The Worst Day of My Life
My trembling hands did their best to keep my pint of ale from spilling across the rough hewn wooden table. The day was cold, but despite being indoors I couldn’t warm up. The exhilaration followed by such tragedy had sapped my body of its ability to regulate blood flow to my chilly extremities, but it wasn’t the cold that caused me to tremble. The body that I had held in my hands only hours before had slipped away, never to be recovered, and was now replaced by this lifeless substitute; a cold golden ale, which I now clenched in my fingers, quivering from a deep, soul-shattering anguish. My heart became a lead weight behind my sternum. I was inconsolable. Patrons came and went through the screen door, their jackets pulled tight against the cold.
And that damned song. Was this some kind of cruel torture?
Maybe I didn’t love you
Quite as often as I could have
And maybe I didn’t treat you
Quite as good as I should have
I tried to block it out by gazing into my beer, concentrating on the bubbles. How they formed at the bottom of the glass like baby tadpoles. How they floated – the epitome of freedom – through the golden ether. And then how they bobbed to the surface, died, and were gone forever.
You were always on my mind
You were always on my mind
I tried to forget. I needed to forget. I took a deep, medicinal swig of ale and retreated into happier memories.
While driving along a stream in Patagonia’s northern Lake District, we spotted a tiny track leading into the trees. Pushing our way through overhanging bamboo beneath lush oak trees, we came into a clearing. We situated ourselves so that Nacho’s sliding door would open up to the sand bank and the crystal clear trout stream. I fished all day, up and down the banks, reeling in a dozen or more rainbow and Patagonian brown trout, all too small to keep. I showed Sheena how to fish where the creek hooked to the right, creating a perfect eddy in front of our camp. Times were good. Scratch that. Times were great.
My lip began to tremble, and I noticed that my glass was empty. Why wouldn’t my hands warm up? I was losing control. I couldn’t let myself lose composure. What would the others think? Would they stare, or would they be kind and pretend not to see? I tipped a finger to the waiter and pointed to my glass.
And that damned song. It would be the death of me. It was on repeat, midway through its third revolution. Was a grand puppeteer watching me, pulling these strings that caused me to teeter on the edge of sanity? Damn you puppeteer! And damn your song!
And maybe I didn’t hold you
All those lonely, lonely times
And I guess I never told you
I’m so happy that you’re mine
He pulled my empty glass away and set down a fresh one. I held the glass in my hands, just as I would have held her had she not slipped away into the darkness, never to be seen again. No parting glance, no chance to say goodbye. I again retreated into my mind, where better times awaited. Better times, like when we camped on the Rio Quillen.
In the morning we had turned onto a dirt road that skirted the river. Sheena and I had smiled at each other across the front seats while we bumped along, looking for a good fishing hole. Spotting a rock outcropping in the middle of the strong, crystal clear water held promise of rising trout. Sheena sat on a warm rock in the Patagonia sun while I let out line and set the fly just upstream of the outcropping. My fly bobbed in the current, sweeping around the rock, and was quickly taken by a beautiful rainbow trout. Eighteen inches! Boy, it was a beauty; strong and shiny and perfect.
Throughout that day and the next I landed three eighteen inch rainbows. We found a campsite under a weeping willow tree next to the river, built a fire, and ate like a king and queen. Those were the good times. I wondered if I would ever again know good times. My heart ached and it felt as if I’d never recover. I had lost my joie de vivre.
Just then a couple entered the establishment. The woman’s shiny brown hair nearly reached her waist, and she brushed it off of her shoulder as she entered. The man unbuttoned his overcoat and smiled at his wife. Their happiness reminded me of my sorrow and I took another drink. The song played on.
Little things I should have said and done
I just never took the time
But you were always on my mind
You were always on my mind
By now my heart was numb, and I was able to reenact the day’s events. I slowly relived each moment, wishing that I could go back, just for one second, to make things better. To somehow change the way things ended.
After several days of driving along Chile’s Carretera Austral, we had arrived at the town of Coyhaique. We had passed through town and found a camp site at the edge of a bend in the Rio Coyhaique. We were surrounded by green hills where the river passed under a bridge. From our bed we could hear the water bubbling over rocks at the edges of the river. My fly rod waited patiently for the morning, and I kissed Sheena good night.
In the morning I said a quick goodbye and set out to the north, along the banks of the river. It was a cold day and the black rocks along the bank became slick with the spray of misty rain. I navigated my way down a slanted rock face to the base of an imposing stone wall where the strong current churned and dove to untold depths. I pulled out several arm lengths of line and whipped it in a cyclical motion over the surface of the water until my neon yellow leader reached the base of the wall. I set my fly down and let the current grab it, sinking my line in front of the wall, and watched the neon yellow disappear into the darkness below the rocks.
A minute passed, and then I started retrieving the line. Pull, relax, pull, relax. I imagined the fly pulsing through the water like a little fish.
Pull, relax, pull, relax, pull – KABOOM! Something hit my fly with the force of a freight train, pulling ten feet of line out of my hands before I knew what had happened.
“FUH-FUH-FUH…!” I couldn’t get the expletive out – there was no time! I squeezed the line to add some resistance. This thing was huge! I had caught a salmon on the Rio Futaleufu a couple of days earlier, but this was far bigger. It pulled more line out; fifteen feet, twenty, twenty five. I guessed how far she had gone and figured she was just about to reach the point where the current funneled into a raging jet between two rocks. She would surely break my eight pound tippet if I let her get into that current. I eased back on the line and started making some progress in pulling her in.
I fought, pulling some line in and then letting her take it back, for ten or fifteen minutes. Whatever this was, I needed to wear it out before I would have a chance to pull it in.
My hands trembled, my heart pounded out of my chest. The mist beaded up on my jacket and tumbled onto the rocks, and I shuffled my feet to position myself near the water’s edge without slipping in and being carried away. I looked to see if Sheena was around. She was nowhere to be seen.
Soon, my line was taut, and pointed straight into the dark water at my feet. I still couldn’t see the fish, but I could tell that it was right in front of me. Suddenly she twisted, revealing the side of her body. A blaze of silver the size of a toddler flashed from beneath, and again the expletive stuttered on my tongue.
I positioned my net, but it was awkward. The rocks under the water were like the Alps in miniature, surrounding the fish. I managed to situate the net directly above the fish, and brought it down. It all happened so fast.
As the net came down, it became clear that she was too big to fit through the opening. The net’s metal frame bisected her, but she would not go in. The fish – the most enormous rainbow trout I’ve ever laid eyes on – gathered her strength. While I tried to capture her in the net, my heart pounded the back of my sternum. I wasn’t breathing any more, I was wheezing. And then, in the struggle to get her in the net, she gave one final, violent kick, and my line went slack.
I stood up, line in hand, and looked at the end hanging limply where my fly used to be.
“FUUUUUUU*$@#^&K!” I evacuated my lungs, funneling all of the power from my adrenaline-filled muscles, into one long, drawn out, echoing expletive. Somewhere deep in that river, through the tumultuous current, over the noise of clanging rocks and rushing water, that fish heard my heart breaking through the vibration of my vocal cords.
“If only I would have…positioned the net…like this,” I slurred, holding my frigid fingers out over the wooden table, “I woulda had her. I woulda…had her.”
“Snap out of it, my love,” Sheena urged, “it was just a silly fish. Life will go on.”
But to me she wasn’t just a fish. She was a Homeric siren, as big as a tiny human, and she was beautiful. I raised my glass as a tear collected in the corner of my eye, and the puppeteer played that incessant song.
You were always on my mind
You were always on my mind
Poetry is taking over your writing, but lost trout like lost love will do that.
Gracias por su poesa amigo.
marteen de atenas
Comment by Martin Livelyh on March 5, 2013 at 9:30 am
We can thank Willie Nelson for the poem, Martin :)
Comment by Brad on March 5, 2013 at 9:32 am
You had me, hook line and sinker, with that story.
Comment by Deb Breuler on March 5, 2013 at 10:24 am
Best post yet.
Drive Pequod Drive.
Comment by Aaron on March 5, 2013 at 10:32 am
So glad it was only the “silly fish.” Whew! Made your mom’s heart and breath stop for a terrified moment there . . .
Comment by Mom on March 5, 2013 at 10:32 am
@Aaron: glad you liked it. Seems people are drawn to my moments of deepest pain ;)
Comment by Brad on March 5, 2013 at 10:40 am
I can’t tell you the number of fish I lost with my eight lb. test on the Alumini river in Argentina. Wow what big fish. Although I did catch a beautiful 38lb Chinook on the Rio Petrohue with a guide that had the equipment to land it… What fish, My heart break was that I never did land a Brown. Did you fish the Baker in Chile? I did loose another big one on the lake near Villarica, I broke me rod trying to pull in a Brown? on one of the two rivers out of Pucon. What a trip!!!
Comment by Gary Peebles on March 5, 2013 at 10:52 am
You may have missed the trout, but the mushrooms sure did their job I see … :-)
Comment by Kevin Beretta on March 5, 2013 at 11:00 am
Not good. I thought something had happened to Sheena. You might want to think through the message you may be sending. This is the internet and that leaves interpretations open. Fish are many, Sheena is one.
Comment by Steve Collier on March 5, 2013 at 11:09 am
Agreed, best post ever!
Comment by Missi on March 5, 2013 at 11:09 am
You Bastard! You totally had me going, I was like “NO WAY!!!” this is no good, okay she will come back man. Whatever happened, it will be okay, she’ll collect herself and want to talk, just be open to her etc. etc…..and so I read on, only to realize…
Fantastic post BTW, great stuff as usual….and yet better(even if deceiving).
Comment by Kjell on March 5, 2013 at 11:38 am
Brad I dont know how you do it!! Beautiful!:) I miss you guys!! HAPPY TRAVELS! hugs!Leah
Comment by Leah Macey on March 5, 2013 at 11:44 am
@Steve Collier: that’s what I was going for :) I suppose if the word gets out that Sheena’s dead, we’ll go on Oprah to dispel the rumors. It can only be a good thing!
Comment by Brad on March 5, 2013 at 12:19 pm
@Kjell: had you going, eh? No matter how childish I act, I just can’t seem to shake Sheena. She must be in for the long haul.
@Leah: I wish we could have met up. We had so much fun hanging out with you in PHX and Tucson last time. One of these days! Want to take a vacation to Thailand? You always have a place to stay downstairs in Nacho.
Comment by Brad on March 5, 2013 at 12:23 pm
Man, I’ve been there, the worst feeling ever. :) Alcohol helps.
Congrats on the great fishing otherwise!
Comment by Jason on March 5, 2013 at 12:31 pm
Never do that to me again! You got me worried there, not sure what or who about, but worried!
Comment by Rick Hurst on March 5, 2013 at 12:41 pm
Oh, man, you guys really had me going on this one…. glad the fishing is good, everyone is ok, and that the occasional Big One gets away.
Comment by Will on March 5, 2013 at 1:29 pm
You completely freaked me out on this one ! Keep going sound and safe ;-)
Comment by /Alex on March 5, 2013 at 2:36 pm
Awesome story. I too, have lost many a good fish on the line of life!
You have it one second, you envision weighing it, taking pictures, being sooo proud to have mastered the elements…then…boom. It’s gone!
Very engaging story, I loved it!
Comment by Lisa Rowland on March 5, 2013 at 4:01 pm
Call me Fishmael.
Good work — muchas gracias.
Comment by Yojimbo on March 5, 2013 at 8:21 pm
“Fish are many, Sheena is one.”
Words to live by, my friend.
Comment by Yojimbo on March 5, 2013 at 8:24 pm
Very tricky, you had me Brad. I know you read Steinbeck. How about Hemingway? This has subtle tones of Old Man and the Sea.
Comment by Michael on March 5, 2013 at 8:33 pm
@Michael, you’re right in that I’m a huge Steinbeck fan, but I’ve never read any Hemingway. Now that I finally replaced my Kindle, perhaps I’ll give it a try.
Comment by Brad on March 6, 2013 at 12:13 am
@Gary Peebles: the farthest we fished in Chile was the Rio Coyhaique, which was close to the Baker. We cut off of the Carretera Austral at Lago General Carrera; the Baker is usually fished below that point.
We did a ton of fishing in the Lake district. The Quillen, Malleo, Lago Alumine, several small streams, Rio Grande, and Lago Tromen. Lots of fish were caught and eaten, and the experience will have a lasting impression on me. Patagonia’s rivers are incredible.
Comment by Brad on March 6, 2013 at 12:32 am
Brad… had me going, too. Especially after just getting home from consoling the GF after a really bad day. Following your travels has inspired me to plan for my own in the near future. Consider yourself a lucky guy. You already caught the best one out there (besides the one I have…), the one right beside you through all of this. You already caught the best…everything else is more icing on the cake. Safe travels, both of you! Buena suerte!
Comment by Jason on March 6, 2013 at 1:45 am
Please allow me to express my deepest condolences you low down, no good, SOB!!!
Comment by Mike on March 6, 2013 at 5:43 am
Hi Brad and Sheena.
Brad, it does sound a lot like Hemingway’s writing. I cannot believe you had not come across it yet.
Hope Sheena has a wonderful birthday and March 8th, The International Women’s Day.
Comment by Elmira Freeman on March 6, 2013 at 6:19 am
Well, some of (most of…) the comments here confirm it: Not everybody is on FB yet…:).
Great writing Brad.
Keep ’em coming!
Comment by Marc on March 6, 2013 at 7:20 am
Great creative writing…I’m so glad I opened “Drive Nacho Drive”, several weeks back. I look forward to each writing with bells on! Put it together and publish a book! You’re living a dream of mine, I’m enjoying reading it all. You’re young and healthy………and your writings take me back to a younger time for me! Thanks and Best Wishes!
KJ of Lakeview Michigan
Comment by K J on March 6, 2013 at 8:22 am
@KJ, I’m glad you found us. Plenty of adventure yet to come, I’m sure! Thanks for the compliments.
Comment by Brad on March 6, 2013 at 10:56 am
I am reading every VW travel blog I can find and the quality of yours is far and away the best. You set the bar very high.
Comment by @dollhouseyyc on March 6, 2013 at 12:18 pm
That’s very kind of you, Marc. Thanks for the compliment, and thanks for reading.
Comment by Brad on March 6, 2013 at 12:28 pm
The best blog ever!!!! Thumbs up!!!! Anybody that knows you their is always a catch to the story. Just remember that very one you truly love is a very true Pisces. Love it!!!!
Comment by Barb Wieber (Sheena's Mom) on March 7, 2013 at 10:14 pm
jejje me recorde cuando lei MOBYDICK……que emocionado Brad excelente mas como lo escribio aplausos….¡¡¡¡¡¡!!!!!!!
Comment by ernesto on March 8, 2013 at 4:03 pm
If losing that fish was the worst day of your life, you have a very good life lol.
Comment by Kenneth on March 13, 2013 at 8:15 am
Far from the worst day of your life, I can’t know how close to the best. You fished, and you saw and experienced marvelous things. “Better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.”
Comment by David on March 14, 2013 at 10:17 am
Comment by KJ on March 14, 2013 at 10:35 am
Love the blog–keep up the adventure.
Losing the big one might be karmic payback for the Quillen trout you made dinner, though.
Remember, in Argentina, only trout from lakes can be killed. It’s catch & release in rivers.
Sorry to be that guy, but someone has to, or they’ll all be gone.
Comment by Nick on March 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm
Excellent blog post! Reminiscent of the great read, “The River Why,” David James Duncan. Fishing, philosophy, life…good luck in Malaysia and beyond!
Comment by Anaka on March 14, 2013 at 10:51 pm
jeesh – i am most certainly certain,
this is the best story of ‘the one that got away’
that i have read!
you sure can paint one helluva great picture/scene!
Comment by tom flinn on March 19, 2013 at 9:36 am
[…] chicken truck. I know how the heat feels rising off of the Atacama desert, I can still taste the Patagonian rainbow trout cooked over a campfire, and I recall how I felt when my eyes first saw the tip of Tierra del Fuego […]
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