Arctic Adventures: Volume 5 – Living Without Water – Part 3

Arctic Adventures: Volume 5 – Living Without Water – Part 3

I’m not gonna lie. Without proper facilities, bathroom duty is not very glamorous at our dry cabin, and may turn your stomach. 

Here are the basic details:

1 – We have an outhouse (also commonly known as a privy or pit toilet). From our front door, you have to walk down 4 steps, then go downhill about 30 yards to get to the outhouse. Sometimes we have to shovel our way on the path. 

Looking at the outhouse from our deck
The path … when it’s clear
Snowdrifts are evil.

2 – Our outhouse does not have a door. This is purposely done often in sparsely populated areas like Alaska. First of all, why have a door when you have no neighbors and can enjoy the wilderness views (ours is mostly trees, but some outhouse views are quite epic). For those worried about privacy, you just have to get over it. Do you really want to be stifled by the stench (really only in the summer)? Also, a door is not going to make it any less cold (although it does help prevent blowing snow from getting inside, spoken from experience). Last reason to appreciate the lack of a door … there is no electricity in outhouses, so it is quite dark. And in winter when it’s limited daylight, it’s only darker. No door = more light to see what you’re doing, ahem. Headlamps also help. 

Let me give you a tour of our loo! The outhouse calendar is a must, and the previous owner left us the “Cabin Potty” sign & flowers. The little tin tub contains our toilet paper.
Not pictured on the other wall, but probably the most important outhouse item:
hand sanitizer
I promise, no one is going to see you using our outhouse.
This past summer, we rented Kathy’s house while working in AK and adored her outhouse because there’s so much light with all the plexiglass. 
Can you spot someone on the pot??

3 – We only use the outhouse for #2. I mean, sometimes it is inevitable to #1 in the outhouse, but our outhouse relies on a 55-gallon drum to capture the goods (as opposed to the deepest hole in the Earth you can dig). So ours needs to be pumped like a port-a-potty when it’s full. Our rational is the liquid will freeze and take up unnecessary space. We’ve never owned or managed an outhouse, so I suppose we’ll live and learn. And if we had endless money, we would probably invest in a composting toilet. 

4 – Everything—I mean everything—freezes in the outhouse drum in the winter. This means sometimes you have to knock the “volcano” down with a stick. You get my drift? 

5 – Justin has Crohn’s (a chronic stomach condition), so he visits the outhouse a lot. Thankfully, it’s not usually a middle-of-the-night calling, and he honestly says he doesn’t mind having to go outside. Better than digging a hole I guess? 

6 – We have a heated toilet seat. Every Alaskan gave us sage outhouse advice: get a piece of blue foam insulation as your toilet seat. We made the switch, and it seriously feels 70 percent warmer than the plastic toilet seat. 

7 – Where do we pee outside? We have our spots. Justin claims my area looks like a kid’s lemonade stand exploded, but I think consolidating the yellow snow is better than having an abstract work of art splattered about. Someone advised us that when everything starts melting, the yellow areas will be very icy. Should be interesting. 

8 – I have reached middle age relatively unscathed, except I’ve always had an old lady’s bladder. I have to make a nature call between 8-10 times a day—including, almost always, in the middle of the night. To be more specific, I pee before getting in bed (between 10:30-11:30), but my kidneys start pulsing to the beat of “Staying Alive” sometime between 2am-5am. Unless I master some carefully calibrated forced dehydration or wear diapers at night (I’m sure someday), that’s my chronic condition. The bright side to crawling out of our warm bed, putting on my snow boots, puffy jacket, hat & gloves and stumbling outside into the cold to squat: I’ve seen some amazing northern lights and stars thanks to my bladder. 

Typical bathroom attire

9 – Can’t you just get yourself an old-fashioned chamber pot? When it’s -25 or colder, that’s when I break out the pee bottle for my midnight bathroom needs. Oddly enough, I never tried the “pee bottle” method in all those times we lived in a van or tent. Justin used one on his Denali expeditions, but it just never occurred to me to do so. With that being said, I suck at using a bottle. I’ll spare you the details, but I think I need more of a bucket rather than a bottle. 

10 – Are we scared of encountering wildlife while “using the bathroom?” Not really. True story: one time there was a moose blocking our path to Kathy’s outhouse this summer, and I’m certain it could happen at our place. One late evening, I went outside to squat and our neighbor’s 1-year-old sled dog (think big) jumped on my back. Actual thoughts that went through my head: Oh my God, a wolf is attacking me and I’m going to die. Anyway, I quickly realized it was just Rico, the overly friendly neighbor’s dog. I’m so thankful for my husband who heard my blood-curling scream, but chose to stay in bed than come to my rescue. 

Overall, outhouses, public bathrooms and using the outdoors are old hat for us, and actually totally fine. We travel and sleep in so many different scenarios in any given year, which means that more time than I can track, I have gotten up to go to the bathroom and had to crawl out of a tent, open our van door and walk at least 100 yards to a campground bathroom or Walmart restroom, climb up and down stairs in an unfamiliar home, etc, etc. So consider this my ode to our outhouse and natural bathroom settings. 

Although, I will still give indoor plumbing a nod any day. 

And so, that is life without water in 3 parts. Any questions before I move onto other topics????? What other topics do you guys want to hear me ramble about?

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

  1. Jamie says:

    I’ve never seen anyone so happy to have a toilet seat around their face! I’d like to learn more about trivia night with photos of course. Tell us about the locals in Healy.

  2. Kelly says:

    The pee pot would be my best friend. Thanks for always reminding me how much I should appreciate my modern amenities.

  3. Paul says:

    Awesome posts! He dog on your back would have given me a heart attack. Would love to hear about your diet there. Your ability to plan meals and extend the food pantry is epic.
    And game nights. What are you playing now?

  4. Mom/MIL says:

    I may be the first guest to use J & P’s outhouse. I can attest to the warmth of blue foam. Why didn’t someone tell me about this before I spent a fortune on a heated toilet seat for my newly renovated bathroom?

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