Flushed with embarrassment

I feel I need to apologise to people who were (admittedly until now) unaware of my scorn.

I need to apologise to North American users of portaloos. Porta pottys. Shitboxes. Cabinets of doom. Portable toilets. Plastic shitters.

You see, I would read on Reddit and Facebook and other forms of expression the abject horror people would feel when they were faced with using a portaloo. I thought: “Yeah, they can get a bit stinky, particularly at race startlines with all the nervous shitters, but jesus! It’s just for a few minutes!”

I just didn’t understand the general revulsion until the other week when we were cycling round Stanley Park in Vancouver and stopped at a small park playspace. The park authorities were renovating the public washrooms there, and had put in a bank of hired portaloos. Until then, I didn’t know that North American portaloos aren’t like Australian portaloos. They aren’t the same design.

My Australian friends, North American portaloos DON’T HAVE A BOWL.

Seriously. It’s just a wide mouthed toilet seat and lid, atop a large plastic box with a big hole, filled with blue liquid. (And floating used toilet paper, bobbing like jellyfish). At least with the classic Australian long drop bush toilets there’s a good metre or so between your arse and the pile of poo, but here, there’s not even that. Maybe 15 centimetres, max, between you and a small lake of blue liquid.

That this was not a one off was semi-confirmed last week when we were in Seattle (maybe it’s a Pacific Northwest thing, but still, two different countries). We were heading into an exhibit, and they had a bank of portaloos set up outside. I needed to go, and was a bit curious as to whether my horrific discovery was an aberration, but no – a big old hole again.

The portaloos back home have a seat, a bowl and a flap at the bottom of the bowl connected to a foot operated pump that allows you to blue water flush your waste away into the plastic box, leaving the bowl, if not semi-pristine, at least not completely loaded up with the aftermath of the human digestive system. There is also a small sink with running water (attached to a smaller, foot operated pump) and usually some spray soap in a dispenser so you can wash your hands.

It wasn’t until this trip that I realised that Australian portaloos are relatively civilised.

Australian portaloos give you the ability to pretend that if you were to accidentally drop something into the bowl – a mobile phone, or an energy gel packet – that it would be salvageable. I mean we all know that if anyone actually dropped their iPhone X into a portaloo toilet bowl that they’d immediately be calculating how they feel about disposing of A$1000, but you still get that choice! In North America you don’t get that choice: one poorly angled pocket emptying moment and it’s goodbye device.

So please consider this an apology to my North American brethren; your revulsion is completely understandable.

Versus

Jeremy had wanted to do Perth Trail Series Eagle and Child for a fair few years, so this year we signed up – him to do Eagle and Child, the half marathon, with me doing Eaglet and Bub, the 10km option.

It was fun – I got a nice wide descent after the hill for me, and Jez running with Emma completing the half marathon in just under 3 hours. When Jez got his medal, Melina (the Race Director of PTS) showed him how the medal for Eagle and Child would connect up with the other two medals for the runs in the Winter Series; Jolly Jumbuck and Truth or Consequences making a circular shield. Jez was sold, he was signing up for the other two races.

Which brings me to this morning, and Jolly Jumbuck at Bells Rapids. I’m not stupid, I went the 13km short course option again.

People talk about trail running, and how much fun it is, and they’re not wrong, but I’ve got to wonder if people whom have never run trail before understand quite how different it is to road running.

On road, the only obstacle you have is the occasional stick, fallen gumnut, wandering stray pet or child. That’s about it. You might have a hill, and it might be an absolute corker, but that’s it, it’s bitumen or concrete. On trail, you have umpteen obstacles, but you also have terrain. Today I clambered up a hill in countless other people’s footsteps, through slick, slippery mud clay and great lumps of granite. The bonus was because I chose the short course option I didn’t have to climb it twice.

We went to Feral Brewery afterwards, where one of Jez’s mates, Jimmy, had reserved a table. We all had a bit of a race debrief over lunch, and Six Inch came up in the conversation.

Jimmy has done three trail races; a section of the Margaret River Ultra, Eagle and Child half and the Jolly Jumbuck short course. He said that we were all mad, doing Six Inch, but I firmly believe that even though Six Inch is 47km long, when you’re running it, I swear it feels easier than a short course Perth Trail Series race.

Six Inch is almost all wide fire trails, and where it is singletrack it’s generally not technical, it’s just beautifully runnable. Perth Trail Series are often technical singletrack, and steep, occasionally muddy hills. The elevation for Six Inch is around 1000m, whereas the elevation for the 13 kilometres I ran today was 445m. The ratios of elevation and distance are completely different.

Today’s run was in the bush around Bells Rapids, which is somewhere Jez had never been before, and if I have, I’ve no recollection. We started from the State Equestrian Centre, down the Orlov Trail to the bridge over Bells Rapids, and into the hills above. Around the four kilometre mark you headed left and up, up, up.

With thanks to Smashrun Pro for the elevation part of this graph.

The first few kilometres were runnable, with a queue and a four minute wait for your turn to navigate a scramble over and around a granite outcrop, but it was beautiful. Because I could trip on cloud, I don’t trust myself to run and look up far ahead on trail, I run along looking at the ground three to four metres ahead of me, for the inevitable rock that I’ll trip on, or – in a fun change today – where everyone’s studded footprints suddenly blur and become lines, indicating that the trail has become mud clay and very skiddy. Every time I wanted to see my surroundings I’d stop to look, and a few times I wasted between a good thirty seconds and a maybe more than a couple of minutes taking photos.

That fourth kilometre has at least two minutes where I stood chatting with The Vicar who was marshalling that spot, directing everyone up the most ridiculous hill; twisty singletrack, skiddy mud and steep. Like Snakes and Ladders’ Three Steps, you occasionally you had to grab the rocks along the laughable path in order to haul your way up.

I’m a much happier descender when I’ve got wide trail and options – let me bomb down a hill picking my way down. I’m still not as fast as others, but that’s where I have courage. If it’s technical singletrack I’m not nearly as good, and today at points I had to hike down. There were some bits today where I think if I were mountain biking I’d have been a tiny bit more confident descending, solely because I’d be wearing a helmet.

The last three kilometres were the reverse of the first three, and because I’d now seen Bells Rapids I didn’t feel the need to stop in wonder every three steps I finally made it a decent pace; that said, the amount of rain we’ve seen has made the whitewater very foamy, and I think this year’s Avon Descent race will be a cracker.

The next race is Truth and Consequences. It’s a 50km two lap ultra, a 25km single lap half and a 10km out and back. I’m of two minds – it’s on the Saturday of the Perth Half Marathon weekend, so there’s no earthly way I’d be able to do a PB at Perth Half after having done the Partial Truth 10km, but the thought of doing all three PTS Winter Series makes me so tempted to ditch the Perth Half and do Truth instead.

Perth Trail Series races are testing, but that sense of accomplishment is fairly addictive. And as Claire Bradstreet posted on her Instagram about today’s race “Lost for words and a little traumatised, but alive”.