In 1990, I sat next to a guy on an airplane, and it changed the way I thought about spending time with my dad and brothers. It was way before people stopped talking on planes, so I asked the guy in 22A where he was headed. He and his brothers were taking their father on an “adventure club” weekend. As one of three brothers with an adventurous Dad, I asked him to tell me more.
That was three decades ago. Since creating our own Adventure Club, we’ve shared experiences and strengthened relationships in ways that most people never will. In 30 years, we’ve pulled off thirteen adventures doing something extraordinary together. We’ve been cross-country skiing in Wisconsin, white water rafting, camping and mountain climbing in Colorado, hiking, flyfishing, mountain biking, snowshoeing at a mountain cabin, and houseboating on Lake Powell. Of course, the greatest adventure of all has been just getting together, especially with the distractions we’ve had along the way.
We’ve all seen tons of research like the new study published in General Psychology, where researchers found that satisfying relationships with friends, loved ones, and work colleagues are linked to a lower risk of developing multiple chronic diseases in older age. 1
Our first and favorite adventure was cross country skiing in a 29 km marathon. We really had no clue what skiing that far would be like as we gathered at the start under a bright blue sky and the biggest American flag I’ve ever seen. Clearly, we were over our heads as we heard people talking about which wax they’d used and what they chose to wear in the sub-zero cold. Intimidating racers in lycra speed suits were all around, but many more average people like us in fleece and a hodge-podge of puffy down jackets on battered skis. We even saw a few Green Bay Packers jackets to remind us we were in the land of “cheese heads”. Dad and my brothers had never cross country skied before, and adding to the challenge, Dad lived in Atlanta at the time. Not much cross-country skiing or snow there. But we gamely took on the challenge and trained at the gym, on NordicTrack machines and whatever else we could. So, when Dad, at 57, showed up in his own light blue lycra speed suit, we knew he meant business. And when the announcer said “we’re underway” we all charged forward as if the Bulls in Pamplona were chasing us. My brother Peter, who had recently run both the Boston and New York marathons said, “It kicked my ass”.
The Kortelopet is a highlight for sure, since it was our first and one I trained for. A wonderful experience new to me. Cross country skiing. Also climbing 14teeners in Colorado, because they came with lots of sharing time while climbing and are a unique experience to Colorado.
Before moving to Colorado, I lived in Texas. When we decided the next adventure would be climbing a “fourteener” in Colorado, I was all-in. That’s a 14,000-foot mountain peak, of which there are none in Texas. Quandary Peak, our choice for a first climb, is a long hike with a breathtaking 360-degree view on top. At the time I was very busy working in a stressful job, so I planned on flying in the night before an early morning climb. Since I was a “flatlander” at the time, Dad said “Don’t you want to spend some time acclimating to the altitude before we climb to 14,000 feet?”. My response as a typical 30-something know-it-all was “Why? We’re not climbing K2!”. Being ignorant to the dangers of altitude, during the climb I got sick. I made the climb and got to savor the views, but on the way down I felt terrible. I wasn’t up for any post-climb celebratory beers, and then in the car on the way home, I threw up out the window. Quite a surprise to the guy behind us on the motorcycle!
For healthy aging, your relationships are more important than diet or exercise. Meaningful relationships are linked to a lower risk of developing multiple chronic diseases. Investing in meaningful relationships isn’t just a nice-to-have, according to new research, doing so could save your life. 1
On our white-water rafting trip in June 1998, we experienced every kind of weather. Snow, sleet, rain, hail, graupel and brilliant sunshine motivated our paddles over two days on the river. At times freezing followed by being so hot we imagined falling into the river in a cloud of steam. The first night we camped next to a parking lot at the river put-in, so we’d be ready in the morning. When we arrived after dark, we could hear the racoons laughing at us, as we tried to set up an unfamiliar tent in the dark. At that time, none of us had been camping for a while, making the scene of four men starting, stopping, and starting over as we struggled with a tent ground sheet and collapsible tent poles, while keeping our gear dry on a rainy, windy night using headlamps, a comical lesson in teamwork that looked more like the Benny Hill Show.
In the morning, our guides scared the crap out of us with the “You could die” white water safety talk, and we hit the river. We did our best to follow the instructions of “Right forward”, “Left forward”, usually followed by “Back all!” while keeping in mind what they said we should do if we fell in. “Assume the fetal position with your feet out in front and try to float through the rocks while protecting your tailbone….”. We all decided we’d rather stay in the raft. On Colorado’s only remaining free flowing river, the scenery ranged from wild rocky shoreline to picturesque farmland where grazing free range cows curiously greeted us. When we stopped, we remembered how much we love to eat when our raft guides became river chefs – serving Dutch oven corn bread, steak and chicken fajitas, with blueberry crumble for dessert. After a long day on the river, it was the best food we’d ever tasted. Just to get the most out of his purchase of that lycra speed suit he used for the Kortelopet, Dad wore it as long underwear on the river trip. For reasons unknown, the suit emitted horrible odors when we bedded down for the night, so no one wanted to share a tent with him. Of course, it got worse as the trip went on: the lycra plus Fat Tire beers at dinner. Fat Tire causes flatulence, at least in our family.
Rafting in Colorado and Wyoming on the North Platte was awesome. I remember being very cold the last few hours as we sat in sleet and snow. We saw eagles and osprey in their nests right above us on the river. And we smelled pretty bad the second day.
~Younger brother Eric
Flyfishing was special because it was new to all of us. Though it took two trips for us to actually catch anything. I guess that’s why they call it “fishing” and not “catching”. Even then the fish I caught was closer to a goldfish than a trout. Fly fishing was perfect because I never liked baiting the hook. I never could get used to the part where you hold the fish to take the hook out, but it didn’t seem to faze Dad or my brothers. In flyfishing, It’s all about touch and the fly.
I remember it was a very cold and windy, but sunny Colorado “bluebird day”. We dressed in lots of layers like four Michelin Men in camo. When fly fishing with a guide, they start by teaching you the basics of your rod and reel, including dry land casting practice and how to place your fly in precisely the right spot, without scaring the fish. They tell you exactly where to cast and “mend up” so your fly looks like as appetizing as a loaded cheeseburger to the fish. They say, “There’s a bunch of fish right there” and you pretend to see them in your polarized sunglasses, even when you don’t. You think you’re doing exactly what the guide said, but apparently you aren’t, because none of the fish “right there” are biting. Or they bite and you don’t pull back on your rod correctly, so they don’t stay on the line. Whatever. I pictured the fish watching below the surface, laughing, and sticking out their tongues saying “LOL, you think you’re gonna catch us with that?!” After repeated unsuccessful casts, your guide gives you that look, takes your rod and says “Here, let me show you”. Then, of course, they cast once and catch the first fish in seconds. Let’s just put it this way – the trout population in Colorado has nothing to fear from Tedstrom fly fishers. But we found that shared incompetence is a great relationship builder. Of course, each flyfishing trip involved trips to the nearest brewery sharing fish-story beers with Dad afterwards. And the fish stories about how big our fish grow more legendary each year.
Another good Adventure Club memory is when we rode mountain bikes as well as fly-fished on the Arkansas. Not one of us caught a fish and we were with a guide!
~Older brother Peter
I read recently that once your kids graduate high school and leave home, 90% of the time you’ll spend with them is over. And for kids, by the time parents reach their 50’s, the time they spend alone increases every year. In our 70’s and 80’s, most of us will spend more than two thirds of every day alone. 2
On another trip, our cousin Larry joined us as a special guest in Breckenridge at a mountain cabin. We hung out, had great conversation, tried snowshoeing around the cabin, and came up with our list of the “Top 100 guitarists of all time”. It was easy to include guitarists like Hendrix, Clapton, Jeff Beck, Robert Plant and Joe Walsh, but we argued over the last few, like Frank Zappa or Kurt Cobain. And once we invited our nieces and nephews to join us for games of the hyper-competitive Risk, which we take very seriously. But how serious can you be when you’re wearing a salad bowl for a helmet, and your dad is wearing a bunny ski hat?
Playing Risk with all the cousins and uncles was a blast. I think we all wore different hats and played on teams. It was fun to see my son paired up with his uncle and scheming together.
Our adventures made it easier to share shared other poignant moments in between. After my mother died, Dad invited us to their apartment. We arrived to see all of Mom’s jewelry spread out on the dining room table. Mom and Dad usually brought home something special whenever they went on a trip, including pieces from Santa Fe, Paris, and Sydney. Dad wanted us to do a round robin sort of selection so we could all share in the jewelry that was so meaningful to him. Those pieces are now worn by wives and daughters as another part of Mom’s legacy.
The 13 adventures over the 30 years have been wonderful giving us the time to share and be together. A very unique family experience. I appreciate this so much as a father. Getting brothers together with the father. I never had this special experience with my family growing up.
It’s even more meaningful coming from a father who did not get to spend much time with his own father. My grandfather was an amazing man who practiced medicine until he was 77. That didn’t leave much time for family outings, or emotion between father and son.
The Adventure Club has been a great way to maintain the value and importance of family. It gives me the opportunity to prioritize the longest-standing relationships of my life and to continue to build connections with my siblings and father as we all get older. Restricting “membership” to father and sons allows us to experience each other differently than with the more typical family reunion gathering. I am not Eric the husband and father when we get together; I am Eric, the brother and son. It isn’t better or worse, just different.
“The quality of sibling relationships is one of the most important predictors of mental health in old age, according to The American Journal of Psychiatry.”3
Like many families today, our family hasn’t always lived in the same state. So, by making it a priority every couple of years, the Adventure Club has been particularly meaningful because it’s brought us together from across the US.
“I have loved the Adventure Club, not because of the adventures but because it has allowed me to enjoy my dad and brothers just with them- and not the rest of the family. The experience of going away together, rather than staying home gives us a chance to reflect, talk and enjoy each other without other distractions. Ultimately, the AC has been about connection, family, and experiences – which have now become wonderful memories.”
What’s most powerful to me is that we were able to make a difference in our relationships – shifting from the normal transactional stuff of being in a family, to bringing us together for some truly meaningful memories. Even though our dad is now 89 years old, we hope the best is yet to come. Recently celebrating one brother’s birthday with a “When I’m sixty-four” party, Dad dressed up as a Beatle and spent more time on the dance floor than everyone else. In today’s world of divisiveness, often drowning in bad news amidst the constant drumbeat of social media, lacking real connection and conversation, our Adventure Club has filled in many holes for us as a family. And, the funny thing is, we owe it all to the guy in 22A long ago.
Tips on forming your own Adventure Club:
- Start early so you have more time for adventures!
- Formalize it with a written commitment and agreed upon rules of the road.
- Decide how adventurous you want your adventures to be. The main thing is to do stuff together.
- Make it special by being exclusive to your immediate family but include some flexibility for inviting “guests”.
- Celebrate every aspect – from choosing and planning to adventuring and re-living the memories, and savor the time spent together long after the adventures are done.
Our 13 adventures so far:
1992: Skiing the Kortelopet in Cable Wisconsin
1995: Climbing Mt Quandary (a popular Colorado “fourteener”)
1998: White Water Rafting on the North Platte River in Colorado
1999: Climbing Mt Democrat and Mt Cameron (two more popular “fourteener’s”)
2001: Mountain biking and climbing Mt Antaro (another fourteener)
2002: Mountain biking and Fly Fishing on the Arkansas River
2003: Weekend Cabin Snowshoeing and Hiking in Breckenridge
2006: Houseboating on Lake Powell
2013: Mountain Biking and Hiking in Breckenridge
2017: Sleepover and jewelry selections
2017: Flyfishing near Leadville and staying in a remote mountain cabin
2020: Glenwood Springs, Hot Springs, Comedy show, Hotel Colorado
2023: Rocky Mountain National Park, Idlewild Cabin on the river, Hiking in the park and eating at Mama Rose’s Restaurant
Adventure Club Vision and Values Founded in 1990
Core Members: Milo/Dad, Brothers: Peter, John, Eric
Vision: To explore the edges of our potential together through unique and unusual adventure
- The adventure club is made up of a core group of family members.
- Our first loyalty is to each other and having fun together. The purpose of Adventure Club adventures is to share experiences together.
- Adventure Club guests allowed if and only if approved by all core members.
- Adventure Club participation is left solely to the discretion of each member. Every opportunity will be taken in planning to match schedules and financial needs.
- Adventures will not occur more often than every two years. Infrequency will add to their uniqueness and impact.
Adventure Selection Process and Procedure
- One year prior to adventure time, all club members must submit to the President their number one choice for the upcoming year.
- By silent vote, each club member will receive 1 vote towards a final decision. The President will receive 2 votes. Adventure with the highest vote total will be selected for final analysis and registration.
- Club Presidency will be capped by a two-year term. At end of term a club election will be held to determine a successor.
90% of the Time You’ll Spend with Your Parents is Over
By age 18, once you graduate high school and leave home for college, 90% of the time you’ll spend with your parents is over.
“You probably never thought about this, but around 90% of the time that you will have spent with your parents was done from the ages of 0 to 18.” — Donn Felker
all images courtesy of author