By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter
A light appeared in the darkness behind us. It was someone wearing a headlamp. My pace quickened.
“We’ve got company,” I said.
My fishing partner and I had arrived hours before daylight to get our spot and were taking two friends who had never been to the lake before. I had forgone precious sleep and a latte to get up before coffee shops opened to claim my spot on the lake. I was hauling a sled that weighed 70 pounds and was two miles into a three-mile hike. The thought of not having my sleep or coffee and still not getting my fishing hole flashed before my eyes. Panic set in.
“Is there a problem?” my friend asked.
“That headlamp has been gaining on us,” I said. “We better pick up our pace.”
I tried to pick up my pace, but it was as effective as trying to pick up a Volkswagen. My heart rate quickened, my lean gained a few degrees, but my pace did not change. Maybe the sled weighed 80 pounds, I thought. I’d have to weigh it when I got home.
“If we get passed, we won’t get our spot,” I said.
“Is there only one spot?” my friend asked. In my mind, there was only one spot, but I hadn’t really thought it through. I hadn’t rationalized it.
“Yes,” I said, without any authority. Even as I said it, I wondered if it was really true. I’d fished that same spot for years, but how did I get to the idea it was the only spot? And how did I get to the assumption that the headlight behind us was worn by another ice fisherman who was heading to the exact same spot?
“Are people really this serious about ice fishing?” she asked. At the moment, I was leaned almost perpendicular to the ground trying to haul my sled over a log. I didn’t have time to stop being crazy to explain why I was crazy. We had to get to the spot first and ask questions later. She offered to run ahead with my fishing partner. But the headlamp walked by us leisurely.
“Good morning,” it said.
“Good morning,” I grumbled.
Maybe if I wasn’t hauling a 90-pound sled I would have been in a better mood. It’s hard for me to be pleasant if I think someone is racing ahead of me to get my fishing spot. I try, but mostly I’m consumed by self-criticism. Why did I pack the sled so heavy? Why didn’t I get up earlier? Why did I bring the barbecue grill on a backcountry ice fishing trip?
We continued to plod along and I was relieved to find that the headlamped fisherman was not heading for my exact spot. In my mind, I thought, “Ha, ha, he doesn’t even know where the good spot is. Ha, ha, ha!”
Then I remembered I was crazy and decided not to say anything until I could get home and go to some therapy sessions.
“We better get to fishing,” I said. “The rainbows circle the lake on the hour.”
My friend’s husband looked at his watch. “It’s five ‘til seven now, so we better hurry.”
“No,” I shook my head. “It’s not actual hours, it’s fish hours.”
My partner could tell I needed help with not continuing to sound crazy so offered some explanation.
“What we do,” he said in a tone that could be perceived as mocking, “is we wait until a fish bites, then we synchronize our watches.”
Yes, I thought. That’s what we do.
“Then it takes them an hour to get back around the lake,” I added.
My friends accepted this bit of bad logic and we all got to fishing. As I sat in my shanty, I wondered about myself. There were so many things I did while fishing that didn’t make sense if I tried to explain them. It’s not like rainbows live and die by a 15-minute block calendar. They weren’t wearing little watches or tracking their activity on fitness bracelets.
As long as I caught fish, it didn’t matter what time it was, the color of my lure, which way my shanty or chair faced, or the exact spot I fished. Those matters could be irrelevant as long as my line dipped. As long as I caught fish, I wasn’t crazy. Thank goodness we caught fish.
Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. Her book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” was released by Northern Publishing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For up-to-date information on the “Women Hunting Alaska” book, visit Northern Publishing online or Women Hunting Alaska on Facebook.