My friend and I crashed 40 feet down the rocky cliff to the edge of the Madison River, fishing poles in hand. Our chins slammed into a giant boulder and the taste of blood swirled in our mouths. We spied a 30-inch brown trout and hid behind a rock.
Yes, we hid from a fish!
We cast into the river for Walter the Lunker -- that glorious, elusive fish immortalized in the 1981 movie "On Golden Pond." At one point, Walter was within arm's reach when I hooted and hollered the ultimate jinx, "I caught Walter!!!" Like most fish, the ole SOB wiggled off my line and swam away.
This is a shout-out to that special fraternity known as mancationers -- when men absolve ourselves of all responsibility, free ourselves from family life and do whatever the hell we want for a couple days.
Beef jerky and Maker's Mark breakfast
Breakfast consists of beef jerky and a shot of Maker's Mark. Urinating in the woods is an exquisite delight, and staring at campfires for hours without speaking is perfectly OK.
"As close as a man can get to 16 years of age, if only for just a few days," one 59-year-old friend boasted. "Sun, booze, water, poker, smokes, impish behavior."
Hollywood has made millions from our antics: "Hangover" comes to mind, and "Deliverance" stands as the epic mancation-gone-wrong. But there's something about mancations that Hollywood doesn't grasp. In author Craig Heimbuch's words, "it is a mutual desire to not have pressure."
"I feel like as a generation of men, as a family guy in my 30s in the suburbs of the Midwest, I feel like we're a little bit lost," says Heimbuch, who documented a search for his Midwestern hunting roots in his soon-to-be released book, "And Now We Shall Do Manly Things."
"What's really important is through our 30s, through our 40s, through our 50s until we get to retirement, we're expected to think on behalf of others. Every once in a while, you have to think on behalf of yourself."
Stepping out of the cubicle for a week
The mancation is less about boorish behavior, Heimbuch says, and more about escaping the daily grind.
"I need to go away to really step out of my routine," says Heimbuch, who was en route to Maine for a fishing and shooting guns trip as he spoke. "You sort of fall into this thing where you're mindlessly sitting in the car for an hour commute every day each way and you go into the office and sit in the same cubicle."
"It's kind of nice to discover something new at this point in life," says Heimbuch, a father of three young kids. "I go away so that I can be better when I come back."
Mancationers are a motley bunch. We cover the entire socioeconomic spectrum, from mechanic to office manager to CEO. The ones I know are dedicated family men who cut the umbilical cords when children were born. We coach our kids' sports teams. We read to our children and aren't afraid to tell them: "I love you."
Except mancationers need to be cut free once a year. One tip: If you're planning one in May, don't go on Mother's Day, as I once did.
We're not totally selfish. We reciprocate for our wives, freeing them to go on their own journeys with friends. (My wife headed to Italy with her best friend in exchange for my Man-tana outing.)
"I certainly acknowledge my wife needs to get away every once in a while," says Heimbuch, whose wife gets sprung free from family obligations when she wants a break. "We make it work, and then we still do things together."
A good marriage allows for a break
"The best mancations are the ones where you're just acknowledging there's still a part of me that needs to be responsible for me. The good relationships, the good marriages, acknowledge that."
When you're a younger man, professors, financial advisers and bosses will tell you to set goals throughout life, of climbing the corporate ladder, tucking money away and retiring with hordes of cash. That's fine and dandy, all good advice.
But mancationers realize you have to live life, too. For just once a year -- a mere, precious, beautiful four to seven days -- we have to bust out. Being a corporate suck-up only gets you so far.
Mancationers live by a different set of goals: Bathe in deer urine; shoot a 45-caliber handgun with a man named Sledge; crawl on all fours across a mountaintop amid 80 mph wind gusts and swig a shot of Macallan; run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Our motto, "It ain't bragging if you've done it."
We've lived enough to know that, as wonderful as life can be, it can also be a bore. Pink slips arrive without warning. Tragedy strikes in an instant. Parents, mentors, friends die. And when those moments arrive, you'll need a friend to reel you in.
"Mancations give a man the opportunity to live boyhood dreams," said one friend, whose annual ritual is to go to as many football games in a weekend as possible. "From jumping around Camp Randall Stadium in Wisconsin ... and various stadiums in between, mancations are truly unique experiences that last a lifetime."
The mancation runs the gamut, from hunting, golfing, fishing, parachuting, hiking and attending sporting events. Really, it's anything to get you the bleep out of the house.
Yankee Stadium: The perfect mancation
"Men in my family," Heimbuch says, "tend to internalize every little bit of pressure and stress and expectation and anxiety. And (a mancation) is our way of letting go.
"You're not going to get that when you take your family to Disney World. You're not going to get that when you take your wife to a bed and breakfast."
My love for mancations started a couple decades ago, when my father took me to New York City as a senior in high school. We spent most our time in Yankee Stadium. Dad and I took several more over the years to various sporting events. It provided an escape from the monotony of every day life. We talked more freely about life, death, raising kids, everything.
We returned to Yankee Stadium just before the old ballpark was closed in 2008. As we stood there locked arm-in-arm singing "New York, New York," Dad told me, "I'm glad you thought of this." A few months later, my father died of cancer -- 20 years to the day we first walked through the turnstiles of Yankee Stadium.
It's an experience I wouldn't trade for anything.
Plan that mancation, gents. I'll catch you on the road, cigar and flask in hand.
Men and women: Where have you traveled with your friends for a break from your families and daily life? Where do you wish you could go?