In the summer of 1998, my Boy Scout troop took a trip out west to do some real deep country backpacking in northern New Mexico. This would be particularly challenging for us Long Islanders: growing up on a flat suburban sandbar of glacial till next to the ocean does very little to prepare a body for real mountain hiking. As part of our effort at acclimation, our troop took the opportunity to visit Pikes Peak, just outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado. We hadn’t the time to hike up the immense mountain, but instead took a cable tram to the summit so as to more quickly acclimate to the air’s thinness. The cog rail- the world’s highest- was slow going, and we had all been told to drink plenty of water to avoid the negative effects of altitude sickness. I dutifully took swigs from my Nalgene bottle as we ascended. The sides of the cable tram were primarily windows on all sides, designed for total panoramic viewing of the sparsely treed terrain. But the view from the top was tremendous. From up there, you could see from the middle of Colorado into Nebraska. Even the curvature of the earth was noticeable. In every possible way, this was the antithesis of our flat, suburban, seaside home on Long Island. There was a motor cross racing event at the peak that day, which only enhanced the awesomeness of the adventure. I drank and refilled my water bottle four or five times that afternoon, which of course had the effect of making me pee every twenty minutes or so. When at last our troop was preparing to descend, I made doubly sure to hit the men’s room just before getting back on the cable tram.
With my bladder thoroughly voided, our troop and other passengers began the long descent down the mountain. For reasons probably associated with the force of gravity, the cable tram was extremely slow in making its way back to the base of the mountain- much slower than it moved on its ascent. A fellow troop member and I were sitting across from an older couple in their sixties or seventies, and talking about our plans to hike Philmont in the Cimarron. It wasn’t long before I had to pee again. C’mon body; why you gotta be like that? I held it in and made more small talk with the aging couple facing us. I did the usual things everybody does to stave off a bladder attack: I loosened my belt; I crossed my legs; I bounced my knees from time to time; I wiggled my toes; I threw a blanket over my lap and tried to hide the fact that I was wrestling with my crotch; I overreacted to anything funny. Time began to weigh on me, so bad was my need to urinate. Had I really drank that much to cause my bladder to explode? Who’s aging faster: me or the geriatric duo joking with us? Well, I’m dying right now. The conversation shifted to some beautiful waterfalls they had recently seen. Oh my gosh. Please stop. Must. Pee. So. Bad. Curse the epic slowness of this damn tram! It was intense. I was pretty sure the old couple was soon going to notice the whites of my eyes had turned yellow and secretly hoped one of them had a severe incontinence problem, because misery loves company. If just one of the geezers would be so kind as to gently crap their pants for me, I was going to sympathetically wet my pants to make us both feel better. Urea was fogging my brain, but at the time it made perfect sense. Then came my breaking point: I had to get off this snail train and solve my problem, otherwise there was going to be a puddle running downhill towards the front of the tram. I abruptly excused myself and rushed to driver at the front of the cabin. “Uh, hey dude- I need to pee.” The driver was startled and annoyed. “Can you hold it? We’ll be down in half an hour.” Can I hold it? Half an hour? Ha! I must have given him a serious look that screamed “I WILL PEE ON YOU RIGHT NOW” because without further hesitation he put the brakes on to let me out, which then alerted everyone on board that there was some kind of emergency.
As the cog rail came to slow stop, I realized there was no place for cover. There were only scattered trees here and there far from the track, and the tram’s glassy cabin provided ample viewing in all directions. In my rush, I simply had not the time to care about where I peed or who saw me. The only option for any modicum of privacy was to turn towards the front of the tram and whiz right on it. So long as I remained quite close to the tram, no one would see anything but the look of sweet, sweet relief sweeping over my face. It was quite a moment. The whole tram was making eye contact with me as I held them hostage at gun point. I took my time, which moved even slower than before now that a whole group of friends and strangers watched me tinkle. The schadenfreude of the whole event was only superseded by the sheer pleasure of releasing one’s inner tension- to untether one’s nethers- which canceled out any social embarrassment. I couldn’t care. You know the feeling; we’ve all been there at some point. I stepped back onto the tram to the sound of a slow clap which escalated to thunderous applause and cheers. I took a bow. I had left that tram a boy, and returned a man- if only in the sense that I was about to wet my shorts and had instead looked the world right in the eye and did what needed to be done. Yes, it was a Gaylord Focker type moment. Yes, I’m making a too big a deal of it. But I’ve been on a dry pants-streak since first grade, and it was the closest thing yet which nearly ruined my record.