Written by: Salomon Ramos
The human mind is quite literally a problem-solving machine. Give it an obstacle to overcome, a set of problems to figure out, then sit back and watch the magic happen. The problem with having such an awesome machine at your disposal is that rather than solve problems, the brain prefers to avoid them all together. Don’t believe me? What would happen if you set a twenty-four inch plyo box in the middle of the sidewalk in the center of town? Impromptu Crossfit? Strangers lining up to burn a few calories on their way to the coffee shop? Nope. People would walk around it, of course. It’s human nature. People want to follow the path of least resistance. The same holds true for our fitness/hunting goals. If you wait until you’re in perfect shape to plan that tough backcountry hunt that you have been dreaming about, you may never go. This year I learned that the best way to achieve a goal is to take away your brain’s ability to avoid it.
I was twenty-nine years old last March, and I considered myself to be in relatively good physical condition. I exercised three to four times a week, watched what I ate, and didn’t have any really bad habits (i.e.smoking). I had been hunting for six years, so I was no stranger to long hikes and tough pack-outs with loads of meat on my back. But in the back of my mind I knew that I had only scratched the surface of my fitness potential. I was an athlete in high school, and in the decade since graduation, I had slowly been letting myself go, little by little. I was carrying an extra thirty pounds, but I was content with my physical state because I thought I was fit enough for the type of hunts that I went on. I would have been content to stay in my comfort zone had it not been for a stroke of good luck.
The big game draw results for New Mexico were released this past April, and as usual I had applied for every species. When I received the email informing me what hunts I was lucky enough to have drawn, my eyes couldn’t look past the part of the screen that read “Ibex-Archery-Florida Mtns. October”. It might as well have read, “You have a lot of work to do fatty”.
The Florida Mountains just outside of Deming, New Mexico are home to the only Persian Ibex in North America. The mountain range (nicknamed “The Rock”) is a jagged range that erupts straight out of the desert with razor peaks, huge cliffs, and rockslides all over. The little goats that I had a tag to hunt run up and down these cliffs with ease. The archery hunt for these ibex in October boasts a 2% success rate. Drawing this hunt was exactly the sort of kick in the butt I needed to jump-start my training regimen and nutritional habits, and I had seven months to get my body into peak physical condition.
I altered my diet by going full keto for 3 months, and stuck with an intermittent fasting schedule; only eating one meal a day during those 3 months. I am not big on fad-diets, but the ketogenic diet works, and it works fast. Which is exactly what I needed to meet my deadline. It is not possible to go into all the specifics of the ketogenic diet, or the science behind it in a short passage like this. Youtube, and more specifically Dr. Eric Berg’s Youtube channel is a bank of wisdom regarding the ketogenic diet, and how to do it effectively and safely. I dropped thirty pounds during the three months of my keto journey.
Exercise was the other piece to the puzzle, and although intense workouts became even tougher on account of my body being in ketosis the first three months, I pushed through. I woke up every morning at 4 am, had a cup of black coffee, and hit the weights. My morning routine was a traditional weight-lifting split alternating between heavy weight low reps, and low weight high reps. After getting home from work, I would force myself to do a CrossFit style workout. These afternoon workouts were tough to get through at first, but became considerably easier after I quit keto and raised my carbohydrate intake. You don’t truly appreciate carbs until you’ve gone without them for ninety days. I gave myself two active rest days every week. These days were spent hiking or going on light jogs. Because of my workout regimen, I was able to keep the weight off even after raising my carb intake. My strength increased and my endurance was better than it had been since high school.
October rolled around and I can honestly say that I took the best version of myself to those mountains. It was a four-hour hike from the trailhead to camp. The first day, I hauled thirteen gallons of water on my back over the course of several trips, not to mention my supplies and enough food to last two weeks on the mountain. The pack-in alone would have been enough to leave me unable to move a year prior. I hunted hard, traversing the unforgiving terrain in search of those elusive animals. I had a few close encounters, but wasn’t able to seal the deal on an Ibex. I walked away from those mountains without punching my tag, but I walked away fitter than I had been in over a decade with a new taste for adventure and the challenge that backcountry hunting presents.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and I have the new holes I had to punch in my belt to prove it. It’s now been two months since I returned from my Florida Mtn. adventure, and I still wake up every morning at 4am to hit the weights. Crossfit in the afternoons has become a habit, and my fitness level is improving every week. I will continue to ride this wave of momentum and I’m excited about my fitness level for my remaining hunts this season.
I’m not saying to go out and get completely and dangerously in over your head. Do your homework. Pick an adventure that you know is doable, and go do it! I bet you will be surprised by how well your mind and body tackle the challenge.
Be sure to follow Salomon and his story on Instagram @salomon_ramos30