My frustrations with ablism around most outdoor adventures are numerous. One of the most glaring shortcomings we face on the daily is a lack of access to bathroom facilities. This complaint ru1ns across the board. For all genders, all types of disability, all ages, etc. Every person needs and deserves access to clean functional toilets.
Of course, this is far from an American problem. A lack of restroom facilities exists throughout the world. Whether you are in a location that requires a monetary fee for entry to a toilet or there are simply no bathrooms in a reasonable distance, it is a long standing international problem that has become more prevalent in Western countries over the last two years.
I am currently living in North America, which means, it is winter. My climate isn’t exceptionally frigid, but the mountain ranges are full of fresh snow and the lowlands are dark, damp, and chilly most days. That doesn’t dissuade myself and many other outdoor enthusiasts from playing.
Winter activity rant: I’ve taken up snowshoeing recently and love it! There is a bliss to taking soft cautious steps with friends in a setting that demands they do the same. My EDS joints are not being jostled. My angry nerves are less at risk of impact pain. The combination of cold air and very warm clothing keeps my blood pressure level and my migraines appreciate the peace that comes with deep snowy terrain.
Being able to enjoy snowshoeing means that, like any adventure for a broken body, I have to be prepared. I wear fleece lined leggings beneath my waterproof pants. There are two layers of cold weather tops under my big winter coat. A balaclava has been a nose and ear saver. Massive gloves that keep me warm but lack dexterity, means keeping an extra pair of glove liners on hand to do any zipping/tying/opening/etc. I keep a small container with extra medications in the warmest part of my backpack along with a phone brick, flashlight, snacks, water, chapstick, and a tiny first aid kit. I will typically throw in a pair of traction devices, as well.
I always carry a roll of toilet paper and wet wipes on adventures. I started carrying those items for long fair-weather hikes where I knew I’d be out in the wild for hours at a time. If I am away from civilization, I expect to be self-sufficient. But… if I am at a trail head, a ski resort, a snow park, a restaurant, a coffee shop, a store, and so on… I expect to be able to access a freak’n toilet.
Trail heads and established camping sites are notorious for their nausea-inducing pit toilets. A hole with a dirty, often broken, toilet seat. Rarely, there will be some toilet paper and an accessibility bar. The toilet is typically very tall and critters big and small make their presence known when you take the bold chance of sitting down on the perpetually wet seat. If you are fortunate enough to have strong leg mobility, hovering and hoping your waste goes in the right direction, is the common move.
In the winter, things get more dire. Often, snow activities take place around the backside of ski resorts, closed runs, or closed trails. That means zero or closed bathrooms. A few weekends ago, I went up to a very busy ski area. Uphill or non ski/snowboard activities had to be done outside of the active runs and chairlifts. So, I went to one of the closed lifts. There was a resort building (coffee, restrooms, food, tickets, etc) on one side of the parking lot and a first aid building on the other. Having to relieve myself, I walked up to the illuminated resort building only to find it locked. No signs were posted and there was no way to access the bathrooms. Tiny stepping over to the other building, it was also closed. At this point, a few other people in the rapidly filling parking lot were also seeking a restroom. The guys simply shrugged and easily relieved themselves wherever they could find a shadow.
Frustrated, I asked a few other women where they were going. Behind a tree was the general answer. Everyone I encountered was visibly mobile (not saying fellow invisible disability sufferers weren’t around) and they each noted that they were annoyed but that they were use to it. They gave tips for the best tree to squat behind and how to find a spot where your feet wouldn’t slip out from under you while you quickly took care of business. I tried. I found a spot with less ice and snow than other locations. I managed to get my multiple pant layers down. I just couldn’t do it. Squatting down and peeing was impossible in that setting. Even if I could have relaxed enough to start a flow, it would have gotten all over my clothes and shoes. I have done the squat many times before while hiking. In the slippery snow, with all those clothes on, no where to put a hand, and the cold wind blowing on sensitive bits, it wasn’t happening. So, I held it. Yep. All those years of growing up in locations where toilet access wasn’t guaranteed has made me a master at clenching. Is it healthy? No. Is it humane? No. Is it a reality for most women? Yes.
Bathrooms have become a luxury. While there are millions of people who have uncooperative bodies and billions of people with vaginas on this planet, we still don’t have guaranteed access to safe clean bathrooms in public spaces. We haven’t even touched on the need for wheelchair and alternative needs toilet accessibility. People who can’t control their bladders for long periods of time. Those of us that might experience UTIs or other medical conditions that require frequent relief. There are the elderly that want to still enjoy being out in the world and need hand bars next to a toilet seat. Kids who are being potty trained. The list is never ending. Humans gotta go to the bathroom!
This shouldn’t be a wild request. I understand that the subject gets more complicated as we delve into plumbing, water, and hygiene complications in under-industrialized areas. For now, let’s at least focus on making bathroom access a part of the ablism conversation. Raise a fuss with your parks and land management departments. Make noise in your community to bring awareness to the people who never have to think about this issue. Free the pee? Maybe not, but at least it’s a start.
Robert Frederick Blum, American, 1857–1903