Dolly Sods Wilderness

Inside: Backpacking; Deuces wild; Perfection

Thank goodness there aren’t flying spiders.


This Jetboil is freaking amazing, by the way. That’s a keeper. It’s a little miracle worker. Next time I’m going to try cooking and not just dehydrated meals. I’m not sure whether to get the pot or the skillet.



Hiking through the wilderness with 45 lbs. on your back is — different. Suddenly, the idea of lightweight makes sense. I had muscles burning that I can’t remember having ever burned like that. Around my hips and various gluteals. On fire the whole time while hiking. Even more so on the downhills. My training hike the other week must have been with 30 lbs. or less. This outing was a different beast altogether.

Backpackers are hardcore, man. This trip:

3.7 miles in with a load, 6.8 miles of pack-free sightseeing hiking the next day, plus 3.7 miles out with a load. For me, that’s new.  For serious backpackers that’s like a walk around the block. Here’s a paraphrased quote for perspective:

“I’ll go with 40 lbs. or even more if I’m going to be doing less than 20 miles a day.”

Good grief. There are upcoming meetups with 26 miles over two days. 100 miles over 6 days.

Dig this. One of the women, M, decided to wear sandals for the hike in. I don’t get that. I’ve never found sandals to be comfortable, but they’re good for stream crossings. Still, though. Sandals to hike 4 miles carrying a backpack load? But what do I know.

The sandals started bothering her feet — they were new — so she made some adjustments. She got blisters but she made it to camp just fine. We’re going on a 5+ mile hike the next day, right.

So she and S get up early in the morning to hike back to the car (in her sandals) to get her boots. Then they hike back to camp in time to eat breakfast and then do the 5+ mile hike. That’s nearly eight miles as a warmup for a 5 miler.


Six miles, by the by, isn’t enough to tire out an experienced backpacker, which affects their sleep. 

My accomplishments this weekend? Uh. I may have broken some kind of perspiration record. Despite being next to water I still ended up dehydrated. I need a water filter system in addition to the LifeStraw.


Like I said on Facebook, this place is — I can’t even, like….

It was unbelievable. Change-you beautiful. Make-you-curse gorgeous. Is-this-real-life stunning. My front porch was basically a stone patio on a creek. After the boy scouts cleared out I moved on to the prime real estate. This was the view ten steps from my tent.

Front porch.
Front porch.
The front porch stairs.
The front porch stairs.
There aren’t many high mountain plateaus in this part of the country, but if you get a chance to go to one when the weather is good? Do it.

Then just when you think things couldn’t get more bucolic someone guides you to an overlook and blows your mind.


The only donwside of backpacking into the wilderness is the bathroom situation. I had my inaugural free range deuce. Twice. Different methods, same outcome. I can check that off my list. It’s good in a pinch but I’d prefer a bathroom. Well … some bathrooms. It’s awkward and a little stressful. “The world is my bathroom right now. Stop collecting firewood in it.”

Boy Scout troops are everywhere.

I would have held it all weekend if I could but … no dice.

Here are some man-centric notes on technique. There are rougher ways to go about it but I’ll stick to what I know and assume that you want to keep your pants somewhat on. You need a trowel/shovel and TP.

  1. Dig a hole. 6″ deep, I’ve read. Some trowels have measurements on them.
  2. Pee first. Before anything. While standing.
  3. Stick the trowel upright in the ground within easy reach. The handle nicely accommodates a roll of TP.
  4. Now the main event. Back against a tree. Try to relax. If you really have to go it’ll come. Option 2 – go for the full squat. (Face the tree and hold on to it with one hand.)
  5. Wipe. Everything goes in the hole.
  6. Cover the hole with the excavated dirt. Cover with leaves or whatever if possible.
  7. Sanitize your hands.


  • Your legs will get tired since you’re basically doing a squat for however long it takes. It does encourage efficiency.
  • Bring a bear bell or be prepared to call out if you hear someone approaching. Seriously. Some guys looking for firewood stumbled into my zone.
  • Pardon me for this, but if you have diarrhea you should probably take your pants off completely. That may mean you have to take your boots/shoes off so you’re pretty much going to be butt ass nekkid and barefoot for a moment. Talk about vulnerable.
  • Whatever the case, be observant and careful at all times. Look where you’re about to step, place your hand, sit, stand under, or whatever.

Advice from experienced backpackers:

  • Find a log or rock you can hang your rear off of. That should be a more familiar experience. Sweep for critters first, though.
  • If you have a strap or good length of rope (maybe) you can wrap it around your waist with the other end around a tree. You’ll be facing the tree and leaning back against the strap. You can put the TP or whatever else you need on the strap.


Some people have grown accustomed to the process. I posted a link to the Shewee, a device that allows women to pee while standing.

A friend with primitive camping experience said forget the gadgets. Just squat and do it. Some people use leaves, rocks, sand(?!), or pine cones to wipe.

That is excellent advice and a good thing to know how to do. Not for me, though.

If you’re not woodsy the thought of pooping outdoors is stressful. The act of going outdoors is insurmountable to some. They even try to eat things that won’t make them as likely to need to evacuate all weekend.  I know a lot of people who absolutely will not go on a trip where there’s no civilized bathroom.

I met multiple adult people in the past few months who literally had never been on a hike before, much less car camping, much much less backpacking, much much much less primitive camping.

The thought of bugs, flying bugs, snakes, animals, all of those little rustling noises in the woods. Other people walking in on you. Possible mess if you don’t get it right.

I was definitely outside my comfort zone but it worked out. It wasn’t fun but it was educational. And I felt a lot better, physically, for it.

You’re welcome?


There’s no such thing. The worst thing you can do for yourself and the people around you is to try to have a perfect outing.

I’ve known people who will break down in tears or throw tantrums if things don’t go just right. If things aren’t perfect.

Confession: I’m always a little jealous of the couples that go on these trips. The way they adventure together. That is — that’s like my life goal, y’know. To find that much simpatico. Last week, beach camping at Assateague, there was a couple next to us and the woman was just not into it. At all. They didn’t have a fire for some reason and not many creature comforts including layers to deal with ocean winds. She sat in the car a lot the next day while the guy did all the work. I felt incredibly lucky to be there with a woman, albeit platonically, who is capable, a vegetarian gourmet, and rolls with adversity.

All of my imaginary girlfriends have boyfriends, which is totally cramping my style, but damn if they don’t come through in the clutch.

Seriously, though. Isn’t it time for a few breakups? Let’s go, people. I’m not getting any younger and cuffing season is fast approaching again. That’s a very small window of lowered standards to work with. 

(Also, as a side note, I dig people who don’t need to drink to have a good time. People can be so alcohol-centric, which is foreign to me because I’m kind of lame, but I like people the way they are. Not when they’re drunk. A little tipsy can go either way, but — a little bit goes a long way. Having said that, there was wine in a bag and it was kind of amazing out there in the woods next to a stream around the campfire. Perfect.)

There’s always going to be something off. I’ve been so lucky with the weather and photogenic conditions. But what if it rains all weekend. What if your equipment gets damaged. You slip in a stream and your sleeping bag gets wet. You forget tent poles. Wild animal encounters. Someone gets injured. Someone in your group (or neighboring group) turns out to be a jerk or a creep. Someone (maybe you) can’t keep up with the group. Menstruation cycles. Bug bites. Allergic reactions. Bad water. Big egos. Getting lost.

Something will go wrong, is what I’m saying. It’s part of the experience. Life will make sure to test you somehow. The outdoors will make sure to test you somehow.

It’s your job to roll with it. Let it go. Fix it if it’s fixable. Work around it if it’s not.

The worst thing you can do is try to control what you can’t control.

The second worst thing you can do is to try to recreate an experience. Trying to catch the exact same vibe or rush as that other time you were out there. When things flowed. Or when the coziness was off the charts good. When everyone felt like they were home even though they just met. When the weather was perfect. When you got that perfect campsite and the water level (or temperature) was just right.

Each time is new, y’know. If you can be open, every time is its own kind of perfect. The perfect adventure is full of challenges. 

Front porch panorama
Front porch panorama


Add Yours
  1. kristinkeen

    I appreciate this post very much. And the bathroom advice? Golden! (no pun intended…by any stretch). That being said, I can imagine my SO being the miserable one in the car–if I had even gotten him to the point of tagging along. I’m far better off bringing one of my girlfriends and being totally outdone by her in wilderness-y things. As always, thanks for sharing your adventures.

    • garyarthuryoung

      Even car camping? My goal is to glamp when car camping. As much luxury and as many comforts as possible.

      But yeh. It’s best to go with someone who appreciates it. It is no fun nursing someone’s miserable.

  2. Joe

    Great read Gary I just picked up a tent &pack to get Atlas out in the wild this summer. Starting with car camp and work our way up. Wall sits at UA just found their practical real world application HAHAHA.

    • garyarthuryoung

      For real, man. Quads burning. Pick a tree without ants, by the way.

      What tent and pack did you get?

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