Mars Bonfire launched his music career writing and performing the Steppenwolf hit, Born to be Wild. And since his retirement from the music business in 1995, he's actually been spending his time in the wild, devoting himself to hiking the Sierra Club's list of nearly 300 peaks surrounding Los Angeles. This past November, Bonfire finished checking off every peak on the list — for the 25th time. The list has varied year to year, but averaged 272 peaks during Bonfire's effort, meaning he hit 6,800 peaks. We recently talked with him about this achievement.
How did you first start hiking the list?
My interest in hiking goes way back to my early years in Canada, but when I got involved in music, there was no time for it. Around 1995 I had semi-retired, realized I had free time, and got interested in the outdoors again. I had been a member of the Sierra Club since the 1960s and getting their outings schedule but never had time to go on any of them before. After I started going on outings, I settled on the 100 Peaks list as something I related to the most. There are actually about 275 peaks on the list, but the original idea was to acknowledge anyone who completed at least 100 of them.
Why do it 25 times?
In the early days of the group, doing 100 peaks would have been a big deal because there were few roads into the mountains. You would have to hike to the peaks from much farther away. Now you can get much closer to them before you start hiking, so doing the entire list became feasible. I did the list once and realized I loved being in the mountains, so I did it several times. Then the concept of doing it 25 occurred to me. Not sure why, except that I figured I could probably do that in the time I had left in California and the rate I was doing the list. My wife and I are moving to Reno toward the end of next year, something I had in my mind for some time.
Which peaks are the most challenging?
Some involve hands-on rock scrambling and those stand out: Antsell Rock, Five Fingers, Marion Peak. You're just out there on exposed rock face and have to be careful of handhold and footing. Others are challenging because it takes all day to get there and back. Rabbit Peak, for example, is about a 27-mile round-trip adventure and often takes more than 24 hours. Initially I did some backpacking, but I realized I could go faster without carrying the heavier gear and extra water and do them in one solid hike rather than two days.
The lyrics of Born to be Wild mention "looking for adventure," "nature's child," and "we can climb so high." Were you consciously inspired by the outdoors when writing it?
I would say so. My early years involved walking through the forest and biking dirt roads. I always felt very at home in the woods. When I wrote Born to be Wild, that was before my formal hiking period but right after I bought my first vehicle. I hadn't even had a driver's license when I came to the U.S. When I got that vehicle, I drove around L.A, out to the ocean, the desert, the mountains, all within an hour and a half of each other. I was inspired by the juxtaposition of these beautiful places and that developed into the mood of Born to be Wild, starting with "get your motor running." Because I could finally do that, get my motor running, in my own vehicle.
It took you two decades to do the list 25 times. You pretty much took a hiatus from music during that time. Why is that?
During my music period, all my efforts and energy were focused on music. I lifted weights and jogged, but that didn't take up much time. Given the fact you have to drive to the trailhead, do the hike and drive home, each hike pretty much takes a whole day and sometimes several days. So until I retired, I didn't have the time to do that.