• Jesse Paulsen

Mileage 18: Falling Apart & Falling Back Together

"Some infinities are shorter than others. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever with the numbered days, and I am grateful." - The Fault In Our Stars

April 19th will be 12 years since I lost my Dad: the greatest man I will ever know. My infinity with my Dad was short, but sweet. He truely did give me a forever in that little time, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

I grew up in a very small & remote town on the north shore of Lake Superior, where my Dad also grew up. It was a 2-hour drive from Thunder Bay, which was also where the nearest McDonalds, Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Walmart and shopping mall were all located. We had a small grocery store, a pharmacy, a post office, a recreation center, a couple of gas stations and restaurants, and a liquor store -- all of which mostly closed at 5pm everyday and usually weren't open on weekends. We never locked our doors and I was always out riding my bike with my gang of friends around town, along the Trans-Canada highway, through forest trails & getting lost -- with the only rule to be home before the streetlights came on. We didn't have a single set of traffic lights on any of the streets and I used to drive my snowmobile to high school everyday in the winter. In fact, I passed all my drivers road tests without ever even driving on a major freeway. I didn't have a cell phone until I moved away to college, and Friday nights as a teenager often consisted of driving around town playing "hide-and-go-seek" in our parent's trucks.

Growing up in such a remote area -- my family was heavily involved in both fishing and hunting. My parents and grandparents taught us to appreciate & value putting meat on the table by yourself. When I was a toddler, my Dad and grandpa ran their own black bear guiding operation every spring. I spent many weekends up our local Mill Road with my Dad setting up bear bait. Often times I got to sit on his lap so I could drive the truck or shift the gears. I remember the distinct smell of the bait and although it was pretty gross, it brings back a lot of good memories. When we got to stay at bear camp, my Dad or grandpa would take us fishing out on the lake for pike and walleye during the day while the hunters were out. My mom would pack us some PB&J sandwiches (I still pack a PB&J sandwich every day fishing!), juice boxes and chips, slathered us in sunscreen, and off we went. Being so tiny and young, I did catch a few pike that were longer than me. I remember having a hard time just holding them on my own to show them off, but somehow I managed because I sure was proud of every single fish I came home with. This was where my passion for fishing began.

Up that same dirt road, I spent many fall weekends with my Dad hunting for partridge and moose. When I was in Grade 1, I took a blown-up beer can that I shot at with the .22, moose "fur" from a harvested moose, as well as a partridge foot -- all for show-and-tell. (When my dad would harvest a partridge, he would cut off the feet with the tendons hanging out and we would pull the tendons to move the claws. I know ... small-town kids find entertainment out of a lot of gross things!) Every Thanksgiving, we never really had a big family dinner because my Dad and his best friends would be out hunting at their annual moose camp. So instead, we would be sitting at home in the window eating a small roasted chicken dinner that my Mom would make for just the three of us, and wait for my Dad and the boys to roll up in the truck with a moose in the back. To us, that was better than any fancy turkey dinner. Aside from moose hunting, we also spent many weeks in the fall time at my grandparents house and cabin in Wisconsin during whitetail deer hunting season. My grandpa owned and operated an archery/hunting shop and range in Menomonee Falls until his retirement. I got to go with my grandpa to work a couple times and it was always a treat. We would usually bring our Barbie dolls to stay occupied since we weren't allowed to touch anything (LOL), but he set me up with a little bow to shoot in the range all day and I'd shoot for hours. On weekends we would drive up to their cabin to deer hunt. I will never forget the time I was hunting with my Dad where I got to witness him shoot a deer with a bow for my very first time. I was probably around the age of 7. Being so young, it was a privilege to get to sit in the tree stand that wasn't taken for granted. I remember how hard it was to sit still for hours in the early morning. I had to keep reminding myself that I couldn't say a word or make any movements. When a deer finally appeared and my Dad was about to take his shot -- I had to contain myself entirely. In the end, all of that determination and patience as a 7-year-old was worth it. I remember after he took his shot, I could feel my heart just explode with pure excitement. When we walked back up to the cabin, I got to ring the big bell to let everyone know we got one. He also let me track the blood trail to find the body. I did find it successfully and I remember feeling like I was a million bucks. It was one of my most memorable moments I have ever had in my life and one that I will never forget. Unfortunately it was my one & only experience getting a deer with my Dad, and I hold onto that memory the most out of them all.

When I was only 15 years of age, my Dad died suddenly and unexpectedly and my world completely fell apart. We placed his ashes at Mileage 18, which was the marker on the Mill Road near one of his favourite fishing spots and also where my grandparents ashes are placed. When he died, so did my passion for the outdoors. I stopped fishing, I lost interest in learning to hunt on my own, and I just really didn't want anything to do with any of it. Part of me felt like I couldn't do it without him. I would look around and see all of my friends having their dad's to help them, guide them, and take them on all of these adventures. It made me so upset, mad and jealous of how unfair it was that I didn't get to have any more of those opportunities with my own Dad. I loved my outdoor hobbies more than anything, but I just didn't love them anymore without my Dad. It was only until I moved to British Columbia, around 6 years ago, that I picked up a fishing rod again and went out and bought my first compound bow. It was here that my world fell back together.

When I moved to BC, I moved out here completely on my own with two suitcases and just $2000 to my name that I kept saved throughout college. I didn't have a car or a job, and I didn't know anyone as I had no family out here. When I realized that I could manage moving hundreds of miles across the country completely by myself with the odd's against me, I could really do anything -- including getting back into the things I once loved the most. I knew how short life can be and that I shouldn't give up on things so close to my heart just because my Dad wasn't around to help me, when I could still chase my wildest dreams by myself. He would of wanted to see me continue on in his footsteps and take it even further than he did. Since then, I have spent a lot of time learning, doing and experiencing things by myself, from shooting my bow to fly and spey fishing. I do a lot by myself, and sometimes I still have to push myself to do things on my own, but I love every minute of it. I had to start from scratch when I moved here, but I have come a long way -- so far so that last December I was featured in an article as "14 Female Anglers You Should Be Following on Instagram" along side some other ladies who have been role models to me. (I had to pinch myself!) Every weekend I am out on a river somewhere, tying flies, or watching fishing videos. On rainy days I can be found in my apartment shooting arrows through my apartment. (Yes, I actually set up a mini archery range in my apartment!) My Dad often talked about coming to BC to fish on Vancouver Island, so last year I finally made it over there myself to spey fish on a few rivers. It made me feel like I was living the dreams he never got to and making him smile from afar. Last year I also made some connections, and was graciously given an opportunity to go on a heli-fishing trip for bull trout. I was beyond thankful for it. I never could of imagined getting an experience like that and I have fingers crossed to get to go again this summer. This year I am planning on getting my hunting license with fingers crossed that I bag my first deer on my own.

When I reflect on my cherished memories and moments with my Dad and how far I have come by myself since he passed away, I have to admit that I have learned that heartbreak isn't hooking the "big one" on the river and the line breaking or hook slipping just before I can tail it; heartbreak is realizing that my Dad will still always be the first person I want to call to tell all about it. Every day when I am out fishing. I wear a necklace with a bit of his ashes inside of it. I saved an outfit of his complete with a plaid shirt, jeans & wool socks -- and sometimes I take them out of the box I keep them in when I'm having a bad day. I would be lying if I said I'm not jealous of all the ladies I know who still get to go on fishing or hunting days with their Dad's, and I shed a tear sometimes when I am out fishing by myself. If I am out fishing by myself, I often say, "I am out fishing with my Dad." because I know I'm not truely alone and that he is always with me. However, despite all of this, I still consider myself a very lucky person. At the end of every day spent on the river or in the woods, I am very grateful that both my Mom & Dad raised their daughters to be able to fish and hunt with or without a man, and to never let anyone tell us that we can't do something. I am lucky to still have my Mom, who is the strongest woman I know and had to step up to play the role of both "Mom" and "Dad" for the last 12 years and has supported every single dream I have had. One day someone will be lucky enough to steal my heart and will ask to be fish slayin' & bow hunting' partner in crime for life, but my Dad set the standards high. He showed me the type of man I deserve to grow old with and never settle for less. I have a lot of pride in where I came from, and no matter where my dirt road adventures or wildest dreams lead me to, I will always find my way back to the Mill Road and Mileage 18.

Cheers to small towns & big dreams. Thank you for our little infinity, Dad. OX



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