Lange: The art of bushwacking

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange has been revisiting one of his youthful passions – bushwhacking.

(LANGE) It was a quarter past noon.  Five of us had been hiking for three hours.  We broke out of thick brush into an opening about twenty feet square, probably stomped out by moose.  We could stand in a circle for the first time in a while.  A time and a place for lunch.

We sipped from our water bottles.  Dan passed around some sweet smoked jerky and split a Heath bar with me.  I wolfed down a Spam-and-cheese sandwich and split a Skør bar with Dan.

We were looking for a hidden cabin located somewhere in a spruce-choked wilderness  There was supposed to be a trail leading to it.  But there were trails everywhere – this was a moose wintering ground – but none of them led anywhere.  Moose are not given much to destinations.  

It’s called bushwhacking, and over the years we’ve done our share.  A compass is often critical.  In this case, since we had only a vague idea where the cabin was, it was useless.  What’s the point of using it if you don’t know where you’re going?

I’ve done an analysis of the various kinds of bush we’ve whacked in the last fifty years or so.  Southern swamps are as bad as bush gets: wading, you can’t run; you can’t see whether the next step will be as deep as the current one; and you can only imagine the size, numbers, and lethality of the reptiles lurking beneath the Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4


Farther north, the Great Smoky Mountains boast what are called rhododendron hells.  They grow to about thirty feet high, and in the deep shade, the trunks and branches grow in all directions and sideways at once.  Sometimes you can’t touch the ground for hundreds of yards.  And they’re often swarming with chiggers.

I had suggested searching for the cabin for two reasons: first, to see what I’d heard about for so long; and second, to see whether I could do it – or perhaps couldn’t.

Patches of blown-down spruces studded with sharp, broken-off twigs alternated with thick new growth.  Hampered as I was with only eighteen weeks of healing on a fractured femur, I was pretty slow and clumsy.  The other four hid their impatience at my pace.  Now, as we paused for lunch, I took a look at my chums.  It was time for one of the prudent decisions for which I’ve become justifiably famous.

"Gentlemen," I announced, "I’m down to half a tank, and I’m going back."  Earl gamely volunteered to go with me.

Going back down the steep side of that valley was tougher than going up.  But we finally emerged onto the woods road that led to the vehicles.  I thought we were moving pretty fast; but soon the other three came jogging down the road behind us.  They’d found the cabin, and Dan had taken a reading with his GPS.  Next March we’d skip right over all the tangles on snowshoes, and maybe even spend the night.  It could only get better.

This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.

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