Chapter X

A Chapter On Shoes

From "The Catskills" (1918)
By T. Morris Longstreth

There are a lot of people who might like to walk -- if they had ever tried it. Of all forms of getting about, walking is the most abjured. To anybody who has cycled or sailed or shot along in an automobile, there is nothing appealing in the prospect of going over the same ground at one tenth the speed for ten times as much exertion. Canal-boat or stage, horseback or observation-car, canoe or even ski, but never, never (so I said) should my standards of expedient be lowered to the dust of a walking trip. Five miles on a Sunday afternoon, or even ten up some remote mountain if need be; but as for interminable distances by foot for extravagant lengths of time -might I be tied to a rocking-chair first. And then the shameful thing occurred.

"What 's the use o' leggin' it?"

That was Brute's query on the notable day on which he gave up his Ford and took to the trail. I have only one answer, yet. I may find more as the reformation progresses, but the "use o' leggin' it" is the ability to take the short and preferred cut. A region traversable by gasoline, a mountain ascendable by electricity, or a country visitable by steam shall not abrade my boots. There are still mountains, however, up which one cannot be carried either in Pullmans or palanquins, still regions where the only roads are a foot wide and paved with pine-needles. Most curious of all, there are still vast countrysides, of which the Catskills is but one, where a wilderness alternates with villages to make a walker's holiday.

The secret of travel on good roads is a good car. The secret of the wilderness is the walker's, and his alone. Life cannot be read about. Neither can the woods. The delights of the woods are discussable only after they have been experienced. They must be experienced personally; nor is the least flavor of them to be got vicariously, any more than one can grow religious by hearsay. Walking is as personal a matter as growing up, and I no more propose to dilate upon my delight in walking (in the pathless woods) than I should propose to communicate my exact pleasure in the trout and bacon at the end of the trail.

The fact that I have been converted to walking (where riding is impossible), and that Brute now sees the use in leg-in' it (where there are no other legs available) remains. And at the risk of exposing our low standards of equipment, we both think it is highly proper to outline the, for us, cardinal virtues of pedestrian outfit as applied to Catskill contingencies.

First as to the sins: There are two prime sins of the road: ambition and new shoes. Of the two the latter is the worse. Let it be with you a moral adage never to start out with untried shoes. Something is sure to happen. It is sure to. There is not even a sporting chance that it will not. It will occur probably not before the fiftieth mile, perhaps not until the hundred and fiftieth. Then it does. A heel blisters, a sole-nail works through, a tendon succumbs to an unaccustomed last. There are a good many steps to a mile, a good many miles to a successful day; and if each step is taxed even .001 per cent of pleasure, it is but a matter of distance until pleasure is bankrupt.

The reality is worse than that. At the second twinge the entire usury of torture is foreseen. Content flies at the first unholy intimation that there is something wrong. Imagination paints an endless series of such twinges. Not only the day at hand is instantly ruined, but imagination leaps the night, ruins the next day, sicklies the whole trip with its pale forecast of thought. And all because of one little ouch. And that because of a new shoe. As you revere serenity, do not yield to the allurements of new leather. Nor of low shoes.

Nor of high, heavy boots. The army, which may advance upon its stomach, nevertheless has given much thought to its footwear, and a broken-in pair of army shoes is the best insurance of sheer comfort, uncontaminated with foreboding. Also it is not necessary to carry another pair. They will be wet? Then stuff paper inside them for the night to hold the shape. It is better to put them on damp than bone-dry. Socks will do the rest.

Socks, neither, should be new. By socks I do not mean that sort of hosiery worn in cities. Traffic with nothing but the stout socks sold to lumberjacks which you have laid in for occasion when you were passing through Bangor or Quebec or back-woods villages in the Adirondacks. They will wade you through water and see you up mountains without resort to needle and thread. They will guard you against chill or chafe. A pair for feet and a pair for or your pack are enough. On a cold night put the dry pair on. They will be your best friend, and the only thing a man has the strength and nerve to put on wet and continue happy. Properly socked and shoed, your trip's success is half assured. The next hold on comfort is taken when you confine the loose ends of your trousers in something, better sock than shoe, but into something golf-wise, riding-wise, or woodjack-wise. If they flap they tear and collect the mud. Wet they weigh and look worse than if you had cut off the cuffs and fixed them debonairly down. It adds ten per cent to the length of a day.

A flannel shirt is the only thing ever invented that is more comfortable than bed. By day, by night, sometimes by day and night, it does its duty in a transcendental way. There is nothing that you can demand of it which it will not perform. Is it a cold night? It keeps you warm. Is it a hot day? It is less clammy than linen. Has the rain been raining for a week? It maintains your bodily heat so that that week shall not be your last. In every emergency the shirt on your back is right there. It, unlike the matches, the food, the rain-coat, the fire on the hearth, has not been left at home. It is the open sesame to a logger's cabin, where any other costume would cause distrust. It will be tolerated in the hostelry of fashion near the woods, be you but washed and sunburned. It also can be washed -- though seldom is. No black fly can pierce it, no irritable thornbush is likely to tear it. It is cheap, and lasts forever. But I see you smile; you have three already. For a top dressing on our winter trip we wore mackinaws, a close rival of the flannel shirt in versatility and satisfaction. A sweater under something might do, but a mackinaw is better, looks neater, and has pockets. In summer it is too heavy. The lightest kind of rain-coat carried in the knapsack is worth while then for the transient shower.

My English knapsack, with its drawing-string instead of buckles, its outside pockets, and its bulldog durability, was large enough to take the extra underwear, socks, pajamas, toilet things, Red Cross stuff, a little sewing kit, camera films, maps, compass, note-books, raisins, and chocolate. With the summer rain-coat it weighed twelve pounds. On top I could have added a blanket, a fry-pan, plate, knife and spoon, a little corn meal, bacon, tea, and sugar, thus becoming independent for short cross-country divagations.

But I have never been able to regard myself as a pack-animal; at least, in the Catskills. There is a very great distinction between a walking trip and the camping trip where you walk. In the latter, staged preferably in the Adirondacks, one wears a pack-basket, roams over a district completely unpeopled, endeavors to lay the foundation of the cuisine with trout. One walks because there don't happen to be canoe routes where one wants to go. The walking is incidental to the fishing, the mountaineering, the fun of keeping house without a house. One carries a tent, blanket, food, and utensils gladly because the delights of the trip are worth the price of conveyance. You could n't go unless you went that way. While, on the other hand, a walking trip is a light-hearted, almost empty-handed, nearly unplanned affair.

In the Catskills there are too many charming people to drop in upon to warrant the Adirondack style. If Brute and I had evaded farm-houses for our night's stops, we should also have missed three of the most interesting groups of people it has been my luck to know. Our country is so broad, so varied in opportunity, so different are the methods of travel that the peculiarities of each section demand, that by the time you have fitted each method to its locality you have tried every kind. Even if there are several ways of seeing the Yellowstone, the Maine woods, the Catskills, there is one way that best brings out the genius of the place, the one and only way that commandeers its utmost resources.

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