Scientific Wanderlust

THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB

WHEN sportsmen became infected to a slight degree by our love of specialization, and men who played tennis hesitated to row, and baseball fans sniffed at cricket, there was no need to grow alarmed. We called it ‘scientific sportsmanship’ and let it go at that. For these were affairs in which the public looked on and could be expected to take an interest in technique itself. But when intellectualism invaded the non-spectacular sports, sports performed for the joy of the performance, it was time to protest. In the showy game of baseball, it is well to perfect a manner of pitching and batting. Nobody decries, nay, everyone praises the ultimate curve, the bunt fin-de-siècle; but is it not a little too much to insist upon the only proper tent, the right paddle, the best frying-pan? Alas, that utility has smirched the joys of camping; but even in camping there is ground for technique. Let it go the way of tennis and piano-playing.

The one sport, however, which I will not allow the hand of the specialist to corrupt is tramping. My protests may be ineffective, but at least they will be sturdy. Tramping, as all lovers of the English essay know, is a solitary adventure. It admits of no spectators; it is not a show, it is a rite. It is a rite in honor of the real inner man, carried out by his heart of hearts. It is a rite which bestows the waters of forgetfulness upon the tired business man and the bored scholar. And yet this rite has been defamed by commentators and its ritual amended by the uninitiate.

Take Sas an example. Sconverted me to tramping, and I thank him for it. Previous to my entrance into grace, my voyages were confined to my chamber. But gratitude need not obscure clear vision. I thank S-, but I denounce him. For from our earliest ten-mile trips, his conversation has been of that anticipatory sort which sucks all the meat out of a vacation before the vacation is had. We always knew when we were to start, at what point we were to meet, how much water and Erbswurst and chocolate we were to carry, and how much alcohol our flasks were to hold. We knew just how much weight our blanket-rolls would sustain, and spent precious minutes distributing that weight evenly. We knew who was to carry the axe and who the canteen. We even knew just where the extra tentpins were and how many the tramper ought to have. There was no trail which was unaccounted for and consequently no trail was a surprise. We knew where every spring was located together with the best camping sites. In fact, if maps were in three dimensions and naturally colored, our pencils would have been as good as our legs, and we could have truly enjoyed one of those 4 vacations at home,’ by the planning of which authors earn enough to go away.

I protested time and again to S-, but to no avail. He had read Kephart, adored the memory of Messmuk with him. So that when I pleaded for khaki, he coldly informed me that khaki afforded no protective coloration, whereas homespun was ideal. When I offered a bottle of canary sack, he spurned it for a tiny vial of bad brandy. I went down on my knees to him for a pocket edition of Evan Harrington; I wanted something sophisticated. He firmly told me that the A.M.C. guide weighed three ounces less. I argued that I was willing to lug the extra three. I was informed that I might drop dead and then he’d have them. Could I be selfish? I begged that I might have a silver knife, fork, and spoon, or at least plated ones. I had some old ones, why not take them along? The butcherish taste of steel gave me nausea. As a final coup I adduced Kephart’s china cup without a handle, which the high priest confessed to as a unique transgression against professional style. Did that embarrass S-? He merely replied that we should have an opportunity to rectify Kephart’s mistakes; that silver was effete, heavy, superfluous; that we should each have an aluminum spoon and fork and use our pocket knives to cut with.

I think I must have fainted at this point. The thought of constantly reaching out for things which looked heavier than they were, was too much for my nerves.

Still, I bore it for ten or twelve years. S-’s tyranny waxed with experience. Whereas time taught me the uselessness of plans, equipment, and style, it confirmed him in his adoration of them. He steadily read more and more authorities. He became one himself. He wrote for outing journals, descanted before sportsmen on the proprieties of the open road. The amount of ceremony he devised was appalling. He entered into debates with prominent Germans upon the superiority of the blanket-roll over the rücksack. He wrote a volume on tramping in which he ridiculed me for preferring 4gym’ shoes to elk-soled hob-nailed boots, — I who had worn myself sore with his wretched hobs. He abandoned ten friends because they said in public that they used Alpenstocks. As soon as spring began, his maps were unrolled and he was off, describing ‘unfrequented routes for pedestrians,’ 4 the Maine woods on foot,’ etc. Folk gravely asked his advice on a thousand petty matters, and he dispensed it with the liberality of an allopath. And I, I who had shared the perils of those twelve years, — I took the place of a hero’s wife!

Finally I saw what was the matter. Hence these words. Let them be a warning to readers of stylistic tendencies. I saw that Swas formalizing something whose charm was its amorphousness. I saw that the technique of tramping was of far more interest to him than tramping itself. He said there was a right and a wrong way to everything. I answered that the right way was usually the wrong way and that I should follow that. I saw my crime in having listened to him so long. I saw that I too had defiled the Holy of Holies, had sacrificed to false gods. I took my rücksacks, boots, blanket-rolls, homespun knickers, canvas leggings, aluminum utensils, dried soups, waterproof match-safe, poncho, army blanket, together with the rest of that family of parvenues, and packed them all off to S-, saying that he could do with them as he would, for I would have no more of them.

I then put on a battered straw hat, a tennis shirt (not flannel), lisle socks, (not wool). I cut a good stout switch to beat up the dust with. I slung a knapsack over one shoulder — not on top of my shoulder blades; and put a thick Oxford Book in it — not the India paper edition; some white — not bandanna — handkerchiefs; some parlor — not safety — matches. I saw that being a true sportsman consisted in denying every dictate of common sense, and determined not to be a true sportsman. I decided that I’d sleep out when I pleased and in when I pleased; cook when I pleased and buy my meals when I pleased; do nothing by rule, everything according to fancy. In short, in the immortal words of Whitman, ‘I tucked my trouserlegs into my boots and went off and had a good time.’

Whenever I came to a bad road, I turned in; whenever I saw a trail officially marked, I avoided it. I bought supplies at no recommended shop; I ate no chocolate, no Erbswurst. I got soaked in the rain, I caught cold, I often made as little as five miles a day. I hooked rides, I utterly disregarded all the morality of the professional tramper. I used up my fixed sum of money within a week; I sent home for more. And I kept up my extravagance purposely. I landed in a seaport in rags and gave out my last five dollars for a berth on a cattleship. I was broke in Liverpool, arrested in Leeds, stranded in London. I marched in the protestant parade of the unemployed from Tower Hill down to Blackfriars. I slept on the Embankment. I dined at the Savoy in evening clothes and sold them the next day. I was almost drowned in the Channel and like Swinburne was rescued by a short-story writer.

And that very summer Swas helping a little group of serious mountain-climbers shorten the trail up Chocorua.

This, then, is my protest against the intellectualization of tramping. I call upon all who value their better selves to support me in it. Note, we shall form no society, with neatly listed members and tidy rules. Rather shall our feeling of spiritual brotherhood bind us together in one glorious company. We shall know each other by our common avoidance of such words as ‘hike,’ ‘the open road,’ ‘the lure of the trail,’ ‘vagabondia.’ In this way can we preserve the one enjoyment left to true individuals, and prevent the incrustation of our fluid spirits.