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Elk Hunting

My Slowest Mile - A Story of Pain, Suffering, and Mild Stupidity

Drainage View From Base - Elk Camp.jpg

Two links of boudin, a pop tart, and some cheese sticks, plenty of calories. Hell, it was just a few mile hike. Who cares about the 10,000 calories I was deficient of over the last 72 hours. I had an hours rest and a pop tart, I had done more with less. I loaded my pack. I packed food, clothes, shelter, a sleep bag, and a few essentials. I loaded the camera gear, my bow, binos, and a kill kit. Food and water rounded it all off. I was set. It was 56 pounds when all was said and done. Just shy of some training hikes back home. So off we went.

Mile one - it was a good one. I saw a mama moose and her calf, the aspens were beginning their seasonal change, and the mountains surrounded the horizon. It was my favorite part of the hunt, leaving the comforts of base camp, heading into the true wilds of the wilderness. I was headed to my home away from home.

Mile two - things began to turn.  I realized I left some stuff. First, it was my tarp stakes. After that, para cord. It was one thing after another. Everything began to weigh me down. Anger began to creep in. I stopped, and I told myself, "Suck it up buttercup and soak it in. Look around. You are where you love. You are in your sanctuary." So I pulled up my big boy pants and did. I looked and gazed in all directions. I took my camera out to distract me from the negativity of my mind. I looked up, turned around, and twisted my knee. It was bad, I must of torn something. It burned. My thought were racing "Now what? First the tarp stakes and now this. Eff my life. Why did we even come here today. There are elk in a drainage near camp. Why did I agree to this. We had already spent the day climbing a mountain tracking a dead elk that was nowhere to be found. I climbed up and down all day for nothing." I was pissed. I hated the thought of bivy now. My mind was completely in the gutter. Each rock that bumped my toe was on a hit list. Each change in elevation was torture. I hated the world and everything in it. I just wanted to go home. 

Mile 3 - bivy camp was less than a mile ahead. Each step was Torcher, I wanted the button. You know that button. That button, on Alone, where a helicopter flies down and sweeps you away. That button that takes you to the best steak dinner money can buy. The one that makes everything disappear. I wanted that one. I was in total despair. I wanted off the dang mountain.


Oh wait... 

I forgot, I wasn’t on the mountain. I was on the valley floor, the least strenuous trail I had been on. If I stretch the truth, It may have been 500’ of elevation gain over 3 miles, and that is completely reaching. On any other day I could do it all in less than 40 min. Even worse, If you were a bystander watching me, you would of seen a snail tied to a tree. Painful to me but more painful to watch. Each step was harder than the next. One step, two steps, then three. I needed a break. My heart was racing, legs burning. Everything hurt. I repeated this over and over again. I took everything I had to put together a forward momentum of 5 steps. My mind was fighting itself.  The irrational side of me took everything I loved of the outdoors and made me hate it. I hated the trees, the trail, the mountains. I hated my backpack, my bow, and friends. I hated my food and I even hated my water bottle. My Water bottle? My Friends?  I was a failure in pure misery. As I slothed my way into bivy camp, I already wanted to leave, I wanted to go home, and I wanted nothing to do with the outdoors. I was done.

.86 miles took 48 min and 35 seconds. I stopped 31 times. My heart rate was 162 beats per min and I gained 217’ in elevation. It was my slowest mile. I stopped just feet from bivy as if the last five steps would have killed me. I felt like death, a zombie. I had bonked, I hit the wall in full stride. 

Bonking to me was somewhat a myth up until this point. I heard of it, thought about it, but never experienced it. By definition in the endurance sport arena, it is a condition of sudden fatigue and loss of energy caused by diminished glycogen stores. However, I think Paul Scott of Runner’s World Magazine, defines it better as a “collapse of the entire system: body and form, brains and soul.”

I was broken, I hurt emotionally, and I hurt physically. It scared me. I thought I had really screwed up. I sat and moved around slowly at camp. I ate, and ate, and ate. 2 days of food to be exact in a matter of hours. Those friends I hated no longer looked like the devil, they became the support I needed. I relaxed, built a fire, and even use the sat phone to call home. Hour by hour I regained my legs, my mind, and my soul. I was okay.

Note: this was totally preventable. What happened to me was exactly what will happen when you forego your natural instincts and exert yourself past what is considered normal. Listen to your body, slow down, eat, and rest when due. Preventing this is as simple as eating proper nutrition a few calories every thirty minutes to an hour while maintaining proper hydration and electrolytes. I fully understand this concept and practice it during training, yet failed to mimic it in the field. I learned a lesson that I hope to never repeat. Having someone with me that understood this first hand was an important factor in recovering quickly. The next morning I was back completely and put a full days work into our hunt.  

Victory in a pursuit

Tired, sore, and on edge we roll into base camp knowing that we have 24 hours left of our hunt. All was grim as stormy weather and a plethora of hindsight left us at our mental limits as we planned for our final pursuit. Leaving spike camp just hours before, we tossed around ideas as our ambitions grew. A 3:30 am start, along with an tough climb, the high meadow that seemed worlds away became the accord. Nevertheless, Mike headed up the mountain to scout it out and glass our morning destination. As Mike’s silhouette faded into the valley we all pick up the pieces of the prior days and began the chatter on the victory of our pursuit in a different shade. As the light faded the storm intensified, we all scramble to the cook tarp to post up for Mike’s return. Thunder and lightning erupting, we see Mike strolling into camp, head hanging low, we knew the story was a repeat of the days before. He told his tale of the weather, the storm, the stalk, the encounter, and a dance with the giant that to this day roams. Then ever so slightly each word intensified by the flashes of lightening, he changed his tone and uttered the words of success that lay on the mountain above...

- Daniel Underbrink

Mike Kulbeth showing off the arrow of success 

Mike Kulbeth showing off the arrow of success