"Ancient Friendship for Modern Men" Chapter 6: An Invitation to Adventure

It was six in the morning and the streets were full of men and women sleeping on the patches of grass and doorsteps. The festival’s first day was full of dancing and drinking and many young people could not find a hotel to stay in for the night. We were up early to find a good spot for the mornings festivities which were to begin promptly at 8 am.


The night before we had a great dinner but decided to stay away from cocktails and wine so we might be as alert as possible for the next morning.


As we made our way through the crowd it was clear we were some of the few sober people and some of the oldest. My companions and I were in our forties but the men crowding in around us mostly in their mid-twenties.


We stood in the city’s iconic city center as music began to ring out from different streets. Men waved rolled up newspapers in the air and passed around their wineskins full of sangria. We found ourselves in an Australian contingency and the six foot plus tall boys shouted for us to open our mouths so they could poor the sangria and celebrate with us.


We were incredibly excited but underlying the energy and zeal of the moment was a suppressed fear. We shuffled past dead man’s curve as we had seen the carnage from historic videos and we made our way on to the straightaway which led to the coliseum.


We heard the boom of the rocket and knew the movement had arrived. There was no turning back and as the crowds surged and the roars grew, I lost track of my friends. It was now every man for himself. I saw the bouncing of the horns one hundred yards away. The bulls and steers had made their way onto Calle Estefeta. I started to pray but then stopped, thinking to myself, “Why would God listen to a fool,” and then I ran. It was only seconds but there I was running at arm’s length with the fearsome bulls on the streets of Pamplona, Spain. I was yelling, shoving men who stopped in front of me to the ground, and hoping I did not make a wrong step or turn.


Unknown to me there were a couple of steers further behind the main group of bulls which made it possible for me to run into the coliseum right behind the bulls. I looked up and I was standing in the middle of the famous bull ring of Hemingway fame. I was singing, “Ole Ole” and then saw the face of my close friend Darrin Kirby. We were in disbelief and thrilled to be uninjured. All the pent-up fear turned into elation and celebration. Then a bull was released back out into the arena, and we ran different directions like frightened fish from a dolphin. Several bulls were re-released which entertained the crowd in the seats as they screamed with joy with every close call in the ring.


Twenty minutes later we all found our way out of the arena and back to our families who watched the events from a balcony along the run. Our Running of the Bulls in the San Fermin Festival in 2011 was the fulfillment of a dream and an adventure of a lifetime for us. The event and the surrounding days solidified a great friendship for eternity.


Nothing solidifies friendship like a shared adventure, and the bigger the experience, the more dangerous, the more strenuous, the more unpredictable, the more it brings you together.

Me Running With Bulls - Upper Left


Darrin and I share an experience few people understand but almost everyone is familiar. Each year from July 6th to the 13th the world turns an eye to the chaos of thousands of men in white and red running through ancient streets with bulls’ bread to kill. And while the world is familiar, Darrin and I understand the fear, know the smell, have ran the streets, and lived to tell the tale. When we are with others, we share in telling the story and relive it over and over. Adventure binds you.


Most men are looking for an adventure and they are more than ready to accept an invitation. Creating an adventure and inviting people to come along is a powerful way to pursue people and create lasting relationships.


Pope John Paul II had a love for the outdoors. His enjoyment of skiing, hiking, and kayaking is well documented. As a young man in Poland, he had a hard time getting men to come to mass. The liturgical service did many as it was unfamiliar and not fully understood. To begin building connections John Paul began inviting men to go on hikes with him. While they were hiking, he would talk about the things they wanted to discuss as well as him sharing about his faith and church. Through these small adventures John Paul developed connections with others as he introduced them to what he saw as the most important thing in life, a relationship with God. Adventure opened the door.


I shared about The May Club which I cofounded with David Rutherford. This five-day annual getaway turned into a great way to build friendship through adventure. Each year we plan a different location, and over the years, return to some familiar locations for five days of fun. Depending on the location there is fishing, kayaking, biking, rafting, hiking, climbing, golfing and more. Each day of the trip we break into smaller groups and take on different excursions. Over twenty-eight years the number of unique adventures is hard to count.


I was with about six other guys on a trip into Arches National Park in May of 2016. We had decided to do the five-mile round trip hike of Devil’s Garden. I had done this hike years before when it was 107 degrees and did not take enough water. This was maybe the closest I’ve come to heatstroke. However, on our 2016 hike the weather was cooler and storms were in the forecast. On our hike were some veteran outdoorsmen and a few gentlemen who did not hike very often.


The storms came and began to pelt us with hail. We found some rocks to hide under. As the hail stopped, we continued our hike, but the lightning was fast approaching. Michael Scott was one of the men on the hike and he was counting the time from the clap of thunder to the lightning. He simply said, “It’s getting closer.” Rocks are not exactly a great escape from lightning, and we were at the bottom of the trail. It was now pouring, and the lighting had us ducking with every flash. The water began to rise, and a flashflood filled the trails and poured off the surrounding rock features. We came to an area of slick rock and the entire trail was now waist deep or more where we needed to hike. We formed a chain along the slick rock to help a few of the guys get through. It was impossible with some of their shoes to get a grip on the rock. The next rock feature would prove even more dangerous in the rain and for those with the wrong shoes. One by one we hung on to each other to keep someone from falling with the limited grip, slick stone, and long drop.


As we neared the last mile it was nothing but sand and about a 400-foot ascent. The storm had passed, and it warmed up quickly and the last mile of sand wore everyone out.


It was the greatest hike I ever experienced in Moab. The weather was horrible, there was a risk, but I made it through with Wes, Charles, Michael, Larry, Trevor, Darrin, Terry, Saul, John, Patrick and Cliff. It became a more aggrandized story over the years, but a moment shared with friends and a lifelong connection through adventure.



Hiking Through The Storm in Arches National Park


As I meet people through work, church, and my neighborhood I have invited men to join us. I often tell stories about adventures on The May Club and if someone says they would enjoy something like it, I give them an invite.


First, I’ve discovered people appreciate an invitation, even if they do not accept. We all have a desire to be included and an invitation to a trip, event, or party is a sign of appreciating the other person. It’s a big, lonely world and to be included can change a person.


Secondly, there’s not a lot of relationship building events going on for men in their middle age. There are plenty of kid games, school functions and block parties, but not adventurous opportunities. Whether you know how to hunt, fish, climb, kayak or not, you always appreciate an invitation to go hang out with the guys.


The invitation is a starting point in the pursuit of others. The adventure is the event to build on common ground, and the goal is to connect with people in a real way.


The conversations which happen during the process of travel and adventure are the building blocks of friendship. This is where the long-term connections take place, when you discover a shared interest or struggle. C.S. Lewis said it best in his book “The Four Loves” when he writes, “Friendship arises out of mere companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one... It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision - it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.”


I’ve straddled a rattlesnake in a slot canyon with my buddies. I’ve sat with my arm around a friend climbing at 13,500 feet in an attempt to get warm in a blizzard. I’ve kayaked in the gulf thinking lightning would get us before we made it back to shore. All great events because they ended well, but greater events because of the conversations which took place during a shared experience.


Invite someone on an adventure, but also invite them into a conversation. The adventure is the gateway to you showing interest in another person, their life, their loves, their disappointments, and their needs. The conversation starts simply with questions.


I have a friend who is a pro at getting people to talk. It’s a gift Clint Woodward has taught me over the years. Three very noticeable things whenever you watch Clint engage with another person. First, he is always asking about them and getting them to share. Clint seldom talks about himself unless asked. And, as he is asking questions he is actively listening. I am amazed at all he can retain from a conversation, but this is because he asks questions with a sincere interest in the other person. Lastly, he serves the person during the conversation. He’ll get up and grab them another beer, fill up their drink, and ask them if they need anything. He is asking, listening, and serving.


Over nearly three decades I’ve planned the annual May Club trip, also an annual May Club Die-Hard trip for the more adventurous, father- daughter camping trips and father-son trips and a few large dinner events with the guys each year. Invitations to connect again and again to build closer friendships and more shared stories, and an opportunity to share about life and learn from one another from the conversations which naturally take place while out on an adventure.


I am excited when people in my different circles have asked about The May Club out of a genuine shock that such a group exist without connection to a club or church. They are often surprised when I share these are just people I’ve met throughout my life and invited them to join me, and then I ask them, “Do you want to go?”


Adventure does not have to be learning to jump out of an airplane, however this would be a perfectly fine invitation. Adventure can be a hike an hour outside of town, or a shoreline fishing day, or a paddle around a local lake. This simple invitation can lead to great conversations and lifelong friendships. An invitation to adventure is an invitation to friendship.

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