Sunday, June 19, 2011

Guys With Flies in July

Back by popular demand is the McPhail fly fishing trip to _____________  (you help me fill in the blank).

[Back to this destination help in a moment.] 

Guys with Flies in July is a pseudo-annual quasi-vacation for the rod-flickin' dudes in my family -- "pseudo-annual" because most times it's a pain in my Scottish arse to get even TWO guys' schedules to jive, and so, as it was, our outings were "planned" to be annual but never quite panned out to be such --  "quasi-vacation" because it was so much work that by the time we made it home, returning to work was an effing paradise.

My brother Todd can vouch. I planned a helluva trip for he and I back in 2007. Three locations, both New Mexico and Colorado, 7 or 8 rivers, gobs of wild trout. We were stoked. But on day one of our event we were nearly baked alive in a canyon-- two walking pizzas upon the black basalt stones of the Red River Gorge. Our mission was easy: fish upstream all day and climb out of the deep canyon on the next trail up. But missions often change in lieu of themselves.

The 800 foot descent into the canyon canyon was cake. Camelbaks full of water. Rods locked and loaded. Finally there. We fished hard, though the water was high and murky. All day I worried about drinking water, and how hard the hike out would be.

But we never found that trail. At 100 degrees, plus radiating heat from the brick oven-like rocks, sweat was wrung from our bodies like dirty dish rags and we had no choice but to head back the way we came. It was the only route we knew with any certainty.

We'd come three miles in. Easy. We'd been busy fishing. I'd caught two browns, Todd had two on but lost them. But the three miles back out would be a Hell like we'd never known.

Mile 1 -- Dry mouth. Very little perspiration. Prickly heat on every exposed pore. Sluggish thoughts, as though thoughts were becoming gooey and thick. Blood dripping down my face from a low-hanging limb jabbing into my scalp. And this is not a foot trail, this is boulder crawling the entire way, like climbing through Carlsbad Caverns on fire.

Mile 2 -- Zero perspiration left. Boiling skin. Periodic chills. Thoughts of our infernal deaths and a double funeral plague my brain. And a growing sense that we won't make the 800 foot ascent out of the canyon even IF we make it back to the trailhead. Vultures are literally circling above us, waiting...watching...hoping...

Several times I submerge my body neck deep in the cold river to bring my body temperature down. But all I can think of is drinking it in, risking illness -- an instant gratification in trade for an assured physical nightmare later. I passed.

Mile 3 -- We ultimately made it back to the the trail. Barely. Thoughts of hiking uphill the rest of the way out destroyed my morale. I could see no way this was possible. My legs were ceasing up and throbbing with lactic acid. Keeping them perfectly straight helped keep the charlie horses from knotting up. But I couldn't do that and hike too.

Visions of Aaron Ralston and Lance Armstrong 100 feet in front of me, calling me lazy and weak and screaming names like "pussy" and "fat ass" were the only things that kept me going. The visions of them seemed as real as my brother marching one switchback ahead of me, the trail eternal, the steps, countless.

Each time I sat to rest, I'd wake up a few moments later with my face on a rock or on the gravel trail, scalded from the heat, with no idea how long I'd slept. Then I'd hear their ghostly calls, "Pussy!" and up I'd get, trying to keep up with my zombie-brother who was experience the same dehydration symptoms as I.

After an agonizing hour of this hike-rest-pass out-hike again routine, reaching the canyon rim gradually became a possibility. My brother would blurt down to me inaudible commands. I'd reply with only grunts. The heat made speaking far too laborious. Even if I'd wanted to cry, I wouldn't have had the energy, nor the water to create the tears.

When Todd reached the rim, it was real. I could make it as well. I found inside of me the heart of a lion and a insatiable appetite for living the end of my life. There is no man more powerful and driven than the man, on the brink of death, who owns his own destiny. With Frankenstein style paces I sorely found my way up the final few switchbacks, where, upon reaching the rim, I fell to my knees and wished I could cry. I thanked seven gods and crawled the rest of the way to my Jeep where Todd was drinking from our cold water stash in the back.

Yes, after day one of Guys with Flies in July 2007, returning to work was a paradise.

Hopefully this year's event won't be so... oh, what's the word I'm searching for? Fatal?

Anyways, with wildfires and droughts abound, we're searching for the perfect mid-July camping/fly-fishing/backpacking destination. Destinations that I know are out of the question: Jemez Mnts (too dry)
White Mnts Arizona (on fire)  Taos (done that)    Angelfire (little camping and no rivers)    Durango  (too far away)    Cuchara (not wild enough)  

Anyone have any ideas? Please respond here, or to chadmcphail@gmail.com. I'd love to entertain any thoughts... 


About Mac

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I am W. Chad McPhail. I'm an outdoor/travel writer, book author, former English teacher, and Amarillo native. 

I spend my spare time traipsing around the mountains and streams of the southwest in search of wild trout with my family, friends, various freeloaders, and other flotsam and jetsan. I used to teach English & Creative Writing. These days I am a Right of Way field agent with Coates Field Service, representing Sharyland Utilities during the construction of a 345 megawatt transmission line from Hereford to Panhandle, Texas. I love exploring the outdoors, fly fishing, backpacking, camping, hiking, kayaking, and yes, writing outdoor and travel books and pieces. I am a field writer of flyfishing, backpacking, camping, and kayaking articles for Suite101.com. I have written many articles for magazines such as Southwest Fly Fishing, Texas Fish & Game, Rocky Mountain Game & Fish, ESPN.com, and more. I have co-penned three books with fishing buddy Mark D. Williams; Colorado Flyfishing: Where to Eat Sleep Fish, 49 Trout Streams of Southern Colorado, and An Introduction to Fly Fishing for Trout.