Bushwhacking is a term that hikers use to mean crossing rough terrain where there is no trail. Sometimes we do it because we lose the trail and sometimes we do it to get from one trail or trail segment to another. I've had to do a fair share of it on this hike and I've learned from it. That's a good thing because bushwhacking is a skill that I'll need if I hope to complete the mighty Continental Divide Trail next year. Here's what I've learned about bushwhacking:
1) Avoid it if you can. Bushwhacking is hard on your body and on your gear. You'll cover less ground and use more of your resources (food, fuel and water). I also believe you run a higher risk of injury. If you can road walk or take a different trail around an area where there is no defined trail - even if it's WAY around, it's probably worth it.
2) Keep your cool. After eight hours of pushing through thick Michigan woods, I was so tired that I was shaking. I was ready to be done but there was nowhere to sit down, let alone set up a tent. Unfortunately, you can't just stop when you want to and that can create a sense of panic. You can ease this feeling by making sure you have the basics covered: stay hydrated, check your map and compass often so you can (if possible) know where you are and where you want to be. Try to keep your situation in context: if you hike enough miles, eventually you'll wind up bushwhacking. It's a part of long distance hiking. Relax, do your best to get through it and try to learn from the experience.
3) Pick a compass heading and stick to it. If you can, head for a body of water. Both for a source of hydration and as a topographical landmark. When something unexpected gets in your way (like a swamp or bush that's literally too thick to push through), you'll have to adjust and go around but try to stick to the original plan. Resist to the temptation to repeatedly change your direction simply out of frustration.
Even when I knew I had to bushwhack a section to get to the next part of my trail, I still found it incredibly difficult. I sprained my wrist, broke a trekking pole and wore myself out mentally and physically. But I'm proud of myself for making it through and for learning from it. I'm blown away when I read about guys like Andrew Skurka hiking hundreds of miles in places where there is no clearly defined trail. I now look at it as a skill that I continually need to sharpen. Perhaps best of all, when you finally do get back to regular, blazed trail, you'll feel like you're flying!
Got a good bushwhacking story? Leave me a comment!