Lure of a gruesome hike

As someone relatively new to the fly-fishing community, a few warm summer months spent in the San Juan mountain range of Colorado was one of the best learning experiences I could have asked for. Each morning at the local fishing shop, I would gather with the other employees and guides, and every time, the same 5 words were said:

“Where are you fishing today?”

On a particular set of days off when a group of us were feeling ambitious, we decided to pack our gear and take on a rather gruesome hike in search of promised untouched water and once in a lifetime fish.

Photo by Rebecca Milne

Over the course of the morning as both my mind and body protested what we had gotten ourselves into, I found myself wondering. Why was I doing this? Could the fishing really be THAT good? Would I actually be able to make it to this lake? Sure enough, after a few hours, lots of blisters, and more moments of doubt than I would like to admit, we made it. As we came around the final bend, a pristine lake teeming with fish, wildlife, and still frozen snowbanks awaited us.

We spent the evening setting up camp, fishing (of course), and even swimming in the crystal-clear water with trout that were not afraid of humans in the slightest. Before bed, as we sat around our tents going over the struggles of the day, one of our companions laughed and said:

“The things we do for fish.”

This phrase has really stuck with me because he was right, but frankly, it didn’t make any sense. Why had we been so eager to do something so uncomfortable just for a chance to catch great fish, but enjoy it all the while?

The more I thought on it, the more examples I came up with; there are countless stories of the crazy lengths that nature photographers will go to in pursuit of the perfect shot. How many climbers have stories of near-death experiences as they try to reach a peak they have been dreaming about? Outdoor activities, some more than others, are often paired with some aspect of discomfort.

So, why do we keep doing them? Better yet, why do we ENJOY them?

I think the answer to this question goes back to ecosystem services. To put it simply, the cultural ecosystem services that enhance emotional, psychological, and cognitive wellbeing of the public are so powerful that we are driven to drastic lengths in search of those experiences.

I have often found myself at fault for considering these cultural services last when examining ecosystems as it is easier to both quantify and present data on physical variables than it is to do so with human dimensions of natural resources. This leads to some other questions:

Why is it so easy to place cultural ecosystem services at a lower priority when they mean so much to so many and are consistently igniting passion in our communities?

This question doesn’t have as clear of an answer as the first, if it has an answer at all but, it’s an important thought to ponder and one I certainly still dwell on after that experience at the lake in Colorado.

As I sat among our group that night, I was finally able to comprehend the personal value of those cultural ecosystem services and the newfound sense of community I was experiencing. In the months since that hike, I have found myself thinking a lot about what the natural environment is worth to me and the large role it plays in my life. While I don’t have all the answers, I do know one, you can justify just about every crazy idea you have by simply saying:

“The things we do for fish.”

Photo by Doron Lovett

Author: Mary Kramer

Mary is currently a Master's student at Texas A&M Corpus Christi studying Environmental Science. She loves to be outside, explore new places and hopes to use her degree to connect young adults to nature and careers in the natural sciences. Mary loves to paint, fish and read in her free time and can often be found doing so at the beach.

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