See that island in the distance? The one surrounded by mangroves. Unlike other mangrove islands, the center of this one was all sand instead of clay. It also had a sandy beach that faced north with a view to the distant Seven-Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys and a view towards the setting sun. With the tide out, the beach extended about 100 feet. For sunrise, tidal pools formed in old coral reefs or limestone bedrock. The center of the island raised far above the tide. The open nature of the island meant that the breeze would help keep the no-see-ums away after the sun went down. It seemed like the perfect place to land.
Then we landed and found this:
Earlier in the day, a group of motor boaters boated out to the island and had a picnic. Instead of bagging their trash, they left it all on the beach. It was starting to blow around the island. Worse still is that sea turtles often confuse plastic for food and sea turtles often die from ingestion of plastic. We didn’t have trash bags with us, nor the room in our kayaks so it was a dilemma. We tried to decide if we were going to stay on the island or go to a larger key back to the east which was typical with a clay center and a ring of mangroves. Finally, we decided to stay. (Seriously, motor boaters? You couldn’t clean up your picnic? I usually don’t get too upset, but this one was hard to believe. This is why we can’t have nice stuff.)
And then we found this:
Unburied crap back from the beach. Now, when we take a crap in the woods we all feel like Bill Bryson did when he wrote, “I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, ‘Yeah, I’ve shit in the woods.'” But, you don’t leave it like this and arguably on a small island such as this, it’s better to bag it and pack it out.
Seriously, who does this? There’s even a book written about How to Shit in the Woods. Not only does it contain great info about crapping in the woods, but it also makes a great gift for your paddling friends. It’s not the first time that I’ve seen this nor do I imagine that it’s the first time that you’ve seen it. I often see it near beaches that have easy access for motor boaters. Maybe, boat stores, boat manufacturers, etc. need to start a campaign on how to shit in the woods. They can start with the book. Here’s the link again if you missed it:
Leave No Trace Principles
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Here’s the gist of how to poop in the woods:
- Pick a spot about 150 feet away from any fresh water and out of the flood plane.
- Dig a hole that’s 6 to 8 inches deep. If you can preserve the top few inches of the soil in one piece like a piece of sod, do so.
- Do your duty.
- Burn the TP.
- Stir some dirt from the sides of the hole in with the poop. Find a stir stick on the way to the hole.
- Fill in the hole and cover it with the sod you made.
- Sanitize or wash your hands. The most common contamination in the woods is from not washing your hands after you poop.
What should you carry in your shit kit?
- A trowel: I’m old school and use a Coghlan’s Backpackers Trowel that I’ve had forever. It’s exactly 6 inches long.
- A lighter
- Hand sanitizer
- Dry bag: a lightweight dry bag such as Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack in the two liter size to keep the tp dry. Or a Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Outhouse.
On our trip, we were so disgusted about the lack of sanitation on the island that we packed up our stuff and paddled back to an island to the east. It was clean. It looked like it had been used for camping, but not by motor boaters, which is probably why it was clean.
Note: Our kayaks were jammed packed with expedition gear, multiple computers, food and we couldn’t carry the trash off the island. We arranged to have the island cleaned up, and shortly after we visited the entire island was cleaned up.