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November 24, 2014

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A Suburban View:

Trying to go cold turkey in a frigid place

They say the first step in recovery is in acknowledging the problem. Over the months, it has occurred to me that I had become addicted to a BlackBerry, the result of an innocent fling that spiraled out of control.

Although I'd long been in denial, people close to me recognized the symptoms. Worried I would miss a phone call or critical e-mail — although only a small ratio of e-mails are actually important — I was constantly pulling it from my pocket, checking and toying with it, and even filling any remaining downtime by surfing the Web on it.

It all makes for anti-social activity, but the fact was that the little device had me by the hand.

People in the know could only recommend a "cold turkey" therapy. And so when fishing pals George and John called with their latest bright idea about getting away from it all, I decided to accept their help.

Alaskan outdoorsmen who like to fish on the wild side, the two have drawn me into a few challenging escapades over the years. This invitation was to go catch "big fish in trying conditions," which, as it turned out, was putting it mildly.

We almost all have hobbies, things we like to do in our free time. Even before falling in love with the 'Berry, mine was fly-fishing, the art of tricking a fish into biting at a man-made replica of an insect or some aquatic life.

By its nature, it commands complete attention. When you are using a fly rod, you work the water and strip line continually, being ever alert for a strike, often while wading in a swift current. To be successful and safe, you have to stay in the moment and away from the distractions that flow in and out of the mind.

The drawback to such a passion is that in the desert, there is not much water, and so some travel is required.

The summer months passed warmly but quickly here, and before I knew it, I was flying on a series of increasingly small aircraft to a river on Victoria Island, in the Arctic Circle. We were chasing Arctic char, a beautiful and aggressive fish that in the fall leaves its ocean home and swims upstream to spawning grounds. Many of the biggest Arctic char in the world migrate up rivers on Victoria Island.

We had long since lost cell and BlackBerry service by the time the plane set down on the river. But I kept checking, just in case.

We'd of course known about the harsh weather on the Arctic. For one thing, there are no trees to hinder a persistent wind. For another, well, it's the Arctic. It's known to be cold and wet.

I found myself checking the 'Berry a few times again the first day there — surely somebody needed me for something by now — but it was a futile effort. There was not yet any cell service anywhere on the island, let alone in our remote location of it. So I stuffed it into a bag, and then, somehow, I forgot about it.

Itchy fingers became focused on things other than a small keyboard. Moving around in layers of heavy clothing and insulated gloves, I had little interest in playing with a small keyboard. In trying just to stay warm and not fall down in an icy river, you get back to the basics. And the adrenal frenzy of fighting such large fish becomes its own obsession.

The chrome-colored fish were beautiful, aggressive and numerous, hitting our flies for a week with reckless abandon. Thanks to a reasonable level of concentration, I did not fall in.

After seven days of cold temperatures, stiff winds and hot fishing, we gathered our things and began the long trip back. I was reunited with the BlackBerry I hadn't seen in a week.

When we landed back in mainland Canada, its screen returned to life and told me I had 324 unopened e-mail messages. As I sorted through them, I saw that most were of no consequence.

Since my return, I apply a little more moderation to my 'Berry usage.

Of course, that may only be because my fingers haven't thawed out yet.

Bruce Spotleson is general manager of the Home News.

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