Words by Kyle von Hoetzendorff, photograph by Daniel Wakefield Pasley
We are tired, hungry, and beaten. Around us mountains rise like picket signs to mock our day’s progress. This trip, which trip specifically doesn’t matter, is familiar; you, me, we have all been here before, a day full of motivational derision packed with mind-chiding expletives like “just around the corner”, “this is the last hill,” and “I am sure it's just right up ahead.” The road we're on, our road, has petered out, it’s a dead end stub built by the type of people who knew exactly where they came from and who had no choice but to return there. We on the other hand need to carry on, turning back is an admission of failure, an admission that all those involved had seriously considered and yet none of us were smart enough to act upon.
In the distance far below us another road appeared, winding like a torn rubber band through the valley below us, distending in what appears to be the right direction. Maps were pulled from bags and our fingers stabbed at it them like trash picks during a roadside clean up. Points were made and conversations became low-level arguments, it was hot and we were all very tired. In the end it was decided that we needed to be on that road. The only problem? The many vertical feet down an extremely steep and bush-covered slope between it and us. It was a thorn bush waterfall and we were about to drop that sucker. It was here that we were forced to employ the sporting outdoorsman’s time-honored technique of bushwhacking. Over the edge we tromped, sliding down the steep mountainside of loose scree and deep gravel. Using our bikes as crutches, battering rams, and guinea pigs we were able to maintain a controlled fall through the tendrils of thorn covered understory. Still, with every step we slid two more and we closed in on the road.
It is true that at one time there weren’t many trails, in fact at one point there weren’t any trails. Early man’s every step was a form of bushwhacking, each movement an exploration. As our species advanced towards a cultural apogee expressed by products as necessary and wide ranging as gum massaging toothbrushes, solar powered garden gnomes and geriatric pet ramps, it is also true that we have lost a bit of our original selves in the process. All of the trails seem to have been mapped out; the necessary roads have been built. What was once as intrinsic to moving as the act itself, the wonder of wander has been greatly diminished.
This is why from time to time, when called upon, we must all bushwhack. A bit of world wide web research teaches us that the term Bushwhacker was first used to describe American guerrilla fighters during our Revolutionary and subsequent Civil wars. These were men who fought without wearing codified uniforms and were loosely motivated by an ideal but not tied to an identifiable force. On of history’s most famous bushwhackers was the outlaw Jesse James. Much later, two formidable antipodean men achieved marginal success in the WWF (now the WWE) as a tag team duo known as The Bushwhackers. With their threadbare tank tops and trademarked arm-swing-walk1, they too walked outside the lines, fundamentally bushwhacking.
I am not trying to convince you to become a militiaman or to throw yourself off the nearest turnbuckle. What I am getting at is that these guys didn’t follow the rules and that the denial of jurisdiction is at the heart of all true bushwhacking. You step off of the beaten path and into nature; make your way down the side of a mountain, take your licks, get some scratches, fall a few times, slip, slid, and crash. Maybe you end up in a canyon somewhere confronted with another one of the outdoorsman’s principle foes, the Character Builder2 or maybe by the grace of God, or the determined enormity of all that has come before, you wind up on that road you saw from so far away and it happens to take you where you are going, all the way to Shangri-La population 220, and there is a place that serves deep dish pizza, ten dollar grinders, and Coors by the case. Despite all your bad decisions you made one good one, and it took you off trail, it took you to salvation.