I’m not what you’d call a major advocate for public urination. It’s important to me that you understand that when I explain why I once peed in front of a lot of people.
It’s August now so we’re coming upon the two year anniversary of this occasion, which I suppose makes this a bit of a commemoration.
One of my best friends, Maura, was living somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania at this point. We decided to visit her and her husband Shawn, the Gettysburg alum group and I. Lisa, Whitney and I all drove across mid-Atlantic state territory one Friday night for a weekend of catching up and hiking.
Maura told us we were going to go hike by some waterfalls at Ricketts Glen State Park. Cool, cool. I briefly looked it up then and saw that visitors were encouraged to “Hike the Falls Trail System and explore the Glens, which boasts a series of wild, free-flowing waterfalls, each cascading through rock-strewn clefts in this ancient hillside.” What could be more majestic?
We got our hiking gear all ready the next morning, enthusiastically packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sunscreen and bug spray, water bottles and hats. Whitney, Shawn and Maura even had walking sticks. I was a little envious of these until later, when Whitney let me borrow hers, and I realized, as I tumbled off the trail and onto my face, that sometimes hands work better.
When we got there, it occurred to one of us at this point to ask, “Maura, how long is this hike?”
“Oh, a few miles,” she responded vaguely, gazing abstractly into the middle distance.
To say we were not prepared would be exactly accurate. At first it felt like a regular trail, a bit flat in places, a little steep in others, but essentially carrying us along like trails do, just doing its trail thing. Then we began to descend steadily down almost vertical stone steps and niches carved into the clefts.
As we paused at each of the “21 beautiful waterfalls” promised by the state park website, I began to put it together that 21 is a lot of waterfalls, and that they would all require descending further down the mountain.
Now, you’ll realize what this all means. The further down the mountain we went, the greater the suspicion in my mind became that we would, at some point, have to ascend the mountain again. The idea sat at the back of my mind like a vaguely nagging presence.
At this point the inevitable happened. We had been ascending steadily back up the other side of the waterfalls, around mile 5 of the hike. Mile FIVE, mind you. After several hours of drinking water to stay hydrated, with no bathroom in sight, I had to pee. Like, bad.
I assure you that the irony of having to pee badly while hiking up the side of a giant waterfall was not lost on me. As my thighs strained to lift my legs safely over slippery rocks and tree roots, my heart and bladder listened attentively to the continuous, thunderous roar of 21 majestic waterfalls.
To make matters worse, there was nowhere secluded enough to go off the trail and find some privacy to pee. All around us was basically a steep glade through the middle of which ran the waterfalls. On either side of the falls, going up and down each of the trails were probably a good forty hikers. Some were in families and some were couples or groups of friends. None of them were people I wanted to pee in front of.
“There’s nowhere you can stop,” said my friends, stating a truth I was not willing to hear. At that moment I could have thrown any one of them over the mountain side, except the action might have caused me to lose bladder control.
“Yes, there is,” I said desperately. I would make there somewhere to stop. What kind of sadistic state park doesn’t provide a port-o-potty on a hike with 21 wild, free-flowing waterfalls? I would be writing to the governor about this.
Finally, up ahead I saw a slight hillock rising up from the left of the trail, behind which it looked like there was enough coverage to hide.
“There!” I pointed with a gasp of relief. “I’m going there!”
“I don’t know that that’s high enough…” said someone, but I was already scrambling up the hill towards it.
Do you ever have a moment where you’ve committed to an action but then regret it?
As I crouched down and wriggled out of my shorts enough to pee, I noticed for the first time, peering over the edge of the hillock, that I really was not hidden at all. You might say the mound of earth that I thought obscured me, was more like, say, a display platform than a barrier. I also noticed that the number of people coming up and down the trail had managed to suddenly triple.
This would be an opportunity to just quietly pull my pants up and pretend I was just crouching down to observe a caterpillar or something. But the heart wants what it wants.
It would be fine. Just keep looking down, I told myself, and just don’t make eye contact.
I can’t tell you how good it feels to pee when you really have to pee and couldn’t pee but now you can so I’ll just tell you: it feels so damn good. If only I’d been able to enjoy the moment in privacy.
It was so obvious at this point that my audience of hikers could see exactly what I was doing, that the only course of action was to maintain denial on both sides. So much in history has succeeded in this way.
But not for me. Every five seconds another hiker would look up at me and have to watch me for a few seconds before they registered what they were seeing, and then look away quickly in embarrassment. The looks on their faces were uniform and agonizing, and in my small way, I pitied them.
As my bladder slowly eased itself, and I accidentally locked eyes with yet another hiker, I wondered what it would take to force myself to have an out-of-body experience, like when people get struck by lightning.
Finally I finished, and hastily cleaned myself up and got dressed, all in a crouch. I mean, I did have enough dignity to only want to give forty strangers some side butt instead of the whole show.
I was much more cheerful for the rest of the hike, even though my legs were starting to feel like jelly. But at least my bladder was empty.
Later when we were sitting down to dinner I thought I would have been starving but weirdly I found myself too exhausted to eat, or maybe to digest. I could only manage half a burger and then left the rest of my stomach open for alcohol consumption. Being an adult means making thoughtful decisions.
Later, when we looked at the state park website again, we saw that we had hiked 7.2 miles on what they describe as the “most difficult hiking” option, with the recommendation that hikers be in “good physical condition.” Hmph.
You know what though? Those waterfalls were majestic. Majestic AF.