Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell (No. 33 in above video) will be keeping a diary for ESPNLosAngeles.com this season. In his first entry, Willie talks about his summer away from hockey, the remote places he visited and how his adventures helped him prepare for his second season in L.A. -- As told to Dan Arritt.
I check out of the city life as quickly as I can. I just wanted to duck out and relax. It’s a long year, just get somewhere where you can get the old R&R, and so I went with my wife to Maui and Kauai and spent some time over there, surfing and hiking and doing all those things. It’s a beautiful place if you like the outdoors.
I did that and I then went back to Minnesota. Got a good friend, Justin Morneau, who plays MLB, so I wanted to check him out and see how he was doing, watch him play. So I went to Minnesota, my in-laws are from there, and we were there for a short stint.
Then, in the summer, I’ve got a place up in the middle of nowhere, on the northeast side of Vancouver Island. We’re actually building a place on the West side of Vancouver Island, a place called Tofino. It has really good surfing, really good fishing, so I do a lot of fishing on the saltwater in my own boat. And then I do a lot of fly fishing as well.
Usually, with the fly fishing, I’m fortunate enough that I have a few friends who have helicopters, so I get to go on those and fly into remote lakes and rivers, where nothing’s there except the airplane or helicopter and a few fish and maybe a grizzly bear that we have to be conscious of. So, yeah, that’s my summers. I fish for bull trout and cutthroat trout on those rivers. I’m fortunate enough that a friend of mine has a Cessna, a little Cessna 185. So we get on that and we had a really cool flight this summer, up and down the west coast of Vancouver Island, where it’s really remote and untapped.
I was actually going to a charity event from my small place in Tofino and saw some Orca whales from the air at about 500 feet. It was super, super cool. It was a sunny day, flat, calm, and to see them in the water, you don’t get to see that all the time.
That’s what I do to check out, do some sailing, some rock climbing. My summer training is a lot of climbing hills on mountains. The Grouse Grind is there and it’s about 2,800 vertical feet, so I do a lot climbing on that. It takes about 40 minutes, give or take, some days 38, some days 42.
I’ve got a good friend who’s a chef and we spent a lot of time with him. My wife and me really like the culinary scene. There's a place called Hawksworth, it’s a restaurant in Vancouver, so we spent a lot of time with him and he teaches us how to cook. We had some nice meals and some nice wine.
I’m just really up for anything new. I paddle surf and surf. I’m not into full-blown rock climbing but do a lot of climbing. Full-blown rock climbing kind of scares me a little bit. I’m just not a heights guy, but I'm into fly-fishing and really into real remote places and checking it out, whether that’s hiking or whether I’m lucky enough to fly in via seaplane on the Cessna 185, or Beavers. It’s pretty cool, you see a lot of cool things and run into elk and bears and eagles and deer. They're as common as dogs we’ve got so many up there.
For me, that’s therapy in the summer, just getting away and getting out and doing all those things. All the fresh air. You’re out in the middle of the forest and your cellphone's not buzzing, your computer's not saying, 'You’ve got mail,' or whatever. No one can get ahold of you for anything. You’re there, you’re just checked out. I really enjoy that. For me, it’s my breakaway from it all.
I come back and I’m, like, ‘Who’s on our team?’ I know that’s bad, but that’s pretty much the truth. It’s funny how it works because, I do, I like to check out as much as I can. Most times, when I find out stuff about our team, it’s via friends and family because they’re on the networks up in Canada, or listening to the radio, and they hear about it and then they tell me. I like to totally check out from the game. I think what it does, it makes you more hungry when you’re at the rink. I’m that much more excited when I get here because, who’s kidding who, we all love it.
But, like anything in life, if you do it everyday you burn yourself out, so you need to find a nice balance and I think that’s more my lifestyle in the summer, trying to find that balance.