Over the last two years, I’ve spent the majority of my time pursuing uncertainty in the mountain west. From the time I got my first fly rod, eight months passed along the rivers of Montana, Colorado, California, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho before I caught a single fish. I’ve stalked through the Wasatch Mountains of Utah in search of Mule Deer, walked the fields of Kansas trying to kick up birds, traversed the slopes behind my grandparents house stalking turkeys with my bow, and have forayed into business by starting a company for the modern outdoorswoman, called Wylder. The only thing left predictable is the five minutes every day when my coffee reaches the perfect temperature.
I’ve been pushed to my very edge, forced to make friends with risk at levels I didn’t know existed, and have begun to discover that on the other side of fear, is a freedom and a frontier where pursuing the unpredictable has a hidden joy.
As a single female new to the ‘hook and bullet’ side of outdoorism, fly shops, archery and gun stores are uncharted territories. Each one has their own language and culture, not unlike the facets of a business. Executing capital strategy, public speaking, and web development for the first time has a similar humbling effect as walking up to a 50×30 shelf of thousands of flies and deciding what to use.Strategy meetings with CEO’s and chatting up the old timers in small mountain towns about the latest fishing reports are equally defined by exposure, vulnerability, and the discomfort of not knowing all the answers. I’m finding my pursuits as an outdoorswoman and as a businesswoman on parallel path, defined now by my willingness to struggle, to endure repeated failures, and work tirelessly towards something where there is no guarantee of success.
I started fly fishing right when the cold crept in along Rock Creek outside of Missoula, Montana. That winter, I went fishing instead of everything else. I learned that in order to get good at fly fishing, you have to be an incredible naturalist. You have to read the water, the weather, the birds and the insects, and then be able to present a tiny fly on the end of you line ever so perfectly on the surface of the water to even begin to get a fish’s attention. I spent eight months hiking along snowy riverbanks, and wading in ice water with frozen hands in order to catch my first fish on a sunny day the following spring, roadside, in sandals.
When I’m fishing I spend a lot of time snagged in the willows and cottonwoods behind me, untangling massive bird’s nests of line, and even casting with nothing on the end of my leader because I’ve unknowingly snapped off my fly. I am consistently humbled as my intent gets checked by irony in the mysterious game of impersonating an insect.
There are moments that keep me fixated. I wade into the current and feel the river all around me; equally holding me up and trying to pull me under. I find rhythm casting with perfect tension and drift, and my gear feels like an extension of my body. Sometimes I’ve matched a hatch, my line is just right, and I’m locked in a tension of perfection and possibility for a few seconds before a fish strikes. My labrador rescue mutt careening off the bank after the fish on my line usually follows this moment.
Comfort can come in many forms. We can have the butcher handle our meat, remain unchallenged by our work, and settle into known hobbies and social circles. But we can also step out to find our footing where we’ve never been, where there’s no trail, no map, no set of answers, and no one to tell us what to do. We can choose to be defined by the values we’re willing to struggle for, and begin to move away from the expectation of comfort, and the dependency of being provided for. Discomfort and unpredictability can become the new constants by which we chart a new course.
I never know when the trout will strike, when the buck will leave the timbers, or when the covey is going to explode out of the brush. And I certainly never know what a given day will present during this early stage of my company. As an entrepreneur and an outdoorswoman, I’m finding myself alive in the tension of intent, possibility, progress and defeat. It is here that resourcefulness, adaptability and improvisation define my edge, both urban and wild.