I’ve been trying to work off the lazy days of summer by getting my boys up early a couple of mornings each week to run at the local track. I’d love to tell you they greet those days with enthusiasm, but why lie?
I hope to benefit by doing the same things I ask them to do. That includes doing sprints, which apparently for a middle-ager isn’t too smart.
You see, one morning not too long ago while slightly ahead of Usain Bolt’s record 50 meter split time I felt a strong pull in this little muscle called a hamstring. Apparently, it’s kind of important for running…and getting around on your feet in general.
I’ve been dealing with it ever since. As a result, rather than covering the track like a middle-aged Ferrari I’ve been lapping it like a medieval-aged donkey cart.
As luck would have it, fellow hockey dad and proud Canadian, Andrew Clark, presented me with an opportunity to take our troops on an expedition to what he said was “the fountain of youth” that was purported to even have hidden gems at the bottom of it. Wherever it was, no matter how far, my hamstring and I committed right then and there.
It was at that point he revealed it was a two-day hike that would cover over 16 miles through a dense forest teeming with bears, Copperhead snakes and plenty of poison ivy.
It was shortly after that I sent word out to our Dads’ Bucket List crew about this wonderful opportunity and got exactly zero takers.
And so, the renegotiation began.
He caved immediately when I suggested that a shorter hike would allow for more time at camp to enjoy gourmet cuisine and plentiful amounts of cold beer. What can I say, I speak Canadian.
Our intrepid crew of 16 met mid-morning on a dusty, deserted forestry service road near the Tennessee-Georgia border. Once we dropped supplies and fueled up with lunch, it was off in search of said fountain and gems.
Two minutes in we got our first “how much longer?” inquiry. Surprisingly it was from a dad, Pilot Robin, who’s apparently used to machines taking him places rather than humping it with his own two feet.
We endured several more queries from him before finally making it to this awesome waterfall that flows into a small pooling area where we could wade into the chilly, invigorating water.
Led by Clark and his adventurous son, every dad made it along the rock wall and through the rapid falls from one side to the other. As each dad came out he was greeted with a high-five and a hug. I’ll be honest, it felt like a rite of passage. And it was a bonding moment for six guys that, other than me, didn’t really know each other.
It was a great time at the falls. We stayed just long enough for Cousin Mike to ensure that each kid had contacted Giardia before heading back to camp.
Once there, we settled into camp life. Kids played, explored and listened to Knoxville Pete’s dissertation about why Charmin is a superior alternative to pinecones.
The other dads attended to our specialty areas. That’s to say our buddy, Vince Ho, took over as kung fu master of the grill while the rest of us got lazy by the cooler while needling each other.
We capped a full day with roasting marshmallows and campfire stories.
The following morning we packed up camp, hiked back to our cars and dads who were mostly strangers to each other just over 24 hours ago all hugged it out with promises of doing it again soon. We then hit the open road.
The scorecard on the trip back looked something like this: 3 bee stings, 2 knife wounds, 1 live rat that found its way into a car, 2 cases of trench foot, 1 broken slingshot and 5 hangovers. But hey, no fatalities!
Once home, my boys and I told my wife all about our weekend. We had lots of laughs to share with her and she said, “Well, it sounds like it was a great trip.” Indeed it was.
She asked me later, “Not knowing each other, were you worried that all the dads wouldn’t get along?” Her question gave me pause and I thought about it a fair bit.
It could have been a Lord of the Flies moment. But it wasn’t at all.
You see, we may not have found the actual fountain of youth or any minerals of value, but during our weekend in the woods we discovered new friendships. And in life, those are the real hidden gems.
Go. See. Be. Do.