When all else fails, camp in a vault toilet!
(Or, bike travel’s more ridiculous moments)

When I travel by bike, one of my favorite things is being able to find amazing places to camp. Without a car, I’m pretty darn maneuverable and can finagle myself into some fairly remote and beautiful places, without anyone ever knowing I’m there.

Colorado River camping(on the Colorado River in Utah)

Swift Reservoir camping(overlooking Swift Reservoir in Washington)

Emigrant Lake camping(Emigrant Lake, near Ashland, OR)

McKenzie River camping(sequestered on the McKenzie River, Oregon)

California Coast camping(somewhere on the California coast)

Fremont River camping(tentless on the Fremont River, Utah) (for bonus points, see if you can find my bike in that picture:)

Lake Tahoe camping(Lake Tahoe, California)

Aside from the progression of tents represented in those pictures, my favorite thing about them is that none of those pictures is taken in an established campground (though at Emigrant Lake I was close to one). In none of those places did I overhear RV generators kicking in at night or unruly pets barking away at nothing. Not that I’m a total recluse, but stealth camping–feeling like I’m the only person in a super beautiful place, being able to strip down and skinny dip in the river without worrying I’ll be arrested, waking up to the sound of running water or birds and absolutely nothing mechanical–is one of my favorite things, ever.

And then sometimes, it all falls apart and I end up sleeping somewhere a little less glorious. Somewhere like this:

sleeping in a vault toilet

That’s right. That is my bike and my sleeping bag tucked away all cozy-like next to a vault toilet, the only place I could think to sleep one night near Canyonlands National Park.

Sure, I had my tent with me, but the wind was so batshit crazy and the landscape so exposed that even if I could have set it up I didn’t think it would survive the night without getting ripped to shreds in the gusts. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem–I’d just sleep out tentless, cinched tight into my sleeping bag, but aside from the wind, the sky was crazy ominous dark, threatening torrents of who knows what. When I saw it, a vault toilet, with its four wind-stopping walls and rain-stopping roof, sounded pretty darn good.

Monitor and Merrimac buttes(those skies did not bode well for me)

So in the vault toilet I slept. I locked myself in, put down my ground cover, blew up my sleeping pad, bungeed the locked door tightly so it would stop its violent banging in the wind, and snuggled tight against the cold that still found its way through the vents. It was a shitty (ha!) night’s sleep, but not because of the toilet. It’s just that even in a building, it was so darn cold I could never get comfortable, even in my puffy down jacket in my puffy down bag. The next morning when I’d had enough and finally decided to get out of bed, crazy early before the sun rose, I saw the snow all around me and was very glad to have been in a bathroom all night. At least there I stayed dry. And I’m sure I was way warmer than I would have been.

And, yknow, when I woke up in the middle of the night and had to pee, well, there you go.

Glorious? No. But a good reminder that bike camping is not always breathtaking scenery and astounding vistas and peaceful, riverside campsites. Despite all the gushing I do on this blog, it’s not always sunny skies and postcard experiences. Sometimes, when it comes right down to it, a toilet is the best option. It’s certainly not the most photogenic one, and definitely not the one you’d later brag to your coworkers about when they ask you about your vacation–but it all adds to the adventure.

I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll sleep somewhere ridiculous, though I do hope it’s the last time I sleep in a toilet.


  1. Discovered this site not long ago and I thoroughly enjoy the stories, pictures and perspective. I’m a cyclist, runner, hiker and have recently ( thanks to my son) renewed my interest in rock climbing. Thanks for these inspiring trip reports thoughtfully written and the great photos! One of my favorite pics was your vault toilet cozy condo. Many years ago My wife and I and friends did a bike tour on our tandem’s in the Cascade’s. One evening we ended up in the large restroom at Diamond lake waiting out a severe storm. We were able to sleep outside but hung all our wet clothing overnight in the restroom to dry overnight. All good and part of the touring by bike thing. Cheers!

    • Aw, thanks for taking the time to say something! (And welcome to the excitement of carfreerambles, heh;) Your comment was especially fun because it reminded me of this long-ago blog post and the even longer-ago actual experience. Awww Utah bike touring:)

      I think I might know that large restroom at Diamond Lake, actually, which I’ve also been tempted by. ha! Amazing what seem like good places to stay (and how resourceful one gets about drying things) when the weather turns especially unpleasant!

      If you ever find yourself cycling around Portland OR, let me know — we’ve got space to dry things that’s waaaay more inviting than a restroom! :)

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