Because nothing good comes easy.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. —Albert Einstein
So, as it turns out, elk hunting is hard. Shocker, I know. The research, the miles of hiking, the heavy pack and mostly elk-less days. Ugh. Same goes for ice climbing—enough with being wet, cold, and terrified already. Backcountry skiing isn’t much easier, what with all that trudging uphill, sweating, and hanging out with filthy hippies. How can one season be hot, freezing, dry, wet, smoky, and snowy, all at once? Fall is a sort of recreation purgatory—everything is so damn hard.
Of course, as an aphasiac therapist might say: there’s a diamond in every turd. Whether it’s hunting, or ice climbing, or searching for those first turns of the season, there are moments—the crystalized, slow-motion, soft-focus, “maybe-I’m-tripping” moments—of not sucking. And those moments—the kinds of experiences that sear our souls and change our lives and ultimately define us—are why we do these ridiculous, difficult, awesome things. That, or the debilitating masochistic psychosis that apparently afflicts a significant swath of Montanans. Take your pick.
Doing hard things changes us in good ways. That’s why our parents used to tell us that painting the weird neighbor’s shed would “build character.” You built even more character when that weird neighbor made inappropriate sex jokes about your brush strokes and offered to “hose you down” at the end of the day—just as an example of something that absolutely never happened to me. But our parents were right. Doing hard things makes us better, more balanced, more interesting people.
Remember that time you completed a mundane task with thoughtless ease and not a hint of physical discomfort? Of course you don’t. Because that’s the worst story ever. But I’m sure you can recall, down to the most excruciating detail, the time you stalked a bull for miles, took your shot at dusk, spent the night butchering (and terrified of griz), then spent the entire next day laboring under insane loads of meat. That’s what your friends say anyway—they’ve heard the story 100 times.
You may hunt 20 days in wild country and never even see an elk. You may carry your ropes and axes up thousands of feet of loose talus only to find Ice Dragons isn’t even remotely in yet. You may schlep skis to the highest, darkest, coldest corner of the Absarokas and never make a single turn. Autumn is the toughest season for recreation, no doubt. But go anyway—do the hard thing. The doing is what matters, and you’ll come back better for your effort. And if not? Hey, we can always hose you down.