No Sleep till Brooklyn (and an update on the composting toilet)!

Hello from Bryan’s parent’s front yard in New Hampshire and happy June! We just arrived a week ago and will be spending a good chunk of the month here. As for our plans: there has already been a family camping trip, some day trips on the agenda, Merlin and Smarty projects to be done, and simply happy to have some down time and visit with family and friends. May was one busy and crazy month for us and included driving Merlin on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, staying in Shenandoah National Park, visiting Gettysburg, and driving to and camping in Brooklyn, NY! In addition, we got to visit more family (Bob, Mikey, Kelly, Kevin, Conner, and Dez), meet up with old friends (John, Erin, Kate, Gregg), and make new friends (including: Gil, Adam, Paul, Erin, Sabine, Peter, Sweet D, Sara, Lemhi, Hobbs, and Mike).

May in Merlin

Blue Ridge Parkway / staying at Peaks of Otter:

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Skyline Drive / Shenandoah NP / staying at Loft Mountain:

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This is what our campground looked like for 2.5 days – ugh.
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Blurry pic, but this was the laundry room at the camp store in Shenandoah. Met several AT hikers here. The cold, rainy, cloudy, days were perfect for catching up on laundry and we were able to drink beers too.
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Beautiful sunset when the fog moved on.

Areas in and around Chambersburg and Gettysburg, PA / stayed at Cracker Barrel, Adams County Winery, Hauser Winery, & Walmart 

Gettysburg snake
Just happened across this snake on our way back to the Gettysburg Visitor Center – he had to be 5 feet long – eeeek!

Hershey, PA / stayed at The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey:

Pottstown, PA / stayed with Boondocking Welcome hosts:

Clinton, NJ / stayed at Spruce Run Recreation Area / visited family and friends in Philadelphia and New Hope

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Merlin chilling in Jersey.

New York City, NY / stayed at Floyd Bennett Field NP / visited friends, did a ferry ride, Coney Island, Financial District, WTC memorial, Battery Park, Central Park, West Village, Upper East Side, and Times Square (for a total of 2 minutes and it was 2 minutes too many)

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Driving on a bridge into NYC at 3:30am in the rain!
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1st stop – chili dogs!
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None of us were big fans of Times Square – yuckville. Just a big, crowded commercial – bleck!

Danbury, Connecticut / stayed with Boondocking Welcome hosts / visited a friend, went to a Bridgeport Bluefish baseball game

As some of you might recall, we installed a composting toilet in Merlin back in January. For a better understanding of a composting toilet, check this out: http://www.gonewiththewynns.com/composting-toilet We bought our unit back last summer and fully intended on having it installed before we started this crazy adventure. However, because we had SO many projects to get done, we simply ran out of time, energy, patience, you name it and never got to it prior to departure.

We have now been living with and using this compositing toilet for exactly 5 months and thought we’d share our experience. We really like it! And NO it doesn’t smell. It really doesn’t, I promise. Most people would assume that dealing with the solids (#2) would be the worst part, but it’s actually the liquids (#1) that are the most unpleasant aspect of it all. There’s never really any odor coming from the toilet when in use, but when it comes time to dump the pee/liquids containers – that’s when you have to smell the funk. We have two liquid containers. It takes 1-2 days to fill one of these, depending on how often we’re using our toilet in Merlin. You obviously NEVER want the liquids container to overflow, so we have to keep an eye on things and swap them out once it’s close to becoming full. Typically we’re staying at a campground that at the very least has a porta-potty, so we’re almost always able to dump our liquids containers where we camp. Sometimes, though, we’re off-grid or staying at a non-traditional camping spot (e.g., a parking lot, a host’s house, a winery) and we have to get creative on where we can dump our pee. So far, we’ve used bathrooms at gas stations and public parks – it hasn’t been an issue.

Now onto the solids! Every 3-4 weeks we fill the toilet with fresh composting medium. There are a few options, but we use coco coir (https://www.amazon.com/Natures-Footprint-Coir-Block-5kg/dp/B004W8D4N6). We bought a big dried block of the stuff in January and will use the last of it the next time we put in fresh – so one block has lasted close to 6 months. It’s $23 for the whole block and has worked out to about $4 a month for the medium. This comes dried, so to prepare it for the toilet I mix it with water to get it to a slightly moist, soil like consistency. When it comes time to dump the used medium (every 3-4 weeks), we move the entire toilet outside (just requires two nuts), take off the top portion that contains the toilet seat, and dump the contents into a plastic storage bin. Again, this is when you’d expect it to be gross and smelly, but that has not been the case. While we do wipe down the exterior of the toilet and clean the toilet seat portion, we don’t clean the inside where the medium and solids hang out as you don’t want to disrupt the natural flora, etc. that is facilitating the breaking down of the waste. We then put in the fresh medium, reassemble the toilet, return the whole unit to the bathroom, and proceed as usual. I have timed this process and it takes roughly 30 minutes from start to finish.

Most folks take the used medium/solids and throw it away immediately. We didn’t want to do it this way because depending on the last time you used the toilet, this could mean that you would be dumping pretty fresh solids and that just didn’t seem right to us. So we have 2 plastic storage containers. We dump our used medium in one of these and allow it to stay in there for at least a month to complete the composting/breaking down. Once it’s reached a month or so, we dump it in a composting bag and then toss it in the trash. In theory, we could dump this soil around a tree in the woods somewhere because by this time it’s pretty much dirt. But there are various laws and restrictions depending on where you are, so we have not done this as of yet.

Yes, having a composting toilet puts you more up close and personal with your “dirty” business. And I admit, this may not be for everyone. But having used a regular RV toilet and dealing with the black tank and associated dumping for over 5 months, I definitely prefer the compositing toilet. Plus, the freedom that we get by having the compositing toilet is essential for the style of camping we’re doing. We do not need to waste one single drop of our fresh water for our toilet or waste. Our black tank now serves as a back-up grey tank – essentially doubling our grey water capacity. We now can use every bit of our fresh water (for cooking, cleaning, and showers) and have a place for it all to go. So far we have been able to go about 2 weeks off grid and this has been without too much effort. I know if we were more careful with usage, we could go longer. Having this toilet has saved us time and money! We don’t have to pay for dumps as often as before, we can boondock as often as we’d like, we can avoid more expensive campgrounds/campsites, we only need to dump every 2 weeks, etc. Plus environmentally, this is a bit better. When we dump a single liquids container, that’s 1-2 days of pee for two people. If we’re dumping this in a toilet, it’s just one flush opposed to the 20+ flushes it would have been with a regular toilet and so much wasted water. Unfortunately, because we’re on the road – we are not able to fully see through the composting part of our solids. But I do like that when we dispose of our composting medium, the solids have fully broken down, are in a composting bag, and are essentially dirt.

If anyone is interested in videos, more information, or whatever else about our composting toilet experience – just let us know.

And as always, let’s check in with Gemma and Schnabbies (we are celebrating these gals’ Foundiversary June 14th – 4 years!!!):

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