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Posts Tagged ‘shower’

Tuesday 6 June 2017, week 4: Buldir Island

When driving to Seattle from Fairbanks on a free ride from Craigslist a couple autumns ago, my driver Jim told me that I’m pretty much the definition of low maintenance. Given my nature of being content sleeping on any surface, living without running water, and eating basics rather than going out, I’d agree that it doesn’t take much to cover my needs. It’s how I’ve been able to live as a semi-homeless seasonal wildlife tech.

With that being said, nothing beats the feeling I get during and after the first shower of a field season in a remote camp. It doesn’t matter that I just showered with 5 gallons – at most – of rainwater collected from our roof. This afternoon those 5 gallons made me the cleanest I’d been since the evening of Wednesday, May 24th.

Our first showers were a little delayed because Mother Nature had her way around camp while we were gone this winter. Upon our arrival on May 25th, we were happy to still see 2 cabins standing. However, our outhouse and shower had been battered and bruised apart and strewn around the area, therefore requiring some imaginative building. Know those “Paris is for lovers” shirts? Well, we should have some made that read “Buldir is for hillbilly builders.”

As Kevin put it, like a phoenix rising from the ashes – except a phoenix of plywood, buoy patches and spray foam… We resurrected our beloved shower stall on June 4th, using almost all of our remaining screws and usable plywood. Our side window was enlarged for more of a view of North Marsh, which is very important for cleanliness. My beach walk of buoy collecting provided us with patching material to cover holes and eliminate draft. Our shower won’t get any marks for architectural beauty, but its character makes it fit for a museum of field camp life.

The testing of the new shower didn’t commence until today (the 6th) because we hadn’t wanted to go to bed with wet hair, and we’d known our trip to Spike Camp, a 4 mile hike with a ~1100 foot climb one-way, from the 5th to the 6th would immediately undo our showers. That meant we all had shower dreams dancing in our heads as we hiked home today.

Everything about shower day is refreshing. Just filling the big pot with water to heat, pulling out the solar shower bag, and stocking the shower shelves with shampoo, conditioner, and soap gets me excited. Once I’ve climbed the ladder and heaved the bag onto the roof of the stall, I’m practically singing. Moments separate me from my departure from the smelly base layer I’ve been wearing for the last unmentionable length of time.

When the first spray of hot water hits, it’s heavenly – so heavenly that even the shampoo I manage to get in my eye hurts so good! Scrubbing 2 weeks’ worth of sweat, rain, dirt, and dead skin away is like starting a new life. Since I have more hair this year, I am a little more careful with my water usage so that I won’t end up with soap to rinse off and no remaining water. Fortunately I am so careful that my glorious shower even ends with a seemingly never-ending cascade to rinse under and savor. It just keeps coming and coming!

Wearing my clean “sauna day” clothes (holdover name from a previous field camp with an awesome plywood and visqueen sauna) makes me feel like I’m a whole different person after the shower. Cotton t-shirt with a hoodie rather than a base layer with my brown fleece vest or wool sweater, softshell pants rather than a base layer, quick dry pants, or sweatpants; and Salomon shoes rather than XtraTufs or Crocs. Most importantly, I’m wearing a real bra rather than a sports bra. It’s the best! Actually, the best part is that none of these clothes smell.

Now I’m completing my illusion of normalcy by drinking a dark and stormy as we enjoy a relatively calm evening in camp. Life is good because tonight, we don’t stink.

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Monday/Thursday 15/18 August 2016, week 14: Buldir Island, 17:00

Since I was so wrapped up in relaxing on our day off that I forgot our day off means shower day, it seems fitting that I address how we deal with personal hygiene in field camps.

Field life is certainly not for everyone; showers – if possible at all – come less than once a week, in my experience. For someone like me who embraced 2 years of college life in a dry cabin – meaning no running water – in Fairbanks, Alaska, the limited bathing options of life in the field are no big deal. Teri and I used to go without showering for nearly a week and laughingly do “pit checks” in the cabin, which is when we’d realize we probably should find time to shower. Those who shower at least every other day might find that repulsive, and the daily showerers probably think I’m on the same level as animals.

Keeping that kind of lifestyle definitely has made field life seem less extreme, and my tendencies between civilized and field life are not that different. That’s not to say I don’t shower often. I do use running water and shower on a fairly normal basis when I’m in town. However, I’ve noticed that on over ½ of days in non-field life, I can have been around town for hours before realizing that I never looked in the mirror to see how crazy my wavy, curly hair had decided to be that day. It’s not that I don’t care about my appearance, but rather that I assume I look fine. I’m comfortable with my natural appearance, which is the easiest option for field life.

Bathing options vary across field camps, but I’d guess the most typical form is the solar shower. On the North Slope we boiled a pot of pond water and combined that with cool pond water in a solar shower bag. That was hoisted up by the ceiling in an old shed, and voila! A hot, relatively clean shower was possible. I lived the life of luxury in buildings on St. George, my kiwi island in New Zealand, and in NE Alberta, so showers came fairly frequently.

In remote camps having one t-shirt and sweatshirt designated as “sauna/shower clothes” means I’m always guaranteed to have clean clothes to wear after the shower. These clothes NEVER get worn otherwise. Baby wipes are must-haves for field life, as a wipe-down with those can feel great on the particularly sweaty days.

My current and previous 2 summers provided me with my favorite bathing memories of field camps. The black brant camp on the Tutakoke River features a plywood sauna wrapped in Visqueen, and it’s heated by a barrel stove. By collecting firewood via snowmachine early in the season, we had a nice supply of wood to fire up the sauna about once a week all summer.

Since I have Finnish blood and have taken many a sauna on the shores of Lake Superior, I had low expectations for the heat levels. Boy, was I ever proven wrong. Both summers we got the sauna piping hot to the point where we were legitimately covered in sweat and needed to dash out of the sauna to jump in the Tutakoke River to cool off. We soaped up in the sauna, rinsed off in the tidal river, and then used warm snowmelt water in 4 pots on the floor to rinse off the saltwater. Sometimes I swam across the chilly river to walk around on the mudflat, and another time the crew rode the tide a good ¼ toward the mouth of the river just for fun. I didn’t expect to spend 2 summers sitting naked in the dark in a hot 7’x7′ box with my boss and co-workers, but sauna days were some of the best days of summer.

Here on Buldir Kevin ramped up the showering situation from last year. He assembled an old plywood shower stall around a pallet floor, but to this he added some corner shelves, a buoy for a seat, and a small net to hold clean clothes and a towel out of the shower spray. The brilliant feature is his crowning achievement for the summer: a window offering a view across North Marsh and toward Buldir Eccentric, as well as a skylight, which allows the stall to heat up with the water’s heat and any small amount of sunshine. With the right temperature of creek water in the solar shower bag, showering on Buldir is about as good as it gets for the field.

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