What my Achilles injury taught me
On June 21, when I laid on my back with my right leg in a deep hole in extreme pain from what I quickly surmised was a complete Achilles tendon rupture, my summer changed drastically. My first thoughts were with God. I knew that somehow things would work out, and then I just had to trust. But, relatively quickly my mind went to troubleshooting and had to start grasping where to go next. The pain was too intense to even sit up as I would get lightheaded, so as I lay there I started to plan. Obviously, my earliest concern was going to be my Achilles tendon. I figured I would call my friend and colleague, Dr. Scott Innes and get on the surgery schedule as soon as possible so I could get to healing quickly.
My next thoughts were how am I going to manage all of the Ultimate Expedition Fishing trips and Ptarmigan hunts that I had scheduled for the summer. I knew exactly who I would be turning to to answer that question. And after I was able to sit up, get out of the hole and determine that I could at least bear weight on the heel, I hobbled back to my plane. Once in the plane I assured myself I could work the rudder pedals and then when my good friend, Zack with Alaska Clearwater Sportfishing got back to the plane he spun things around and I flew us home. I dropped him off on Kenai Lake in Cooper Landing and made the rest of the way back to Longmere. I hobbled up our famous hill at the lake by the lodge and called to Jason and Cody to help me get my waders off. I confirmed the diagnosis quickly. Then I called Dr. Innes and got me on the schedule for Monday and then I called Alan Helfer, with Talon Air.
One thing I learned for sure is that it’s good to have friends. I guess that was no revelation, but sometimes your friends just go above and beyond the call of duty. Alan took over my Beaver for the summer on a lease and used his pilots (Titus was awesome) and guides (thanks again, Ben, Dan and Jeremy) and with some close direction from me, managed to pull all of my Ultimate Expeditions Fishing trips off with great success. They handled the flying for my Ptarmigan hunts and I was able to piece together guiding for what turned out to be a great season. I found a great young man in Fairbanks, Ryan Schmidt, who came down with his dogs and handled some of the early September hunts. I am sure that we will be using his services again in the future. Monte handled hunts later in the season when things slowed down on the river. And overall, everything went off without a hitch.
But not being in the field every day helped me to learn a lot about my Lodge and its management and my guests and those who work around me.
Watching Monte all summer with a closer eye made me realize with even more certainty how super-human he is. He was absolutely tireless. I’ve always marveled at how he gets through Sockeye season, sometimes guiding over 20 people a day. But normally things slow down a little bit for him in September. He didn’t take a break. He went from fishing to bird hunting and guiding duck hunting and had a great attitude. He makes All Alaska Outdoors what it is. I am grateful for him. Glad to have Henry, too. Looks like another good Ptarmigan dog.
Jason, our longtime fish processing expert has got to be the most reliable employee any business person could ever hope to have. Always on time, pays close attention to the details of his craft and always has a good attitude. I must say, I don’t have to put any thought into my entire fish processing operation. He manages the refrigerator, the freezers, the vacuum sealing equipment and all of the necessary purchases to carry out his trade. And he completely handles any shipping issues as well. I think he knows how I feel about him. Hope I made it more obvious.
I guess I can’t say enough about what a great relationship All Alaska Outdoors has always had with Talon Air Service. Alan basically taught me how to fly the bush. He was there with me on every aircraft I’ve ever purchased from my first Super Cub which I still have, to the 185 which the lodge purchased many years ago when we first started our own Ultimate Expedition flying service (he flew to Seattle with me to look at the plane and then the two of us flew the aircraft back to get it to Longmere lake). Eventually the lodge sold that aircraft, and he helped me with the purchase of the Beaver which I still have. But the fairness with which he treated me in my time of need did not go unrecognized. And I learned that his guides were quite competent and could provide relief for some of the hands on duties that I thought only I could manage. And for that reason, we will use the same basic infrastructure for the following years to work the Ultimate Expedition and the Ptarmigan hunts.
And that will leave me time to take advantage of something else that I learned was quite important to me during my downtime when I wasn’t in the field and was back at the lodge. I learned how important my guests are to me. Because I had so much more time on the grounds I visited much more with everybody and realized how delightful it is to just get to know those that put their faith in All Alaska Outdoors to provide a quality Alaskan vacation experience. I visited more with the guests that I know well, and I got to visit with new guests that I might not have been able to enjoy in nearly the capacity that my injury allowed. I look forward to spending more time in the future with everyone that comes to the lodge since this new arrangement will have me only flying a couple of days a week as a “Talon Air pilot“ on some of the Ultimate Expeditions and most of our Ptarmigan hunts (still plan on guiding those if the wheel heals up well enough).
I would be skipping something if I didn’t point out how hard my wife Suzanne works. She runs things very smoothly and the guests always seem to be happy with her. Obviously, I increased her work burden, but she always steps up. The first 3 weeks after my surgery, I was about useless, sitting on a couch with my foot elevated.
2020 is our 25th anniversary. It’s amazing how things change and evolve. I’m so happy with where we are now and our growth and development has been wonderful. I can’t believe the people I’ve met and the times I’ve had as president of All Alaska Outdoors. It has truly been a blessing in my life. And with what I’ve learned since June 21, and the fact that my Achilles injury appears to be healing well and I don’t expect to have any significant functional deficits, I guess I’d have to say I’m glad it happened. Hope we see you this next year.