A minimalist, mountain man
By: Amelia Arvesen | @AmeliaArvesen
As Andrew Vogel flicks a 6-foot graphite rod effortlessly over his shoulder, yellow fishing line follows the motion of his arm, unfurling over Lake Henry’s surface.
Vogel’s fingers were almost too stiff from the cold to tie a fuzzy fly to the end of his fishing line. It was a 20-degree Friday afternoon in November, one year since Vogel visited the Lawrence lake’s shore for a game of catch and release.
“It's very zen and very introspective and contemplative,” Vogel said. “It's a good thing to get out and hang out alone on some water.”
He left that evening with an empty net but planned to hunt whitetail deer the next day in Coffey, Miss. This type of weekend Vogel looks forward to most.
Vogel, a fifth-year senior, grew up in the mountainous terrain of Greenwood Village, Colo. Even without peaks in Lawrence, he’s been able to maintain an outdoor lifestyle for the last five years.
“When you have access to mountains like that all the time, you just do everything there is to offer,” he said. In Kansas, “you have to look harder, but it's still out here.”
He said he’d consider himself a fisherman though he also hikes, runs, camps, skis and hunts. Vogel, a minimalist, has one rod, one reel and a few flies he knows will hook a decent sized trout, brown or rainbow. In the back of his Jeep Wrangler, decorated with a Kavu and Browning Rifle decal, he packs only what he needs, including a thermal sleeping bag, a hammock and, of course, a fishing rod with tackle.
“There's no preparing,” Vogel said. “You just go out there.”
Despite his mellow disposition, Vogel said he's always restless for the next adventure. During the semester, Vogel said he tries to get out once every month, savoring the season and sounds of the ecosystem to last him until the next time he can escape.
He said that for a while, it was hard not to drop out of school. In nature, he finds himself the happiest and feeling the most authentic. The whole point of immersing himself in the wilderness, he said, is to release control. He said it’s wasted energy to try to predict the environment.
“If you ask too many questions, you miss out on the experience,” he said.
In the Altitude
In August 2012, Vogel ventured from familiar mountains into new territory when he climbed Africa's 19,340-foot Kilimanjaro with strangers. He was dropped off at the base where he met his guide for the first time.
Five days and several climate changes later — tropical rainforest, timberline, rock, arctic tundra — they reached the top. Different worlds, Vogel said.
“Every once in a while, you'll catch yourself. You'll look over a big drop and think, ‘Wow, I'm actually here,’ ” he said.
He said he remembers feeling like he was floating in the clouds and thought it was surreal that the same ice his boots touched had been there for thousands of years. It’s what he’d imagine Mars would look like.
"It's a cathartic experience to feel that small and insignificant, yet at the top of something,” he said.
And in only one day, he was at the bottom again. It wasn’t the first time he had journeyed into higher altitude. He trained that summer, hiking six 14,000-plus-foot peaks in Colorado’s range, some on his own, some with friends like Sam Ancona, a fifth-year senior from Centennial, Colo., and a middle school pal.
Together, with one other friend, they hiked Mount Bierstadt in the Rockies.
“I think it’s a sense of accomplishment, and you want to relive it over and over again,” Ancona said.
Next on his Vogel’s list is the 20,000-foot Mount McKinley in Alaska’s Denali National Park. But he has also set his sights even higher. He said he will one day climb Nepal’s monster, 29,000-foot Everest, no matter how long it takes.
“My body is just used to knowing that little air doesn't mean you're going to die,” Vogel said. “It just means you have to work a little bit harder.”
On the plains
In Lawrence, in Kansas, the air is different, but nonetheless, Vogel said he appreciates what the land has to offer. Even in winter, snow won’t deter him from fishing. When he does catch something, he said he prefers to toss it back, out of respect for the fish and the game.
“If I catch a good fish, I hope one day someone else gets to experience that too,” Vogel said.
Maybe it has something to do with seeing the fish bite the fly, but David Franco, one of Vogel’s fly fishing buddies from Kansas City, said it’s an intimate sport. The rhythm is meditative, and even when they’re together, Franco said it’s easy for him to forget he’s with someone.
“The best thing you can do for a fly fishing partner is when you hit the river, you walk the other way,” Franco said.
Out on the river in their waders, Vogel and Franco exchange knowledge of trial and technique. Vogel said a lot of what he knows is either from observation or self-taught, but he’d never consider himself an expert.
“You just subject yourself to things, and you learn through doing it what works what doesn’t work,” Vogel said.
Vogel said he has replaced survivalist guides — what he considers childhood reading — with more existential writings like Walden and Kerouac. He said he connects with the idea of a wandering soul.
When he graduates in May with a psychology degree, he’ll have a year off before attending medical school to become a surgeon and “cut people open,” a job he has always wanted. He said he plans to use the time off from school for exploring, preparing for Alaska and finding meaning in life.
“It’s a constant search, the whole search is romantic in itself,” Vogel said. “I think that's what makes it fun.”
Photos by: George Mullinix/KANSAN