Indoor Plumbing Can Be Overcome. Just Ask Lewis and Clark.


Oh, the painful irony.

I’m sitting here, one hundred yards from the raging North Fork of the Flathead River, listening to a summer rain shower rattle the metal roof like a snare drum. Here inside the cabin I can’t even scare up enough running water to rinse my toothbrush.

Of course, that’s the point of this whole exercise, coming to the cabin. If you’re reading this on the Make It Missoula website, there’s a good chance that you’ve spent some time in a Forest Service or BLM cabin. And among those people, it’s even money that you’ve stayed at Ben Rover cabin in Polebridge.

Just 35 bone-rattling dirt road miles north of Columbia Falls, Ben Rover is a massively popular four-bedroom refuge halfway between the Polebridge Mercantile (ice, beer, gourmet cookies) and the Bowman Lake entrance to Glacier Park (moose, bears, glaciers). Judging from some of the entries in the guest book, people from all over the world rent this cabin for a week at a time, year after year. And some of them are real dicks. More on that later.

We joined a couple of friends and their young daughter for a long weekend recently, and it was a great, timely getaway. I just wish it was easier to wash my hands.

By nature, a cabin in the woods occupies this huge void between tent camping and staying in a motel. The available amenities vary widely. But these Forest Service/BLM jobs do share a boilerplate list of creature comforts: wood stoves, pit toilets, propane lights/cookstoves/heat, and skeevy mattresses with a shadowy history of action that would make a flophouse rack at Motel 6 look like a church confessional. What can you do? Some people get freaky when they get in the woods.

The cabins also come stocked with a motley assortment of pots and pans, dishware and mismatched utensils. The bigger, more heavily-trafficked cabins like Ben Rover also have a kitchen sink. But there’s no running water. Having a great big kitchen sink with no faucet is like dating a mermaid. Eventually the lack of plumbing is going to cause someone some disappointment.

Speaker Wire copes with the smell by writing songs.

Blues song by Speaker Wire: “Here’s another can of Sprite for your daughter / I checked the sink inside but there ain’t no water.”

Yes, Ben Rover has big well pumps just a few steps from the kitchen door, making it very convenient to fill your ungainly five-gallon collapsible containers with icy earth water. If you’ve ever had to do it, you know this task is physically impossible for one person to perform. And this routine will be repeated several times a day at the cabin because there is almost nothing worth doing that doesn’t require some water. Cooking. Washing. Making a nice whiskey-ditch.

Hot and cold running water is right at the top of my list of taken-for-granted modern conveniences, just ahead of perforated toilet paper. No shower? No big deal. Everyone can stand their own stench for at least a couple days.

And if one of your cabin-mates develops an unbearably repugnant aroma, there’s always a quick dunk in the river. Hell, even Lewis and Clark had to occasionally administer a sudsy baptism when one of the Corpsmen of Discovery began to stink up the man camp with adventure funk. (Journal entry from August 4, 1804: “Corporal Wadsworth has not baythed in a fortnight and was emmiting an odor remenesent of the anal glands of a diseased draught horse. So the men threw him into the marsh with a bar of lye sope.”)

Even a flush toilet doesn’t make that much of a difference when you’re roughing it, cabin-style. I kind of like the privacy and isolation provided by the pit toilet outhouse. I don’t mind a little time for self-reflection when I’m adding my, um, two cents to a future archeological dig (“Look, professor! A jalapeño stem!”). But oh, how I’d love to have a hot water sink after doing hand-to-butt combat with a wad of Forest Service no-ply toilet paper.

Evidently I’m not the only cabin dweller who feels particularly challenged by the lack of running water inside. Upon their arrival at Ben Rover, our friends were greeted with a food-splattered stovetop, filthy dishes stacked in the cupboards, and a drawer full of silverware caked with chunks of chow. The thoughtless morons who’d occupied the cabin the week before also left a half-full mop bucket, a coffee pot with coffee and grounds still in it shoved into a cabinet, and a huge puddle of congealed goo of unknown origin covering one of the counters. Nice.

Were these chuckleheads truly crippled by the absence of indoor plumbing? Did they crumble under the pressure even though thousands before them had managed to clean up after themselves? Other than their entry in the guest book complaining about the smell inside the outhouse, we have no idea.

Hey, I’m soft enough to grumble and grouse because I can’t rinse off an apple with a simple twist of a faucet, but I sure as hell don’t leave a disgusting mess for the next crew.

The lack of running water at Ben Rover is a pain in the ass, but I realized that you have to make that a part of the adventure. You have to suck it up, learn to adapt. You have to try to make a negative into a positive. At least that’s what I tried to explain to my friends when they caught me naked in the marsh with a bar of Irish Spring.


Wanna laugh ’til your sides hurt? These ought to do the trick: Parenting Sucks. And I Love It., For Writing Inspiration, Head to Missoula’s Bark Park, and The Guitar That Saved My Soul.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Bob Wire will eat your braaaaaaains.

Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.