Friday, January 1, 2021

Showering With Truckers

We set ourselves some goals for our most recent week long road trip and one was to buy a shower in a  truck stop. We did our due diligence and watched YouTube videos and read up online about the experience and decided we two fresh not so young middle class recreational drivers could muscle in on the public showers offered at truck stops, so we did.  Like any new experience you feel rather stupid for not knowing the ropes but the clerk was kindness itself as she took our public shower virginity.
Florida Roads
It seems all truck stop showers work the same way, more or less. Designed for road travelers and not reserved exclusively for commercial drivers you are welcome to park your car and walk in with some money and get in line. I wish I had known this decades ago as driving while feeling scruffy really diminishes the pleasure. We decided to go in the middle of the day, at 11:30 am as you can see below, to avoid waiting. My wife had read that you can shower together so we paid $14 for both of us which made the shower seem almost free. She has yet to start investigating the truck stop apps that accumulate points and loyalty rewards and so can imagine!
The cubicle has a toilet (porta potty users please note if you want private dumping) and per the reviews on Google maps, the facility was spotless. We carry extra wash bags in the van (an idea from YouTube my wife says) so if we stay in a friend's place or a hotel we can carry our wash stuff with us easily without disturbing our wash things in daily use, stored in the van's shower compartment.
Expect the shower cost to include towels and soap and shampoo so even if you are on a  car trip and not organized you can walk in and take a shower with no fuss. It is pretty amazing and well worth $10-$25 for a single driver especially if you saved time and money by snoozing in your car. No time limits here and very hot water. Obviously details and prices will vary but you get the idea.
I grew up in English boarding schools so communal showering was part of my childhood. And I know modern Americans tend to be  so germ-phobic the idea of this kind of showering is a freak show so I'm not here to change anyone's mind. For us we decided having the heat humidity and plumbing for rent away from the van on a  cold autumnal day is ideal. Lots of people think they want to shower in their vans and some road warriors do just that. We decided to reserve the ability to do that with a separate shower stall but with no plumbing we have to use our solar shower in the space which has a porta potty and a floor drain but no built in shower, no water heater and thus no plumbing to break. On pleasant days off the beaten track we hang a sheet across the open back doors and create our own shower stall with the same solar shower warmed with a couple of kettles of hot water. We learned the value of simple showers while traveling by sailboat. In the tropics lay the solar shower in the sun and it will quickly get scalding hot.
The pursuit of simplicity is why I wanted a porta potty. When you have a plumbed toilet you have to dump it at a proper dumps site in a campground or park and naturally pay for the privilege. I spotted a roadside sign to this free dump site courtesy of the State of Wisconsin last summer and it was the work of a moment to dump our five gallon tank. However the porta potty is versatile in that it can be dumped anywhere and I carry the tank in a  discreet shopping bag into vault toilets at trailheads or rest areas or wherever necessary. The downside is you have to be able to handle the job and for some reason it has never bothered me so pouring out and cleaning up is no problem. We use a separate trash can for toilet paper (a hold over from our boating days to avoid clogs) and I make absolutely double certain the toilet is as clean as I found it, if not cleaner after I dump. I am not a fan of foul toilets as much as I don't mind pouring out my own. And if the government says don't drink the water better you don't defy this particular government imposition!
My goal traveling by van is to have a minimal footprint ecologically and socially and I'd rather not make myself obvious by being an asshole to put it simply.  Walmart used to allow overnight parking until the imbeciles took advantage and instead of parking they camped and dumped trash and so forth and now free overnight parking at Walmart is becoming a rarity. I'm not excited by the idea of free parking in a  parking lot at a business so its no skin off my nose but my wife and I are not necessarily drawn to parking in company anyway. We arrive late, park, sleep and leave before anyone notices us or more to the point gets annoyed by us. It's easy to stop later and carry out the life functions in a place designed for them, a gas station or a park to give Rusty his morning walk after the world has come awake and stepping out of a vehicle is a normal activity.

I understand these considerations are a little weird in a  world regulated for the benefit of commerce and commuting and daily habits formed over the decades by people used to living in a  fixed abode. I mention them here for those curious but also as a warning for people who think living a mobile life is a trend worth jumping on. Layne and I are old and we have been travelers together and independently all our lives. If you meet her ask how she and a friend spent a night on a Norwegian freighter docked in Barcelona when she was young and impressionable and wandering Europe on her youthful own. Call her na├»ve or fearless but she has no concerns about boondocking or parking alone on the streets. However my word of caution is to burn no bridges if the idea of Instagram van life has a certain appeal. We allowed ourselves two years to get used to it and discover if we really wanted to go back to boat living instead. To have moved out of a house into a  van just like that would have imposed intolerable stress on us. Even now we look back at our first extended trip to Michigan and see many ways we could have done that better. Next time...we say to ourselves with our eyes on a Maine trip next (vaccinated?!) summer.
We left the shower feeling suitably refreshed, and I took a quick picture of the car collection that was inevitably mentioned in reviews of the shower stop. Truck stop showers, solar shower inside or outside the van, and body wipes in between. Good enough for you? Probably not and no blame there. Well, now you know and be glad when you flush the toilet it all just goes away to the great big porta potty in the sky. Happy New Year!
The reward is the open road.