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Roughing it in winter: Breakup sends Tahoe man into isolation

Robyn Moormeister
Rick Gunn/Tribune News Service Shad Lafontise stands near his tent, surrounded by a snow wall. He has lived outside since Oct. 14.
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INDIAN CREEK RESERVOIR – After a breakup, some people seek the refuge of a night out with friends and the weekend buried in a warm bed, covers over the head.

Not Shad Lafontise, 26, who’s taking heartbreak to another level – the desolate ice and snow of Indian Creek Reservoir, where he’s set up his one-man camp, complete with a homemade fishing pole, a journal and a quart of whiskey.

“I’m living the outdoor pioneer lifestyle,” said the whisker-covered 6’5″ handyman, flanked on all sides by a breathtaking winter landscape. “I’m having the time of my life doing what most people only dream of.”

For two months, he’s been fishing, swinging his self-whittled splitting maul for firewood, hiking for miles and writing for clarity and reflection.

He sleeps under six layers of blankets in freezing temperatures every night, listening to a hand-held radio.

He washes his gutting knife and dishes with run-off from his solar shower. Next, he’ll make his own snowshoes out of tree branches.

He says he’s never been more fulfilled.

The break-up of a two-year relationship and the severed bond with his ex-girlfriend’s son, Lawrence, drove him to it.

“That was my boy,” Lafontise said, holding up a school photo of Lawrence, a cute, grinning tow-headed child. “I took him on his first camping trip here when he was three and a half.”

The relationship broke up in September when, according to Lafontise, he learned his girlfriend had cheated on him with one of his good friends. The two are now engaged to be married.

“It’s a good thing,” he said, his gritty fingernails moving over the photo. “At least I know it wasn’t love.”

He’s funding his adventure with worker’s compensation after his right arm was broken on the job. Before the trip, he had the metal disc and five screws removed.

About every two weeks, Lafontise stops in at Woodward’s store on Highway 88 to stock up on beef jerky and candy for his long hikes and Coors Light for his long nights.

“He’s not the best-smelling guy in the world,” said store owner Dave Kirby. “It takes all kinds. A lot of people aren’t willing to be that cold. You know, it’s pretty hard to be that uncomfortable.”

Lafontise said he’s always been enamored with the rugged survival lifestyle spelled out in pages of hunting and fishing magazines. He welcomes an oncoming storm.

“Bring it on,” he said. “I’ll just wait for it to be over so I can enjoy the sun again.”

Staring at the stars from his dome tent behind his four-foot wall of ice, the South Lake Tahoe man comes to a new realization about himself nearly every night.

He knows he has “a strong mentality and he can hack it in harsh conditions.” He knows he wants a “rugged” woman as strong as he is.

“I’m finding myself and what I want,” he said. “I figure I should do this while I’m young and free.”

When he’s done with his adventure in March, he plans to write a book about his time on the icy reservoir, titled “One Great Escape, The Next Chapter.”

In the next chapter, he said he’ll head out east to find, marry and have kids with the woman of his dreams.


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