I recently got to enjoy my first “fishing by foot” hike of the year. I decided to take a half-day to explore and fish some National Forest Lands. The highlight of the day would be getting an early season peek at a pond that I hadn’t fished in a long time.
I thought it would be fun to not prepare a trail plan, like I normally would. I knew I was going to explore a part of streams and a side of the pond I had never been to before. But instead of looking ahead of time, I figured that since it was such a well-traveled place, it would be hard for me to screw things up too badly. So I just winged it.
Before I get into the experiences of the day, I should back it up and note that I had this day on my calendar for weeks. Life gets busy sometimes so having a whole half-day blocked out, during the work week, is a rarity. I wanted to have a better chance of finding some serenity and “away from people” hours in nature. I knew that wouldn’t happen if I went on a weekend. So as the days counted down, I kept checking my weather app to see what kind of surprise, late winter/early spring kind-of-day I might have in store. I wouldn’t have dared pray for the kind of weather perfection there was as I woke the morning of my trip. Forecast: Sunny and 72 degrees.
As I worked my half-day in the office, the minutes felt like hours. The hours like days. Finally, time came to punch out, load the car and head out for my mini-adventure. As I arrived at the trailhead, I felt like a school kid about to head out on Spring Break. I threw on my pack, grabbed my fishing gear and slapped on my knee brace. Off I hiked. Walking under the dancing shadows of the trees, hearing the approaching wind gusts move through the forest and then filling my lungs with cool bursts of fresh air was pure delight.
As I crossed over small streams and eventually came to my first opening overlooking the pond I was so anxious to fish, I welcomed the revitalizing flush of joy that natural settings bring.
Along the way, I surveyed every nook and cranny for pre-spawn Bass. I found a few, but none that would give my offerings any attention. They just taunted me with their football shaped, sluggish stares. I didn’t really mind though. I knew I was about to go where I hadn’t been before, on the pond and on the trail system.
My day continued with numerous wonderful moments of peace and exploration. That is, until I realized that I had reached a point where I needed to decide about where and how I would get back to my car before sundown. Because I hadn’t explored a map before coming out, I didn’t know how far I might have to go before I could find a safe crossing over the large creek I was on the back side of. I walked on for another half mile or so before surrendering to the idea that I should just retrace my steps.
The day’s vibe changed dramatically at that point. This was no longer an exploration of new areas or the chance to catch some fish, it became a chore, a necessary task to complete. This is when I noticed my fatigue. I noticed how drenched in sweat I was. I winced every steep step I took against my strained knee. My thoughts were consumed with how much farther I had to go to get out. This didn’t feel like the first 2/3 of the trip, at all.
It was then that it occurred to me…When I had somewhere I was going, I was excited, energized, grateful, and open. When I decided I had to go “backwards,” it was no longer fun. So I sat by the creek for a moment and started to wonder if I might see the Bald Eagle rumored to live by the pond. I was curious to see what the view of each clearing looked like from another angle. I couldn’t wait to get to some of the windswept clearings that were so refreshing early in my hike.
It was no longer a hike “back”—it was something I was moving toward with anticipation again. I suppose my lesson was that we can apply that to our regular lives too. If we make a conscious effort each day to find what we are moving toward, rather than what we are leaving behind or are retreating back to, the world becomes a much more enjoyable place. Now, I always want to make sure I have somewhere I’m going.
Matt Mittan is owner of Serenity Outdoors Guide Service and Owner of BizRadio.US. He also co-Hosts Matt & Michele Outdoors, an outdoor themed travel radio show. Learn more at MattMittan.com