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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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        A.T. PRIVY HUMOR        
FEBRUARY 10, 2006
"I've learned that life is like a roll of toilet paper.
The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes!"
- Andy Rooney

Our pride and joy. See story below.

I can relate to Andy's joke. Time really flies as I get older. Where did January go??

For that matter, where did 2005 go???

This photo essay is about  the privies along the Appalachian Trail. Most of them don't even have toilet paper . . . but this is one of the few "clean" bathroom jokes I could find on the internet. Until I did a web search for "potty humor" I had no idea there were so many sites devoted to the subject! (Or so many crappy jokes.)

Some people just have too much time on their hands.


In the last essay I noted that I'm no expert on shelters. Well, I'm even less of an expert on AT privies, so please educate me if any of this information is BS and I will correct it.

I can think of only a couple privies that I used. Fortunately, I was able to "go" in the camper every morning except one or two times so I didn't have to worry about finding a good spot on the Trail to bury my poop properly.

Peeing on a trail is much easier. It is no problem when I'm wearing running shorts, which was usually the case on the AT since it was warm most days. With running shorts, there is no need for a bathroom or even any need to drop my drawers. (If any women have questions about technique, write and ask. Most trail runners know the drill.)

Pants or tights are another matter . . . but I still just pee in the woods and don't make any effort to find a privy. I just need privacy.

[Side note: along 2,175 miles of the AT last summer, I "caught" only one or two hikers "going to the bathroom" in the woods, and I don't believe anyone "caught" me peeing. Everyone was very discreet, unlike folks in some of the trail races I run.]

Sorry if this is Too Much Information for you! I could have been even more explicit. Hikers have to deal with this subject several times a day, and the AT privies help make the process less of a hassle for them.

Bottom line: I rarely stepped foot into a privy during my adventure run.

However, that didn't stop me from taking photos of several of the more interesting privies along the way. (I'll photograph just about anything since I've been using digital cameras.) Some of the privy architecture is unusual, and I just had to drop into a few privies I'd read about in hikers' journals because they were so unusual or comical.

I love finding humor in strange places!


When we moved to Virginia in 2004, Jim and I became involved with the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, which maintains something like 113 miles of the Trail in our vicinity. Our first project was to spend a day at the Lambert Meadows shelter, May 4 to be precise, helping to build a new composting privy to replace the stinky older model.

I'm going to show you a series of photos of that day so you'll gain some appreciation for the hard work that goes into building a privy out in the middle of nowhere.

Five of us drove to a farm north of Daleville, Virginia where we could access a narrow, overgrown woods "road" that goes part way up the mountain to the AT. We couldn't drive our trucks up there, but used a four-wheeler to haul materials to the shelter site.

Even though we didn't have to carry all the materials by hand we still had to hike in about two miles on rough and/or narrow trail. If we'd taken the trail head closest to the shelter (up the Andy Lang Trail to Scorched Earth Gap and down to the site), it would have been an even steeper five miles and we would have had to carry all the materials in our hands. That's de rigueur for many remote locations on the Trail. We were lucky to have a cooperative farmer willing to let us traipse through his private property.

Here are the four men in our group (Jim's on the left), and the farmer (in the beard) who granted us access:

We used a Polaris four-wheeler to carry most of the materials and tools up the mountain. One fella drove and the rest of us walked, helping to hold everything on the vehicle as it negotiated the rough trails.

At one point Jim had to hop on the back to give the Polaris more weight and keep it from tipping over:

There was a creek we had to cross twice and some bushwhacking involved in the woods when the AT was too narrow for the Polaris:

At one point we stopped to widen the AT and relocate it to the other side of a tree above a ravine. The Trail on the left side of the tree was sloped badly and needed to be relocated anyway to reduce erosion:

When we finally got to the site for the new composting toilet we unloaded the materials from the Polaris:

The next step was leveling the hillside site for the privy and laying out its rectangular base:

Round timbers were stacked in the manner prescribed to build the base of the privy:

That day, we built up the base and put on the floor. A few days later the crew returned (without Jim and me) to build steps and the top part of the privy.

When I did a training run on that part of the Trail at the end of May, I went down to see the completed privy:

Wow! So that's how it turned out!!

I was proud of being a part of its construction. It's not as elaborate as some of the privies I'll show you below, but it's 'way above the old standard - and it doesn't stink any more.

How cool to see something you've helped to build! We've done other types of trail work in our club's jurisdiction, such as building "rock bridges" and clearing trail, and love to run in those places after improving them. Pride of ownership.


The Lambert Meadows privy has another feature that most do not: since it is well away from the shelter and faces the woods and creek, it doesn't have a door. You can see that in the photo above. Hikers can do their business while they watch deer getting a drink down in the creek!

I also think there is biodegradable toilet paper inside, another rarity. If memory serves me, the t.p. was in a metal mailbox.

Every six months volunteers will slide the top part of the privy to the other side on tracks, and start a new compost pile. Apparently it takes about six months for the old piles to completely break down, then that side of the privy is used again.

Composting toilets are much more environmentally friendly and a pleasure to use compared to the original models which are still most prevalent along the AT.

The thirty AT clubs will gradually replace many of the older types, which are difficult to keep sanitary. Last summer I passed several really rank toilets that are too close to the Trail and couldn't imagine going inside to use them. They smelled worse than any Porta Potty I've used in 26+ years of running races. Composting toilets (and perhaps other designs) eliminate that odor.

Since I helped build a privy, my interest was piqued about the types of potties I'd see during my trek. Hence, the following photos.


I saw fewer privies than shelters during my trek because not all shelters have privies and when they do, the privies are usually farther back from the Trail for reasons of privacy and hygiene.

There are also fewer different  privy designs than shelter designs. If you've seen one, you've pretty much seen them all - except for the ones I'll show you.

Most of the privies I saw looked like typical small outhouses, usually with a small or rectangular square base, four walls, a door, and a roof. Some had seats over the hole, some not. All that I saw were "one-sies" except the double-seater at Piazza Rock.

Come sit a spell, indeed!

The privy below, near the Little Swift River Pond Campsite in Maine shows the simplest privy design I photographed, but it's got some features that make it more interesting than most:

Notice the wire mesh on the bottom, the translucent plastic on the roof to let in more light, and the cute cut-out of the quarter moon. The privy was very convenient, only a couple feet off the Trail. I had to pee so I stepped inside on Day 132. I don't remember it smelling too bad.

I'm glad I went in. Otherwise I would have missed this clever sign with a humorous environmental message:

Now you know why there is wire mesh on the base of the privy! I wonder how many times this latrine has been repaired or rebuilt because of critters gnawing on the wood.

The next privy is near the Thomas Knob Shelter in southern Virginia. It sits about 400 feet below the summit of Mt. Rogers (elev. 5,729 feet) in a sub-alpine zone. You can see a photo of the shelter in the last essay, near the bottom of the page. It is an attractive log structure with a loft and was built in 1991. The privy is nearby and close enough to the Trail that I got this photo of it on Day 32:

At the time, I was in a hurry and didn't go inside the privy. Now I wish I had so I could see how it's built. Toilets built in fragile alpine and sub-alpine zones need to work differently to break down the waste than toilets in other eco-zones. I also don't remember seeing another one this shape - or with a solar panel. I didn't notice the panel until I was cropping this photo today. I'm curious what it powers. A light? A pump? Maybe a heater, because it's a cold, windy spot?? If anyone knows, please enlighten me and I'll modify this text.

Another Virginia privy that is 'way above the norm is the one near the deluxe Partnership Shelter at the north end of the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. As a reminder, here's the very attractive log shelter again as I saw it on Day 33:

And here is the handsome matching Partnership Privy:

Again, I didn't go in this one and now I'm curious about that "smokestack" on the side. I assume it is for ventilation.


I had the most fun visiting privies in New England, where the maintaining clubs are known for their sense of potty humor. I made a point to peek into the next three privies because I'd read about them in previous hikers' journals. (You won't find the funny stuff in ATC guides, just the facts.)

I got a kick out of the privy on Killington Mountain in Vermont. It is a couple hundred feet from the Cooper Lodge, a nice enclosed stone-and-frame cabin built in 1939 by the Vermont Forest Service for hikers. I think it's free. It accommodates twelve hikers and also has three tent platforms. I regret not taking a photo of the hut or the entire privy when I passed through on Day 110.

The privy has a painted wood sign reading, "Cooper Pooper" and a hand-written sign requesting that everyone pee in the woods first, as the batch-bin composting toilet can't handle urine. It's an eco-thing, apparently, because of the delicate balance of nature in the sub-alpine zone (3,850 feet at this location).

That is the only place I saw the instruction to not pee in the potty; maybe there are more I didn't see.

Heading north, my next potty search was for the famous LLBean privy at the Piazza Rock Shelter in Maine on Day 133. I showed a picture of the shelter in Photos 19 and mentioned the interesting rock formations and caves in the area. They are fun, but my real goal was to check out the privy!

Gee, Sue, that must be some privy! you say. Indeed, it is.

This is the exterior:

Note the sturdy logs, bright red door, and translucent panels on the roof to brighten up the interior of the privy.

Guess what's inside this two-seater??

Cribbage, anyone??!!

I wonder if anyone really plays cribbage in there? I didn't see any pegs or cards. Maybe there's a drawer for them that I missed. Some hikers carry a deck of cards, but pegs?

Fun, huh? Even if you don't play cribbage.

The last very unusual backwoods privy I saw was Fort Relief on Day 146 in Maine's Hundred-Mile Wilderness. (You call this is a wilderness?? you'll ask in a minute.)

This privy is near the popular Antlers Campsite.

This large campsite was part of a former sporting camp where people came to fish, hunt, sightsee, and relax. Now it is a free AT tent area. The fishing is still reported to be great. The campsite sits in a grove of red pines on a prominent point jutting out into Lower Jo-Mary Lake.

Cody enjoyed the clear, cool water near the beach in September. There's another photo of Jo-Mary Lake that morning in the journal entry (Day 146).

Back farther in the woods is Fort Relief:

On the outside, Fort Relief has some of the features of the two other Maine privies you've just seen (translucent roof, log structure, crescent moon cut-out on the door), but inside it's in another league.

There are two windows with curtains, a potty with a lid, and a wash basin - but no soap, water, or towels. (Now there's a mixed message.)

The Trail register was inside. I took it outside to read and sign because the privy had enough of an odor that I didn't want to remain any longer than it took for photos. It was still a treat compared to many other privies, however.

That's not the sort of potty you'd expect to find in the Hundred-Mile Wilderness. I'd read about it (not in ATC materials, but in hikers' journals) and I'm glad I checked it out.


The AT is full of wonderful surprises. Even if you know where to find some of them, they are still a delight when you're there in person. Treat yourself! (Take your own t.p, just in case.)

Next up: hut systems in the Whites and Shenandoahs.

Waiting tonight for our first big snowstorm of the winter and wondering if we can get ourselves to David Horton's Holiday Lake 50K++ at 6 AM . . .

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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