Hurry up and wait

You might think that fishing tournaments is the toughest part of what I do, but sometimes just getting to the lake can prove to be a challenge. At least for the Howell family, it’s a never-ending adventure.

This past week was no exception. We’re on the way to Escanaba, Michigan, for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, a great format on what I understand is a great fishery. We thought we’d gotten our last taste of urban traffic back in Philadelphia last month, but little did we know that we’d get some more on the way north. Not in Escanaba, which I understand is a pretty small city, but in Chicago. 

The other day I had an obligation to a high school fishing club at 3:30. Ott DeFoe was going to be there with them, but I’d have to join the discussion via Skype. At 3 o’clock, we were just hitting Chicago, and I figured that gave me plenty of time to stop, talk, and then get back on the road. Unfortunately, my GPS had other ideas.

I was leading, pulling our 40-foot fifth wheel camper, and Robin was in a vehicle behind me pulling the King’s Home Triton. We constantly communicate by two-way radios, but when my GPS said to go one way and hers said to go another, we didn’t have much time to discuss the matter. I had to make a split second decision and unfortunately I made the wrong one. Suddenly we were in what I assume was a pretty rough neighborhood, if the graffiti was any indication. It clearly wasn’t where we wanted to be, but my GPS said that in just a few turns we’d be back on the interstate and good to go.

The GPS didn’t take into account the fact that one of those turns involved a tunnel with a clearance of 13 feet, 2 inches.

The fifth wheel is 13 feet, 4 inches tall. I may not be great at math, but even I could see that wasn’t going to work. Robin was in full panic mode and told me to do something, so I made a turn, and suddenly we were in what appeared to be an even worse neighborhood. I know that B.A.S.S. held the Classic in Chicago in 2000, but I’m pretty sure lots of the guys hanging out on the corner had never seen a bass boat before.  They were looking at me like I was crazy. We tried some alternate routes out, but every one of them had a low clearance that I couldn’t get through. 

Eventually I saw a pair of policemen on the opposite corner so I rolled down my window and yelled to them, but they didn’t respond. Maybe it was because they had so much SWAT team equipment on that they couldn’t hear me. Or maybe they just had bigger problems to solve. Either way, we were on our own.

I made another turn on blind faith and that led me back to the highway. I don’t know how it happened, but we were certainly glad it did. Of course, even though we were on the right road, there were eight lanes of stop and go traffic in front of us. By the time we were able to safely pull off the road I had missed all but 15 minutes of the Skype chat. I told them what happened and they got a pretty good laugh out of that.

What’s amazing about our ordeal in hindsight is that by the time we pulled over for the Skype session, there were pictures of us all over social media. Robin and the boys clicked onto Facebook and there we were, almost in real time. That’s been another blessing of winning the Classic – the realization that we have fans almost everywhere. I continue to be humbled by it every day.

Once we got through the Chicago traffic, we made our way to Sturgeon Bay for a few days. Robin had to fly out on Thursday to go to a convention in Atlanta, but I figured I could fish here for a few days. With our hectic schedules, we don’t get to fun fish as much as we’d like. Also, I felt that getting in tune with the Great Lakes style of fishing would help me in the upcoming tournament. Once again, though, we were hit with a roadblock. I’d hoped to give the boys their lessons in the morning and then go out on the water in the afternoon, but Mother Nature had other ideas – it’s been in the 40s, with sustained winds of over 20 miles per hour. It wouldn’t be safe to be out there, so once school was over we went to Gander Mountain where the managers showed me pictures of all the giant smallmouths they’ve been catching. I was impressed, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

In the grand scheme of things, these speed bumps are just that – minor impediments. I’m blessed to live a great life with a great family in the greatest country on earth. Sure, there are frustrations along the way, but I truly believe that sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination.

Just don’t drive through any tunnels that are too low. That’s one mistake I hope I never make.