Going solo

How often are we every truly alone? In today’s age, there is always some entertainment that is going on to suck away our time. Always having to check our phones for the newest tweet or Instagram post takes up a huge part of everyone’s day. I finally noticed this in my life and started limiting my “checking” and even leaving my phone off during the day. Always having to be entertained by other people’s accomplishments or random selfies really does nothing for you. When I walk through the Texas A&M campus, almost everyone I see is either on their phone or listening to music. Nothing wrong with that of course, but it limits us to experiencing new things.

 
If I told someone that I’m not thinking about the mountains, I would be lying. Being out in the woods brings a sense of peace. Everything that is going on in the world all of a sudden doesn’t matter. The only thing that means anything is my next step. There is not an hour that goes by that I don’t think of some spot I haven’t explored yet or a place I have been to many a time. People always ask “how can you just go off into the unknown?” “what if a bear or cougar attacked you.” Well, I never think about those kinds of things. My best explanation is that I just love the simplicity of it all. There are three steps to climbing a mountain: 1. See the mountain 2. Climb the mountain 3. Find another mountain and repeat. I mean, that’s not very complicated at all. I think where I lose people is that doing this by yourself can be a daunting task in itself. I love being by myself with my thoughts. I find that this is the only way I can find a sense of accomplishment in doing a hard task.

 
Going off into the woods is a huge mental burden. Those first hundred yards from the truck seem to take forever and slowly doubt begins to sink in. No one can influence your next step. There is no bouncing around ideas on which route to take. There is no one to talk to. For a lot of people, this is too much. You really have to drill it into your head that you will conquer your mind and beat the mental games. The reason I love being up in the middle of nowhere all alone is because I have it all to myself. Rather watching a herd of elk move through or watching the sun slowly hide behind a peak, I have that picture saved in my memory, and nobody else can take it. Prayer and conversations with God are another thing that solitude brings. What else are you gonna do all by yourself? I always have a little bible with me and will have devotionals throughout the day. I relate my little expeditions in a way to Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. He was all alone with only his thoughts and the devil. Talk about some self- motivation to not give in to a delicious meal for 40 straight days. I have come to love and appreciate these talks I have with Him about my struggles on the mountain and back in the real world.

 

 

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Being a part of a team is a very important thing. A team teaches many lessons and is there to support and challenge you. Let’s take lifting weights for example. I am going to lift more weight if there is a crowd around because of the competition presented at the time. This comes in thanks to adrenaline rush I get when trying to beat out someone else. As there are many great things about this, accomplishing something by yourself is just a different animal. Finding the inner strength to push past failure is hard. Doing it by yourself is even harder. Being mentally tough enough to push yourself through difficult obstacles with only your thoughts encouraging you is a very formidable task.

 

I like taking pictures. I have come to find that people like my pictures. I think that somehow I bring a feeling of beauty to a location that is rugged, unforgiving, steep, cold, intimidating, etc. (you get the point). Most of my pictures were spur of the moment where I just decided to grab a quick shot before heading off. I am always trying to find places for a good picture, but I never realize till after I am back and looking at my camera roll which ones actually turned out well. This in a way is a little self-motivation for me. In order for me to find new places, I have to push myself to get there.

 

When you are by yourself anywhere, your mind wanders. When you are hiking let’s say up a super steep mountain at 3 am in the morning, you really wonder if you are a crazy lunatic. Like seriously, what in the world can push you to keep on suffering when the only thoughts you have are of pain and pain? There is a somewhat odd feeling in bringing this type of pain to yourself. Every hike I have every been on was challenging is some way. At some point, I hated what I was doing, and on many hikes, I hated every second of it. So what really makes one push on to conquer this overwhelming thought process? To be honest, I don’t know. I think you have to be a little bit crazy, dumb and have a true passion for being out in the woods. When you reach that point where everything in you wants to turn around and go home, what do you do? If you were with a team of people, they would encourage and help you along, but there is no team around you. You alone control every part of your actions.

 

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One thing that the social media industry has done in aspiring people to do great things is putting amazing people on a platform to inspire others. This leads to people wanting to be just like (insert famous person name), but what do you really if you want to be just like someone. That’s like ending a one on one basketball game in a tie. Wanting to have a body just like someone or wanting to kill animals like this guy on Instagram sets limits to your goals. You see them as a final destination of your progress towards becoming the ultimate whatever. Now, what if we took the same people and decided that we wanted to be better than them. Sounds easy, but how can you change your mindset to do this? Personally, I always try to do just one more rep at the gym then the guy across from me. If we are playing basketball, I am going to win or come pretty dang close to it. Settling for mediocracy and fitting in with the status quo is boring. I see all of the famous hunters and all of their accomplishments. I think to myself that I don’t want to be known as similar to so and so or to be compared to almost being as good as some other guy. I want to be better.

 
This is where I believe that doing stuff by yourself can be a way to accomplishing any goal you put in front of yourself. If you have the mentality of being a winner, and the toughness that no matter what gets thrown at you I will defeat it, you will have a head start in accomplishing great things. When I am doing homework, I always compare it to “Well, this isn’t as hard as hiking up (insert random hiking location), if I could hike that, I for sure can do this stupid paper.”

 
With taking pictures and writing, I have always wanted people to see the awesome places and animals I get to chase. I have made it a goal to present myself as an admirable hunter who can be approached by both hunters and non-hunters alike. I want people to see the drive and passion I have for exploring new places. I want to kids to look up to me and see my attitude and work ethic. In doing all of the hiking and hunting that I do, self-motivation is more of push in that I want to be a role model for how these activities should be done.

 

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So actually, when you go solo, you are not alone at all. The people who look up to your and respect you will always be there. The relationships you have made to make people better help you in that it gives you a certain drive to want to accomplish more so that you can learn more. The more you learn, the more you can teach. (in reference to Jesus’ 40 days) “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” Hebrews 2:18. If you decide not to go to the top and just turn around and quit, how can you talk about being mentally tough and beating self-doubt? This is what truly motivates me. I want to see lots of cool places and experience many amazing things. But if I just keep it all to myself, I have accomplished nothing. In order to be a good leader and role model, you have to be first and foremost a servant. Serve others as you would want to be served. Answer questions. Give advice. Put yourself in someone’s shoes, and think about how just a little word of advice and praise will affect their overall attitude and set the path for their future.

 

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no fear

No fear

 

I could think of a lot of other things that I would of rather of been doing than sitting underneath some shrubbery at 11,500 feet while hail was pounding my poncho. The day had already been rough with an early morning hike straight up a mountain side through eight-foot-tall willows. My dad and I had found a large herd bull in this upper bowl and had laid out the game plan on how to stick him. Climbing fifteen-foot cliffs for an hour was not in the plan. As I think about that long awful morning hike, I wonder if I would have just turned around if I had not been chasing the bull. I didn’t want to think even about how I would pack an elk out of this hell hole. No horses could get up there, and I don’t think I could have paid anybody to hike up there to pick up 80lbs of meat and head back down. But even as I was struggling up the steep face, I was not fearful of my next step or what the next twelve hours held for me. As anyone who has hiked off of the trail, that first step into the unknown is the hardest one to take. This was especially true for this hike. After arriving at the trailhead at 4 am, the first challenge was crossing a river. I have navigated my fair share of rivers but every time I crossed this creek, it was a struggle because I knew exactly what was ahead of me.

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Fear defined is to be afraid of something and to expect something bad to happen. To even attempt to be a successful backcountry hunter, you must eliminate fear from your mind. (now if you are jumping off into an abyss or figure on attacking a grizzly head on, then you have the wrong idea) “What if take the wrong trail” “What if the herd has moved on” “What if I’m not ready to hike up there” Just one of the questions can keep you from stepping out and having the adventure of a lifetime. I remember scouting a couple of nice bulls right before the opening day. I had been lucky because nobody else had seen this bachelor group of five bulls that hung out not 1000 yards from the county road. Well, my luck finally ran out as two trucks with five hunters spotted the bulls and glassed them for an hour or so. I went over to make small talk with them and found out that they had no interest in going after the bulls. (2 bulls were over 320 FYI) I was relieved and dumbfounded at why they would hunt the group. One man told me that it was impossible to hunt that high because “the wind was unpredictable.” Another man added in, “It’s just too high up there.” I smirked, said my goodbyes and left. The first week of the season I had three good chances at these bulls. One of them was in the pouring rain. The clouds had finally cleared, and I spotted the big six up high at the tree line. Without a second thought, I jumped out of the truck and headed straight up the avalanche chute. After struggling up the muddy elk trails, I had reached the halfway point. I looked down and there right by my truck were two other 4wd’s glassing the elk and I. I laughed to myself thinking that if I would have waited on the road for another hour to see if the weather would clear up; these guys would have been right there with me. But as it stood, I was having the time of my life getting soaked while hiking straight up this chute and they were stuck watching me chase the big bull. Eliminating the fear of failure or the fear of being uncomfortable can be an incredible triumph. Going over that ridge that you always thought unreachable or sitting out a heavy rainstorm can be oddly satisfying. As the late Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” The fear of failure is always surrounding me it seems while I am on the mountain, and I have succumbed to it many a time. I can remember every time I have quit on a hunt because I was scared of getting rained on or turned around with twenty minutes of daylight left because “nothing is gonna come in anyways.” As everybody has heard from the old man sitting on the porch of the hunting cabin “you can’t kill ’em from your bunk.” (unless you have a sweet setup, and the animals feed right outside your room. In that case, sleep in and enjoy it for you have mighty favor with the hunting gods.)

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Hunting has become a bit complicated. The new companies coming out with the heated blinds and the ultimate call that brings in the animals every time make us second guess our tactics and gear. Canned hunts offering “guaranteed” success have shadowed what hunting is truly about. Along with the various options for guns, bows, clothing, and so forth we have almost forgotten what we need to “enjoy” the hunt and be successful. Now I am not saying that having the best gear doesn’t help you hike farther and faster, it sure can. But the biggest thing that keeps a hunter from reaching out past his comfort zone and exploring new lands is himself. Sure, having a big muley on the ground or kneeling by a huge 6×6 elk is the goal of every hunter, but success for a hunter isn’t defined by just the animals taken. Hiking miles upon miles, exploring new areas, pushing yourself to the limits are all parts of determining how successful a hunt is. Just as all of the other hunters I have talked to who “watched the herd top the ridge and disappear forever” or “well, the wind is just too tricky, so we didn’t hike up there”, these guys will never realize the feeling of defeating the thought of fear, and pushing yourself to the breaking point. Once you find that inner drive that balks even at the thought of failure, then you truly have become successful as a backcountry hunter. Until I find that inner urge, it will be my driving force whether I am lifting weights or standing in the shadow of a 13,000-foot mountain.

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Now let me finish my story from the beginning of the page. The hail had halted, and I finally caught a glimpse of a couple of cows feeding into the basin. Within five minutes of their arrival, a huge lightning storm hit the valley. I have never run off a mountain side so fast in my entire life, but I had no choice, unfortunately. Once again, having a healthy dose of fear can keep you from dying. I had waited all day to get a glimpse of this 360 bull coming over that ridge, but playing hopscotch with lighting usually doesn’t end well. I knew I would soon be back up to the hidden basin to resume my chase of the Wapiti so running down the mountain to the sound of thunder was not entirely defeating.

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Never assume that a what others believe to be a stupid idea, or an unreachable goal is not attainable. Without opposition, you wouldn’t have the push and desire to do great things. There will always be at least one person who will make you doubt your sanity in any situation in life, hunting related or not. Your job is to decide if the risk is worth the reward. Upon the mountain, the choices you make are between you and God. The idea of fear that is so strongly put on us as hunters is all a battle within ourselves. “Did I prepare enough” “Did I study my topo map enough” Only you can know if you are truly ready for an endeavor. No one can influence you or has power over you. This is the time where you find out what you are made of and how mentally strong you are to push through fear and adversity. Hunt strong.

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I had forgotten that I had written everything you just finished reading.  It was the first time that put into writing a few thoughts I had from a hunt.  Upon reading this two years later, I see that I have made improvements  in my attempts to become mentally and physically strong.  I have to learn that trying to appease other people or trying to look cool to impress people you will probably not see again is somewhat pointless. I have learned that in order for me to succeed in everyday tasks, I must write everything down that I have to accomplish. Making these advances, no matter how small, every day can add up over the course of two years.  The mindset I have while hunting strictly correlates with my everyday life.  If I can hike straight up a mountain at 4 am in pouring down rain, I am pretty sure I can write a 500-word response on global trends and its international effects for my sociology class.  Fear so many times captivates me into not accomplishing a task.

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I love sleeping. As my dad can attest to, there have been many mornings where he had to drag me out of bed to go hunt or go to school.  Sleep is a detriment towards success for me.  I have missed out on opportunities because I slept too long. How can I fight this? Physically I can prepare my body to sleep and go to bed earlier as any doctor would suggest. Mentally I have to face the obstacle that sleep presents as any obstacle I would face up on the mountain. Face it, fight it, and finish it.  This semester, I had a day where I was exhausted.  In response, I took a very long nap thus making me not very tired come bedtime. As I lay in my bed trying to fall asleep, I started thinking, as I usually do, of times I had come up short in life. Rather it is a test or an elk hunt, the fear of failure started creeping in.  How did I fight this? I got out of bed and worked out in my garage until 3 am. I then did homework, ate some breakfast, and was at the gym at 6 am.  I had classes, an interview, and a small group that followed this sleepless night. Was I tired throughout the day? Yes, I was, but I had defeated the obstacle I had faced that was holding me back.

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The one thing I am guilty of and many others are, is trying to make ourselves feel better by letting others sympathize over our shortcomings.  Now, I have found, as with anything, that there is a time and place for that, but when you are all alone 15 miles from your truck that is neither the time or place.  If hunting has taught me anything, it is that I have to come to the fact that I will fail. I will screw up. I will miss shots or wound an animal.  No one will be there to comfort me in that time of self-doubt.  Now I can either make the choice of worrying about these past few sentences and letting that affect me or I can choose to power through them and look for the best possible outcome.  And once I am through with that, I start all over as this cycle never ends, and I must keep on conquering the fear that resonates deep inside me.

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There are so many times in life we ask the question “What if…” or say “If I would have only done this instead.”  Fear grabs you and refuses to let go.  It can be as little as asking a girl to dance or as big as asking your boss for a big promotion. Your reaction to facing fear determines what kind of man you will be and how successful you will be.  Success is not measured by physical things, however. Being mentally strong and not giving into the things of this world is a treasure that all the riches in the world could not compare to.  In a time where people are giving into the status quo and cowering in fear of failure, you have to bust these public habits.  I’ll end with this example.  Imagine an obstacle so great that even the strongest and bravest of men was afraid to be even in its presence.  A whole army of men would cower at the thought of this obstacle. How would you react to this? Would you just blend in with the crowd? Or would you face the obstacle head on with no fear and no care for what everyone else thought? Do you have an answer? Now compare this answer to 1st Samuel 17, and see how you stand.