“I don’t want to…”

I don’t want to!” My 3 year old son said when we made him get up and brush his teeth this morning.

He repeated that sentiment emphatically through the whole morning process. Using the potty, changing clothes, eating breakfast.

My wife reinforced him, “sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to” and the process continued until it was all done and cartoons could be watched with a glass full of chocolate milk.

How’s that apply to hunting?

When I was about 15, I was with my dad in the woods when he wounded a deer and had to dispatch it appropriately. It shook me up. Elicited a pretty strong emotion that I didn’t want to repeat. In fact, I had my own version of “I don’t want to” and told him I didn’t want to be around if something like that happened again. I didn’t think I had it in me to kill the animal up close and personal like that.

It’s been a few years now and since I began bow hunting, I’ve made a couple bad shots and have had to follow up to kill the deer. Each time, I have a flash of “but I don’t want to” but I know I have to.

Hunting has a way of eliciting some powerful emotions. As soon as my arrow leaves my bow and hits its target, there’s a dump of adrenaline that’s often referred to as “buck fever.” If you’ve had it, you know. If you haven’t, I don’t know how best to describe it. I think it’s as bad now as it was when I was 12 years old. I don’t know if I would classify that emotion as excitement? Elation? Nervous? But I know it is unparalleled in my life.

That emotion is intense. And in the case of the bad shot like I mentioned above, that emotion can take a violent swing downward to the complete opposite end of the spectrum and quickly turn into sadness for the animal, regret for the shot choice or rising the process, disappointment in myself for the shot I made.

At that moment there is a very real, pressing, urgent issue of having to deal, hands on, with the consequences of my actions. There’s no one to shuck it off to. No one to do it for me.

This has only happened a couple times to me, once last year and once a few years before. I told my dad afterward that if I couldn’t make a shot better than that, I didn’t deserve to be hunting with my bow. I practiced a lot more after that.

Hunting has a way of drawing out some very real emotion and that emotion connects me to the food. It’s not just something I bought at the store in a thoughtless purchase for a Tuesday night meal. Hours of preparation, real excitement, possibly some sadness, some hard work, and hours processing the meat.

If you come to my house and eat something wild, I’ll ask you how it is with a big smile, because to me, it probably tastes like Gordon Ramsey cooked it…

Growing a New Hunter

Have you ever been slapped in the face by a tree limb?

Sunrise through the fog at the cabin

As a kid, I spent hours following my dad around the woods. The younger I was, the more I watched his feet, focused on where every step landed. Avoiding anything that may make excessive noise. He had already crunched the leaves so my little foot should even be quieter, right? I’m sure that he could testify in front of the highest courts and speak with conviction when he says that my steps were not quieter. On occasion, I would be so focused on the steps that I would miss the tree branch that was speeding toward my face and would only notice it after we had collided.

As I got older, my eyes began to move upward. My steps still measured and careful. Quieter now and More confident, my vision was able to move around the woods, between the trees… hunting. My horizons expanding.

Trying to locate some turkeys

I learned a lot about being in the woods from my dad. For years I slowed him down and shortened hunts because I was cold or bored. We built a fire on the side of the road once to warm me up. One November when I was still too young to venture off by myself, I fell asleep in the woods and when I woke up, dad wasn’t there. Talk about a lonely feeling! Turns out he was behind a tree a few feet away throwing little rocks at me to wake me up.

My dad learned from his dad who learned from his dad before him and so on. It doesnt seem like JUST learning the craft is enough to me. My duty, as a son, is to take the tools that my dad has given me and expand them. He instilled a passion in me that continues to grow.

Each hunting season, my goal is to expand my knowledge and my skill set that I’ve borrowed from the men that hunted these same woods for decades before me.

In only a few short years it will be my turn to begin passing down the build up of the generations of knowledge that I’ve amassed. To be slowed down by the tiny new hunter stoping through the leaves behind me. Even now, my son refers to most meat that we eat in the house as deer meat. We are off to a good start. I can only hope that the passion I feel for wild game and wild places will be instilled in my son. Then I hope that he takes that passion and expands it.

I cant imagine a better compliment than if my son becomes a better hunter than me.

Get uncomfortable

“Why would you want to do that?” Is a common response I’m met with when I accidentally tell someone about training for a marathon.

It’s a fair question. And a good one.

Without pulling up the numbers I’d say I’ve spent a considerable amount of time this summer in pain… or maybe “uncomfortable” is a better word than pain. There’s certainly been times of pain. (See the photo above as an example) There’s been sunburn, blisters, blood blisters, cramps, and toenails that have fallen off, one that’s been cut off, and one that’s currently a few lovely shades of purple but stays hidden behind dress socks and dress shoes most of the time. There’s been ice baths, hot baths, cold showers, lots of hot showers, epsom salt foot soaks, and epsom salt baths.

Oh, and chafing… So. Much. Chafing.

My life is pretty comfortable. Physically, I mean. If I didn’t actively seek a physical challenge, there wouldn’t be any. As long as I can remember, I’ve always had something going that was a challenge. Sports when I was in school. The last few years it has been CrossFit with the occasional competition thrown in. Lately, it’s been running.

In 2019 I talked my wife into doing our first and last big hike together. A 25k race called “Switchbacks” in the Ouachita mountains. In January 25 I think. The weather was destined to be beautiful, right? Very wrong. When we opened the door 2 hours before dawn to leave the warmth of our home that morning we found snow.. blowing sideways.

Game on.

8 hours later, I limped my way back to the vehicle completely wiped out. Frozen. I fell in a creek about 3 miles into the eventual 18 we would cover that day. My clothes froze. My fingers wouldn’t work. And I held a clear glass with the words “switchbacks 2019 Finisher.” My new (and still) most prized possession.

I’d never been so uncomfortable. It was borderline dangerous. But I was fine.

Challenge accepted. Challenge conquered.

Seeking out a challenge in our comfortable world seems rare. Very few people want to push themselves to find an uncomfortable place. What’s there to gain in it? Maybe a medal, a t-shirt. The best gains are the ones you don’t see. The ones that will last longer than that shirt.

The Couch Is Perfect!

I’m training for a marathon. If you didn’t know this, you probably haven’t been around me lately. It consumes my thoughts, my spare time, and my conversations.

Preparation.

The route.

The nutrition.

The next run.

Next weeks runs.

My poor wife is probably tired of it consuming so much of our lives too.

How did I get here? The first guy that ran a marathon died.

And people do this for fun now? I used to say that we had things with wheels for anything over 6 miles. Boy, that sure has changed…

Some backstory: I don’t remember exactly when it happened, sometime around December 2019 maybe? A buddy talked me into signing up for the OKC Memorial ½ Marathon that was scheduled in April. I like new challenges, so I bought in. I can suffer through 13 miles. No biggie. Then we signed up for a trail ½ marathon in Wilburton at Robbers Cave State Park in February. So now it was just a couple short months until the OKC run.

Then COVID struck… The OKC marathon was moved to the first weekend in October (Opening weekend of deer season.) So, we had 7 months. All that was standing between us and the run was the cool Oklahoma summer air and opportunity. The gyms are closed. Regular training is a no-go. We have plenty time….

“Let’s run the full marathon” I said.

I once read that most challenges like this are usually decided upon while comfortable. How many people plan to go climb a mountain from the comfort of their couch? I’d venture to say a bunch! Usually sitting in the air conditioning, something to eat or drink is close by, you’re not hungry, you’re not sweaty, and you’re not tired. Your feet are probably kicked up…

And that’s exactly where I was when I decided that running 26.2 miles sounded like a good idea.

When I began shopping for a training plan, I wanted it to be a challenge. I was confident that I could go out and suffer and slog through 26.2 miles just to finish it. But I don’t want to “just finish.” I want to train, push hard, and perform the best that I am able. So, having never even ran a ½ marathon on the road, I decided that I would train to run the full marathon in 3 hours and 40 minutes. 8:24 a mile for 26.2 miles. I was pushing to run an 8:30 average for 3-4 miles at that time.

That goal of a 3:40 marathon was going to take some commitment. It would be worth it. In October, COVID will be a distant memory and we will gather at the start line before the sun rises, adrenaline through the roof, shoes probably tied too tight, my headphones would be playing the meticulously crafted playlist I’d spent artfully shaping over the last 700 miles of training. The gun would sound, and like a massive wave of neon and spandex all of us would set off down the path of suffering for the next few hours. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to be approaching the finish line. Spent. Depleted. Hurting. But triumphant. Successful. That feeling would make the struggle worth it. To have raced my first marathon.

I watched YouTube videos of people running marathons and their highlights trying to shape my understanding of how things would look. How they’d sound. What I would need to prepare for… Until my wife got tired of watching people run… lol I was drinking the Kool-Aid.

As fate would have it though, here we are in the middle of September just a couple weeks away from the run and COVID is NOT a distant memory. There won’t be a start line in OKC. There won’t be thousands of neon-clad runners gathered together. There won’t be a gun to start. Its all going to be virtual. The goal has changed. That finish corral of energy won’t be there. Instead, its going to be me and the wife. Me on foot, my wife on her bicycle. At our family’s cabin. A route 4.85-mile loop and a little extra on mostly dirt roads and some on pavement that will take me exactly 26.25 miles. On October 3, we will line up in the driveway. My aid station stocked and ready, that carefully honed playlist in my headphones, anxiety and trepidation bubbling at the surface as I set off into a deepening, darkening tunnel often referred to as the pain cave, to accomplish the goal that has almost been a year in the making.

The goal has remained the same, only the setting will be different. The challenge will be faced a long way from the couch where the idea was conceived and the comfort I felt then will be impossible to recall when my mind is screaming for comfort and trying to panic in the pain of the moment.

“This is what I wanted.”

3:40 Marathon. A lot of hurt. How far, how fast can my legs take me? I made the choice. I remained disciplined. I’ve paid the dues. Time to find that wall at the far edge of my physical ability and push against it.  

Racing Cars

We like to tell stories at work. Long, elaborate, spare no detail kind of stories. There’s only 5 of us in our small office normally and we would sit at the lunch table and have what we would call our “Quality Time Podcast.” It was never actually a podcast but just a place where the stories came out and ideas, positions, convictions were discussed. Few topics were off limits.

Through those conversations, we decided that theres a couple different kind of people in this world, talkers and story tellers. As genetics would have it I fell in the story teller collumn. It was destined to be as I come from a long line of story tellers. Have some detail, not too much but not too little. Build some suspense and cap it off with the big ending.

Of course, we have all had those moments where a story falls flat. The punchline or the moral is too confounded or gets lost in some detail about beef strogonof. Someone said recently, “if you race cars, you’re going to wreck cars” so you could say that I’ve wrecked a few and inevitably will run a few more into the wall.

So I figured I would come to this space to tell some stories or “race some cars” so to speak. To relive and put into words the emotions around a hunt or a trip. To work through my ideas around struggle or discomfort and to document my journey as I prepare for a marathon through the holidays.