A couple of years ago, I’d never uttered the words “thunder bucket,” but now, here I am, saying I wish we’d had the shower equivalent of a thunder bucket.
A thunder bucket is a portable toilet; we don’t own one, but every time we go shopping for camping equipment, my 11-year-old son reminisces about the time he used one on an overnight trip during summer camp.
It was just as thrilling for him to poop in a plastic tub as it was to celebrate Christmas in Mexico.
I’m new to camping. From the time I was in Grade 2 until my late teens, I spent summers at my family’s cottage in Ontario where we had luxuries like a microwave, hot showers and a VCR.
(We owned only a few movies though: I probably hold the world record for most views of the Bette Midler 1986 comedy Ruthless People.)
Last summer, my son and husband got it in their heads that we should go camping as a family. We went to a camping supply store and bought key supplies like a tent, bear spray and coffee percolator and booked a two-night stay at Tunnel Mountain Village I campground in Banff National Park., just a little more than an hour’s drive from our home in Calgary.
There are 2,467 sites at 14 campgrounds in Banff National Park available during peak season. Summer camping starts in early May with all campgrounds open mid to late June.
Sites fill quickly when the online reservation system opens, but we found a two-night midweek hole.
We biked around the area, watched an evening performance about campground visits versus backcountry adventures at the campground’s outdoor theatre, the Raven’s Nest, and roasted marshmallows late at night.
My son’s favourite memory is making cheese pie-irons over the fire for lunch.
(But, seriously: Does anyone know how to make a sandwich in these things without the buttered bread sticking to the cast iron? I’ve now watched How To Season Your Pie Iron more times on YouTube than I’ve watched Ruthless People.)
This summer, we planned almost the exact three-day vacation, except we were at a different Banff campground – Two Jack Main.
The site was beautiful; towering trees shaded the campground and made each lot quite private.
After setting up the tent (OK, after my husband set up the tent), my son trotted off to the building we thought housed the toilets and showers – let me stress this: and showers.
“No showers this year!” he shouted.
They must be in another building, right?
I grabbed the brochure we were given at the campground.
“This campground offers a more secluded and authentic camping experience … this rustic, no-service campground has scenic sites available for tents or RVs up to 22 feet.”
“No service” means no showers.
In a regular week, I could curmudgeonly survive three days without a shower.
When you’re camping, you’re a stink lasagna layered with thick and potent smells: Bug spray, mosquito bite itch-stick, smoke from the breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night marshmallow fires, bike-ride sweat and spilled ketchup (pie irons win again!)
Our trip was just as much fun as last summer: We played Gin Rummy at the picnic table, made pie-iron ham-and-cheese sandwiches and biked around the campground, where we found a beautiful lookout at site No. 36.
Definitely try to book No. 36 if you’re ever at Two Jack Main – and bring a bucket and a sponge.
I call it the thundershower bucket.
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