"Every time a group of people come together from this team, I realize more and more that everyone is looking for somewhere to belong, but more than that they are searching for a place to be inexcusably, authentically, purposeful. And frankly, HLE provides just that for so many people. I don’t know the life stories of these men and women, but from this point forward they are my people. They are a part of whom I belong to, with, and for."
Most of my outdoors experiences derive from an antiquated relationship that nearly predates me. My parents have been together for 24 years, and David has been my brother figure for 20, a point I’m sure he’s to spout on repeat as he dictates my life story to you in an effort to make a point that I mean more to him than almost anyone else on earth—an admirable artifact about Papa Stark.
As I’m writing this, I am being wafted by the artisan scent of wild boar sausage being rendered edible 23 feet up wind of me, and blanketed in an unrelenting campfire smoke insistent upon staging on the hairs of my nose so as to never be forgotten. Sitting here trying to embed the moment on my soul the way smoke does one’s clothes; I’m soaking in FISH CAMP. A term remarkably foreign to me as a noun, and conceptually strange as an event. And yet, here I am: Fish camp.
It is no different than deer camp, other than presuming you know what you are doing as you disappear into the trees, here your fishing twine keeps you an honest man. It will tell of your every mistake as it lays out across…the tree you hooked 12 feet back because you had no business having that much line stripped out. But when it lays out, it tells a much different story. Whipping behind you in the air as if you’ve done this a million times, laying out across the water, telling of how you kept sufficient tension from start to finish, or at least of how all of your mistakes connected awkwardly to make you look real nice. Fish camp is where knowledge is hard earned, and the atta boys are genuine.
Five of us arrived here having nearly never cast a fly fishing rod, save for David “Skittles” Stark—a name I hope many of you presumptuously inquire about when you join the team and meet Mr. Stark, the resident “expert” on fly fishing—I say it that way because he’ll tell you “what I know is a drop in the bucket of what could be known, I just enjoy the thing that brought life back to my lungs.” Anyway, on day one I received a few pats on the back for how easy it came to me to cast, and I even caught a salmon. Perhaps casting came too easy, because quickly the atta boys dwindled and a good cast was expected.
So now it has become my undertaking to understand why it is easy for me, and I’m doing so by observing that it may in fact be difficult for others. That understanding of difficulty, and the ease of the sport to myself, is made possible in my attempts to explain how to do what we’re doing to others. Annoyingly, I make it simple and understandable for them, too (much later after everyone left, I began to focus on the more technical side of casting--that part where personal philosophies and art dance on the mountain of your rear deltoids because it turns out you actually have no clue what you’re doing—and I rediscovered abruptly that fly fishing is so entrancing because despite what you think you know, the way your cast unfolds will tell you otherwise).
Instead of continuing to fish, I delay what is coming my way and step back to observe what it is we are building here. As team member Dave Childers perfects some round house whip ass cast—the unofficial term of course—and lays up on where he just caught a fish, I look at Skittles and invite him to share a honeybun on the river with me. Team lead, Assistant team lead, and team: a moment to behold as we realize 3 hours of the morning sun has been rushed away while we beat the shit out of the top of the water with our fly rods, no care in the world. Nevertheless, we tore into those wrappers like a dual pack of starved trash pandas as we looked at the team, the serenity, and the opportunity that stood before us.
It is not lost on us what HLE is building, and neither is our place in the construction of it all. Dave Childers ended the weekend saying, “I feel like I gained a whole new family,” and it's that remark every single time HLE team members get together and put in work to navigate, respect, and learn more of the outdoor world. I’ve known Dave Childers for four days and we converse like we’ve been at it for the better half of two decades. I know of few places where those types of bonds and understandings are forged: sports being one, and battle being the other. Somehow this community deeply resembles those connections and pays homage to those places where many of us have yet to trod, and where few of us still do—shout out to founder and CEO Luke Cox for having the vision to cultivate such a niche tribe based off of his experience in the military. Much love, Stud.
I realize this is what Hunt Lift Eat is. It is everything about how this weekend came together; while we are not in Virginia slaying does on a kings grant ranch, we are doing so much of the same work. Hunt Lift Eat is being mindful enough of others that we ensure they feel safe as they camp among strangers. It’s towing in campers, so females have a safe haven to recluse within, and do what life they need, while we dance merrily with the outdoors in tandem, learning our roles in the universal song, not as men and women, but as outdoorsmen. Hunt Lift Eat is dudes coming together who’ve never met and connecting like you have been family for decades. It’s sharing a type of bromance that can only be made possible by an affinity for one another’s success, and some weird point to be made that you’re f**king loved. A point made to me by people like Luke, Garrett, Carter, Chad, David Stark, Austin Foughty, and...deep breath...brace yourselves...even Junior.
Every time a group of people come together from this team, I realize more and more that everyone is looking for somewhere to belong, but more than that they are searching for a place to be inexcusably, authentically, purposeful. And frankly, HLE provides just that for so many people. I don’t know the life stories of these men and women, but from this point forward they are my people. They are a part of whom I belong to, with, and for.
As the ASMR sounds of the river appease my senses, the breakfast tacos and beers fill my rot gut, so too does the company of such great humans fill a void in my wanting soul. For me there is no more wandering. Now, there is only adventure, and I know exactly with whom I want to do most of it.
Thank you for being in this school of people, The Honeybun on the River.