Out in the canyons we talked about two topics: poop and politics.

Before we left Salt Lake City, no one had dared to ask how exactly we would take care of our…er … bodily needs in the wilderness. As we sat in Quality Inn conference room, we talked about most of the other aspects of the trip: the technical challenges we’d encounter, what we needed to pack and our goals as a team. But somehow we failed to ask the most basic of questions: sans civilization how exactly does one take a dump?

Perhaps we were unwilling because long ago our toddler selves had learned to trust the toilet and had not considered the possibility that one day our ivory friend, along with all of his plumbing accoutrements, would desert us.

As we drove south from Salt Lake to Canyon Country, our radio listening options steadily narrowed until we were left with only two…country and Mormon religious broadcast. I think it was at that point we turned off the radio and decided we were willing to let go of some of the trappings of civilization ahead of schedule.

As the road narrowed and traffic thinned out, free range plains gave way to deeply carved canyons and desert scrub. It also started to rain. Rain in the desert? Yes.

We put up our tents and took refuge from the whipping winds in the van. We gobbeled up our final packed meal–a variety of Whole Foods pastas and rotisserie chicken—and bid farewell to processed foods and purified water. From then on, everything we ate we carried on our backs and whatever water we drank came from rain puddles.

The next morning we learned how to cook with our small, gas-fired stoves and were introduced to our rations, which were primarily grains, nuts and lots and lots of butter. For the rest of the trip we ate like I imagine farmers still do: taking in as much as we could to get us through the day. Lots of carbs, lots of fats and still never enough.

It was about this time, as our bowels stirred from two meals out in the wilderness, that we were introduced to the trowel, the small shovel we would use to dig the six-inch-deep holes into which we would deposit our deposits. Feet shifted nervously about and glances were placed downward. “Believe me,” Allison said, “it’s gonna be one of your favorite things to talk about. You’ll even grow to like smooth stones.”

And it was. Trowelling, along with the do-you-think-Barack-will-win-this-state-in-November game came to occupy most of our conversations. There was something liberating about it. More than the rappels, the pack passes and rock climbs there was something about trowelling that made our subconsciouses dance and let out our inner infants: “Anywhere? Anytime? Yipppee!!!”

It was one of the most basic freedoms but it was also one of the most satisfying, the one that reminded me that I could go anywhere and be myself in the wild. And the wild was as empty as it was beautiful. We didn’t see a soul that wasn’t part of our party for ten days. So when the wind whipped across the mesas or we screamed as we swam through the icy water of the narrows, we knew we were the only ones who heard a thing. It was just us out there. Just us.

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