Wednesday, February 1, 2012

20 Questions: Mike Sepelak

I knew I would like Mike Sepelak the minute I met him for the first time last summer in the heart of southwest Montana's trout country. He was gracious, thoughtful and genuine. He smiled easily and listened intently. And when he spoke, he had something to say (a trait I, unfortunately, lack). 

One day during our visit to the Centennial Valley, we hiked into a hidden lake where rainbows in the 20-inch range were common. We donned waders and slipped into float tubes and furiously beat at the water for a few hours with marginal success. Mike and I worked the same end of the lake, and neither of us was doing much good. We'd land a fish now and then, but the action was pretty slow. 

Finally, after a few hours, I dialed in a mayfly hatch and started catching fish–some nice ones, too–on top. I looked over at Mike, who really seemed to be struggling. 

"I lost one of my fins," he said, matter-of-factly. "It's at the bottom of the lake."

I couldn't help but laugh. The thought of some pour soul kicking his way around the lake in slow circles was simply too much. And Mike laughed, too. I shared my secret mayfly pattern (a No. 16 Adams), and, one fin and all, he started to catch some pretty nice rainbows, too.

But perhaps the funniest moment of that trip was "the joke." To Mike's ears, the joke was told in stages throughout the three-day adventure. He'd miss the set-up, catch the middle and then miss the punchline. Or maybe he'd catch the punchline, and miss the introduction. On the third day, he finally caught the whole joke, and busted out a deep belly laugh that was simply infectious. Then he said:

"I couldn't figure out what that joke had to do with monkeys."

In addition to being perhaps the greatest, low-maintenance fishing companion, Mike's also a hell of a writer. His work is what landed him in Montana for our little junket after all. But, more than that, Mike's a good man. He's a loving, caring husband, and, even through unjust tragedy, a father any son would be proud to claim.

Today, he's retired (early), spends his time chasing trout in North Carolina's Appalachians and bigger, toothier critters in the state's saltwaters. He doesn't work 60 hours a week anymore... instead, he writes about and photographs his adventures afield.

Lucky us.

Get to know Mike. I'm glad I did, and I can't wait to fish with him again. On with the questions:

Mike boats a big one in Montana, one fin
and all.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? 
Complete contentment and comfort with where you are – time, space and consciousness. Knowing that you have “enough," no matter how much, or little, you have.

What is your greatest fear? 
I’ve been chewed up and spit out by enough of the big fears that I don’t think in those terms any longer. For me, fear has been replaced with the faith – and that’s little “f” faith, just to be clear – that I can endure what this world can throw at me. Not without scars, mind you, but I can endure.

Political parties, governments, religions: they too often use fear to manipulate us and those fears have driven many of the insane things going on in the world today. Living in fear is stressful and our world is definitely stressed.

So when I think about fear I remember the Bene Gesserit litany from the old sci-fi classic, Dune, by Frank Herbert:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Shit, that’s a long answer. Let me start over.

Clowns. They freakin’ terrify me.

Which historical figure do you most identify with? 
I’m not much of a history buff –so, apparently, I am doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past – but my knee-jerk response to the question is Teddy Roosevelt. But there’s a lot wrong with that analogy for he was a complicated man. Me, not so much. But his love for the outdoors, his passion for wildlife, and his willingness to take incredible risks to enjoy and sustain our natural heritage put him on my wavelength.

Which living person do you most admire? 
My wife, Mary. She’s an incredible soul.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? 
My inclination to see things through the lens of “me." I can be a pretty selfish bastard sometimes and it annoys the hell out me.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? 
Ego. Get over yourself everyone.

What is your favorite journey? 
The trip home. I love to get away, but love even more the return to my little piece of woods. I live in an incredible place and that final mile of gravel road feels mighty good after a long absence. Even after a short one.

Which talent would you most like to have? 
I’d like to be able to sing and play guitar like I could at 19. Music is a universal icebreaker.

Oh, and catch a damn fish now and again.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? 
I’ve coached soccer for something like 28 years. That’s a lot of young lives I’ve touched and I’d like to think I’ve taught them more than just the game. It feels good to have a young man step up and say “Hi Coach. Remember me?” and talk about what he took away from his time playing for me.

What is your most treasured possession? 
A Fender acoustic guitar that was my son’s. Playing it, knowing that he played it, puts me closer to him than anything I own. That’s precious.

Where would you like to live? 
I’m already there.

Who are your favorite writers? 
I’d love to say Thoreau or Emerson or any of the Romanticists, but really can’t. I’m not terribly well read, which may be a good thing because if I read more I might realize that what I write is crap.

But, to answer the question, I watch for stuff coming from William Gibson, Ian Frazier, Bill Bryson, Frank McCourt, and Neil Gaiman. Old sci-fi writers Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Phillip K. Dick, are always fun to fall back on. As a fly fisherman, the obligatory – and I mean that in the very best way–John Gierach and Thomas McGuane. Oh, and interweb favorite Erin Block – though it will most certainly pain her to read this.

Who are your heroes? 
Anyone who will stand up for someone who can’t stand up for themselves. Heroes are everywhere and heroic deeds go unnoticed every day. My hat’s off to the quiet ones.

How would you like to die? 
I would like to die having been given enough time to say a proper, but short, goodbye. I’ve lost loved ones over years to illness and in the blink of an eye. Neither seems just. But then, losing loved ones isn’t.

What’s on your iPod? 
The guitar gods, mostly. Hendrix, Clapton, Santana, Satriani, Vaughn, Allman/Betts, Beck, Shepherd, Knopfler, King, Pettrucci. But after that it’s a crap shoot. I shuffled ten just now and got:

  • Keep On Growing – Derek and the Dominoes 
  • Rock N Roll Band – Boston 
  • Send Me an Angel – Scorpions 
  • I Got Some Outside Help – B.B. King 
  • Savor – Santana 
  • Coming Into Los Angeles – Arlo Guthrie 
  • Carnival Town – Norah Jones 
  • Kentucky Woman – Deep Purple 
  • Tourniquet – Evanescence 
  • New Lover – J.J. Cale 
Old dude music.

If there’s a Heaven, and you’re lucky enough to make the cut, what would you like to hear God say to you upon arrival? 
It’s about damn time you got here. Your boys are over there, waiting for you, ready to show you around.

What was the most significant moment in your life? 
My life’s been too full to narrow to a significant moment. Perhaps it’s yet to come.

What’s your favorite film? 
Field of Dreams. I pretty much loathe baseball, but it’s a fabulous flick. I have to put a plug in for Memento, too. You’ll need your thinking cap on for that one. Oh, and The Princess Bride.

Where would you want your loved ones to spread your ashes? 
Just down the hill from here, in the Haw River. Keep me close to home.

What’s your favorite car of all the cars you’ve owned? 
Of all the questions you’ve asked, this is the easiest. My ‘67 Mustang, 2+2 fastback, ‘66 HP289, 4 speed. Think Eleanor from Gone in Sixty Seconds only in cherrybomb red. Holly four barrel, Thrush straight pipes, Keystone mags. My Dad was a car guy and set it up hot. Pretty crazy thing to plop a wild 18-year-old into. The expected mayhem ensued. Loved that car.

BONUS QUESTION: Who’s your favorite cartoon character? 
Hobbs from Calvin and Hobbs. I see myself, in those early years, as Hobbs to my young sons’ Calvin. Playmate, protector, instigator, conscience. Best friend.


  1. One of the greatest. I'll never forget our adventure together, driving north out of Colorado into the unknown. Getting to know Mike on a twelve hour car ride was the highlight of my year...oh, and netting that trout that shows itself on the top of his blog.


    1. Ditto here on the highlight, my friend. Can't wait to do it again.

      And one of Chris' questions was If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?" At the time, I had no answer but it just occurred to me that I'd want to come back as one of your bulldogs. Spoiled rotten.

    2. If we could all be that lucky...

  2. Now... just replace that cutty with a big, fat, south Texas redfish... Who's excited?

    1. I'm excited! And thanks, Chris, for the opportunity here. I appreciate it and all the kind words therin.

  3. "Not without scars, mind you, but I can endure." Indeed. And that, is why I love your writing, Mike, and respect how you live your life. (Clowns scare the hell out of me too, by the way...they always have.) And while I am not pained...reading my name above is a humbling surprise...

    1. Thanks Erin. I'm glad you're not pained. Keep the good stuff coming!

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  5. Thanks again, Chris, for giving us the chance to know another kind soul in this world.

    Mike, I would love the chance to meet, talk and maybe chase some fish. You offer us courage and hope from the unjust trials you've faced. Thanks for sharing and giving us faith.

    1. Thanks Dean, but no pity party here. And I'm always up for a fishin' trip so you never know...

  6. Having never met Mike, he writes in a way to make you feel like you know him.

    I know him as an enlightened and experienced man, honest enough to share and creative enough to make it interesting. One of the best.

    1. Clif, you've just perfectly described my goal as a scribbler of words. I am honored that someone thinks I'm making progress in that direction. Thank you.

  7. Mike is a better-than-average human being. It's always a pleasure to spend time with him.

    1. That's just the City Tap beer talkin', my friend. But thanks anyway.

  8. ...and, he really is a fantastic writer. I look forward to a collection of his essays being published someday.

  9. I'll second what everyone said. Everyone loves Mikey. Seriously, we haven't met but I feel like he's my long lost brother, we connect on many levels. Good job guys.

    1. Howard, it's always a pleasure. We'll have to work on that "never met". I keep accumulating reasons to return west and catching up with my long lost brother is a pretty good one.

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  11. Mike, you're a delight. It was great to hear more of your thoughts on these topics. Keep doing what you're doing. It's a gift to see someone who has found their niche.

    1. Thanks Josie Ray. And I'm so glad to have you back at it as well.

  12. "I’ve been chewed up and spit out by enough of the big fears that I don’t think in those terms any longer."

    Love that. The obsessive worriers among us (and I'm not necessary including me, though I worry that you think I'm talking about myself and not someone else, do you think that?) have something to look forward to.

    1. Don't worry Tom, or worry if you like, you'll get there, or you won't, or you'll just worry that you haven't when you really have, but then that means you haven't...


  13. Mike's answer to "What is your favorite journey?" says a lot to me about a guy I don't even know, save for a couple of (not nearly enough) written exchanges on Erin's FB page: "The trip home." A man at peace it would seem. I hope I can be more like that when I grow up. Thanks for another great guest, Chris, and thanks for the insight, Mike.

  14. Thanks, Kirk. I consider myself incredibly lucky. See you on Erin's FB page!