Always Watch Your Step: Joel Smith and the Log that Wasn’t

Always Watch Your Step: Joel Smith and the Log that Wasn’t

With many years of recovery under his belt, Joel Smith devotes his days to substance use treatment by running a medical detox program. Helping people find wellness and sobriety is a real passion of his, but he’s equally enthusiastic about the outdoors. Spending time in nature is how he takes care of his mental health.

Aside from his day job, Joel is a brand ambassador for an outdoors social media app called GoWild and a member of the board of directors for the Texas Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. Hunting and fishing hold a place in his heart, but camping, hiking and simply being outside and connecting with nature all come in as a close second.

Joel loves the concept of sourcing his own food from nature, minimizing his impact and avoiding the outsourced murder of meat and animal products. He’ll tell you that there’s a big difference between the wild elk he shot with his bow, processed and brought home from Utah, and the ground beef you buy from the grocery store.

In fact, one of Joel’s most memorable outdoor experiences involves elk hunting. While he’s been several times, his favorite trip was solo. He went out in the national forest alone, just his bow and his gear, and didn’t see another human being for almost a week. Shooting the elk, processing it in the woods, carrying it back to camp and bringing it home is something he’ll never forget.

"He stepped down on what he thought was a log, and soon realized it was a five-foot, slow-moving gator tail under his very feet."

The Log that Wasn’t

Another memorable trip for Joel involves a log and a lot of screaming; you might say it’s notable for a different reason entirely. Out in East Texas, on the coast near the Louisiana border, Joel was duck hunting with three or four friends. Waders on, weapon in hand and friends in tow, he made his way through the swamp with his target in mind, worrying more about the destination than the muddy water below—a gator’s natural habitat. Joel had never seen one close by before; they tend to steer clear of humans in less populated areas. Today, he wasn’t so lucky. After shooting a few birds, he and his friends ventured out into the pond to round them up. He stepped down on what he thought was a log… and soon realized it was a five-foot, slow-moving gator tail under his very feet. 

If you know much about gators, you’ll know that a five-foot tail means a 10-foot reptile, but Joel wasn’t about to stick around and do the math. In full-on panic mode, he tucked tail and ran screaming towards the bank. Luckily no one was hurt, and his friends had a good laugh, but that gator’s never left Joel’s mind, especially when wading through wetlands on the Gulf Coast. To this day, with every stick, stump or fishing line that swishes past his leg, his first thought is “gator,” but he didn’t let it stop him then—he kept right on hunting—and you can bet it won’t now.

Keep On Walking

Joel’s a magnet for this sort of thing, he says. It might be the only time he’s run right into a 10-foot gator, but he walked out into another body of water once, took a step, and dropped off into a neck-deep alligator hole in 38-degree water. Wet clothes and winter wind make for an icy trip, but once again, it didn’t stop him. Joel was cold, but not cold enough to quit hunting.

It seems that the moral of Joel’s story is simply to keep doing what you love, despite set-backs, gators, holes and more. “Just act as if there’s no gators in the water, and keep on walking, even if there are,” Joel would say to anyone struggling with similar fears. “When you’re passionate about something, you can’t let fear of the unknown get in the way of doing what you love.”

"When you’re all alone, you’ve got no one to reinforce, no one to encourage you to stick with it and keep pushing."

As he was driving into the national forest alone on his elk hunting trip, he experienced similar anxiety. “When you’re all alone, you’ve got no one to reinforce, no one to encourage you to stick with it and keep pushing. You’ve only got yourself to rely on, and you have to have confidence in your willpower and your own abilities.” There were several times when he wanted to quit; to give up and go home, and that confidence was about all he had to keep him going. “The first time you go to sleep all alone like that, with no one else around for miles, you’re much more keenly aware of every sound; every broken twig, every animal noise brings to mind a bear when it’s more likely a squirrel.” He kept going, though, and was rewarded with one of the most amazing trips of his life. 

When things get tough, you tough it out. When you learn to rely on yourself for things like food, shelter, water, sheer grit and perseverance, Joel notes that there’s a certain confidence and positivity that comes along with overcoming adversity in that way. 

The bottom line? Just keep wading along towards your passion; you can’t let a silly ten-foot gator stop you from doing what you love.

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