Early in my life, my father instilled in me the habit of exploration, of wandering hand-in-hand with chance, and reveling in the results. So it comes as no surprise that we are both habitual fly fishermen infatuated with wild places.
Rivers and wild fish I hold to be supreme symbols of such a lifestyle, as both follow mother Nature’s enigmatic rule book. Rivers themselves are wild, dynamic beings—their currents roiling with mystery. Given an education like mine, you come to regard all pockets, undercuts, plunges, runs, or otherwise obscure corners of moving water as opportunities for the unknown. The desire to flirt with mystery becomes insatiable, and so too does the quest for wild places.
Maps are another entity with which I share an intrinsic romance with, and have, long before my identity as a fly fisherman was realized. If ever there was a catalyst for far-off daydreaming, it’s a map, and in my experience, adventures start with one.
And so it begins.
I was 18 when I first set my sights on a grand adventure. Feeling fresh in the new beginning of high school graduation, I wasn’t about to take the plunge into my college career before satisfying my thirst.
A full semester, four months, 10 states, and what would total about 12,000 miles by the time it was all over and done with, was my aspiration. “Maine to Florida” was my oft announced summary, but my parents (being responsible, and probably slightly concerned, parents) demanded more details.
Details I gave them, in the form of locations, campgrounds, and a rough itinerary. Something about the idea of providing a day-by-day, hit-by-hit schedule offended me on a spiritual level, and so I escaped home in early September of what would have been my first college semester with most of my spiritual freedom intact.
I found smooth sailing through most of the early weeks of the trip, but met Serendipity on a few previously unknown, unresearched waters. A Trout Unlimited sign caught my eye on the bank of an unknown freestone stream in Pennsylvania, drew me in, and offered me a few handfuls of carp and brown trout. In New York, on my way to a bunk house in the Catskills, a curious turn down a gravel fishing access landed me on the banks of a beautiful river covered over in Isonychia, which I later discerned to be a branch of the almighty Delaware. In Maine, an intriguing bridge crossing led to an exciting evening of casting hoppers to rising spring creek browns.
Things got shiftier late in September, when I had visitors coming to northern Vermont, and I had two weeks to kill. Wandering a few hours west from interior Maine, I found myself engulfed by the beauty of the White Mountains, and later, the Connecticut Lakes Area. Wild trout were plentiful in both locations, I came to discover, and each became a special place in my mind, if only for how well I came to know them, purely by happenstance.
Tonight, as my second college year creeps to a close, I’m once again covered up in maps and daydreams of far-off wild places, rivers, and fish. With a boatload of writing assignments across the country, summer promises to be a rich one, albeit long, and I get lost in the details.
But then again, maybe that’s the point. Punctiliousness is the bane of adventure, in the moment, but necessary in getting there. All you have to do is get there.