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updated: 1/25/2012 6:22 PM

Visit the Show, and take your friends with you

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When I would look at the face of Illinois Senator Mark Kirk on television, I could see high-energy, exuberance, and life in general just spilling out of him.

The 52-year-old U.S. lawmaker is recovering from a stroke several days ago.

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Having gone through my own personal health issues and surgery in August, I realized just how tenuous life can be.

I am really no different from those of you who will be walking along the concrete ribbon in the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center for the big outdoors event commonly called the O'Hare Show.

I say there's no difference between us because we have a tendency to jam as much outdoors activity into our lives as possible.

I went into a file cabinet where I keep notes, both written and audio reminders of dozens of trips I've made over the last 20 years. So many of those excursions were true gems, while a small handful turned out to be real duds.

And yet, every time I felt the pull on the line, there was that trickle of emotional energy that helped recharge my psyche.

I didn't always have to go thousands of miles away to feel the juice.

I would rejoice when I was able to "conquer" the local ponds that stubbornly gave up the slab-sized crappies and 10-inch bluegills.

But of course, the long-distance adventures had their own unique flavor that was amazingly part of the landscape north of the 60th parallel.

The expense of these far-flung journeys is part of what allows the traveler to fully bask in the aromas and sights of territories that prove elusive.

The jungles of those Central American and South American destinations would appear as realities that just seemed to jump off the pages of a National Geographic magazine. And when I would reach into the frigid waters of a sub-Arctic lake to hoist the likes of a 40-pound lake trout, nearly frozen fingers didn't register as much as the joy and the sheer excitement of just being there, experiencing joyful life in my own virtual adventure capsule. Somehow a 7 p.m. dinner session was so much more captivating.

The Rock River, a masterpiece of real estate in western Illinois, beckons the novice and experienced alike. The smallmouth bass action alone can help brush the everyday, repetitive, humdrum routines of earning a paycheck, while still presenting a wildlife miracle -- and it's only a half a tank of fuel away.

It's not just the faraway places that keep me in high gear, but rather a combination of all the things that fall into place on an adventure. Hours spent on an airplane, or the same time behind the wheel, is often quite trying and sometimes even boring, but that's how it is when I chase a dream.

I've lost quite a few friends and some close family members in recent years. The late Buck Squancho and I would walk miles every day through the woods. We would duck hunt on the Chain and Fox River and laugh ourselves sick over innocuous little things. Every outing provided something that brought joy.

The same was true with my cousin Earl, who loved to fish but rarely found the time to actually do it.

So as you walk the length and breadth of the hangar-like facility in Rosemont searching for an affordable fishing trip, perhaps you may think about those who are no longer available to join you.

I think about just that all the time, as I'm about to make another cast. And as I've said before, all this fishing stuff is about the tug -- period.

• Contact Mike Jackson at angler88@comcast.net, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at www.mikejacksonoutdoors.com.

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