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Edward Southerland: A guide to the wilderness Part 2
By Edward Southerland
Feb 24, 2017
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Having covered the subject of shelter from the elements last week, we continue our exploration of how to survive and prosper in the woods.

Part 2—Clothing: Daniel Boone simply laid down in the same greasy buckskins he had been wearing for six months, curled up around a gnarly tree root and caught a the ZZZs he needed. The root was more comfortable that the corn shuck mattress he had at home, and the greasy buckskins repelled all but the most intrepid pests. That was then, now is now.

Axiom 2: Greasy buckskins are not generally acceptable for the modern camper. While it is true that the outdoor experience allows one to wear one’s favorite shirt for three days running without censure, adherence to basic social hygiene is still preferred. Except for certain areas on the left coast where repulsive is considered chic, there is a difference between admiring the buffalo and smelling like one. Besides, not bathing is un-American; it is French.

Axiom 2a: To maintain an acceptable level of social hygiene (see above), a shower is required. The original wilderness lads bathed infrequently at best. This was despite the fact that, at least according to Hollywood, there always seemed to be a bevy of comely Native American maidens frolicking in any pristine mountain stream that was near at hand and were anxious to assist the lads in their ablutions. This lack of enthusiasm for the bath may be due to the temperature of woodsy brooks being just above the point of ice.

Axiom 2a(1): A hot shower being a basic right guaranteed by the Constitution, campers should seek out facilities with same and use them with regularity. Before committing to a campsite, check out the hot water. Hot water is available naturally only from geysers in Yellowstone Park, and a daily trek from where ever you are to Wyoming is not usually practical.

Part 3—Sleeping: Clean and happy, with a sturdy canopy between you and the elements, the hardy camper is now ready for a restful night’s sleep. Sleeping on the ground is for the birds, actually the bears. Pioneers were fond of cutting great numbers of fragrant balsam boughs and piling them up to form a springy bed. This practice led to the deforestation of the eastern half of North America hence it is no longer an option. As hauling around a Beauty Rest and box springs took up too much room in the pack, some demented soul invented the air mattress. Voila!

Axiom 3a: No matter how big a blowhard you are, you can not blow up an air mattress by puffing into the little valve. This is especially true when you have purchased the “Little Dandy Queen Size Triple Compartmented Floating On A Cloud” model. In fact, all three of the Three Tenors combined could not muster the lung power to blow up the “Little Dandy Queen Size Triple Compartmented Floating On A Cloud” model. Using a hand pump will take three weeks, minimum.

Corollary to Axiom 3a: No one should ever venture into the woods without an electric air pump. As we have already determined the basic need for electricity in the wild (See last week’s Axiom on electric fans.), this is a gimme. A good pump will not only blow up the bed, it will suck the air out of the bed when one is ready to try and put it back in the bag. As previously stated, putting anything back into the container whence it came is impossible, but we are wont to try anyway. It is part of man’s struggle against adversity, which, after all, is the essence of camping.

Axiom: 3b: Air is hard. Advertising types who write copy for air mattresses have never slept on one. Had they done so, phrases such as, “cushiony pillows of air,” would not be flung around with such impunity. Nevertheless, air is still softer than mother earth.

Axiom 3c: Some how, some way, some of the air you have so diligently forced into the mattress will escape during the night. As the air departs, one’s center of gravity is drawn to earth, which forces air toward the lighter head and feet resulting in the body bending into a V with the nose directly across from the knees. Lying on one’s side to avoid this effect can be achieved only by building some sort of out-rigger to prevent the body from rolling off the bed. While this can be done by attaching springy willow limbs to one’s torso, it proves a hindrance if rapid movement, such as running away from a bear, is required.

Corollary to Axiom 3c: The wilderness experience helps the camper better understand himself and his body. A couple of nights on an air mattress will make one more aware of the many tiny muscles in one’s body that one never knew could be that sore and stiff.

Part 4—Provender: When Dan'l B. got hungry, he gnawed on some pemmican (ground up nuts and berries mixed with barr grease) or shot something and ate it. Sustenance in the wild is part of every camping adventure. Little can compare with the aroma of a freshly killed forest creature skinned and gutted and roasting over a crackling campfire. The feeling accomplishment you feel from wresting vittles from the wilderness often will bring a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye. If it doesn’t, then the acrid smoke from fire probably will.

Axiom 4: Few things are more bracing than the tantalizing aroma of bacon and eggs sizzling away on one of those little environmentally friendly camp stoves fueled by some sort of petroleum by product. Gone are the days when a stack of buffalo chips, which would produce a roaring, albeit aromatic blaze or a pile tender could be easily gathered to grill the morning victuals.

Corollary 4a to Axiom 4: Not to worry; the source of the BTUs is less a problem than the volume of BTUs. There is no easy-to-read dial to regulate temperature in the woods, so when the egg hits the skillet, which despite its cherrie, rosy glow is actually the temperature of a Pittsburgh steel furnace, it doesn’t fry so much as incinerate leaving a less that tasty black ash in the vessel. So much for breakfast; while there is nothing the record to suggest Daniel Boone ate a lot peanut butter and white bread sandwiches on the trail, there is nothing to say he didn’t either, so chow down.

Axiom 4a: Lunch in the forest. As our hearty ancestors rarely had time to rustle up a full scale mid day repast, you can replicate this part of the day with a pocket full of Slim Jims.

Axiom 4b: After a hard day’s trek, it is comforting to look forward to fresh caught trout sizzling in the pan for the evening meal. However, a left over Blockbuster card will not satisfy a game warden nor will pleas of eminent starvation touch his heart. Fish sticks would have been a better choice, but they would have melted by the end of the day and returned to their indistinguishably molecular state so don’t go there.

Axiom 4c: Even if you have a license, and even if you catch a fish it likely will be a very small one of unknown species. Hungry as you are, sushi is not a pioneer thing.

Corollary to Axiom 4c: By this time, the tiny camp stove run on a petroleum derivative is sputtering and the heat out put is negligible. Not to worry, just dig into your pack for another bottle of fuel. In records analysis done by the Organization for Calculating all This Stuff located in the foothills outside of Ferm, Florida, it was determined that the odds of actually having a back up bottle of what ever you need a back up bottle of, is less that than spotting Elvis in a Wisconsin Dairy Queen.

Axiom 4d: Pioneers would have been a happier lot if the Oregon Trail had had takeout. As cooking over an open fire is prohibited almost everywhere save by urban outdoorsmen in city streets, the modern camper is advised to bring plenty of Snickers, HoHos, and Colonel Grundy’s Banana Flavored, Mixed Meat Jerky. It is that, or rise with the dawn and forage at the nearest Mickey Dee’s for an Egg McMuffin.

Happy camping.