What goes in, must come back out: a lesson in Leave No Trace

Kangerlussuaq (gang-er-loose-sue-arc)

Well that's a mouthful. That's the Greenlandic city into which I flew in 2017 to go kayaking to see the wildlife.

My guide, a Dane named Jens-Pavier, had advised that we had to pack lightly. He also warned me of one key factor of this trip: no potty breaks during kayaking, except for lunch.



I leak like a sieve. There was no option but one: adult diapers.

Well, come prepared. So I crammed four of them into my pack, which meant that I had to leave behind my own kayaking gear, sized to fit a 118-lb woman.

By the time we got to the site, which was a grueling one-day cross-country hike from Kangerlussuaq, it was night. I had little time to put up my tent, as the next day we were off early.

Jens had a stash of gear, of which none fit. I had a splash jacket and pants sized for an NFL defensive lineman, which meant that the neck and cuffs were impossible to close. There was no way to tighten the waist, which we scrunched together as best we could, leaving great gaps.

Thus attired, with a nice, dry Depends cushioning my butt, I set off in my kayak with the group.

With one minor detail. Jens handed me a Greenlandic paddle, which is a beautifully-carved piece of slim wood. It took me a while to figure it out, but as with all noobs, there was one small detail I couldn't stop:

Cold water ran straight down my arms and splashed down the back of my neck, right into my nice, dry Depends.

By the time I realized what was happening, we were way too far from base camp. I concentrated on my boat and the musk oxen, getting photographs, and keeping a straight face.

Julia Hubbel

By nine a.m. my breakfast coffee was ready to make its expected departure from my person, but my diapers were already soaking wet from the lakes.

You can only hold on for so long.

I could feel the warm pee puddle in my kayaking boots.

By lunchtime my Depends were full, and so were my boots. When we stopped at the assigned safe lunch spot, there was no point in trying to find a place to pee. It was all in my butt and boots.

By the end of the day I was SpongeBob Wetpants. Piss in Boots. When we returned to the campground I sloshed behind a big rock outcropping to wipe down, change clothes and squeeze the Depends as best I could. I rinsed out the gear to dry overnight.

Photo by Zachary Kadolph / Unsplash

Two days of this, leaving me with a seriously heavy stack of wet Depends.

Greenland doesn't do garbage pickup in the far outback. So I crammed my dirty Depends into a black plastic bag to pack out first thing in the morning.

When Jens got us ready to hike back to Kangerlussuaq, he picked up a few extra bags from our tents as a courtesy. He also grabbed one of mine. In the rush of preparation I didn't even notice.

I wouldn't know until much later that he'd picked up my bag containing the dirty diapers.

It was July. It was hot. The bag was black. You do the math.

Every so often I'd get a downwind whiff but figured, that's why they call them musk oxen.

I was oblivious.

By day's end, exhausted and desperate for rest and dinner, we arrived at the airport hotel. There, Jens left us for his apartment.

Everyone else checked in.

I couldn't.

Jens had forgotten to set up a reservation for me, so it took the front desk person an hour to track him down, bring him back and sign me in.

Dead on my feet, I limped to my room, where I opened my backpack.

Suddenly I realized that Jens had my dirty diaper bag, which he would likely be opening up on his kitchen table to see if he could locate some identification.

Holy crap.

I jerked my boots back on and hurtled to the front desk, where of course nobody was minding the phones. I had to scrape the facility to find someone to get me a cab to Jens' house.

In fact the moment I arrived, my dirty diaper bag was indeed perched on the kitchen table. Jens was moments away from revealing my stinky stash.

I was two seconds away from terrible embarrassment...but actually not.

I wasn't saved by the bell. I was saved by the smell.

Jens-Pavier's wife is Inuit. She was cooking whale blubber, the intense odor of which hit me like a two-fisted hammer the moment he opened the door.

Honestly I'm not sure what was worse: dead fish or dirty diapers.

I sucked in some outside air, said thanks and smiled at them both, snatched my bag and ran for my cab, my dignity at least partially intact.

The moral of the story is of course, you can depend on Depends, but can you be depended upon to pack them back out?

Jens-Pavier with my black diaper bag on his pack. Julia Hubbel

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