The art of showing up

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska – Author and entrepreneur James Clear said, “Master the art of showing up.”

I sometimes struggle with this. If someone asks what I do after work, it’s easy to deliver a line about writing columns, tying flies, shooting my bow, hiking, fishing, whatever, because that fits the narrative that people might expect. Jeff Lund writes about the outdoors, so he must be outside all the time.
Not true.

I’m outside a lot, but I admit I get distracted from productivity like everyone else and I think that’s the key. I feel guilty when I waste a good afternoon on nothing. It’s as though I’ve cheated myself out of something real just because I can’t get off the couch. No, that’s not right, it’s not that I couldn’t get off the couch, it’s that I made the choice not get off the couch.

Nothing changes unless you’re honest with yourself. You can’t get better or more efficient unless you analyze reality. You’re not really an angler if you went fishing once. You’re not a healthy eater because you ate Kale last Thursday. The washer and dryer do all the work, so you didn’t really just do laundry all day.

I have a lot of free time in my life because I am largely unsupervised. That is, I don’t have a wife, kids or pets, so only I know the amount of free time I have and how much of that time I use to do real things.

I decided when I moved back to Alaska it would be really easy to trick people into thinking I lived a really adventurous life. But that’s not what it’s about and that’s not what I want. I have the chance to live the life I was deprived of while in California. Gone are two hour drives through traffic to get to packed campsites to fish near people who use gobs of Powerbait to catch stocked trout. No more do I have to follow long streams of people traversing paved paths to get to pretty places in Yosemite. Solitude is available on a scale I haven’t experienced since high school when, of course, things are different. My summer long reunions with the wilds of Prince of Wales were great reminders of what was possible.

Now that I have reset my roots, I can show up with ease.

It doesn’t take planning or traffic reports. But I still have to show up. Just because I can, and did, doesn’t mean I will. It’s maybe a little easier once it becomes a habit but there is no end to the struggle. No one ever solves or defeats laziness, they just understand they are in a constant battle against it and refuse to let their guard down. If they do, it’s with full knowledge that the battle must resume once the game ends and the queso dip and Fritos are gone.

A plan is nothing more than an idea. It’s not really step one. Step one is motion in the desired direction. A plan is the preamble, the introduction.

So get outside. Get to the gym. If it’s raining, get to the trail anyway. Maybe you don’t go as fast or for as long, but it’s better than nothing. Plus, it’s better to start or keep that habit now, rather than try to start back up again in the cold and dark of winter.

Why else do we live here, right?

See column at:


Happiness: well-being vs. pleasure

After visiting Alaska for the first time, my buddy Chuy posted a picture with the caption, “If you do Alaska the way we did it, it reaches into the man’s soul and gives it a sense of eudaimonic well-being.”

To nail down on this (in a totally amateur, I got a C in philosophy in college sort of way) eudaimonic (eudemonic) well-being is to be fully functional, not just pursuing happiness though pleasurable experiences.

What I like most with eudaimonic well-being is that it’s a psychological well-being stemming from purpose and social contribution not just #YOLO.

I’ve marinated on this for a few weeks.

Happiness is subjective. Totally subjective. Even describing the “why” of happiness is nearly impossible. I love hunting, but I don’t really love killing. I love the process of being successful and providing, but again, that deer was only guilty of murdering plant life. Anti-hunters might conclude that since I love hunting I love watching animals die or being cruel to them. Totally not true, though there are definitely those who enjoy the actual killing.

Personal and human history is filled with “if it feels good, do it” ideology that leads to destruction because it’s not about wellness, it’s about temporary pleasure or a high.

There is a huge difference, but as is the case with philosophy, it’s not easy to pin down.

Yeah, I love hunting and fishing and camping and everything alone. I love solitude, but it doesn’t replace experiences with other people. It doesn’t replace the wellness you feel when you are engaged in a multi-faceted strategy to dominate as many aspects of life as possible with like-minded people. That’s wellness.

I feel well. I feel healthy. I feel that there is a purpose that goes beyond the simplicity of “fun.” But it has to be a continual process. Stagnancy will wipe away that feeling if I’m not careful.

I think that’s why people can love Southeast Alaska even in years like this, with more feet of snow in March than sunny days during summer. (Well, at least it seemed like it.)

There’s a unique wellness that’s possible here. That tenacity and sense of community that comes in a place simultaneously mesmerizing and miserable.

Everyone who visits me from the Lower 48 remarks about the friendliness of the people here. All it takes is one question while waiting for a fish taco and a robust conversation ensues.

It makes the drug problem here even more troubling. With such opportunity to live physically and emotionally healthy, for addiction to thwart well-being is tragic.

We don’t live on asphalt farms. The wild isn’t hemmed in by traffic and population.

Donald Miller wrote that people who are invited to live better, more purposeful stories become healthier and happier. I don’t pretend to be perfect, have the secret to life, or have anything figured out other than what seems to work for me. I don’t know how we invite people, especially kids, to live well rather than risk their futures with highly addictive substances.

I do know that I am happy I had mentors in my life that made me want to fish, hunt or at least get outside every weekend. Though I never hunted or fished with them, I felt part of that community – a community of people who indulged in complex wellness, not simple pleasure, and it shaped my entire life.

Bolder is better

This article appeared in the August 2017 issue of Alaska Sporting Journal

Goat hunt with Jesse Knock

In July, my first set of friends from California will come up and get their week-long slice of Alaska. It’s been fun to see how far we’ve altered the threshold of adventure for a few of them since they first visited.

“I’m really excited to come up, I don’t even care if we fish,” said Brian a high school teacher and softball coach before he was shown the ways of taking terminal salmon with a snagging hook.

Fast forward five years and he’s the one checking the tides and recommending we get up at 3:30 a.m. to get on the road and make sure we get to the snagging grounds on time.

His sense of wild has changed. His perception of the amount of adventure he can handle has changed. He craves the outdoors – as long as it’s for about a week, in summer and under my supervision.

It’s normal to get hooked by the idea of being bolder. Not in that teenage rebellious type way, but in that, me-in-nature sort of way.

I’m reading Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. Rather than a, “So there they were…” collection of outdoor stories, it attempts to answer the, “Why would someone do that?” question that we, the rational, logical reader, existing outside the context of emergency or adventure, ask.

According to Gonzales and his exhaustive research into survival phenomenon, we function in outdoor or adventure systems created by experience, but often times those systems are flawed. However, as long as the system works, we have faith in it…because it’s worked. But at some point, the flaw in the system will be revealed and since we’ve been conditioned to believe that if we make decisions that satisfy requirements within our system we’ll be okay, when it doesn’t happen, we fail to act properly. In those moments, we can only hope then that the consequences aren’t dire. And since all these routines and systems are executed by humans, accidents are always going to happen, no matter how much better safety technology gets.

Deer hunt in SE Alaska 2

Pushing the limits

Gonzales quoted an engineer after the space shuttle Columbia disaster. The engineer spoke about the expectation and understanding of astronauts when it comes to the inherent danger and potential totality of a disaster – a state of mind the general public doesn’t share.

The engineer concludes:

“S- happens, and if we just want to restrict ourselves to things where s- can’t happen…we’re not going to do anything very interesting.”
Alaskans don’t live the lives of astronauts, but the heartiest do put themselves in situations where they might feel like they are on the moon – isolated, maybe even from rescue.

I live a pretty docile life compared to the ice road truckers, commercial divers, fisherman, bush pilots etc. I go on overnight solo hunts into the alpine and skiff trips to troll or to access more secluded rivers for steelhead. My risk is acceptable, comfortable and minimal in comparison to some thanks to my threshold.

It’s hard to simultaneously embrace “Be Bold” to live a life worth sharing and “When in doubt, don’t” as a way to preserve it, especially in the context of recreation.

We don’t have to hike before the snow melts, we don’t have to troll for kings when it’s blowing 20, we don’t have to hike mountains alone. We get to. It’s a reward for living in a time in which all the generations before us worked and innovated to advance us to a point in American history when we can seek risk for recreation, while someone else lives their life through Netflix characters.
I’m not sure which is more dangerous.

Be Prepared

My buddy Jesse is an extremely prepared and competent hunter. He doesn’t skimp on equipment, especially things like crampons for foot stability in the alpine. Still, a fall almost killed him. He was totally ready, didn’t do anything wrong. Still, something happened. His common sense and knowledge of how to act in an emergency provided him enough clarity to get himself help.
That doesn’t always happen. We’ve read about, or maybe even know experienced hunters or guides who make fateful decisions. Read Into Thin Air if you haven’t.

Preparedness can be funny though.
In May, a girl in Florida escaped the grasp of an alligator because she calmly executed what she was told to do in the case of an attack. Impossibly poised in the face of what would have been absolute terror for almost all of us. However, she had been told what to do, so in those crucial moments, there was a file in her brain for such an incident. The principle of fire drills in schools is to help kids know what to do in the event of a fire, even though the vast majority don’t take the drill seriously.

A few years ago, a lady in Juneau punched a black bear that was taking off with her dog. Totally irrational. Totally not what you’re trained to do. Totally worked.

So if being prepared doesn’t prevent accidents, preparation and experience don’t necessarily improve situations and totally irrational things work, where does that leave us?

For many, home, to watch and read about boldness rather than live it.

Life in bubble wrap

For the outdoor crowd, most of our preparedness is reactionary and tech-based – last lines of defense to get us out incase our plan crumbles. We don’t run through the specifics because we can’t plan for specific what-ifs. If an alligator bites you, do this.
You can’t be that specific on a fishing trip to a remote river, far too many variables. What do you have, where are you at, what’s the weather, what’s the temperature, all that before we talk about animals. So you deal with general things and hope if specifics are needed, you’ll make the right call, or the people you’re with will.

It’s really not something you talk about. If you’re headed on the trip of a lifetime to Alaska for Etolin elk, Brooks Range sheep, Kodiak bear, etc. there are passing thoughts and maybe a safety briefing, but the assumption is, understandably, that you’re coming back. You plan more on where the hide will fit on the wall or who will be over for the feast once you return home. Alaskans aren’t immune to this.

Spending a lot of time outside here is inherently dangerous. But yeah, I hear you, what’s the alternative? Maybe the bigger problem isn’t just how to safely be bold, but to be bold period.

A study released in June found that teenagers are as sedentary as 60-year olds.

It shouldn’t be too surprising. To be unapologetic in our pursuit of an inherently dangerous lifestyle, isn’t really understood by the urban society that often deems it archaic, if not barbaric, in an attempt to eliminate our preferred type of boldness.

There’s a great irony with the anti-GMO and pro-free range supporters who are also anti-hunting. “Get it yourself” seems like the perfect slogan for that crowd. When we do, it’s inhumane. It breaks hearts when the animal is in the back of a truck going down the highway but not when it’s neatly wrapped at the grocery store?
So don’t hunt because it’s mean. Don’t do things that are dangerous, because they are dangerous. Accountability and implied risk are being replaced with blame and the need to post signs telling people that you shouldn’t pet the bears or bison. Duh. Nature is not a zoo.

We have commercials of families taking kayaks on the city bus to find an urban lake to remind ourselves that the world isn’t just strip malls, corner coffee shops and man-buns. We have to convince kids to go outside and play as if being outside and running around is the new “eat your vegetables.”

The demand to insulate us from potential danger through technological advances or governmental regulations is only separating us from the boldness that made us survivors and innovators in the first place.
We’re making cars that require less skill to operate. Strange huh? We are so bad at driving, that the new advancements will allow us to be worse.  Maybe I have this all backward. Maybe the truly bold survivors are the ones who brave freeways filled with distracted drivers.
Sleeping in a tent on a mountain during a storm?
Piece of cake.


When enthusiasm isn’t enough


Nothing great has been accomplished without enthusiasm. Emerson wrote that, but it’s been used by coaches, motivational speakers etc., because it states the importance of the way you go about things.

The thing about enthusiasm is that it doesn’t matter how ready you are to “slay kings” (before the closure) or bag a big buck. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. It’s not like basketball where you can dedicate yourself to getting on the floor for loose balls, and playing lights-out defense. You know what to expect in that forum. With fishing, you don’t.

Two weeks ago I wrote about Brennan Koeller who was up here putting on a weightlifting clinic in Ketchikan. He won the U-25 weightlifting National Championship for his weight class. He’s all about heart and enthusiasm. He can lift the weight, or he can’t. That’s the deal.

Naturally, after he hooked a 30-pound king that broke the rod (we still landed it), he was stoked to get another. His weightlifting coach, Chuy, was ready for his. Enthusiasm galore. No more kings.

I tagged along to film my buddy Jesse’s quest for an alpine deer. Clouds and rain descended and blocked visibility and damped enthusiasm but we were still excited. Deer don’t disappear, you just sometimes don’t see them no matter how excited you are. He didn’t even get a chance to draw.

The night before the first day I could hunt federal land on Prince of Wales, I went up my favorite mountain. I made camp, then walked around some alpine to see what was left after two weeks of local hunting. I looked down and saw another truck parked next to mine. I wasn’t too worried about it, though you do always worry about hunting the same mountain. It’s not like in California where you know you will be near a bunch of other people, which is why there is a requirement to wear hunter orange.

Anyway, I was stoked. My favorite mountain. But there were clouds. There was rain. And there was someone else on the mountain. Somewhere. I aborted my plan based on where I thought they might be camping and, driven by the notion that all I needed was the will to make it happen and it would, I went to a totally new part of the mountain and found nothing. Just tracks with no bucks standing in them.

After a long, wet day I retreated to camp, packed everything up and left.

Maybe the biggest problem is not fish or woodland creatures failing to understanding their role in our plans, but that these bright spots are the reason we live here. If you’re a college basketball fan, nothing gets better than March. It’s an entire month of, well, madness. For many Alaskans, August is a best-of-seven Super Bowl series of blacktail deer hunting. The brutal hikes, the camping, the Northern Lights during midnight…potty breaks, and of course, a set of velvet horns to talk about while sharing a meal.

Add in the rivers being filled with cohos and it’s an absolute outdoor bonanza. The last month where you can maybe hope for nice, warm weather. From here on out, it’s “Nice for September” or “Beautiful…for this time of year.”

It doesn’t always go as planned, and there’s really nothing you can do about it.

You can get really, really, really excited, but that won’t guarantee results. If success in the outdoors was dependent merely on how obsessively excited you could make yourself, then it wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

Without rain-soaked failures, it’s hard to put appropriate value on the sun-soaked successes.
See column at:

Living the brochure

My buddy Troy sent a text message before an administrator’s meeting at his school district in California while I was loading my pack for an alpine deer hunt. By the way, it’s so much easier to pack for a hunt when you’re the meat hauler not the deer shooter.
Anyway, Troy was mourning the loss of summer. I did the same when I lived in California, but not anymore. I don’t dread the beginning of work or the coming of fall. I can fish and or hunt every day after school, weather permitting, and then there’s the weekend – a weekend not filled with a two-hour drive in traffic to get anywhere cool.
I know Troy and the rest of my buddies aren’t really jealous because they have great lives in California, but Alaska is Alaska. There are places you can toss a massive claw and snag fish legally only a short drive from small creeks where big trout take dry flies. There are mountains infested with blacktail deer, a deer that is on every North American deer hunter’s wish list. There are scenarios where you can do it all in one day, and camp, pretty much wherever you want without wilderness permits or whatever else you have to have to sleep outside in California’s wilds.
So yeah, it’s easy to take a deep breath and feel content when your summer guests are back in the chaos that is the Lower 48, but though you are here, you still have to live here. You know? Every season in Southeast Alaska provides opportunities, late summer likely the best. But yeah, that doesn’t mean we all do it, or that I will do it. You don’t live here to sit inside watching television but maybe with how bad the weather has been, that starts to happen. There is an element of misery that must be endured so that the brochure life is accurate, not just some sales job.
Just because the best of here provides a buffet of outdoor opportunities, that doesn’t mean you’re going to do them every day. The brochure is easy to recite, not as easy to live. I’ve been waiting for months to be able to hunt in the alpine, but there’s nothing about the weather this summer that makes me think I’ll get sunny, warm days like previous years when I rolled out of my tent and was taking care of a deer before the fog fully burned off. But that’s the way it is this year. I’m not only excited to help a buddy pack a deer off a mountain this weekend, but I’m also motivated to live the type of life my Lower 48 friends (not the Discovery Channel) think I live.
As southeast Alaskans, we have learned to tolerate chop when we kayak, rollers when we troll, fog when we’re trying to navigate the alpine, and of course, rain. As the fireweed blooms alert us to the dying of a summer that never really came, here’s to living an August that’s as advertised.

See column at:

My favorite mountain

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska – My favorite mountain is where I shot my first buck but that’s not the only reason.
It’s a great bargain mountain, in that an old logging road takes you within striking distance of alpine so hikes to its upper reaches do not necessitate substantial chunks of time.
My buddy Jesse and I started up it in a light, dry-ish rain. You know, that type of precipitation that Lower 48ers would call rain, but we’d call it no big deal.
Anyway, we made camp then the weather broke and allowed us to amble around on the alpine for a few hours before the sliver of open sky on the horizon turned orange, then deep red.
“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”
“So the ocean will be calm, but what about up here?”
Jesse laughed.
The wind was angry most of the night. I rolled over in my sleeping bag, hoping I had slept most of the night but it was only 11 p.m. then 1 a.m. I felt most of those minutes so I was sure that I had in fact been awake.
I watched the dark shadows of the tent move. There was obviously no moon but there was enough to see the difference in shapes. I thought about my dry bag that had food in it. It was just outside my tent. On a night like that, anything willing to be out was more than welcome to my Milky Ways.
The next time I rolled over there was actual light. It had to be around four, but I checked, and it was 5:30. I had probably managed to stack a few hours together in some semblance of actual sleep rather than those camping naps that supplant actual sleep.
Jetboils were going by around seven and soon we were back in the alpine. We saw a spike and a few does, but the green slope was otherwise absent of anything standing in or near the myriad tracks or sign they left.
There were some bucks in the distance, but Jesse was hunting with a bow and the weather did not permit a stalk. Since Ketchikan isn’t rural I can’t hunt until August 1 and since most of Prince of Wales is federal land, the same regulation that excludes me from hunting the last week of July forbids me from hunting federal land until mid-August. So I get invited to be meat packers, which is fine, because I get to write about it.
Anyway, the window of good weather was supposed to last until just before noon, which it did. Two does emerged from the timber below us. One even bedded down. Then dark appeared from behind the ridge and invaded down the slope. The wind became almost violent. The doe was driven from its bed and Jesse and I from our perch. We side-hilled back to camp. The forecast promised rain every hour for the next day and a half so we packed up and left, the weight of a deer replaced by extra pounds of water soaked into our gear.
Whenever you go on a hunt and don’t get what you went for, it’s tempting to repeat one of those cliché, “A bad day hunting is better than…” or “Any hunt that ends in you safe at home is a good hunt” lines. And with good reason. That really is what it’s about.
My favorite hunting mountain is not one that many others go to for big deer, though there have been big deer taken off it. But it’s one of those connecting spots. One of those locations with connotation, weight, history.
I’ll go up again, when I’m allowed to pack a weapon myself and again be reminded why it’s my favorite.
See column at: