How to Rough It
“ LIFE has few things better than this,” said Dr. Johnson, on feeling himself settled in a coach, and rolling along the road. We cannot agree with the great man. Times have changed since the Doctor and Mr. Boswell travelled for pleasure; and we much prefer an expedition to Moosehead, or a tramp in the Adirondack, to being boxed up in a four-wheeled ark and made “ comfortable,” according to the Doctor’s idea of felicity.
Francis Galton, Explorer, and Secretary to the Royal Geographical Society, we thank you sincerely for teaching us how to travel ! Few persons know the important secrets of how to walk, how to run, how to ride, how to cook, how to defend, how to ford rivers, how to make rafts, how to fish, how to hunt, in short, how to do the essential things that every traveller, soldier, sportsman, emigrant, and missionary should be conversant with. The world is full of deserts, prairies, bushes, jungles, swamps, rivers, and oceans. How to “ get round ” the dangers of the land and the sea in the best possible way, how to shift and contrive so as to come out all right, are secrets well worth knowing, and Mr. Galton has found the key. In this brief article we shall frequently avail ourselves of the information he imparts, confident that in these war-days his wise directions are better than fine gold to a man who is obliged to rough it over the world, no matter where his feet may wander, his horse may travel, or his boat may sail.
Wherewithal shall a man be clothed ? We begin at the beginning with flannel always. Experience has taught us that flannel next the skin is indispensable for health to a traveller, and the sickand dead-lists always include largely the names of those who neglect this material. Cotton stands Number Two on the list, and linen nowhere. Only last summer jolly Tom Bowers got his quietus for the season by getting hot and wet and cold in one of his splendid Paris linen shirts, and now he wears calico ones whenever he wishes to “appear proper” at Nahant or Newport.
“ The hotter the ground the thicker your socks,” was the advice of an old traveller who once went a thirty-days’ tramp at our side through the Alp country in summer. "We have seen many a city bumpkin start for a White-Mountain walk in the thinnest of cotton foot-coverings, but we never knew one to try them a second time.
Stout shoes are preferable to boots always, and a wise traveller never omits to grease well his leather before and during his journey. Don't forget to put a pair of old slippers into your knapsack. After a hard day’s toil, they are like magic, under foot. Let us remind the traveller whose feet are tender at starting that a capital remedy for blistered feet is to rub them at night with spirits mixed with tallow dropped from a candle. An old friend of ours thought it a good plan to soap the inside of the stocking before setting out, and we have seen him break a raw egg into his shoes before putting them on, saying it softened the leather and made him “ all right ” for the day.
Touching coat, waistcoat, and trousers, there can be but one choice. Coarse tweed does the best business on a small capital. Cheap and strong, we have always found it the most “ paying ” article in our travelling-wardrobe. Avoid that tailor-hem so common at the bottom of your pantaloons which retains water and does no good to anybody. Waistcoats would be counted as superfluous, were it not for the convenience of the pockets they carry. Take along an old dressing-gown, if you want solid comfort in camp or elsewhere after sunset.
Gordon Camming recommends a wideawake hat, and he is good authority on that head. A man “ clothed in his right mind ” is a noble object; but six persons out of every ten who start on a journey wear the wrong apparel. The writer of these pages has seen four individuals at once standing up to their middles in a trout-stream, all adorned with black silk tiles, newly imported from the Rue St. Honoré. It was a sight to make Daniel Boone and Izaak Walton smile in their celestial abodes.
A light water-proof outside-coat and a thick pea-jacket are a proper span for a roving trip. Don’t forget that a couple of good blankets also go a long way toward a traveller’s paradise.
We will not presume that an immortal being at this stage of the nineteenth century would make the mistake, when he had occasion to tuck up his shirt-sleeves, of turning them outwards, so that every five minutes they would be tumbling down with a crash of anathemas from the wearer. The supposition that any sane son of Adam would tuck up his sleeves inside out involves a suspicion, to say the least, that his wits had been overrated by doting relatives.
“ Grease and dirt are the savage’s wearing-apparel,” says the Swedish proverb. No comment is necessary in speaking with a Christian on this point, for cold water is one of civilization’s closest allies. Avoid the bath, and the genius of disease and crime stalks in. “ Cleanliness is next to godliness,” remember.
In packing your knapsack, keep in mind that sixteen or twenty pounds are weight enough, till, by practice, you can get pluck and energy into your back to increase that amount.
Roughing it has various meanings, and the phrase is oftentimes ludicrously mistaken by many individuals. A friend with whom we once travelled thought he was roughing it daily for the space of three weeks, because he was obliged to lunch on cold chicken and un-iced Champagne, and when it rained he was forced to seek shelter inside very inelegant hotels on the road. To rough it, in the best sense of that term, is to lie down every night with the ground for a mattress, a bundle of fagots for a pillow, and the stars for a coverlet. To sleep in a tent is semi-luxury, and tainted with too much effeminacy to suit the ardor of a firstrate “ Rough.” Parkyns, Taylor, Cumming, Fremont, and Kane have told us how much superior are two trunks of trees, rolled together for a bed, under the open sky, to that soft heating apparatus called a bed in the best chamber. Every man to his taste, — of course, but there come occasions in life when a man must look about him and arrange for himself, somehow. The traveller who has never slept in the woods has missed an enjoyable sensation. A clump of trees makes a fine leafy post-bedstead, and to awake in the morning amid a grove of sheltering nodding oaks is lung-inspiring. It was the good thought of a wanderer to say, “ The forest is the poor man’s jacket.” Napoleon had a high opinion of the bivouac style of life, and on the score of health gave it the preference over tentsleeping. Free circulation is a great blessing, albeit we think its eulogy rather strongly expressed by the Walden-Pondist, when he says, “ I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. I would rather ride on earth in an ox-cart with a free circulation, than go to heaven in the fancy car of an excursion-train, and breathe a malaria all the way.” The only objection to out-door slumber is dampness; but it is easy to protect one’s self in wet weather from the unhealthy ground by boughs or India-rubber blankets.
One of the great precautions requisite for a tramp is to provide against thirst. Want of water overtakes the traveller sometimes in the most annoying manner, and it is well to know how to fight off the dry fiend. Sir James Alexander cautions all who rough it to drink well before starting in the morning, and drink nothing all day till the halt,—and to keep the lips shut as much as possible. Another good authority recommends a pebble or leaf to be held in the mouth. Habit, however, does much in this case as in every other, and we have known a man, who had been accustomed at home to drink at every meal four tumblers of water, by force of will bring his necessity down to a pint of liquid per day, during a long tramp through the forest. One of the many excellent things which Plutarch tells of Socrates is this noteworthy incident of his power of abstinence. He says, whenever Socrates returned from any exercise, though he might be extremely dry, he refrained nevertheless from drinking till he had thrown away the first bucket of water he had drawn, that he might exercise himself to patience, and accustom his appetite to wait the leisure of reason.
From water to fire is a natural transition. How to get a blaze just when you want it puzzles the will sometimes hugely. Every traveller should provide himself with a good handy steel, proper flint, and unfailing tinder, because lucifers are liable to many accidents. Pliny recommended the wood of mulberry, baylaurel, and ivy, as good material to be rubbed together in order to procure a fire; but Pliny is behind the times, and must not be trusted to make rules for General McLellan’s boys. Of course no one would omit to take lucifers on a tramp; but steel, flint, and tinder are three warm friends that in an emergency will always come up to the strike.
To find firewood is a knack, and it ought to be well cultivated. Don’t despise bits of dry moss, fine grass, and slips of bark, if you come across them. Twenty fires are failures in the open air for one that succeeds, unless the operator knows his business. A novice will use matches, wood, wind, time, and violent language enough to burn down a city, and never get any satisfaction out of all the expenditure ; while a knowing hand will, out of the stump of an old, half-rotten tree, bring you such magnificent, permanent heat, that your heart and your tea-kettle will sing together for joy over it. In making a fire, depend upon it, there is something more than luck, — there is always talent in it. We once saw Charles Lever (Harry Lorrequer’s father) build up a towering blaze in a woody nook out of just nothing but what he scraped up from the ground, and his rare ability. You remember Mr. Opie the painter’s answer to a student who asked him what he mixed his colors with. “ Brains, Sir,” was the artist’s prompt, gruff, and right reply. It takes brains to make a fire in a rainy night out in the woods; but it can be done, — if you only know how to begin. We have seen a hearth made of logs on a deep snow sending out a cheerful glow, while the rain dripped and froze all about the merry party assembled.
A traveller ought to be a good swimmer. There are plenty of watery crossings to be got over, and often there are no means at hand but what Nature has provided in legs and arms. But one of the easiest things in the world to make is a raft. Inflatable India-rubber boats also are now used in every climate, and a full-sized one weighs only forty pounds. General Fremont and Dr. Livingstone have tested their excellent qualities, and commend them as capable of standing a wonderful amount of wear and tear. But a boat can be made out of almost anything, if one have the skill to put it together. A party of sailors whose boat had been stolen put out to sea and were eighteen hours afloat in a crazy craft made out of a large basket woven with boughs such as they could pick up, and covered with their canvas tent, the inside being plastered with clay to keep out as much of the water as possible.
In fording streams, it is well, if the water be deep and swift, to carry heavy stones in the hands, in order to resist being borne away by the current. Fords should not be deeper than three feet for men, or four feet for horses.
Among the small conveniences, a good strong pocket-knife, a small “ hard chisel,” and a file should not be forgotten. A great deal of real work can be done with very few tools. One of Colt’s rifles is a companion which should be specially cared for, and a water-proof cover should always be taken to protect the lock during showers. There is one rule among hunters which ought always to be remembered, namely,—“ Look at the gun, but never let the gun look at you, or at your companions.” Travellers are always more or less exposed to the careless handling of fire-arms, and numerous accidents occur by carrying the piece with the cock down on the nipple. Three-fourths of all the gun accidents are owing to this cause ; for a blow on the back of the cock is almost sure to explode the cap, while a gun at half-cock is comparatively safe.
Don’t carry too many eatables on your expeditions. Dr. Kane says his party learned to modify and reduce their travelling-gear, and found that in direct proportion to its simplicity and to their apparent privation of articles of supposed necessity were their actual comfort and practical efficiency. Step by step, as long as their Arctic service continued, they went on reducing their sledgingoutfit, until they at last came to the Esquimaux ultimatum of simplicity, — raw meat and a fur bag. Salt and pepper are needful condiments. Nearly all the rest are out of place on a roughing expedition. Among the most portable kinds of solid food are pemmican, jerked meat, wheat flour, barley, peas, cheese, and biscuit. Salt meat is a disappointing dish, and apt to be sadly uncertain. Somebody once said that water had tasted of sinners ever since the flood, and salted meat sometimes has a taint full as vivid. Twenty-eight ounces of real nutriment per diem for a man in rough work as a traveller will be all that he requires; if he perform severe tramping, thirty ounces.
The French say, C'est la soupe qui fait le soldat, and we have always found on a tramping expedition nothing so liferestoring after fatigue and hunger as the portable soup now so easily obtained at places where prepared food is put up for travellers’ uses. Spirituous liquors are no help in roughing it. On the contrary, they invite sunstroke, and various other unpleasant visitors incident to the life of a traveller. Habitual brandy-drinkers give out sooner than cold-water men, and we have seen fainting red noses by the score succumb to the weather, when boys addicted to water would crow like chanticleer through a long storm of sleet and snow on the freezing Alps.
It is not well to lose your way; but in case this unpleasant luck befall yon, set systematically to work to find it. Throw terror to the idiots who always flutter and flounder, and so go wrong inevitably. Galton the Plucky says, — and he has as much cool wisdom to impart as a traveller needs, — when you make the unlively discovery that you are lost, ask yourself the three following questions:—
1. What is the least distance that I can with certainty specify, within which the path, the river, the sea-shore, etc., that I wish to regain, lies ?
2. What is the direction, in a vague, general way, in which the path or river runs, or the sea-coast tends ?
3. When I last left the path, etc., did I turn to the left or to the right ?
As regards the first, calculate deliberately how long you have been riding or walking, and at what pace, since you left your party ; subtract for stoppages and well-recollected zigzags ; allow a mile and a half per hour as the pace when you have been loitering on foot, and three and a half when you have been walking fast. Occasional running makes an almost inappreciable difference. A man is always much nearer the lost path than he is inclined to fear.
As regards the second, if you recollect the third, and also know the course of the path within eight points of the compass, (or one-fourth of the whole horizon,) it is a great gain ; or even if you know your direction within twelve points, or one-third of the whole horizon, that knowledge is worth something. Don’t hurry, if you get bewildered. Stop and think. Then arrange matters, and you are safe. When Napoleon was once caught in a fog, while riding with his staff across a shallow arm of the Gulf of Suez, he thought, as usual. His way was utterly lost, and going forward he found himself in deeper water. So he ordered his staff to ride from him in radiating lines in all directions, and such of them as should find shallow water to shout out. If Napoleon had been alone on that occasion, he would have set his five wits to the task of finding the right way, and he would have found it.
Finally, cheerfulness in large doses is the best medicine one can take along in his out-door tramps. We once had the good-luck to hear old Christopher North try his lungs in the open air in Scotland. Such laughter and such hill-shaking merry-heartedness we may never listen to again among the Lochs, but the lesson of the hour (how it rained that black night!) is stamped for life upon our remembrance. “ Clap your back against the cliff,” he shouted, “ and never mind the deluge!” Rest, glorious Christopher, under the turf you trod with such a gallant bearing ! Few mortals knew how to rough it like you!