Why scheduling an annual outdoor meet-up with your “important people” matters
“An important meeting?” I repeated, mentally scrolling through the list of my most recent meetings. I met with the tax guy, my former landlord, classmates for a group project, my supervisor. Taxes, rent, pedagogical concept maps, schedules. None of these topics were palatable responses to the writing prompt my dad had just casually brought up in one of our typical conversations. He’s an English professor and I’m a high school English teacher, so as silly as it sounds, we often talk about writing and teaching when we’re together.
This particular topic, however, had me stuck. My brow remained furrowed as I looked questioningly back at my dad, wondering what topic he was thinking about.
“The Birkie!” His big subject reveal enthused with brimming, childlike excitement.
The Birkebeiner, affectionately known as “the Birkie,” is a 50 km Nordic Ski Marathon in Hayward, Wisconsin. Thousands of Lycra-clad cross-country ski enthusiasts sojourn to Hayward every February, including my dad and a gaggle of his friends from far flung reaches.
He and his friends are serious about their racing, training for months in advance. More importantly though, the Birkie is annual time specifically carved out to be with the important people in their lives. Without fail, five days in February are pre-scheduled for story exchanging and outdoor adventuring. The Birkie is a conscious commitment to continue to feed their friendship. It’s a ritual.
Dad gushed for a good long while about how important, grounding and fulfilling it is to have this annual tradition with his buddies, something they commit to no matter what.
I’d been thinking about meetings all wrong, I realized. “I need to get scheduling!” I told dad after his story about the power of an annual outdoor meet-up.
The truth is, though, this apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I’ve watched my dad build traditions all my life. He instilled in me the significance of carving out time for the people that matter to you, particularly in wild spaces. It didn’t take me long to realize the ways I’ve implemented those types of traditions in my own life.
This summer my partner and I met up in the Southwest to hike Paria Canyon with our dear friends Riely and Eric. The first February after we worked for Riely on the South Fork of the American five years ago, we scheduled a meeting on the Rogue, and the next summer we met up for a Grand Canyon trip. The February after that we organized a ski trip at Crater Lake, and then in May we floated the Owyhee.
We don’t know what we’re doing for our next “meeting” yet, but we have a six day block of time on the calendar in December that says, “Adventure with Riely + Eric.” That’s the last thing we do before we part ways after every trip: get the next adventure slotted on the calendar.
Although our meetings don’t have the same regularity and predictability as my dad’s, they serve a similar purpose. They are a reunion. They are a reason to see good friends who live far away. They are fueled by reconnecting and storytelling. They are buoyed by the power the outdoors has to build, foster and strengthen relationships. They feel like going home.
Instead of merely saying “we should…” put it on the calendar, make a commitment, right now, to spend time with your people. Make an annual outdoor tradition, make stories together. Prioritize it the same way you prioritize work. The benefits of shared experiences like these are boundless and giving, and grounding.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a meeting to attend on the Main Salmon.