I am anal retentive. There, I said it. Now the healing can begin. I organize, make lists, assemble neat piles, finish a project before I can start another, research everything I can on a new topic, purchase, or destination before I forge ahead, pack my truck the night before, make the plan for everyone in the group, and probably wash my hands too much. My unbelievably messy (but completely sweet and normal) kids drive me crazy sometimes. My wife is the exact opposite of me, literally, she was born on the summer solstice and I was born on the winter solstice. It is why we are a good match and also why we want to kill each other sometimes, but that is another post.
Two months ago, I agreed to go on a three boat trip, only knowing one of the other 8 anglers, on a five day steelhead exploration, down a road less canyon, on a river in NE Oregon that I have never been down. I have guide friends that have been down this section many times, but none of them are coming with us. Nine accomplished anglers and oarsmen with 40 miles of river to go blindly down. We should be fine...right? We leave in two weeks. I haven't done a thing yet.
Now comes the freak out. While sleeping away in my bed I have a very vivid dream that I show up for this trip only to realize I forgot to bring my F-ing boat! The rest of the group is ready to go and the two guys in what should have been my boat are looking at me like "are you F-ing kidding me, you forgot your boat?". As the dream progresses, I find myself (and two other guys) loading gear into a small Wal-Mart inflatable raft. You know, the piece of shit yellow and blue ones that are only good for drinking beer and getting sunburned during drunken summer flotilla’s. Since it is a dream, the people are larger than they should be and the boat smaller than it should be only adding to the anxiety. This is all I can take of this dream. I wanted out now. I woke myself up soaking wet and freaked out. After guzzling my bedside glass of water (an anal retentive must have) and calming myself down, I flipped my pillow over to the non-sweat soaked side and fell back to sleep thinking this nightmare was over...
"But wait there's more!" The dream pretty much picks up where it left off. Now I am running all over looking for my fishing gear. The rest of the group is sitting in their trucks, boats ready, waiting for my unprepared ass to get my shit together so we can go fishing. As I am shoving my sleeping bag and clothes (not in a bag) into the crap raft, I know everything is just going to get soaked. For some reason (it's a dream so logic is out the window), I am now trying to find my rods in a fly shop now. I am storing them there in their back room or something (again, dream). I find a 5wt. and a 6wt. No spey, no 8wt. F-it I have to go. Everyone in their trucks is now yelling at me so, I throw what I can carry into the truck and we go. As we pull out of the parking lot, I think, my reels! I wake myself up again as I just can't take anymore. Needless to say, there was no way I was falling asleep again. Now it's time to plan.
How could I have let this happen? I am not the kind of person to just show up for anything. I always need to know at least the basics. I have let life get in the way of my usual prep routine.
That morning, still dark outside, coffee in hand, family still sound asleep, I am at my computer probably doing one of the most extensive internet searches ever attempted. Collecting, reading, printing anything I could find about where we are going. Before the internet, I probably would have just curled up in a ball on the floor and cried while sucking my thumb if I was in this situation. Thank you, oh glowing screen full of information. I am starting to feel a little better now as the sun is beginning to rise. Too early to call anyone yet for information, time for gear organization and inventory. I am in my perfectly organized garage laying all of the gear for this trip on the floor with notepad in hand. Jotting down all of the little things that I need to get or do in the next two weeks. I will put this list into my Iphone so I have it with me at all times and can add to it as needed. My gear is probably all completely fine, but my anal-ness won't let me take something if there is the remote chance it will fail or wear out during a long trip. Besides, that is part of the reason we take long trips, to buy and try out new gear. It's also easier to justify to our spouses if we "need something for the big trip". The same waders that I would normally wear for 30 days with a huge hole in them, simply will not work for a five day trip. It's also the reason local fly shops still exist in this mail order world. So we can walk into a shop announcing the great trip you are going on hoping to make the shop grunts behind the counter jealous. Ok, that was mean...but somewhat true. We get to spend a day, away from the house, getting ready, and buying gear we probably don't need.
Here's the thing. A trip doesn't just last the time you are on the water. It begins the moment you commit to going and it lasts long after you have returned. Part of the thing that draws us to rivers unfished, is the time leading up to actually being there. Dreaming of the misty steep canyon walls we have never actually seen, hearing the sound of the water in your head, imagining the conversations with new and old friends in the boat or around the campfire, envisioning the perfect cast to the perfect spot in the river only to hook the perfect fish. Preparing for a trip isn't just about the collecting of information and getting gear ready (although my condition does require me to do so). It's about getting your mind ready. Letting go of the job, responsibilities, and general life stuff that weighs us down daily, so we can truly be present the moment we hit the water. For most of us, the actual time spent in the water is only a fraction of what we hope for, but we can live the moment as long as we let ourselves.
So the next time you find yourself at the put in wanting to check emails on your phone one last time before you push off, resist the urge, look at your friends, look at the water, and let go. Same goes for the take out.
If and when I return from this trip in one piece, I will let you know what lasting memories were created.