'Heloise of the wilderness' is tipster for camping crowd
By Mike Steere
Universal Press Syndicate
The adventure world knows Carole Latimer as a sort of Julia Child. Her cookbook, "Wilderness Cuisine," which features such backpackable delights as Havasu Watercress Salmon and Thai Tom Yum Soup, made her a star among outdoorsy food-lovers.
But some of her best recipes are inedible. On the trail, she whips up civilized pleasures and conveniences from things that cost and weigh practically nothing.
"I feel like the Heloise of the wilderness," Latimer says. " I am always giving these nifty little tips."
Latimer has perfected her ingenious campcraft, along with her recipes, in 18 years as a wilderness trip leader. She owns Berkeley based Call of the Wild, which specializes in women-only backpacking trips.
The Latimer masterpiece is a solar-heated spa and washing-machine with a pack weight of only 4 ounces.
Basic per-camper requirement is two 45 -gallon, heavy-duty, black plastic garbage bags, which weigh about 2 ounces apiece. One is for washing, one for rinsing.
The procedure: Spread ground cloths or other puncture-proof material in spots that will get direct sun for at least four hours. Set garbage bags on the cloths. Haul water from a nearby source and dump about 6 gallons in each bag. A loose knot keeps the water in the bag.
While the sun heats the water, do something sweaty, the better to enjoy the bath, Latimer says.
She soaks and washes sitting cross-legged in the bag, which she pulls up to neck-level, and launders underwear and socks while she's washing and rinsing herself.
"It's hysterically funny to see a bunch of people doing this, but it feels heavenly," Latimer says.
Big garbage bags also function as plastic kitchen working surfaces and table cloths, emergency rain ponchos and covers for packs and firewood.
Latimer also gets multiple uses out of nylon window screen, fashioning, among other things, a combination dish drainer-and-kitchen cupboard from a large piece of screen.
Drainer/storage how-to: Fold a 3- or 4-foot square of screen double, so it makes a sort of horizontal envelope open at both ends, and pin it to a clothes line.
"I put everything for the kitchen except food in the screen, "Latimer says. "Everything dries fast, and you can see any little item you want."
A smaller piece of screen makes a lightweight mini-colander for draining pasta. Fold greens in the screen, twirl your arm and you've got a rudimentary but effective salad-spinner.
Latimer says that a small square of screen is the best pot-scrubber for the wilderness. It's lighter than scrubbers sold in stores, and it doesn't hold bits of food.
One of Latimer's favorite tricks is to take some warmth from the campfire or stove to bed.
Like many guides, she keeps a pot of hot water simmering after supper, encouraging clients to have warm drinks. When it's time to turn in, Latimer fills her water bottles from the pot and takes them to bed, using them to soothe achy joints and muscles.
When she awakes during the night, she drinks from her bed-warming water bottles, which have cooled.
Dinner, too, does double duty for Latimer. "For keeping away mosquitoes, I serve pesto," she says. "Garlic is a natural repellent."
She serves nutritional yeast, another natural bug repellent, on popcorn.
Latimer's substitute for pre-moistened towelettes: Carry a 2-ounce Nalgene bottle of witch hazel and cotton make-up remover pads.
Pads soaked in witch hazel are every bit as refreshing as the store bought item, but they're lighter and cheaper. They're also more environment-friendly because they don't come in foil packets.
Latimer, a militant environmentalist and low-impact camper, shuns items that include wasteful wrapping. She finds metal foil particularly irksome because it can't be consumed in campfires.
Her advice converges with other guides' common wisdom on two points:
Take a headlamp, instead of a flashlight, to have hands-free illumination.
Don't wear, or pack, blue jeans. "Anything cotton, like denim, is stupid in the wilderness, unless you're in the tropics, " Latimer says.
For backpackers, meals and comfortable sleeping should outweigh other considerations. Latimer says to be generous with food and bedding, but skimp on everything else, particularly extra clothing and toiletries.
Her one cosmetic self-indulgence is lipstick. Why? "Because I like it."
Nail-painting, before a wilderness trip, helps women foster an illusion of good grooming.
"When dirt gets under your fingernails, it doesn't show, "she says."You feel much cleaner than you otherwise would."
Latimer uses her tricks, but they work just as well for rafters, ski-to or any type of wilderness travelers.
Behind every bit of cleverness dreamed up by Latimer -- and every other guide's personal tricks - lies larger outdoor wisdom:
In the wilderness, an everyday pleasure-like a hot bath - becomes a luxury that improves the rest of the adventure. And the differences between enduring and real enjoyment are often simple, small and cheap, if not free.
"Sometimes I feel like a nerd, with all these teeny thins, " Latimer says, " But that's what being comfortable out there comes down to - all these little teeny things, to take care of yourself."