Monthly Archives: May 2015

Portable Toilet Cleaning

The worst part of a whitewater river trip is the take-out. Typically it’s where the entire world seems to congregate at the exact same time to load up for the trip home. It’s hot, dusty, and no one wants to be there.

rocket box
20mm rocket box containing an eco toilet

To make matters worse, there’s a job that needs to be done that can be downright nasty. Remember that nice portable river toilet you’ve been joyfully pooping into for the past couple of days? Yeah, it’s full of the entire trip’s poop, and it needs to be cleaned…guess who’s been elected for that job? YOU!

Scat Machine to the Rescue

Fortunately, this nasty chore has gotten much easier with the advent of scat machines. Most popular multi-day river trip takeouts have these little gems of engineering marvels.

Gone are the days you had to transport your poop over the pass to your home town hoping the methane build up in the toilet system wasn’t getting to explosive levels. (I’ve seen someone almost lose their arm when they flipped the latch and the can exploded…nasty)

You no longer have to drive around town hoping to find an RV dump site that will allow you to dump your can of shit. Now the whole dump and cleanup can be done at the takeout. It’s easy, fairly sanitary and best of all, your done, done, done.

The system i’m most familiar with is the scat machine. It’s a large contraption that’s built in the unlikely town of French Glen, Oregon by the French Glen Blacksmiths. The operation is simple and only requires 1 dollar to operate. (I spend an extra buck and do it twice)

The directions are posted on the machine itself and are pretty self explanatory. I have a few tips though:

  1. They want you to strap down your box to the cleaning surface. The straps you use are in the cleaner when you close the door and come out wet. I don’t think those straps are sanitary after that. So my suggestion is to use specific straps for the job, the poop straps. 2 footers work great. 
  2. Wear a pair of rubber gloves during this entire process. When you open the contraption after the washing, you have to reach in there and unstrap your can. Everything is dripping wet, it makes me feel better to have some rubber between my skin and the wetness.
  3. Spend an extra dollar and send the pooper through the cycle twice. This assures you get every last drop of pooh. Spend the extra buck to avoid any tenacious bits.
  4. Be sure you have dollar bills packed somewhere on your trip. There aren’t generally cash machines at river takeouts and the scat machine doesn’t give change, only dollar bills and quarters are acceptable.

These machines truly are great. They make the whole poop cleaning ordeal much easier.

Camping Games

There’s no shortage of fun when you’re camping and the fun is off the hook when you’re camping near water, but here’s an additional  camping game that’s sure to please.


The trick is to use items on your trip for the games, this way you’re not having to pack a bunch of space consuming toys.

Ammo Can

Ammo cans are great for river trip storage.
Ammo cans are great for river trips

One of my favorite river trip games is called, “ammo can.” It’s a game of skill and balance.

The setup is simple: pull two ammo-cans from the raft and empty the contents. Fill half the cans with wet river sand. (You want wet sand for the added weight).

Now place the cans about 15-20 feet apart in a flat sandy spot. Push the cans into the sand an inch or 2 (any more than that is cheating.) Be sure the cans are surrounded by sand not rocks or other obstacles that will hurt your feet.

Get a long length of soft nylon  chord that’s at least twice as long as the ammo cans are apart. For example: if your cans are 15 feet apart, your line should be 30 feet long.

In bare feet stand on the ammo can with the end of the line in your hand. Your opponent will be in the same position. The rest of the line slack will be in a pile between the competitors.

When someone says, “go” pull the slack as quickly as you can. The more line you get the more you have to work with. Now it’s a game of trying to pull the other person off the ammo can.

You’ll quickly learn that brute force doesn’t work. If you give a mighty yank, all the other person has to do is release some line and you’re pulling against nothing, you’ll lose your balance and fall off the can backwards. It’s a game of skill and balance…super fun.

The other way to win is by pulling the line out of your opponents hands. So if you’ve pulled most of the line and the person is hanging onto the end, one well timed yank may be all you need to win, but be careful, they’ll be expecting that.

A word of caution: use gloves to save your hands from nasty rope burns. The line should be soft, but if it’s zipping through your hand and you’re in the heat of the moment you may not notice the pain until after the game. Use gloves, or risk rope burns.

Here’s a short video of the game. Notice how they have the cans broadside? I much prefer having them turned long ways so my feet are positioned in  a more athletic, natural position. Also, being in bare feet helps with the balance.

Game Tip: Bend your knees and stay low for better balance.


Camp Coffee: Melitta Style

You’re on a river trip, or  a camp trip, everything’s wonderful. All the logistics and planning are done, all the chaos is behind you and now it’s time to be in the wilderness enjoying yourself.

Steaming cup of Coffee
Steaming cup of Coffee

The first morning you pull yourself from your sleeping bag and wonder where you’re going to get a cup of coffee. Will it be cowboy coffee? instant? Will there even be coffee? Yes there’s coffee and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had.

Just because you’re in the wilderness, doesn’t mean you have to suffer, particularly if you’re on a river trip. Rafts can carry a lot of gear, some of that should be reserved for coffee brewing.

I’ve seen all sorts of ways people brew coffee in the wild. Through much trial and error, the way we do it produces the best cup of coffee.

This is the best way to brew coffee on a raft trip!

Coffee Melitta
Coffee Melitta

We bring a large coffee pot, a large pot to boil water, a ladle, a Melitta, filters, and fresh ground coffee beans (very important to grind the coffee before the trip).

here’s the routine:

In the morning we fill a large pot with fresh water and put it on the stove. If you have a jet burner, that’s the quickest method, but a good old standard camp stove works too, just takes longer.

While the water’s coming to a boil, place the melitta on the coffee pot with a number 4 coffee filter inside. We like our coffee strong so we put a lot of coffee grounds in the filter, not too much though, you don’t want an overflow.

When the water’s at a rolling boil, carefully scoop with the ladle and pour over the coffee grounds. you’ll hear the satisfying drip, then the rush of a steady stream as it starts filling the coffee pot. Keep at it, adding more water as the level allows.


Don’t allow anyone to pour themselves a cup until you have a full pot (beat them back with the ladle). If you pour prematurely, that person’s cup of Joe will be very strong, but everyone elses will be weaker.

As the water drips through the melitta it seeps the nectar from the grounds, so each time the water picks up less and less coffee. It seems obvious but i’ll say it anyway, the first few ladlefulls of water will be stronger coffee than the last few. If you allow the process to continue uninterrupted, the super strong will mix with the weaker and you’ll have a perfect cup of coffee. Be patient, and ruthless!

If you have a big pot of coffee to fill you may have to replace the coffee filled filter with another before you’re done brewing. This is controversial, but there’s a wonderful way to tell when your coffee filter needs to be re-done.

When you’re ladling boiling water into the melitta, you’ll notice the coffee grounds will start to change. At first they float and bubble as the water drips through, then they get saturated and things go along wonderfully.

But eventually the water will take longer to percolate through. You’ll notice the grounds will become almost solid, melted together. You’re getting close to having to start over, but the way to truly know is when the water takes on a glassy, calm lake look.  There may be a bubble that forms. This is a sure sign it’s time to start over. If you continue, you’ll be adding minimal content and almost clear, very weak coffee that takes an age to drip through.

The plusses to this method:  you’ll have a very good cup of coffee…that’s a huge plus.

The minuses: it takes awhile (the person in charge is tied to the job until it’s done), If you didn’t start the process before people have woken, you may have to fight them off until it’s ready. Plan to wake at least 20 minutes earlier than everyone else to allow enough time for a full pot.

I’ve been on lots of river trips and seen all kinds of coffee making methods but I believe for the best cup of coffee, this is the best method. It takes some time and effort, but it’s well worth it in the long run…besides, you’re on the river…what’s the rush?