Hairballs: the downside of camping

| 02 Jul 2018 | 03:39

Our success as campers will depend on our ability to stomach the messes others leave behind. This revelation comes to me as I contemplate the drain in the women’s shower at Woodland Valley. Drains are concave, but this one was mounded. I lean closer. Over the plate is a mass of hair, a fright wig of many colors. Apparently, women shed once a year, like Siberian huskies. My eyes snap shut. How badly do I need a shower? We’d climbed Cross Mountain that hot, sticky day, and I was coated in my usual summer patina of sunscreen, DEET, and sweat. But I inherited my dad’s revulsion to any hair not actively growing out of a living follicle. A single loose eyelash in the vicinity of his dinner plate would send him sliding off his chair in a swoon. This particular superstructure of hair and soap scum would have had him breaking camp in a New York minute.

Still, I’m determined to see the thing through. The thought of slipping my freshly showered self into the silken cocoon of my sleeping bag drives me from the sidelines and into the spray. I keep my stance wide and my eyes averted. I think happy thoughts. Thank god for Crocs! They are like a pair of rubbery lifeboats keeping me aloft from everybody’s else’s filth as I attended to the business of removing my own.

Let’s face it, it’s been a while since we’d been camping. I couldn’t say whether campground bathrooms have gotten more disgusting, or whether age has made us squeamish. I remember a long-ago camping friend observing how much less we care about germs out in the woods, after shaking the cinders off a dropped bacon strip, giving it a kiss for luck, then popping it in his mouth. Would he do that today?

Tom and I are day trippers at heart. We love the contrast between hardship and ease -- the hard slog followed by the soft bed, the stiff muscles relaxing in a warm bath, the trail food giving way to a good dinner at the table. Camping turns hiking into a different sort of experience. After the day’s toil is more toil. After the day’s bug bites are more bug bites. The reward isn’t sybaritic ease but a gathering toughness. In the Adirondacks this spring, we weathered a four-day “bugnado” of black flies. We hiked through a day of relentless rain. We learned how to soap up with one hand while the other depressed a gulag-style shower button that, when released, stopped the flow of hot water and brought on instant hypothermia.

Ironically, it was our attempt to escape the DNA of other humans and dogs that drove us to buy our mini trailer and resume the camping life. We were tired of paying huge sums for pet-friendly accommodations that carried the traces of former occupants, as if dog owners didn’t care about cleanliness. The trailer is basically a bed in a box that can be pulled by a regular car. Inside, the bed folds up and a tiny table folds out. A galley folds out of the back. Two doors and two windows keep it light and airy. It’s snug as hell. And it turns heads – we make friends easily because other campers are always stopping by to have a look. I try to keep it homey, with darling throw pillows and LED lamps artfully arranged. But it doesn’t have plumbing. So we have to overcome this one little thing, this evolutionary tic -- and then we’ll be truly free! We’re not regressing, we’re building up antibodies! We’ll have the immune systems of a champ!

At the men’s bathroom in Ricketts Glen, Tom never made it past the sink. He was stopped, toothbrush in hand, by beard clippings arrayed thickly on the porcelain like confetti. Around the campfire that night he inveighed against the perfidy of bearded men. Don’t they know how disgusting their clippings are? Why don’t people just clean up after themselves? I nodded sadly as my head grew heavier. Some questions will have to wait for morning. As generally happens after a long hike, we are mugged by sleep. We slide into our sleeping bags and into our dreams as the bullfrogs croak their serenade. Remem, remem, remember why you’re out here, they seem to say.


Trailhead: Woodland Valley at the end of Woodland Valley Road in the Catskills’ Slide Mountain Wilderness is a great starting point for many hikes, including the relatively new trail we reached from camp.

Trail: Follow the red-blazed Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide trail for 2.8 miles; then take new teal-blazed Long Path reroute 1.15 miles to the panoramic view from Cross Mountain (2,500 feet)

Miles: 3.95 miles round-trip