If you want to get off your ass this year and actually do something significant, like kayak the San Juan Islands or drive dune buggies in the desert, you’re going to need to plan. There’s no way around it. Everybody likes the idea of grabbing the car keys and bailing for a week-long road trip, but few ever get the nerve — or the time — to actually do it. Most guys are pretty good at talking about doing cool things, but when it comes to doing, most of us are sadly a lot more like the bozos who waste money on lap dances with women they can’t even touch.
I’ve already fallen into the trap of being all talk and not enough walk. One spring I rounded up guys to go on a November backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon. The weather would be cool and the crowds would be gone. Perfect timing.
What do you think happened?
I went to work, got entangled with a woman (not at work), worked some more, and one day I woke up and boom, it was November and I wasn’t in the Grand Canyon.
I don’t know any man who hasn’t made a similar mistake — but there’s a way around it.
Use Basic Systems
If you’re really smart, you’ll buy a calendar or print one off and start looking at it as 365 days of potential opportunity. What do you want to do in the spring? The water is too high and muddy to fish, so what about an adventure ride on the bike? Where’s the loop? August is set for backpacking, so what about the heart of summer? Which weekends are for camping with the kids? What about something new? Kayaking? Rafting? Which month are you going to set aside and say, “Damn it, this is the month I learn to ride a horse”?
The calendar is a great step, no doubt, and that alone is a move to envision your future, which, by the way, means you’re not wasting your life on the couch and marveling at how your beer can almost sit in your navel like the cup holders in your lawn chairs.
A better system, though, a damn-near fool-proof system, is to plan a trip at least six months out with a group of guys. Why be the man who organizes the big trips? Forget the question. Just do it. Odds are, you’ll end up doing more than you would by yourself.
George Clooney has a group of guys he hangs with, and despite high-profile chicks, he’s still spotted getting out with just the boys to ride motorcycles or go boating. Remember the TV newsman Tom Brokaw? Did this for years. He used to lead a loose band of men called the “Do Boys.” They’ve gone packing through Mongolia and fishing in Patagonia. A couple of years ago, he showed up in a bonefishing article in Garden and Gun that referenced the “do-boys.”
If “Do Boys” didn’t remind me of dough boys or hairdos, I’d like the reference, but I prefer to think of my guy friends as a loose band of men.
Of course, you don’t have to be a George or a Tom to lead the pack. All you have to do is organize the trip. Here’s the core elements of your system:
1. Set the Date Early
You might be a single guy who can hop on a jet right after you buy your ticket, but odds are, you’ve got friends who can’t. The first step is pulling out a calendar to start turning options in possible realities. Suggest a date, a week, or a range of dates. But don’t go nuts with options. If you keep it too open, you’ll have five guys who want five different weekends.
2. Choose Your Buddies Wisely
Half the point of Man Makes Fire is to find the right guys, the men you’ll be able to count on in the event of a zombie apocalypse. In the meantime, there’s a lot to do and enjoy. Obviously you don’t want to share a tent with a guy who has irritable bowel syndrome, but worse yet, there are some guys you can share a beer with who might freak out at the sight of a mountain lion, start running, and trigger a predator response.
3. Bring a Rookie
While you don’t want a bozo you can’t trust, most guys are far more capable than you — or they themselves — know. As a leader, it’s your job to teach, to bring along the newbies. Heck, you never know when you’re going to find a cool guy to join your loose band of men. And the new guy might even be an expert in something else, like tenkara fly fishing, in which case, you’ll get to be the rookie when he organizes a trip.
4. Invest in the Gear and Accommodations
You can go backpacking with crappy gear, but it’s a lot more fun if your basics are solid. On the flip side, you can stay in a dive motel and crash with six guys all over the floor . . . or rent a house, condo, or cabin with a private hot tub. Planning is the key, and the Internet is your friend.
5. Lock Everybody In
Locking everybody into dates is the hardest thing because the guys are working, having kids, celebrating anniversaries, or attending some weekend-killing wedding. If the trip or event requires a permit or a group contribution to cover gas, travel, raft rentals, guides, or accommodations, all the better. Lots of guys say the want to go, but if you can get them to chip in real money upfront to lock in a spot, all the better. And don’t give refunds. Why? Refunds give them an out, and worse yet, refunds are leverage for wives who suddenly come up with a plan for a backyard patio installation that weekend.
Oh, one more thing, don’t run a tab, so to speak, and let the guys pay you back after the fact . . . you’ll be sitting on bills or credit card balances for months. Make them chip in the significant dough in advance. Besides, you don’t want to be the guy hassling your basketball buddy for $50 every time you see him.
6. Don’t Get All Pissy
Unless you think you live in a utopia, you should remember that something is bound to go wrong. Just keep your cool and adjust. Things will break. Guys will become drunk. You will get wet, maybe cold, and there might be blood. Pissy men might as well go home and listen to chicks gossip about everyone else.
7. Lay It on the Table
If you’re a single guy with a job that gives you pretty much total freedom, set yourself up with automatic online bill pay and hit the road. If you’re not, and we’re talking about most men here, you’ll need to get tactical. How can you do something out of character, something new? The people around you who have some sort of leverage against your time need to know that you need to get out and do things. At work, this means that if you want to do an adventure race six states away that will require a week of vacation, you might want to do a weekend race close to home a few months in advance, mention that you’re going to do it, ask around if someone wants to do it with you, and then after the fact email your coworkers a photo and talk excitedly about it at work.
The lesson? If the people around you believe something is important to you — and not a passing fancy — you’re more likely to get the support you need to make it happen. It works in the office, and it works at home with family.
In addition, you’ve got to cultivate your own identity as a man who does things — less watch, more do — so that everyone around you comes to realize that you’re a doer, that you hunger for adventure, and damn it, you’re a man who’s going to seek it out no matter what.
Of course, none of this will achieve your goals if you suck at work and you’re a lousy family man. Find the balance and your life will change. Oh, and one last tip here: After a great adventure — or even a failed one with breakdowns and crashes — you better come back rejuvenated and ready to dish out some attention to everyone else around you.