Updated: May 16
By Alex Provost]
*this is an edit from “Tame the Bushwack”, an article I wrote a few year ago.
Adventure racing in Canada and in the Northeastern States offers a unique element that makes our great sport the greatest of all. It's often the legs that make those journeys epic because there is just nowhere to hide. It's you against wild nature. It's one of mother nature's true obstacles: the bushwhack!
As much as I like it ($%&?)... bushwhacking is the last option in the book. If there is at least a trail that generally leads to where you want to go, you have got to use it as much as possible. But sometimes it's simply inevitable. And RD's know that very well. It's their way to say "remember you paid to come here and suffer a bit... well there you go!".
When to take a leap of faith
Usually we say that the distance ratio has to be at least 3:1 to be possibly worth it. All things being equal, 3km on the road/trail is usually as quick if not quicker than 1km in the bush. Of course elevation and conditions are always part of the decision process. On a really thick slope going uphill even a good team can do less than 1 km/h sometimes. Also, stopping every 50-100m to reassess the position is often futile and very time consuming. This is where you have no choice but to trust the compass and put your head down. And don't think there is a better route 15 meters beside you that runs in the right direction. There are none. There is rarely a better route than the one you are carving for yourself.
Protection makes a difference
I get nauseated every time I see people coming out of the woods with scratched and bloody legs because they are wearing shorts. "Nah it does not slow me down!" they say. It's just not true. It slows them down. And they could go much faster if only they were taking the appropriate measures. Protecting your skin is the rock bottom minimum.
Here are a few things to look into when getting through significant bush is on the menu:
Clear glasses: The most important thing to protect in life are your eyes. Wearing clear glasses will not only make you faster through branches, but it will also ensure you don't become a pirate for the rest of your days. Yes they will fog, just suck it up and find a way to see enough. Any kind should do, clear allows you to use them at night and when it's not so sunny.
Shin guards: Available with Bend Racing,amazing quality for the price. You won't regret it.
Helmet: Sometimes it just makes sense to leave the bike helmet on. Most of the times I found I was able to push through more easily with the extra protection. You can then simply bully yourself through the trees! Shop amazing Lazer helmet here.
Pants: As I mentioned, wearing shorts just does not make any sense. Shop noname o-pants here
Long sleeves (or arm sleeves): Possibly the element that makes the smallest difference, but again it comes down to basic skin protection.
Make sure you are prepared for the effort by fueling up appropriately. Bush brawling takes energy! Chug some 4h Fuel, top it up with Spring energy and Saltstick and you will be ready to fight in a matter of minutes.
Like everything in our sport, experience will make you better. Make the bushwhack part of your training schedule. You may not like it at that moment, but you will like it at some point. It's the 3rd degree fun rule: not fun at that moment, not fun right after (well maybe..), but fun sometime later when remembered in a conversation: "Oh yeah I remember that bushwhack was some sick stuff man... geez we had a good time!"
Bottom line, there are no big secrets. Bushwacking is not easy. But if you execute it properly, it will provide you with a significant advantage over your opponents, no doubt. So gear up, catch a good breath and just go for it!