Urination. Taking a leak. Relieving oneself. Everybody does it. At times it can be one of life's greatest pleasures, especially if it has been postponed for a while. It is one of those things that rarely gets talked about but is essential to our well-being. Ever since I met Karen, it has played a big part in my life. Take away all the times in the last ten years that I have waited for my wife to go to the toilet, and I would be five years younger. It is not that Karen spends a lot of time in the toilet, it is just that she goes so bloody often!
"Are you ready to go Karen?"
"In a minute. Just gotta go to the toilet first."
A few minutes later. "Ready now?"
"It's a three hour trip, you know?"
"Three hours! I'd better go again, just to make sure."
Karen is also a slow eater. When we go to a restaurant, I will be having my coffee and after dinner mints, while Karen will still be eating her entree. Combine the amount of time that she spends eating with the time she spends in the toilet, and there are not too many hours left in the day.
Of course, there is a good reason for Karen's almost constant urination. She drinks a million litres of water a day. The first thing she does when she gets up in the morning, just like everyone else, is go to the toilet, but the second thing she does is have a drink of water. The two things are related of course. If you drink water, you will have to go to the toilet. But Karen has reversed the relationship. If you go to the toilet, you have to fill up with water again.
And we are not talking about a sip here either. We are talking about a good, healthy swig. Karen believes that water is good for her, and she may be right. The amount of exercise she gets just going to and from the toilet every day would keep a marathon runner fit.
When we are cycling, Karen usually drinks the contents of her three water-bottles at least once during the day, and she refills them at every opportunity. She drinks at least every fifteen minutes. She drinks every time we reach the top of a hill. She drinks if a passing car kicks up a little bit of dust. I don't think she ever drinks because she is thirsty, though. She drinks so often, I doubt she has ever actually been thirsty.
At night, Karen kept a litre of water just outside the door of the tent and sipped from it regularly. In the morning it would be empty. If the night temperature ever drops below zero while we are camping, the water in Karen's water-bottle will freeze and then what will happen? I suspect she would sleep with it. Karen cannot survive without water for a night.
With all this water going in, sooner or later it has to come out. With Karen, it is sooner and later. After her usual morning megalitre intake, Karen would start the day's riding well hydrated, maybe even super-saturated. We would ride along for a while, Karen taking the occasional mouthful of water, and presently an hour would have passed. At this time we would normally stop for a break to give our legs and back a stretch, and to give our bikes a chance to rest for a while. The moment we stopped a rather strange phenomenon would occur. Karen would have to go to the toilet - heaven knows why - and she would have to go immediately. One moment she would be a comfortable, calm, semi-reasoning human being, the next she would be a mad woman filled with a desperate need. I would hold onto her bike while she dashed into the bushes.
After a while she would re-appear, all smiles, and the cycling would continue. Sometimes Karen would stop a bit further away from me than usual and I would have to push my bike a few extra metres before I could grab onto her bike. When this happened, I noticed that she would start to do a funny little dance - the dance of desperation. I would notice it at other times - like when we were shopping, or sightseeing - and I would say "You need to go to the toilet, don't you?" and she would give a little nod and keep on dancing. On the road it was always a lot of fun to hang back a little and walk up to her bike slowly, just so I could enjoy her little dance.
When we got into the outback, where the traffic is as sparse as the trees, there was no place for Karen to run, and no place to hide. If she did not time the stop just right, she would be forced to wait until all the cars and roadtrains had disappeared, and then it would be down with the cycling knicks and knickers, to do it right there on the shoulder of the road. I think it is a sign of a mature relationship when a man and a woman can comfortably go to the toilet in front of each other, so Karen and I must have a very mature relationship. Not that I watched, of course.
One of life's little mysteries, once the process of going to the toilet has begun, is how long it will take to finish. Speaking as a student of engineering, and having dabbled in fluid mechanics, I believe the process of water elimination is dependent on three factors, the size of the aperture, the volume of liquid, and the pressure behind it. I am probably in enough trouble already, so I will not comment on the size of the aperture. As for the second factor, I have already stated that the volume of liquid is considerable. Which brings us to pressure.
Pressure is squatting by the side of the road with your pants around your ankles and the sound of approaching traffic getting louder in your ears. What do you do? Karen has assured me that there is no way she can stop what she is doing. To stand up, pull up her pants, pick up the binoculars and start to look for birds would be one solution, but a very messy one. Of course, she could always just go about her business and hope that passers-by fail to notice anything untoward. Karen has found that a smile and a casual wave usually works. The cars all give a little toot of the horn as they pass by, as if to say carry on, and well done.
Despite my dislike of water, and the fact that I rarely drink while riding, the two cups of tea I have at breakfast, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea, all contribute to the inevitable. Occasionally, I have to go to the toilet too! Much to Karen's chagrin, urination is a lot easier for men than it is for women. Pull the cycling knicks down a bit, stand and deliver. As simple as that. You don't even have to get someone to hold the bike for you. Many is the time I have simply stopped, stood astride the bike, turned to my left and let rip. Shortly afterwards, a little shake, some slight adjustments to body and clothing, and its all over. No drama.
Just before arriving in Tennant Creek, about an hour into the day, we had stopped for the usual stretch break and Karen was trying out a couple of new steps in her dance routine. The road was straight and there was traffic approaching us from both directions. The nearest car was about four hundred metres away, so I figured I could do what I had to do in time. I was straddling the bike, turned to the left, and revelling in the feelings of blessed relief.
"You should get one of these," I said, pointing to the object I was holding.
"It would make things a hell of a lot easier," Karen said, hopping from one foot to the other as she waited for a longer break in the traffic.
"It really is a good instrument, you know, and very functional. It's extendible, it's multi-directional, it can be operated from both a standing and a sitting position, and it is even dual purpose. All in all, the male urinary design is much better than the female."
"It sure is," Karen agreed. "And with God making Eve after he made Adam, it means mine's inferior even though it's a later model!"
Of course, life is not just about urination. It is about defecation too. Strangely, despite all the travelling and bush camping that Karen and I have done in our lives, it is surprising just how infrequent have been the times when, to put it bluntly, we have had to shit in the woods. We would use the facilities at one place in the morning, ride our hundred kilometres or so to the next place, and use the facilities there. I haven't questioned Karen in detail about her movements, but I have probably had to resort to the bush toilet on only a handful of occasions. In fact, even when we camped overnight in the sticks, I would sometimes forego the dubious pleasure of walking off into the distance with a trowel in one hand and a roll of toilet paper in the other. I would use the facilities that morning, and not go again until the following afternoon when we arrived at the next toilet stop up the road. A psychiatrist would diagnose me as anal retentive.
In the modern era, plumbing design and its associated hardware have distanced man from his own body wastes. In civilised society, it is possible to live your entire existence without ever seeing what you do. But in the bush, unless you do your business, walk away, and leave it to the flies and the whims of the weather, you really have to come face to face with the results of your exertions. Low impact environmental directives tell us that all waste should be buried, preferably as deep and as far away from water sources as possible. In the outback of Australia, you don't have to worry too much about water sources, but many people do not follow the recommended burial practices, resorting to the common method of simply dumping a big rock on top of it. Another way of putting this, as described by a famous Aussie mountain climber, is to leave no turd unstoned.
To bury your waste, you first must confront it, and it is a sobering experience. Multiply that by four million and dump it into the sea every day. Not a pleasant thought, is it? It makes you realise, in a city the size of Sydney, just how much waste is being pumped into the ocean.
It's very hard to be discreet when you have to use the bush toilet either. If you try to do it in the dark, just walking to your chosen position can be fraught with danger. You run the risk of treading on a snake, or of poking out your eye out on a tree branch while your torch is pointed at the ground. I have even heard stories of people wandering off into the bush at night to do their business, and getting lost! So the job tends to be done during the daylight hours when discretion is impossible. On most hikes, or at most riverside camping sites, there is usually a host of people around, and while most people will avert their eyes and pretend they don't know what you are doing, there is always one wag who will catch you out.
"Hey Brett! Where are you going?"
"Um, er, I'm, er, just taking the trowel and the toilet paper for a walk?"
It is better to grab that trowel and toilet roll and boldly announce to all and sundry, "Hey world! I'm going for a shit. Anybody else want to come along?" You are not likely to get too many takers, but if someone does want to go with you, worry.
A related bodily function is farting. With much of our diet consisting of lentils, rice and curry, Karen and I almost always had the wind behind us. I, however, have a bit of control. Indoors, or in crowds, I suppress the desire to eliminate my bodily gases entirely, saving it up for the open air or the privacy of the toilet.
Karen, on the other hand, does not exercise quite the same degree of control, often letting rip when she thinks she is alone, or when hovering on the brink of sleep with little command of her sphincter muscle. When we bought our tent, Karen had insisted on getting the best quality on the market. The Macpac Olympus tent we had eventually purchased was a four-season, high wind tent capable of withstanding heavy snowfalls and strong gales. It was only later that I learned that Karen had wanted a high wind tent so that she would not be able to blow it apart from the inside!