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What I Learn When I Leave Suburbia to Chase Adventure

Aaron McHugh

In the past six months I’ve experienced some adventures that are worth sharing with you.

As the years tick on I am gaining more understanding of my unique offering to the world.

Summarized, I am really good at playing.

I used to not believe it.

I thought everyone loved adventure and sought it out regardless of the circumstances they found themselves in.

A gift that’s meant to be given away

As more gray hair finds it’s way into my crown, I realize that I am entrusted with this gift.

I have an insatiable desire to see what is around the next corner.

When I leave Suburbia and pursue Adventure here is what I’ve learned.

By way of invitation I’d like to share a handful of stories of what I found around a few corners.

Fly Fishing the Gray Reef

Aaron on Gray Reef
Me on the Gray Reef

“The Reef” sounds like some coastline of ocean doesn’t it?  Wyoming’s N. Platte river houses a special section of water that provides a perfect combination of temperature, depth and food.  The river incubates monsters trout.

Dr. Bruce Kautz has become a friend.

Bruce is our pediatrician who for years helped lead the fight to keep my special needs daughter alive.

He diagnosed Hadley twelve years ago with cerebellum hypoplasia (her brain did form correctly).

He was there to admit us into the hospital where she died two years ago (January 28th 2011).

More on our family story at McHughStory.com.

What does this have to do with fly fishing and adventure?

Bruce called me out of the blue in late September and said,

Hey you still fish?

Yeah, I still fish.

Wanna go to Wyoming with me for two days with a guide and fish the Reef?

Of course I’ll go.

2012-10-13 09.49.26
Bruce and our guide

As I fought back tears, I told him I’d call him back and let him know if I could go.

I called my wife and told her the story and we both agreed the answer was “of course”.

Bruce (I still don’t feel comfortable calling him by his first name) was in the thick and thin of our life.  He saw us at our worst: accidental drug overdoses, broken femurs, hospitalizations, surgeries, infections, and writing scripts for wheelchairs, feeding tubes and seizure medications.

He is an honorable man. He called it work, but our family called it salvation.

Here is the punch line

Picture me laughing my xxx off in the front of the boat hooking up with big trout for two days.

Now picture me with a sore wrist from hooking and landing more fish than fishermen with nets and a rowboat.

Do you see the contrast?

He lived with us through the famine of our life and now he is offering me an adventure to experience “plenty”.

Surfing Hawaii-The Big Island

Mike Field__board-for-todd4_7297509_orig
Mike Field Surf Board Art

After I resigned from an eight-year career and I needed a break.

I cashed in some miles to fly to the Big Island, HI.

My good friend Sam (who taught me how to play) invited me to come soak in some aloha.

Live Aloha by not planning

I used to fill the calendar with events and obligations.

Now I go with a list of desires and try and let the week take shape.

That said, my friend Sam might still say I’m still learning how to live Aloha.

I guess I still have too much Howlie in me?

Here is a quick run down:

How is this not just bragging?

I’ve taken a lot of relational risks over the years.

Mike, Sam, Kevin, and “T” have all received relational deposits from me over the years.

I’ve sought these guys out through phone calls, emails, texts and surprises in the mail.

As a result we’ve forged a friendship that enables for me to be invited into their worlds.

I am not just a visitor, I’ve become a friend.

A morning paddle or a surf session is their normal.

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I get to participate in a story that is already in motion.

They simply make a place for me in it.

The beauty of this kind of adventure is that it is not a simulation of the authentic.

It’s the real deal.

Mountain Biking the Redwoods

The fellas
The fellas heading into the Redwood Forest

Meet Bill.

He is the Director of Guest Services at Mount Hermon Conference Center outside of Santa Cruz, CA.

He’s been there for 18 years and can’t imagine doing anything else.

In case you’ve never been there, picture gigantic trees that are 2,400 years old with a high-ropes course 100 feet up into the canopy.

Jurassic Park meets the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi.

I met the mild mannered Bill while attending a Wild at Heart Boot Camp.

Do you see the connection?

  • Bill graciously agrees to take us on a guided tour of the redwoods for a two hour mountain bike ride.
  • He supplied the bikes, the route and the invitation.
  • It was a story already in-motion and this is Bill’s normal.
  • He rides this ride once or twice a week but he was stoked to take a bunch of hacks out for a cruise.

Check out the rag-tag crew above.  Ambassador Bill on the right.

Two Hours of Surfing in Santa Cruz

Matt Surfing Santa Cruz
My brother Matt suiting up

Better than shuffleboard

Most people would assume that three hours is not long enough to have an adventure.

Between breaks during our weekend at Mt. Hermon, Matt, my brother, and I got a hook-up from my friend Curious Gabe.

Gabe is a long-standing columnist and photographer for Surfer Magazine.

I asked him….

Who should we call to go surfing?

Gabe, being said “Definitely Richard Schmidt Surf School”.

Thanks to Gabe

A few emails later, we were scheduled for a 2 pm surf lesson.

Although we didn’t have some great story of relational connectedness, we did have a twenty-something who loves surfing enough that he works only to earn money for beer and gas.

Down the hill, wetsuit on, catching waves, wetsuit off, back up the hill all in three hours.

You should’ve seen our smiles.

When all the other guys opted for shuffleboard or a game of cards, we lived an Outside Magazine article.

Up and back to Barr Camp

102,00 Feet on Pikes Peak
102,00 Feet on Pikes Peak

Barr Camp has been around since the early 1900’s.

It is located seven miles up the Barr Trail on the way to the summit of Pikes Peak.

Its charming but rugged with a couple of beds, a wood stove and two young ladies cooking up ramen noodles and coffee.

In order to get there you have to be willing to climb 2,800 feet of elevation.

For most people it takes between three or four hours from the parking lot.

My buddy Ray Cameron’s son was back from college for the weekend so we joined the youngsters in an up and back trip one Saturday morning in February.

We swap stories

Ray and I chat personal finances, business challenges and the challenges of dealing with his daughter’s cancer.

Hiking trails provide a phenomenal context for unpacking stories. 

I love the concept of parallel play.

The idea that boys and men play better together when they are doing something versus just sitting at a coffee table.

I love coffee and can gladly polish a pitcher of beer with fellas, but I love being on the trail more.

Climbing James Peak in a blizzard

This one makes me laugh just thinking about it. One of my favorite mountaineers was Alex Lowe.

He had this charismatic and optimism that was infectious.  He was a physical specimen of a man at 6′ 4″ he could move across mountains like a superhero can climb buildings.

I was able to meet him once and we had a good chat about the time I met some of his friends while climbing Mt. Rainier.

Alex Lowe, James Peak and Matt Dealy

My buddy Matt Dealy and I love mountains. And we have this unfortunate reality of our lives that we dream of mountains more often than we experience them. This day, we purposed to go into them.

We wanted to hike/climb James Peak outside of Idaho Springs, CO.  I had guided a client up the mountain ten+ years ago.

I knew we had the probability of a coin toss that we would make it to the top.

Alex Lowe would always say,“You can’t tell what is happening up there from down here”.

I always loved that mantra.

Alex’s words encouraged me to push higher on climbs and not give up or turn around just because it appeared to be was crappy weather above you.

It was literally a blizzard outside

Matt and I couldn’t even get out of the car.

We drove to 10,000 feet and there were no other cars in the parking lot.

No snowplow had cleared the road.

The iPhone weather app promised snow and wind.

We packed our packs and headed up anyway.

Luckily I’d been there a dozen times and could navigate our way up to St. Mary’s Glacier.

I love pushing in a controlled environment

What I mean is that I love suffering when it is by choice.


In life suffering is so uncertain. 
You don’t know when it will end.

In life you are unable to foresee how long the suffering or discomfort will last.

You have no idea when relief is going to arrive.

I hate that reality.

In the mountains you can always turn around and go home.

In the mountains, you are largely in control of how bad it gets or how long it lasts.

Most people don’t think this is kind of blizzard adventure is fun.

Matt’s one of the few friends that enjoys this kind of day.

In the end, we didn’t make it very far up the mountain before we decided that some hot coffee sounded better than snow sandblasting our faces.

Skiing with my daughter Averi

I saved the best story for last. My daughter Averi is almost 12.  She is an algorithm of beauty, joy, and athleticism. We escaped suburbia a few weeks ago for a ski day at Monarch outside of Salida, CO.

It was just the two of us

After three kids I now know that the activity itself is not the point.

Spending time together is the point.

When my firstborn Holden was 12 year old I failed at this principle.

When he was young, I thought the adventure was the point.

Now when I play with my kids I am better able to flex with their temperature and go at their pace.

They may argue that point.

If we need to stop and get a Starbucks to bribe them to keep going, we will.

If we need to go inside to warm up and eat a $20 lunch, then we do.

I won’t bore you with my young type-A fatherly dysfunctions.

Luckily we can always start being the fathers and mothers that we wish we were yesterday by starting to change today.

I hope you will risk pursuing an adventure very soon.

If you can’t think of one, shoot me an email and I’ll give you some idea starters.


16 thoughts on “What I Learn When I Leave Suburbia to Chase Adventure

  1. I love this post, Aaron. I can feel your excitement for each adventure.

    “We have this unfortunate reality of our lives than we dream of them [mountains] more often than we experience them.” I love that line. I think most of us can relate to dreaming. I’m so happy that you are able to turn your dreams into actual experiences. Our Epic Adventure is a first step for us in restructuring our lives to live more cool experiences. You set a great example for us to emulate.

    I’m interested in learning more about what you’re doing now that you left your job. Did I miss that post?

  2. Enjoyed reading your advanture! Living life to the fullest is the only way not to swet at the “small” stuff. I have adventures similar to yours but not as daring during our summers in Greece and winters in Mexico. Taking the less traveled roads has no equal. I am sharing some of mine in my soon to come out book. Reading yours encourages me to “live” and write about it.

  3. Enjoyed reading your advanture! Living life to the fullest is the only way not to swet at the “small” stuff. I have adventures similar to yours but not as daring during our summers in Greece and winters in Mexico. Taking the less traveled roads has no equal. I am sharing some of mine in my soon to come out book. Reading yours encourages me to “live” and write about it.

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