I once adored Cabelas, but not so much anymore. We grew apart, and I struggle to keep infatuation alive. Cabelas didn’t change. It’s still the sprawling behemoth of an outdoors store, complete with archery, fishing, fire arms, wild-game eatery, gun library, camping and cooking sections, skiing, footwear, fashion and home decor. But I’ve changed, or at least the plump and regenerative abilities of my wallet changed. Before I retired in 2009, money was almost plentiful. I found reasons to make the 2 hour trek to wander floors of wonder, eat an ostrich sandwich, a buffalo brat, or an elk burger, and shop for nothing in particular. Cabelas was an outing, like a redneck Chuck E. Cheese.
I ran my hands along glittering stripes of reflective paint on hulls of boats I dreamed of owning. I fingered lures, bobbers, jigs, spoons, and rubber worms like a little girl fondles costume jewelry at Macys. I never bought these items, but enjoyed the sparkle and bright colors. I brushed against the crinkling Gortex of camouflaged hunting gear and pondered who could actually look good in that stuff. I gasped at ridiculous prices of Under Armor long-johns, before ducking in a cave to view sturgeon, trout, and Coho salmon starring back at me through aquarium glass. I even photographed the collection of stuffed, dead animals.
It sounds a little sick, but there is something homey about displayed taxidermy animals. I like looking at them, getting into the personal space of a towering polar bear, or close enough to skim the whiskers of a sea lion’s snout. Taxidermy animals bring back childhood memories of breakfast with Grandpa Wettlaufer at the Safari Club in Estacada, Oregon.
The owner of the Safari Club sold his lumber mill to buy the restaurant as a place to display his big-game trophies. It was one of Grandpa’s favorite Sunday morning treats. My siblings and I stuffed into the backseat of his Gran Torino, and one of us usually got carsick on the winding back roads from our farm to Estacada. But the trip was always worth the nausea.
Stuffed bears, leopards, tigers, lions, and even warthogs posed in “natural” habitats for dining entertainment. It was my own dead zoo. Gold-colored plaques situated at the foot of each animal indicted country of origin, date of kill, and killer. Every animal was killed by Glen E. Park. My little brother and I kept an orange action figure named Glen E. Park. We tortured that plastic monster, tied him to bottle rockets, burnt holes in the orange flesh with heads of wooden matches, shot him with our BB guns, and drown him in mud puddles. We loved to hate Glen E. Park for killing all the animals, even though the Safari Club was our favorite place to eat sour dough toast with orange marmalade.
It’s curious how Glen E. Park’s name floats easily in memory. More than thirty years has passed since I last ate breakfast with Grandpa or darkened the door of the Safari Club. I don't admire Glen E. Park, or maybe I do. Mine is a convoluted love-hate. I don’t see me thrill-killing on a safari somewhere, or mounting heads of defeated beasts in my living room. But still, I remember him.
I stopped by Cabelas today, but not to wander or reminisce about childhood breakfasts. I was on a mission. I have real needs now. I need tackle, gear, bullets, arrows, gadgets, warm socks, boots, hats, headlamps, knives, and waterproof clothing. My needs and the price tag for fulfilling these needs zap the magic right out of my Cablelas relationship.
I scan thrift stores for survival and hunting related items, but always come up empty handed. My guess is these types of items are kept forever or retain enough value after use to warrant resale on Craigslist or Ebay. My next search is Army and Navy surplus stores near Fort Lewis. At least surplus store gear will match what I am already using, stuff left over from my Army days. Matching isn't a requirement, but it never hurts.
My quest at Cabelas was straightforward and need-based, no frills. I bought insulated rubber boots and waterproof coveralls to keep me warm on tomorrow’s float down the Kalama River. Like my last few visits since this project started, I couldn’t escape without dropping a couple hundred bucks. Foraging, fishing, and hunting might cut the family food bill if you already own gear or can sacrifice the comfort of staying warm and dry. Unfortunately, I’m short on gear, and I’m just not tough enough to bear the chilly bite of the ever-damp Pacific Northwest.