Thursday, July 17, 2008

It Wasn’t A Smooth Move

It’s widely thought by most sportsmen that outdoor writers are pretty neat people. They fish, hunt, and get paid to write about their outdoor activities.

All of this is true. What isn’t known is that most of us make mistakes. We do some occasional dumb things, and often try to keep people from learning about our miscues.

Not me. I’m a straight-arrow, upright, upstanding, and willing to share some of my fishing and hunting gems foibles with my readers.

One day my son, David, and I were prowling the Betsie River looking for last-minute. I was walking along one of those crumbly paths that overlook the river. Stop and start, look for fish on spawning redds, and then I spotted a empty Diet Pepsi bottle.

Mind you, I’m fairly high over the river when I spotted the bottle. Fools who toss away empty bottles and cans annoy me, and I stopped to pick up the bottle. It would be stowed in my vest until I got back to the car.

My fly rod was in my left hand as I bent over to pick up the bottle in my right hand, and I took two steps, stubbed my toe as my son hollered something at me. I turned as he spoke, tripped and spun, off-balance and obviously out of control, while slipping in the process.

I landed on my back, and began sliding downhill. I spotted a small tree rapidly approaching, put both feet together, and they hit the base of the tree. The slope was steep, and 20 feet below is a deep hole with heavy current sluicing under a half-submerged tree.

I must have been a pitiful sight. There I was, standing mostly upright on a steep slope with a fly rod and empty pop bottle in my hands. The trick now would be to pivot around to where I’d be facing the slope, and do it without continuing another slide into the river.

Hands were needed, and I had none free. As distasteful as I found it, I let the bottle go. The fly rod was placed on the slippery slope, and dirt was pushed up at the bottom of the reel to hold it in place.

That done, and while my son fished for a late-running fish and oblivious to my situation, there was nothing he could do. I carefully tried to rearrange my feet on the base of the small tree, and turn over to face the slope. It wasn’t a truly vertical slope, but was close to it. I had 20 feet to go to the water, and 20 feet to climb to get out of there.

A bad move while turning would probably throw me off balance, and I’d continue the rest of the way to the river in a head-first slide. Not cool.

Looking around, I found a small tree root at ground level. I dug my fingers under it until I had a finger hold. With caution, I reached across my body while maintaining constant foot contact with the tree. I was able to grab the root with my right hand, reach up with my left hand to find another tree root, and once in this awkward position I slowly eased my body around.

One foot slipped off the tree but a death-grip will my right hand kept me from sliding off the precarious footing. Now I’m facing the steep slope, and I look up and spot another half-exposed tree root. It was grabbed with my right hand, and my rod is pushed uphill with dirt packed under the reel to keep it from slipping.

Up I go, two feet with my left hand grabbing for purchase on another tree root, and my feet trying to gain some purchase. Huff, puff, this is hard work.

Another and another tree root is found, and slowly, a foot or two at a time, i crawl upward feeling like Spiderman wearing waders.

Each time my fly rod is boosted up, and my fingers are digging dirt out from under half-exposed tree roots. It’s progress but very slow because to rush things might send me splashing into the river. Now I know what it must feel like to climb mountains.

I eventually found my head at trail level but no more tree roots in sight, and me in my corn-stalk camo waders would have looked odd to anyone watching this bizarre climbing experience. My rod was picked up and gently tossed onto the trail as I began digging for finger purchase in the soft dirt, and I’m huffing and puffing like a worn-out steam engine. Good reason: I am worn out.

My grip with both hands on bare dirt was as good as it could get, and I began trying to do a vertical chin-up in the dirt. My right shoulder, and then the left came over the top as my toes kept pushing me up.

I’m not home yet and a small sapling was inches from my left hand as I released my grip on the dirt and grabbed the sapling, hoping it was deeply rooted enough to hold my weight. It was and finally both legs came over the ledge and onto the trail with my nose on my fly reel.

The climb took about 10 minutes but it was the hardest my old body has worked in a long while. I finally sat up, my back to a tree, as my heart rate and breathing slowed.

It was a sad piece of work. My back was sore for a week. Oh, if anyone is really interested, the Diet Pepsi bottle is still down at the bottom of that slope and I am not going back after it.

I feel glad about making an attempt to keep our stream banks clean, but rather stupid for tripping and falling over the bank and sliding downhill. It really wasn’t a pretty sight, and I’m glad no one, including my son, caught a glimpse of the old man scrabbling slowly up the slope to safety.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/17 at 07:56 AM
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