Part 2

Arctic Adventures: Volume 5 – Living Without Water – Part 2

I think people are still getting over the fact the average person living in a traditional household (reminder: complete with a toilet, dishwasher, washing machine, etc) uses 80-100 gallons of water per day. 

But now it’s time to address the another piece of dry cabin living: showers. 

Sit down, people, I know you will gasp. 

We have typically been showering once, maybe twice per week, in our dry cabin this whole winter. Meaning we go 3-5 days between showers. Admittedly, the last shower is always a bit longer than it should be. 

I guess it’s not all that surprising. We’ve lived out of many vans, cars and our tent over the years with the absence of a regular shower. The longest Justin has gone without a shower was 23 days from his Denali expedition. The longest I’ve gone has been 10 days (on various long-distance backpacking treks). Living on the road, we take advantage of showers at friend’s houses, hostels/hotels or commercial campground showers. 

And of course, always birdbaths in between (you know, cleaning the necessary parts with wet ones, which of course results in dubious hygiene). This habit continues as part of dry cabin life, but our “cabin showers” make for another story-telling opportunity. 

We obviously shower at my uncle’s house in Fairbanks every time we go up there (every 2 weeks or at least every month). In fact, his greeting includes: go take a shower. Either we smell, or he knows our needs. 

But we also can shower inside the comfort of our dry cabin. The whole shower process—from cleaning out the shower (we use it as storage) to dumping our shower water (we’ll get to that)—takes us 1-1.5 hours. We plan for “shower day” at the cabin. And, everything with the shower process has involved a learning curve. 

Our cabin is equipped with a stand-up shower, without the plumbing. The shower is piped and drains right out under the house (boy can you can feel that cold come up from the drain when the drain is uncovered!). In keeping with a dry cabin, there is no shower head or pipes bringing water inside.

Thanks to the previous cabin owners, we have a 3-gallon pressurized stainless steel tank called “Extreme SC Hot Shower System by Zodi Outback Gear” (looks like a fire extinguisher) that we fill with water and heat on the stove. Important tidbit to note: Justin & I split these 3 gallons … start taking guesses on how much water a regular shower uses … answer below!

It took some time to get the temperature of the water in tank just right. There’s no way to test the temp while it’s heating up on the stove. It’s not pressurized while heating up, so you can’t spray the water to test it. There’s a temperature gauge on the side, but it doesn’t quite work. You can also dip a stick in, but it’s still hard to tell. It recommends heating on the stove for 6-12 minutes to bring the water to about 100 degrees. The first time we used it, we left it on the stove for about 25 min and the water was scalding hot. The next time, we heated it for 15 min and it was chilly. So 20 min is the magic number for us. 

Step-by-step: Empty the shower of all our belongings & fill the shower tank.
Heat the tank on the stovetop for 20 min.

We let the water drain down for our first few showers (in October). But we soon realized that we would need to baby the drain more than we thought when the hot water froze up the 1-foot pipe at 0 degrees. It stopped up the shower, creating an inch of standing water. Using a cup, we scooped up what we could, sent a little more of boiling water down the drain to try to loosen it, then went outside with boiling water to pour over the drain pipe. 

Crisis averted, but we needed a better winter showering system. We found a round metal bin under the house. You know the one people might use to put beers in ice? I mean, back in the day, people used to bathe in these. This bin is from the original cabin owner, so who knows how long it’s been there, or what it was used for. It certainly was not the cleanest, nor could we get it entirely clean without a pressure washer. But, we also had a broken lid-less plastic bin under the house as well (these all sorts of treasures under there), so instead of chucking that, we stand in it within the metal container, catching all the water instead of letting it go down the drain to freeze. It sounds confusing, but pictures will help. 

Adventures of bathing in a tote in a rustic Alaska cabin!!
This guy even looks like Justin!
Double bin!
Dirty water ready to haul outside.

Anyway, back to the pressurized tank. Once heated and ready to go, one person gets in the shower, while the other stands outside to hand pump the tank and turn the lever on and off to send water through the tiny shower hose. Oh wait! You thought we had continuously flowing water. Nope. We are taking “army” showers, as my dad used to call them. Turn the water on, get wet, turn the water off, lather up, turn the water back on, rinse off. And we tackle it as a team, although we have friends who master the operation single-handed.  

This is the piece that pressurizes the tank
Pump, pump, pump to pressurize. The little red lever is the on/off.

I no longer wash my hair in the shower. After my first 2 showers, I realized how difficult it was with my long hair. So while the tank is heating on the stovetop, I wash my hair in the sink basins.

When I was younger, my mom used to wash our hair in the sink every once in awhile, and I used to love it because it meant I didn’t have to take a full shower.
Now I long for real on-demand showers …

Overall, showering in a dry cabin is as dissatisfying as it sounds. I mean, we feel clean afterwards, but I definitely calculate the days until we have access to a real, on-demand shower. 

But, again, water savings!!! The average American shower (lasting 8.2 minutes) uses 17.2 gallons of water. Justin & I split the 3-gallon tank of water for our showers. 

We’re the first to admit it: we are dirtbags. Remember Garbage Pail Kids (yeah 80s!!)? I’m pretty sure we fit the bill for Disgustin Justin and Trashy Trudy. While sporadic shower habits wouldn’t fly in your town or city, we are certainly not alone in Healy, nor do we have to report to a job looking clean everyday, so it seems par for the course.

Last, but not least, who wants to hear about our bathroom habits in a dry cabin????? Stay tuned!!!!

3 responses to “Arctic Adventures: Volume 5 – Living Without Water – Part 2”

  1. Jamie L says:

    The pictures really help! You two are badass!

  2. Misti says:

    Ah i loved this post! I bet dry shampoo is your BFF now?

  3. Paul says:

    Disgustin Justin and Stinky Steadee

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