Bird seasons come and go. Most of the time I try to not think about the start and end dates because there’s always a half-year where we won’t be chasing birds. To focus on the beginning and end always seems like so much longing, instead of just embracing the moments afield that we actually get. It’s the same reason I generally don’t share hunting photos when it’s not upland season — the present feels more real and calm for me. In some ways I don’t want to focus on what we’ve done in the past because I’m afraid of the complacency. Reliving what we’ve already done feels like a nod that I’m satisfied with those accomplishments. I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. I want my best days to still be ahead, and the closer I get to that no longer being true puts me on edge.
But this season it was just too difficult to not look back at the previous. The way we wrapped up our hunts of the Colorado 14ers felt incomplete and left a pit in my belly that’s been there for an entire year. I tried to resolve it in the off-season, but it didn’t go away. I’ve thought about how I could adjust my training, change the dogs’ preparation, come at things from a different angle or time — none of those answers are easy or offer different outcomes.
In some ways we accomplished a lot in that first season of Way Upland. But the way I’m wired makes me focus on what we didn’t get done. I’d like to change that about me. But, I always end up back at “why couldn’t you have done more?” As for last season, I couldn’t do more because I was physically broken and exhausted. There’s a fair chance that at the end of our time at elevation I had walking pneumonia. It took three months at the conclusion of that trip to stop coughing. I probably could have gone to a doctor – maybe I even should have – but I didn’t want confirmation that regardless how hard I trained or how fit I thought I was that I was susceptible to falling ill.
Don’t get me wrong, Season One of Way Upland was spectacular in so many ways. Leading friends in search of birds on the highest peaks in the lower 48 was unforgettable. Except for the nagging “could we have done more?”
The final climb, the final hike of that season was Redcloud Peak — it was our 15th attempt at summiting a 14,000’ peak while bird hunting. That day the weather played a role, but if I’m being completely honest we were too beat up to make it to the top regardless. That failure has lingered with me.
I figured the best way to resolve these thoughts in my head that I can’t shake — if I were younger, if I trained harder, if I just sucked it up — return to the scene. Though this season of Way Upland takes on an entirely different and unique challenge, maybe even more difficult than the first, I wanted to begin this journey right where the last came apart. We headed up Redcloud once again because that mountain was the only thing that supply the answers.
Once the dogs and I crested that summit, the “ifs” were silenced. I feel better about the start of this new season and the potential to accomplish the goals we’ve set — though most of my friends and family who know what I have in store believe I’m insane.
I certainly hope our preparation and planning has been enough. Maybe I could always do more. Until the day I can’t.