An outdoor adventure can bring discomfort. But that can be part of the reward.

“I love doing stupid stuff with you.”

“Did Rigby learn to talk?” I wondered while looking back to see Christine grinning.

“Seems you’ve gotten past asking me, ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ ” I replied.

“That’s because it has occurred to me that after all these years, I would now have to ask myself that question.”

Christine’s utterance came as we began the return trip from an ice fishing adventure gone bad, and yet, about as good as one could want. Never mind each step consisted of our snowshoes breaking through the 4-inch layer of wet snow to the 8-inch deep water below.

The day seemed like another ice-fishing trip to a distant lake with no broken trail to follow. The deep snow and warm temperatures demanded far more effort than anticipated. Winding through the stunted black spruce common to much of the northern Kenai National Wildlife Refuge while pulling a sled of ice-fishing gear turned quickly to Type B fun. For Rigby as well. With his enormous body and youthful strength, not much slows him down, but he frequently high-centered while breaking through the crust and struggling to free himself.

The first lake we crossed, on the way to a second, wasn’t bad, only a couple of inches of overflow beneath the snow crust. The second lake, the one we would fish on, showed no such kindness. Over the years overflow while accessing lakes during a cold/warm weather cycle was common, but we agreed it had never been this bad.


None of it surprised us. Throughout the winter, nature threw a curve almost every time we headed out. The heavy snowfall early on hadn’t developed a crust strong enough for the dogs to run on and we would wade through it while Hugo wallowed in a spirited effort long enough to stave off his awful disposition that develops when he hasn’t gotten out like he thinks he should.

If you’ve ever had a dog that gives dirty looks, sulks and pretends to go on a starvation diet to get his way, you know you’ll give in. So does the dog. Hugo’s spirit keeps us going against all advisement to the contrary.

Like Hugo, our dispositions deteriorate when we are housebound for too long. Cabin fever seems to be the prevailing term, but it isn’t that.

Whether it’s ice fishing, cross-country or backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, hunting, trapping, or winter camping, to name a few, there is always a way to get out and heal the body and the soul in winter. It is more a matter of willing oneself to suffer the pains of getting started to reap the good feeling for having done it.

During the recent cold snap that lasted long enough to make me feel I was back in the winters of the 1970s, and temperatures were hovering around minus 25 degrees at night, the will to go kept hiding behind the wood stove. Until one night, we peered around the stovepipe at each other and said, “We gotta get out of here.”

My dad was a serious admirer of Theodore Roosevelt, and I was exposed to the famous president’s history early in life. There were parallels to his and my childhoods. We were both quite sickly and had been diagnosed with asthma, and Roosevelt had chronic digestive difficulties. Eventually, Roosevelt’s doctors told him he must lead a sedentary life, free of the rigors of the outdoors. Similar to my memories of doctors telling my mother that she needed to keep me inside, not out in the North Dakota cold and wind.

Roosevelt told his doctors he would do everything they told him not to. I never said that, but I remember thinking that being outdoors doing outdoor stuff was the only time I felt good and I wasn’t going to follow a line of thought that restrained me.

Roosevelt’s life is legendary. His boundless energy allowed him to accomplish more in his life than most could even conceive, all while struggling with health issues. His way of dealing with poor health when it became debilitating was to head outdoors to live a rigorous, strenuous life. He reveled in the hardships of ranching, hunting, and exploring and always returned to his civilian political responsibilities rejuvenated.

Perhaps the most admired trait of Roosevelt for me, I took it to heart and have found more comfort in difficult times, be they physical or mental, than any other remedy. After a fair amount of speculation and resistance, Christine embraces it with me.

[As our perceptions of wilderness evolve, so can our enjoyment of these special places]

By the time we got Christine’s ice shanty set up and her portable propane heater going, the temperature for Rigby and me had warmed to minus 13 degrees. Rigby seemed rather oblivious to the weather and plopped his big butt next to my chair about the time we heard the scream, and a moment later, a portable heater, engulfed in flames, came flying out of the shanty.

A week later, two friends new to ice fishing came along with us. The warmer weather promised a nice day on the ice. Christine and Rachel set up for some conversational ice fishing in the shanty while Alex and I fished from our camp chairs outside.

All seemed near perfect as Alex and I jigged and Rigby romped around in the snow. Suddenly a blast of wind came and sent the shanty right over our heads and down the lake. It happened so fast that when we looked over, Christine and Rachel were still fishing, and paused for an instant before they jumped up and helped chase the shanty down the lake, with Rigby running along barking for support. A wonderful day outdoors it was.

When we had sloshed our way to the spot where we would fish most recently and drilled a couple of holes, Christine sat down and propped her snowshoes up, feet out of the water.

“Seems like that will be a bit awkward if you catch a fish,” I speculated.

“Yeah, but I have a leak in my boot, and this keeps my feet out of the water,” she said.

When I sat down to fish, Rigby came over to sit with me, like he always does, only this time just as he would start to sit, his butt would hit the water, and he would stand back up. It’s one thing for Christine and I to be miserable, but neither of us could sit back and watch Rigby try to get comfortable in an ice bath. We traded duties exploring the shoreline with Rigby before we packed up and headed back.


After allowing that we were stupid for our most recent effort, Christine expounded.

“If we were in a gym, and I was this worn out, I would just quit. I love that you can’t do that on an adventure; you have to keep going to get back. It’s a kind of freedom hard to find anywhere else.”

She might have hit on the best explanation for why we do “stupid” stuff.

Steve Meyer | Alaska outdoors

Steve Meyer of Kenai is longtime Alaskan and an avid shooter who writes about guns and Alaska hunting. He's the co-author, with Christine Cunningham, of the book "The Land We Share: A love affair told in hunting stories."