The Rugged Life: The Modern Guide to Self-Reliance
The Rugged Life is for everyone who feels they can use more adventure, freedom, and choice in their lives and who’s ready to get out of their comfort zone and try new hard things.
Taking on the Rugged Life means actually thinking with purpose about how you want to live and what you want for your family. And then being curious, confident, and committed enough to take on the skills and know-how to handle whatever is thrown at you.
In my 100 Deadly Skills books, I explored the first minutes, hours, and days of a crisis. And how to maintain a baseline of being alive—still breathing, having most of your blood still in your body, with no other threats in sight. Now in The Rugged Life I’m moving beyond survival to how to thrive over the long term, for months, years, even a lifetime, by being self-reliant. And that starts with learning how to be a modern homesteader.
If that conjures up visions of log cabins, covered wagons, and bonnets, don’t worry; that’s definitely not what we’re talking about. Modern homesteading takes that same level of pioneer spirit and brings it forward to the needs and expectations of today. No bonnets necessary, and plenty of variability in how far you choose to go with it.
At its most basic level, homesteading is farming, but instead of raising and growing things to sell, you’re doing all that work to feed yourself and your family. It’s about doing as much for yourself as you can (or as you choose to), with the intention of living life more simply and with more self-sufficiency. That can mean that you never go to the grocery store, period, or it can mean that you go once a month for dry goods. You get to choose.
Now, I have to tell you, I’m incorporating many of the ideas in this book into my own life, but homesteading is not something they taught at BUD/S (that’s a Navy SEALs joke). But I do know from my years in the military that with the right guidance you can learn to do anything. So for the past year I’ve been traveling the country seeking out experts in self-sufficient living and homesteading.
Everyone I spoke to was kind enough to share their why and their how. And each interestingly had their own individual specialty. Some were focused on producing their own power, knowing that if they’re off-grid, they are more in control and less reliant on power companies. Some figure, “If I can just get enough eggs for my breakfast, that’s all I need,” while others grow their own hay to feed their livestock.
From the Trayers, who cut and milled their own wood to build their house (which runs on only 300 watts harvested from the sun); to the Rapiers, who have six kids—and one more on the way—helping out with raising their sheep, goats, chickens, quail, and horse; to the Norrises, who can preserve enough of the food they grow themselves to feed themselves for a year, these folks know what they’re doing, and they learned it by doing it.
Deciding What You Are Ready For
In The Rugged Life you get to choose to step back a little or a lot. Whether you decide to move your family off-grid to the middle of God-Knows-Where or you’re gathering the salad for your dinner from your windowsill garden in a city, it’s up to you. That’s the Rugged Life. It can be whatever you want to make of it—because you are in charge of your own choices and your own level of commitment. You can live the Rugged Life while farming your own food and using the waste from your toilet for compost or you can live the Rugged Life while keeping a chicken coop in your backyard and watching Netflix with your dog. You can homestead in a suburb or in the middle of your twenty-acre sanctuary. It’s all on the same spectrum.
But whether you’re on- or off-grid, you want to be able to support yourself, and I don’t necessarily mean financially. Being truly self-reliant means that you are able to be anything you need yourself to be. Be Your Own Farmer. Be Your Own Handyman. Be Your Own First Responder. Be Your Own _____.
True off-the-grid living takes incredible commitment to spend every hour of every day in service of subsistence. Even if that’s for you, it might not be for everyone else in your household. So before we go further, take a moment to ponder the following questions from the off-the-gridders profiled in the book to see what level of the Rugged Life is right for you (and for your family).
The Top 10 Are You Sure About This?
1. Do you have the right mind-set? Things are going to go wrong, and when they do, you have to know what to do. Are you the sort of person who will work the problem, or will you give up?
2. Do you like the people you’ll be living with? Sure, you probably love them, but we’re talking every day, all day, just you and them. If they’re not enough for you and you need outside contact, consider how off-grid you want to go. Seriously, if your family drives you crazy, make sure you’ve got friends and neighbors around.
3. Do you like research? ’Cause you’re going to be doing a lot of it. You will make mistakes, but you’ll make fewer of them if you study up on how to do it right the first time.
4. Do you like traveling and taking vacation? Because if you have livestock, you won’t really get to leave home.
5. Do you have a strong stomach? Slaughtering is one thing, but consider having to deal with the carcass of your dead livestock.
6. Do you commit? If you’re the sort of person who signs up for a 30-day diet or exercise program and gives up after a week, this may not be the life for you.
7. Do you have the money? If you’re in this to live more cheaply, you’re always going to be able to get cheaper eggs at the store. Equipment, feed, land, it all adds up. Your eggs are going to be more healthful and way more delicious, but they are going to cost more.
8. Do you have time? In order to afford all of this, you’ll likely still have a day job, at least at the beginning. What does your job allow you to be able to do in the remaining hours of the day?
9. Do you like hard work? When you’ve got the flu, you’ve still got to feed the chickens and milk the goats.
10. Do you have a Why? Everybody has to have one, something to get them to keep at it when the crops fail or the sheep gets bloat or the barn collapses in a tornado. What is the Why that will keep you going?
Three Basic Skills
Don’t worry if you are not ready for full off-the-grid living. Not many are. There is still plenty you can and should learn, though, from the principles of modern homesteading, which relies on three skills that apply to whatever level you are ready for:
– Knowing How to Build
– Knowing How to Farm
– Knowing How to Hunt
You could maybe skip out on the hunting if you’re raising livestock, but honestly, it’s a good thing to know how to do just in case. What if all your rabbits get sick and die?
Now, do you have to be an expert in all three of those things? Absolutely not. It helps, sure, but there’s a whole lot of learning as you go in homesteading. There’re also a lot of experimentation and creativity—both of which come from making mistakes and then learning from them.
You’ve got to just get out there and do it. You can fail once, twice, even three times, but after that, you not only know how to do something, you know why it works for you, and therefore when it comes to doing the next thing—like building a house after you’ve successfully built a shed, or raising a sheep after you’ve successfully raised chickens—you’ll know that much more about how to get it right the first time. All the information given here is meant to help you make fewer mistakes, but none of it is a substitute for paying attention to your surroundings and using common sense. You need to figure out what works best for you.
At the outset, living the Rugged Life doesn’t require a specific set of skills so much as it requires a specific mind-set: you have to decide to be the kind of person who keeps trying and keeps improvising. What works for someone else may not work for you, and you have to be open to failing your way into figuring out what does work for you. I’m going to give you many suggestions and hints for ways to make things easier/cheaper/more effective, but the reality is that only you will be able to determine what your rugged life looks like, and what makes you love it and want to keep living it.
Choosing Your Own Adventure
Here’s the thing: I never met a single person who is truly self-sufficient. Everyone relies on the outside world to a certain extent, whether it’s going to the hardware store to buy a tool to build their chicken coop or ordering special yeast online to make their bread. Folks may be completely self-reliant in one way, and completely dependent in another. They chose what was important to them, and at what level of self-reliance they wanted to operate. One of the greatest changes since the hippie back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and ’70s is that technology allows us to incorporate many of the benefits of modern homesteading right into our tied-into-the-grid homes—solar power, energy-saving builds, gardens, chickens, bees, water catchment.
In every chapter, I will offer half steps and full steps, and you can pick and choose what works for you. Want to be full solar-power but still do most of your grocery shopping at the supermarket? Done. Want to farm but not give up your air-conditioning or internet? You got it. When you live the Rugged Life, you get to choose your own adventure. Each of the skills covered in this book stands on its own, and taken together, they can help you design the kind of life you want to live. Whatever level you choose, I’m going to give you the real picture. You want to keep chickens? Well, they don’t just cluck and then boom, you’ve got an egg! There are steps involved, including setup, maintenance, anticipation of setbacks, and endgame. I’m not just going to tell you how to build a coop, I’m going to make sure you know what chicken poop smells like and what you can do with it (chicken manure makes the best fertilizer).
But when you’re making those choices, consider pushing yourself a little. Yeah, this is rugged, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It’s just a different way of getting your food and living your life, though it does require some work (and depending how off-the-grid you go—a lot of work) from you. Every step toward self-reliance subtracts some convenience. You’ve got to be a little more patient, a little more willing to put in the work, and generally a little tougher. But the satisfaction you get from doing all of this yourself is completely worth it.
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|Epub||May 17, 2022|
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