Wild and Not Too Scenic

A Hermit in the Outhouse

By Carver Stellmon

I left Lewiston around four-thirty in the afternoon on Memorial Day 2010 after a weekend spent watching college baseball.  By nine at night, I was parked in Knife Edge Campground on the banks of the Lochsa River, rockin’ out to James Taylor in my sleeping bag. I ate half a sandwich, drank half my bottled water, and fell asleep. At around six the next morning, the water from the night before caught up to me.

As a kid, I would let fly in my diaper and roll over like nothing happened until my mom stopped buying the bedwetting prevention when she realized I was using it as a way to avoid the short walk across the hallway to the bathroom.

When I was much older, she once referred to me as her “durr” child, which she claimed was a slip of the tongue, an accidental mixture of words (perhap ‘”duh” and “er”), and she really wasn’t nominating me as the dumbest of her offspring. Nevertheless, my brother and sister-in-law laughed. On this Memorial Day weekend, I finally proved them right.

It had been raining all night, so to go outside on that early morning, I put on my boots and a T-shirt in case it was a little chilly. Typically, when I camped in my truck, I would open one of the rear passenger doors and wiggle my way out headfirst. But this time I thought it might be easier to pop open the rear gate of the SUV and slide out feet first.

I took care of my business and crawled back into my vehicle for an extra hour of sleep, but then realized it would be impossible to close the back hatch of the vehicle completely from the inside. Naturally, I hopped out and closed it. I got about halfway to the side door when my error came into focus.

“Is it possible I’m that stupid?” I asked out loud.

I gave a tug on the latch.

“Yep, I’m that stupid.”

After the swear words left my head, I pondered the situation.

The keys are in my pants pocket, which I can see through the car window. This is unfortunate, because when my pants are in the locked car, they are not on me.

A draft affirmed this observation.

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The Lochsa River. Carver Stellmon.
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Where the keys should be unless you're locked out. Pexels.
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Northern Idaho outhouse. Robert Ashworth.
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How to camp properly in northern Idaho. USFS.
NorthernIdahoCampground_USFS

 

I could call for help if my cell phone got service here, which it doesn’t, and anyway it’s in my pants pocket. This leaves me with two options: break a window or flag someone down and ask for help…in my underwear. Well. This could be awkward.

I saw myself in the reflection offered by the sheen of my rain-soaked vehicle: boots but no socks, undies but no pants, and a baseball T-shirt. I appeared to be primed for a two-dollar-Tuesday performance with Chippendales.

So this was what it feels like to be a creep.

The only other occupant at Knife Edge that morning was an old man traveling alone. Attached to his truck was a horse trailer he had converted into a sleeper unit.

I trudged over, using the tree line for cover, worried that unseen grandchildren might be in the truck. He spoke first, offering only, “Good morning.”

“Morning. Um, I’m in a bit of tight spot here. I locked myself out of my car.”

I wasn’t sure where to put my hands. At my side was no good. Thanks to a childhood surgery that had set my left elbow at a fixed angle, my left hand dangles in what might be called a perma-shield position. If I were to put my arms to the side, my right hand would appear innocently at my hip while my left would hang awkwardly in front, giving the illusion I was intentionally covering.

Then should I purposely cover? I worried that to cover while wearing one layer of clothing would look like a grab. Behind my back, then?  No, that would just draw attention to the waist. Finally, I rested the left hand on my hip and let the right hand hang by my side.

The elderly gentleman couldn’t help me directly, but he promised to send someone my way. He packed up his carpeted horse trailer and drove to the main road, leaving me alone and pantless. 

Of course, I didn’t mind having the campground to myself but it was cool outside, still drizzling, and I sought shelter. Really, the outhouse didn’t smell too bad. The overall effect was of peppermint cleaner.

With no clue if the horse trailer man would come through for me, the plan was to wait until the afternoon and then break a window in the vehicle. After about an hour-and-a-half shivering in the honey hut, I heard a truck pulling into the campground.

I emerged and peered through twigs and leaves like a tribal member scoping out the pilgrims. It was an Idaho State Police SUV. I made the long, awkward walk to the waiting trooper and this time, I spoke first.

“Good morning. Well, I guess I’ve had better mornings.”

He didn’t reply, and I held an argument in my head that went, The joke didn’t land, keep your mouth shut. But what am I supposed to do, standing here like this, not say anything?

I tried again. “I got locked out of my car. Unfortunately, my pants are locked in.”

“You got a spare key?” he asked.

He must know who he’s dealing with.

“Yep. It’s in the jockey box.”

He gave a little chuckle, which suggested that his defenses were wearing down. “Any identification on you?”

I wasn’t sure if he was required to ask that question or if I was dealing with a fellow durr child. “No, not on me,” I said.

He relented, and I made friends with Tom, the only officer assigned to patrol the Lochsa. I crawled into the back of his SUV. Someone from dispatch who contacted my sainted mother explained to her how dumb her kid was and, as usual, I waited for Mom to fix it.

Tom and I talked for about an hour in his rig before the call came through that a locksmith was forty-five minutes out. He asked if I needed him to stay and I said no and hopped out.

I was alone with no pants again, which was actually an upgrade compared to being pantless in a cop car, even though I wasn’t happy with the chilly mountain air that still meandered downriver from the Continental Divide.

The thermometer in the patrol car had read fifty-one degrees, which isn’t terribly cold, but it can be wearing when you’re not wearing. I walked around but got dirt in my shoes, so I did what my brother would do. I started to sing and dance to a Beyoncé song. “All the single ladies, all the single ladies, all the single ladies, all the single ladies. Now put your hands up. Whaoh oh oh…”

That kept me warm and entertained, until I got a little too aggressive with a stomp-and-look-over-the-shoulder move that tweaked my knee. I limped back to the honey hut.

The forty-five-minute wait for the locksmith turned out to be more than an hour, during which time I became increasingly anxious to get my clothes back on and get out of there. Twice I mistook the sound of an approaching minivan for that of the locksmith’s truck and ran out in my skivvies to greet unsuspecting families.

Both times when I realized my mistake, I retreated to the outhouse, recognizing that I couldn’t pretend to be picking wildflowers or something. I just hung my head, turned around, and went away, which no doubt created fun family memories of the half-naked hermit living in the outhouse on the Lochsa.

Eventually, I ventured outside to be closer to my car and was caught in the open by two kayaker bros as they floated by. I stood with hands on hips and we traded stares.

It was eleven o’clock when two locksmiths from Kooskia arrived. One of them tentatively asked, “Are you the guy locked out of his car?”

I assumed what he really wanted to ask was, “Are you the guy locked out of his car or just a perv creeping around campsites in his grape-smugglers?”

“Yes sir, I am,” I answered. “Did my underwear give it away?”

The Idaho County boys chuckled as they grabbed their tools from the truck. Thirty seconds and seventy-five dollars later, I was at last reunited with my pants. On the drive home, I reflected that my family’s durr child had given dubious new meaning to the Lochsa’s description as wild and scenic.

 

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Carver Stellmon

About Carver Stellmon

Carver Stellmon is an Idaho native who juggles life as a husband, father of three, and outdoor enthusiast. When he's not wrangling kids or watching baseball, you'll find him pretending to be a wilderness guru. Armed with a fly rod and hot dogs, he’s on a mission to prove that fishing is “a socially acceptable way to stand around doing nothing.”

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