When I was 23, going on 24, I undertook the ambitious project of fishing my way across the country for Outdoor Life Magazine.
When I offered the idea as a project pitch, truthfully, I had no idea if it’d work. I was experiencing some stress from other things going on in my life, and thought that movement of any kind, escape, motion, would at least be something different. Without a budget for motels, I figured I’d sleep in my vehicle. That’s the kind of thing that, when you propose it to yourself from inside of an apartment, doesn’t sound that bad.
I created and edited a video pitch using iMovie, went down to the offices where Outdoor Life was located, took a deep breath, stepped into 2 Park Avenue in Manhattan, and said that I was ready to fish my way across the country.
If anyone can ever be ready for such an undertaking, I was not. I remember putting the stuff from my apartment in cheap storage and closing the door on everything that wouldn’t fit in my Jeep the way you remember a movie that you saw: I remember it happening, but not what it felt like.
I had drawn up a map, with a calculated timeline, concerning where I’d fish and when. Drawing up a map with a timeline before fishing your way across the country from a vehicle is kind of like playing a round of miniature golf before taking to Bethpage Black. In your head, you might feel slightly more prepared or ready, but in reality what you’re doing won’t in any way ready you for what you’re about to attempt.
Because it was early summer, I decided to start in Maine before working my way down the coast. Some online research lead me to the kind people at Weatherby’s Lodge in Grand Lake Stream, Maine, as a place to start.
I shut the storage door on almost everything I owned, got in the Jeep, and headed north. Truth be told I was terrified more than excited: I had no idea if any of this would work.
Then a funny thing happened, slowly and all at once. Jeff McEvoy and the guys at Weatherby’s put me up for a night, and even managed to help me land my first landlocked Atlantic salmon on the fly.
From there, Brooke Hidell taught me the subtle art of trolling for landlocked Atlantic salmon on Maine’s Sebago Lake.
As I headed down the coast, I was more falling that flying, but anglers kept catching me at every place I stopped. They welcomed me, helped me, inspired me. They made me think, laugh and even start to believe that this mission that I undertook might even be possible.
The first night sleeping in a vehicle was nerve-racking to say the least. Every slammed car door and police siren has you crawling out of your skin.
But slowly, even that became routine. I learned where the safer places were to catch a few Zs (Walmart parking lots are great, because they’re open 24 hours), and that if a cop wants to search your vehicle near the Texas/Mexico border… you let him.
As the trip continued, my faith grew: not in myself, I was as 24-year-old-terrified as ever, but in something larger. I came to believe in people, no matter who they were, even if we hadn’t met, and even if our ways of life, thoughts and ideas were different.
The trip continued down the East Coast, to the Keys, out through Louisiana and Texas, to California, up through Oregon and Seattle, back across the beautiful mountains of Montana and Wyoming, and after 200 days and nights, exactly, back to Upstate New York just in time for Christmas.
The greatest thing that I took away from that trip, what I remember most, is one simple but beautiful idea… You cannot possibly control or predict the variety of forces that will come into your life. If you had a thousand guesses, you’d still probably be a mile off the mark.
And placing trust in ourselves is the hardest thing of all, because we know better than anyone our faults, shortcomings, and difficulties.
But if you trust other people, and I mean collectively, fully and wholeheartedly… you’ll get a return on that investment of trust that is far greater than what you put in. People will amaze you with kindness, humor, hope and help at almost every turn.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “I am a part of everything that I have read.” I love that quote, but some research will reveal that it was likely drawn from the poem Ulysses, by Lord Alfred Tennyson, which reads: “I am a part of all that I have met.”
And most importantly, their altruistic willingness to help a complete stranger is now part of me. I came back from the road with faith that I was part of something larger, part of something kind, forgiving and, at its core, good.
And it inspires me every day.