It never ceases to amaze me how an innocent conversation can turn into a bad situation.
I'll be the first to admit I've spent an inordinate amount of time with my foot in my mouth. However, it's a different scenario altogether when an innocent reply backfires. I'm not sure if I have a true gift for these verbal blunders or not, but it does seem to happen to me quite often — and even more so since I got married.
A good example of this happened during our most recent Thanksgiving dinner. It was a peaceful setting: just my wife, Holly, our daughter, Hanna, and me.
Holly made a comment about wanting to have a serious conversation. After 24 years of marriage to this woman, I've learned "serious conversation" is code for, "You're about to be interrogated." So I braced myself for what was to come.
"I would like for us to go to Hawaii next winter," my wife said.
Well, that was gentle enough. But I was so absorbed in my meal that I simply replied, "Honey, would you be so kind to please pass me the salt?"
At least, I'm pretty sure that's what I said. However, my wife, with her exceptional hearing, must have misinterpreted what I replied. Apparently she thought I said, "We can't afford to go to Hawaii."
I'm almost positive that's what she heard, as evidenced by her rapid-fire response that almost caused me to spill the gravy.
"We can't afford to go to Hawaii? Do you have any idea why we can't afford to go to Hawaii? Because you're a shed hunter, that's why! Do you know why we don't have a boat? Because you're a shed hunter! That's why we can't afford those things! Do you have any idea how much money you spend on shed hunting?!"
Hawaii or Sheds
I was completely surprised by this machine-gun-like response. And how dare she finish with a question? How was I supposed to answer that off the top of my head? So I replied with the only thing I could think of at the time, "Umm, Honey, I umm . . . still need the salt." So much for innocent comments.
I rarely disagree with my wife, simply because she's highly educated and I could never challenge her intelligence. Plus, I like peace and quiet. There are times, however, when I feel she has bad luck when she thinks, and obviously this was one of those times. For her to even assume that we can't afford a trip to Hawaii simply because I'm a shed hunter is completely off base. So to prove this to her, I sat down and started crunching some numbers, to look at what my shed hunting had actually cost over the years.
We agreed it would be fair that I only calculate the approximate costs incurred since our marriage, which has now spanned six great years of the 24 years we've been married. Fortunately, the 20 or so years I'd shed hunted prior to our wedding wouldn't count against me.
Now, ever since the early 1990s I've kept a fairly accurate journal that traces my shed-hunting travels. I not only jotted down the numbers of sheds found but also included the time spent in the field and the locations to which I traveled.
When I added up the states I've visited for the purpose of shed hunting during my married life, it came to 11. That isn't bad at all, when you consider there are 50 states! I've also traveled to four provinces in Canada for shed hunts. This is a little more concerning because there are only 10 provinces within the entire country. That means I have only six more to get to! I hate having to limit myself like that.
Cost of an Addiction
When I calculated the number of trips I've taken to various states and provinces, a few surprises popped out at me. For example, I see I've made only 42 trips to Ontario. I live right next door to Ontario; I now see that with just a bit more effort I could have made it there a few more times!
Next on the list, with 14 visits, is the great province of Saskatchewan. I firmly believe it needs more of my attention; after all, it only takes eight hours for me to drive there!
North Dakota and South Dakota round out the top four most visited, with 12 trips each. Iowa and Wisconsin have seen multiple trips also, as has Missouri. Not to be left out are Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Alberta. I could visit these places much more often if they were on the route to Saskatchewan.
The next thing I looked into was the total number of miles traveled. But first, a disclaimer. It's entirely no fault of mine Kansas is so far from my home state of Minnesota. Also, I had nothing to do with drawing the international border between the U.S. and Canada. That decision placed the greatest shed hunting in another country and 1,100 miles from my home.
With that being said, I can now proceed with a clear conscience. A simple tally using "as the crow flies" for a calculator indicates I've driven somewhere near 165,470 miles during 145 separate trips taken to find sheds. I don't feel this is too bad if you consider that today's cars and pickups regularly last 200,000 miles. Heck, I haven't even worn out one vehicle yet!
I really hate crunching numbers like this, because I personally feel it only adds undue cost to an antler (and because my wife kept looking over my shoulder, I'm pretty sure she wasn't liking what she was seeing). But when I calculated those 165,470 miles using an average of 20 miles per gallon, it computed to only 8,273 gallons of gasoline. I feel that's very reasonable, considering it covered a 24-year period. And with the exchange rate on the Canadian dollar, I've only spent somewhere around $23,000 for gasoline. I'll take that as a victory!
I figured that in order to be completely honest with my lovely wife, I'd next look into the costs of motels, meals, guide fees and border fees. As near as I can tell, those have totaled only around $20,000.
To me this really is an incidental cost — after all, a true shed hunter must put himself within the very best areas, fuel himself with good food and sleep comfortably, to ensure full mental sharpness at all times when afield. I personally feel these costs shouldn't be included on the expense sheet.
Some of what I didn't include in these expenses are such incidentals as special hiking shoes and rubber boots, binoculars, radios, GPS, water packs, backpacks, clothing and rain gear. I've also left out the cost of tires I might have worn out while traveling those 165,000 miles. Nor am I including any costs associated with mechanical breakdowns. There have been more than a couple — but they would have happened anyway, right?
Also not included are the costs of being towed or pulled out of a ditch. Yes, I'll admit to hitting the ditch a few times! In my defense I haven't really "hit" it — I've just sort of casually "drifted" off the road while looking at the forest edge instead of focusing on the road ahead. It's not my fault there was a ditch there! Hey, I don't drive 1,100 miles one way so I can inspect the roads of northern Saskatchewan — I'm there to look for sheds!
I've purposely left out all medical expenses. OK, there might have been a broken nose or two. And some might think it fair to add in what's been spent on a couple dozen stitches, along with concussion treatments. And I've purposely left out the $1,000 or more that I've spent on trail mix, because I'm so sick of eating it that I can hardly say the name without retching. I don't want to be reminded of the stuff until the next time I go shed hunting, so I'm just not adding it. Fair enough?
After totaling these assorted expenses, I was at the point I had to share the total price of my hobby with my most understanding wife, whom I love very much! When I revealed the final cost as slightly more than $43,000, my quick wits and reasoning kicked in.
"I've found a few more than 4,000 shed antlers during this time," I reminded her. "I'd say they average about a pound each. And with the current market price for antler being roughly $11 per pound . . . well, Honey, that means I've basically broken even!"
I'm not sure Holly fully understood that statement, because she didn't display anything near the reaction I was hoping for. I have to say that after 24 years of marriage, I can tell the mood my wife is in simply by the position of her hands. In this case, she instantly clenched them tightly around my neck, telling me she was a little upset about something.
After I'd hollered, "Uncle! Uncle!" Holly finally let go of my by-then-purple Adam's apple. Once again her immaculate hearing failed her, because she misinterpreted my "Uncle" to be, "That's it! We're definitely going to Hawaii!"
Now, of course, I find myself having to buy airline tickets to Honolulu. Are there any shed antlers to be found in Hawaii? Perhaps. But I'm not willing to chance it. I'm playing it safe. I'm booking our flight with a two-day layover in Saskatoon.