Should you stay or should you go… off-track

This piece was originally written for the Snowys Outdoors Blog and can be found in it’s original format by clicking on the link below. The aim was to encourage people to venture further into the bush in a safe and educated manner. Heading off-track has more risks but also more rewards provided you know what you’re looking for.

One idea not discussed in this blog that I was keen on exploring further was the fact that walking on tracks with signs is consumerism manifesting itself in the outdoors. Very often the method to going somewhere (whether it be bushwalking, climbing, running, skiing etc.) revolves around ‘What are we going to do there? What climbs are there?’. I fall into this trap regularly and find myself picking a new park or crag (climbing area) to visit and then trying to work out what track will suit the amount of time I’ve got there. I’m just looking to use my ‘time’ to purchase a part of that area.

When I go climbing I’ll climb a bunch a things all with made-up names that mean diddly squat to a non-climber. Same as going bushwalking on tracks such as ‘Lorikeet Loop’ or ‘Boom or Bust’. But to me, I feel as if I’ve ‘done’ something by having climbed or walked these trails even though the names mean nothing. All I’ve really done is follow a track through the bush in a big loop or climbed some rock. But because the track has a name it gets given an identity and suddenly all you’re thinking about is whether it’s a good or bad identity. Yes I understand there has to be some names to help identify between routes but I wonder if people’s experiences of them would be different if tracks were just numbered or described using the points of the compass?

In climbing, the people who climb a route first get to name it and thus create it’s identity. Every other climbers perception of the route is influenced by the name and thus their experience is different to that of the first ascensionist. The beauty in heading off-track or exploring a new route is that it’s all a new experience and there is a sense of discovery each step. The other beauty to make obvious is that by removing the identity of the track from the experience you’re stripping back the activity (walking, climbing, running) to it’s simplest form. You’re just enjoying that form of movement for what it is which should really be the goal for most of us in the first place, to get outside and be active for a healthy lifestyle!

I’ll be honest and say if a ‘new-to-me’ National Park had no tracks, no signs, no infrastructure I’d most likely drive there, hop out the car, have a look, kick some rocks around the carpark, realise there’s not much going on, then get back in the car and drive somewhere else I know there’s a good track. The exact same thing happens in the rare occasions I’m looking for somewhere to eat. I’ll walk by or scroll through it on the internet and if I can’t see a menu, can’t see inside, have no idea what they serve and don’t know the cost I don’t want to take the risk and instead go back to a tried and true place for an easy meal.

I think there’s a better, and more challenging, way of viewing National Parks or outdoor spaces that doesn’t invite this problem along. Instead of rocking up to a place looking to cherry-pick the best tracks into a neat little combo deal that suits the user I reckon taking a step back and viewing the area for what it is, a bunch of trees, maybe some cliffs, a creek, whatever, and creating your own link-up through it all (provided you’re following the guidelines I set out in the Snowys piece) is a much more creative, not consumptive, and intuitive way of visiting an area. That way the activity is kept really simple (less is more in life and design) and the focus is just on whatever activity you choose to move through the space/outdoors.

I’ve got a mate who I go climbing with who used to view climbing like this and it bugged the crap out of me. I’d study the guidebook, have my warm-up’s planned, my hard climb, my fun climb, read all the info I could find and be ready to maximise the most of my day. Aaron on the other hand, would be the last one organised, wander up to the crag and be happy climbing ‘whatever looks good’. At the end of the day I may be happy with how my plan turned out… or I was miserable if the hard climb was too hard, the fun climb was not fun, the info I got was wrong yadda yadda yadda. Aaron meanwhile would always look like he was having a great day because his plan revolved around climbing as the activity and he just needed some rock to help do that, he wasn’t fussed about what the guidebook told him, he was just using his own two eyes and climbing whatever looked good. Sure, he did consult the guidebook to make sure what he was about to do was safe/possible but apart from that he was creating his own experience, not just copying or consuming someone else’s.

Extrapolating this way of viewing the outdoors further, instead of ‘consuming’ an experience outside, perhaps what I’m getting at is trying to have more of a utilitarian view of the outdoors. If the goal of going outside is to go for a walk, run or simply to experience ‘nature’ what tracks or off-track experiences can be best utilised to have a good walk, run or nature play time. The beauty of this method is that if you pick the ‘wrong’ destination to head to you’re still having a great time doing what you set out to do (walk, run, climb etc.).

From July 9 I’m heading off skiing in the Victorian Alps and I’ll be trying to emulate some of this Aaron magic. My primary goal is to go skiing. Secondary to that is to see as much of the Bogong High Plains (and the Alpine Challenge 100 Mile route) as possible. The great thing about skiing in the High Country is that besides a Pole Line indicating some vague outline of a track, all the snow cover ensures that each adventure is a new ‘off-track’ experience. I’m hoping to pick the best lines down a ridge, along the flats etc. and ski ‘whatever looks good’. Finally, the Falls Creek area I’m heading to is a runner’s training paradise in Summer. My theory is if I can spend two weeks there on ski’s on winter, covering lots of miles, doing hill repeats to get the lactate flowing etc. then I’ll be replicating what hundreds of runners do when they go to Falls each summer to get fit… except I’m doing it in Winter, on ski’s in a similar concept to Rocky in Rocky IV…

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