Seeking Our Limit
“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”
Scott and I were backpacked about seven miles into a wilderness in northern Washington during a bear hunt. We were heading back to camp for some lunch, a swim, and then off to our evening basin in the opposite direction. We turned a corner on the trail and found a woman and man approaching us from the opposite direction.
“What’s the rifle for?” she asked.
“We’re bear hunting” I replied.
“How the heck are you going to get it out of here!?” she asked incredulously.
“On our back” I replied evenly.
She was astounded and excited (much more then her husband who looked like he wanted a break from walking) that we do, what we do.
I’m not sure why that particular interaction sticks out in my mind. I’ve had hundreds of other conversations on trail that were similar in nature. But I think it has to do with the self-evaluation of that last line.
We do, what we do.
What drives Scott and I to hunt the backcountry, year after year? Even now, we are sitting in our respective houses thinking about nothing but the upcoming season. Scott is sending me pictures of past trips, while I type away on my computer writing a blog post about hunting. The drive and desire to be in the mountains is intense and insistent.
Of course, this time of year may actually be worse then the day before season. We haven’t been given the dreaded “unsuccessful” selection across multiple states, had training setbacks, family problems, or been flummoxed during a hunt.
I don’t want to think about those things yet, as this is still the time of year where all things are possible.
Yet, none of those things quite pin it down either. We don’t have to draw a tag to hunt the backcountry. Nearly all of the wilderness areas are over the counter tags.
I think it boils down to the fact that Scott and I are addicted to type two fun. The harder, nastier, crazier a hunt is, the more we want it. The more we want to succeed. In all my life, the greatest pain, the greatest adversity, came during long pack outs. I am usually a mile down the road in my pickup after shouldering a load of meat, and already forgetting the misery of the hours before, while beginning to plan my next adventure.
Where do our limits lie? We haven’t reached ours. Maybe that’s what we are after? Searching for that which stops us cold. It wasn’t during hour seven, of seventeen mile bear pack out, and it wasn’t on day three of packing a bull out over eight miles and two thousand feet of gain. It certainly wasn’t when we spent over thirty hours together in a tent, battling wind, rain, snow, and lightning as the mountain tested our will to hunt. Maybe we seek the backcountry because it tells us who we are.
Backcountry hunting is months of preparation, massive time commitments, thousands of dollars on gear, grueling hikes, long hours behind the glass, and inclement weather.
Followed by moments of pure grandeur.
The light glistening off the creek as it tumbles through a talus field. The golden rays of a sunrise illuminating a field of blueberries. A bear stepping from the timber, his chocolate coat shimmering. An elk bugle ripping clear on an icy fall morning.
We hunt the backcountry because it offers new experiences and adventures every time we trod its trails. No two sunrises have ever been the same.
In the spring of 2018, Scott and I went on our annual spring bear hunt without a tag. Neither of us had drawn, but the need to break our cabin fever while watching spring bears was overwhelming. We packed into our usual spot about five miles into the wilderness packing more alcohol by weight then food and begin exploring.
Over three days, we saw bears, deer and elk. We found new places to hunt and endured all four seasons (often in the same day) and completely relaxed. We hiked twenty-five miles in that short time and embraced the mastery the wilderness enacts over our souls. To be truly alone is such an insatiably freeing concept that many people today struggle to comprehend. Everything about our lives is jammed into our electronics. Communication and interaction with nearly unlimited people is merely a swipe and a few taps away.
But to breathe unshared air is a gift. I cherish being able to sit on a ridge, and let my eyes drift closed just for a moment as I feel my life come into balance. I don’t want my reader(s) to misunderstand. I’m not a rain dancing hippy. But I cannot deny the effects of the mountain.
It’s difficult for Scott and I to process and explain to people why we hunt the way we do. People intentionally minimize the negatives, and highlight the positives. They don’t see the gym work, scouting, or hundreds of rounds sent down range. They don’t see the forty miles and forty thousand feet of elevation gain over the course of a week. All they see is the picture you posted to your Instagram and the antlers.
But God it’s worth it…
Through the fire of all the frustrating requirements we do in preparation and execution of our hunts, we find ourselves each time we visit. Then, the following year, when we start to ramp our training up, we don’t hesitate. We push, and push, and push to be better then we were before. To avoid those mistakes that have plagued our past, and go further than we thought possible.
Pushing through our comfort zone has yielded moments more memorable then a grip and grin photo. They’ve yielded success in a way that can’t be quantified, only immortalized in my memory.
We do, what we do.
Because we can.
Because we must.