I’m not much of a hunter but the other night I found myself watching MeatEater with host Steve Rinella hunting Sitka Blacktail in Prince of Wales, Alaska. What I learned is that this section of Alaska is notorious for its abundant rainfall, and during their trip, this was no exception. The conditions were horrendous, there was constant rain, high winds and they didn’t see a buck for the entire time they were there. Watching Steve endure the elements from the comfort of my living room made me happy that I wasn’t in their same predicament. They were constantly wet, cold and they had a grim look of despair on their faces for the entire episode.
At a certain moment when the entire group was at an all time low, Steve brought up the concept of low and high grade fun, half jokingly. But this idea of graded fun (experience) really stuck with me. It’s a concept that grades experiences based on their ability to resonate in our lives. It’s a philosophy that, I’m sure, all outdoor enthusiasts can relate to.
A “graded” experience is not one that you can rank from 1-10, it’s the idea that different types of experiences will have a different sort of affect on your life, whether it builds character or gives you an adrenaline rush. The higher the grade of experience, the more rich, and higher quality that experience will be in your life.
A low-grade experience can be associated with something that is easily attainable and doesn’t take much to accomplish. It can provide a quick rush of dopamine or a short span of engagement. An example is riding a roller coaster or going down a waterslide. These sorts of experiences provide instant gratification but the memory quickly fades. These sorts of lower quality activities don’t have the ability to keep you satisfied for a long period of time.
A high-grade experience on the other hand is the idea of delayed gratification. A high-grade experience will keep you satisfied and provide memories that can even last a life time. But what makes these experiences such higher quality is the fact that they don’t come easy and they take hard work and commitment (whether it be mental or physical). A high-grade experience can be agonizing and relentless, it can push you to your limits and make you want to quit. Its paddling through a downpour, battling headwinds, or trekking through portages while getting eaten alive by mosquitos. These are some of the experiences that will push you to your limits.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a situation outdoors where I was cold, wet or exhausted and wished I was anywhere but there. But on reflection, these were the trips I have the fondest memories of and look back on with the biggest sense of satisfaction and a profound sense of accomplishment.
This feeling of accomplishment and gratification is impossible to get from quick thrills. I may be preaching the importance of short term pain for long term reward a little too much, but I believe it’s these aspects of an experience that makes the reward that much more sweet.
The wilderness is a "wild" place and it's not for the faint of heart. It can be a cruel mistress and it can knock you down to your knees if you let it. But it is this raw, unrelenting wild beauty that keeps its allure burning inside of us. So really, watching Steve Rinella getting pelted with rain and wind, I shouldn't be pitying him, I should be envious, because those memories he is creating are his for a lifetime.