It’s no secret to my family that I was in no way a great fisherman. In the headline picture I’m not sure if I was more proud of the little fish that I caught or how darn good looking I was in the “Skipper’s” cap. When I was just a small boy growing up many of our family vacations were spent in western Minnesota where dad grew up. Naturally, he and his family spent many days fishing in the lakes around Fergus Falls and when we would visit during the summer in the 60’s we went out quite a bit on an old homemade pontoon boat built with 55 gallon drums, 2 x 4’s, plywood and chicken wire. When we later moved out to Montana the fishing was a bit different on the Clark Fork river. I quickly found that river fishing was a bit more difficult than dropping a line in the lake and watching a bobber take a dive. It took a lot of patience and skill and I guess just like many kids I had very little of it. I lost some interest in fishing, however I did still go out occasionally but it just was not for me. I detested cleaning the damn things and getting a bone stuck in my throat was less appealing all the time. So it goes in life, some people do things as a kid but never do them as an adult.
In 1998 that would change a bit when an opportunity arose for a fishing trip of a lifetime. When I was working as a sales representative for Food Services of America there were many times they would run sales contests throughout the year for selling various products. Many of these at that time might include trips to various places and in the summer of 1998 Nestle’s was offering an incentive to 4 of the top sales people to go on an all expenses paid fishing trip to Kodiak Island Alaska. I did however at that time have somewhat of a handicap as my territory and client list consisted of a lot of schools who did not purchase during the summer. My dreams of this trip quickly faded as my sales of Nestle product was no where near where it needed to be to stay in the running for one of the trips. A couple weeks after the promotion was over I was working at my desk on a Sunday doing sales calls and preparing for my week ahead and I received a call from Wes, another sales rep over in Casper Wyoming. He said “you know I won the trip to Kodiak right”? And I knew of it and I of course congratulated him. He went on to tell me there was no way that he could take this trip. Wes had some health and family issues that just made it impossible to go. He then went on to tell me that he wanted to give me the trip. HOLY COW! How could I say no? Kodiak Island? Really? Who would be that generous? We quickly got it approved through our District Manager and the next day we needed to contact the folks at Nestle’s to get his plane ticket changed over to my name. Well, long story short after several days they could not change the ticket. It was purchased as a non-refundable ticket and there was just no way to change it. They did say however if I found a way to go they would pick up the lodging and all the rest of the expenses. But buying a ticket was not feasible for me. After some thought I told Wes I would just drive to Casper (240 miles), have him check my luggage and get the boarding pass and I would just use his ticket with his name on it. Keep in mind, this was 1998. This was 3 years prior to 9/11 so there was no TSA, very little in the way of security and the only time they really checked your I.D. was when you got your boarding pass and checked your luggage. I had all of Wes’ information memorized like his Social Security number, drivers license number, address and so on just in case somebody asked and I could not produce an I.D. as Wes. When it came time for the trip I met Wes at the airport in Casper. I gave him my bag now bearing his name on the I.D. tag. He checked in, got the boarding pass gave it to me and I then proceeded to the gate. It worked like a charm! I met the other guys going on the trip in Salt lake City and we were off to Kodiak Island for several days of world class fishing. River fishing in Alaska for Silver Salmon was much easier than trying to catch a trout in a Montana River and jigging for halibut just outside Zachar Bay was truly an amazing adventure. I could not have been happier getting to fly on a float plane and having the opportunity to view hundreds of bald eagles and very very large Kodiak brown bear along with a host of other wildlife.
The whole week we were in Alaska however, I kept thinking about how I would get past the gate agent checking my bag and showing I.D. to go home. The other guys on the trip were supportive and gave me some ideas but really I had no idea how I was going to do it. When it came time to check in I told the gate agent that I had torn the pocket on my jeans while in the woods and my wallet was lost (yes I lied). I gave him all of Wes’ info that I had memorized. He bought it hook, line and sinker (catch the fishing pun) and we boarded the plane and headed for our layover in Anchorage. Little did I know however that we had to re-check all of our luggage and at the time we were allowed to carry 40 pounds of frozen fish each which the lodge at Zachar Bay had packaged for each of us and we had to check that too. This time the gate agent was not friendly and he was not buying the story! He wanted me to contact someone back home to get some type of picture I.D. sent or I was not getting a boarding pass. OH SH*T!! Now what? The only thing I could do was to come clean. I told the guy I had lied and was using Wes’ ticket. He told me if I wanted to get home I had to purchase a one way ticket from Anchorage to Casper using my own identification and it was NOT going to be on the same plane as the other guys. I actually did not even have a credit card on me to pay for the ticket so I had to use one of the other guys credit card and would pay him back $650 or so when I got home. I stayed several hours more in Anchorage by myself and my plane left at 2:00 am headed to Seattle first to layover the entire day and then to Salt Lake and then to Casper. That was one long day and I still needed to drive 240 miles home. I was totally shocked when the luggage and fish were not lost. I think I got back to Rapid City around 7am the next day.
Well this is one fish story for the record book and once again in my life I took a huge risk to gain a huge reward. Think about trying that after 9/11 and you would soon realize that staring at the inside of a jail cell would probably not be worth the risk but all in all paying $650 for that trip in 1998 was but a pittance of what the trip was worth and now the story of a lifetime is priceless. I recently checked the price of a 6 day trip to Zachar Bay Lodge. $6000 per person in 2019 and that does not include airfare to Kodiak. So was the reward worth the risk? For me it was and risks have always been a part of my life to receive a memorable reward. What risks have you taken in your lifetime to receive life’s rewards? Please don’t wait. If you see an opportunity for adventure, weigh the risk, it just might mean a very rewarding experience. As an older adult however I don’t break to many laws or do things that are immoral but I’ll still take a chance here or there.
I can honestly tell you I think about Risk vs. Reward everyday that I am planning the Ridin On adventure. Many questions go through my head as I calculate the risks of such an adventure at my age and in my current condition as a stage 4 cancer guy. As I think about and write the many stories of my life they all seem to have an element of some type of risk. Yes, I’ve once again weighed the risk and I’ll be Ridin On for the reward that awaits me.