When you’re back home and the meat is processed and in the freezer, it’s easy to post, comment or otherwise communicate to everyone in your circle that the misery of alpine hunting or hunting in general, is worth it.
I tried something different. As I was leaning on my trekking poles, cautiously making my way down the mountain, I tried to extract everything from the moment. And yeah, I use trekking poles. There are people who are anti-pole and anti-crampons because they are tougher or more Alaskan than me, so if you are one of those, then you win.
Anyway, with my camping gear and a boned-out buck in my pack, I analyzed now rather than a possibly edited memory. I knew later the #sweatequity would be worth it, but what about right now?
Was this really fun, or was it fun to know I would be able to project the persona of a hardcore Alaskan? Was the heat enjoyable? Was it fun that the meat bag had shifted and was all on my left side? Was the skin wearing off my big toe a good time? What about seeking shelter under a hammock tarp during a downpour the day before?
It could all be validated later once the suffering was over. But right now, this moment. This second. Was it cool?
Yeah, it was. But why? My buddy Danny owns a gym and co-founded lifestyle brand in California. When he does talks he says step one in finding self-confidence and self-esteem is to do something difficult. He isn’t the first person to say this of course, but it makes sense and was the perfect explanation as to why it was, in fact, fun to be entrenched in discomfort. Without it, we don’t grow.
If we don’t grow, we are destined for mediocracy. I know that my podcast is called the Mediocre Alaskan, but that’s because one of my favorite writers is outdoor humorist Bill Heavy and in a world of self-proclaimed experts, peacocking, and flexing, I feel it’s my responsibility to be one of those who admits defeat, failure and inadequacy. But that doesn’t mean I am defeated, a failure or inadequate. I just want to be able to have a laugh at my own expense and keep a finger on the pulse of reality.
Anyway, there was no question I’d get down the mountain. I liked that. I liked that I could handle this, that this was demanding, but noticeably below my threshold. I could do this again. I want to do this again.
I felt better when I thought about this. I felt more energized. I didn’t feel like the mountain was as steep, the weather as hot, the pack as unbalanced, the feet as deskinned. Well, that one might be a stretch. It’s hard to #positivementalattitude the body’s way of telling you you’re losing skin, but it doesn’t have to be ruinous.
When we arrived back at the truck, dropped the tailgate and unloaded the packs, we stood up straight for the first time in miles. Finished. Accomplished. Maybe a little too hungry and dehydrated for euphoric, but not far from it.
It’s a different type of happiness. A gritty happiness. A satisfaction rather than just a cheap, joy. Along with a freezer full of meat, that’s what we’d come for.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.