In my quest to discover what a mancation is, I learned it's easier to determine what it's not. It's not a boys night out. It's not a bachelor party, because you don't have to drink excessively, torture a member of the tribe or generally act like an idiot. Mancations aren't lazy holidays - instead, they should be adventures, filled with activities and challenges, to be enjoyed by men of all ages, interests and fitness levels The one cardinal rule? No women.
To investigate, I gather my two brothers and dad for a road trip. The quest is to see Alberta's Rocky Mountains, which has long been a dream of my father's. The challenge comes in the form of a nine-metre Winnebago, a monster of a recreational vehicle that none of us has any experience operating. "Manly" activities on this trip would assume the form of river rafting, sidecar riding, helicopters and excessive consumption of grilled meat. Emptying the black water out an RV also requires a certain amount of courage, but more on that later.
We pick up the vehicle at the Go West RV Centre in Coquitlam, B.C., which appears to cater to European visitors. That being said, there are more than a million RVs on the road in Canada, and a great many of them appear to be heading with us to Canada's ultimate RV destination - the Icefields Parkway connecting Banff and Jasper National Parks. In the summer, it is easily one of the world's most beautiful roads, lined by glaciers and luminous blue and green lakes. One of the advantages of RVs is elevated seating with big windows, giving you the best possible view. Plus, there's also a clean toilet wherever you go. ("Do not unplug the hose before you pull the black water lever back in," explains Andrea at Go West. It seems simple enough.)
We are already running late for the 12-hour haul from Vancouver to Banff where, come morning, our first mancation challenge awaits: rafting on the Kananaskis River.
With a complete kitchen, two television sets, bedroom and bathroom, the RV rattles and rolls down the highway, wobbling in the wind with the aerodynamics of a concrete brick. "Too close to the side!" "Watch the lines!" "You almost hit that car!" Ah yes, just a few hours in and I can feel the mancation easing my stress … right up behind my eyeballs and straight to the back of my throat.
We arrive late in Banff, parking among dozens of RVs in the Tunnel Mountain campground. We are too late for our rafting adventure, and so find ourselves on a "fun for 5-year-olds" river excursion. Still, when you find yourself floating down a river between the Rocky Mountains, there's nothing to complain about. After all, it's not about what you're doing, it's about who you're doing it with. This was the first time the men of my family had been away together. What is a mancation if not for creating memories to laugh about at future family dinners?
With a perfect week of weather, the Icefields Parkway paraded its beauty pageant of mountains. Moraine Lake, glittering turquoise under a blue sky, lived up to legend and assaulted our senses. Likewise Peyto Lake, Athabasca Falls and the iconic Lake Louise. I overhear my Dad checking in with my Mom on the phone. "It's too much," he tells her. "These mountains are overwhelming!"
I make a note that mancations don't prohibit men from sharing their feelings with their wives and girlfriends, always just a phone call away (when there's cellphone signal).
We continue our journey, passing the rustically restored Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, where we stop off to unwind and swim in our first ice-cold glacier lake. Mancations don't prohibit men from acting stupid, either.
Jasper National Park, the largest and wildest mountain park in the Rockies, is an extraordinarily beautiful part of the world. After hiking the high alpine above the Jasper Tramway, we jumped into Harley-Davidson sidecars with Jasper Motorcycle Tours, which roared us up the newly paved road to Mount Edith Cavell. In our supplied black leathers, we looked like we'd just auditioned for the Village People. We were happy to leave the biking to riders who know the terrain, and have motorcycle licences.
Mancations, as a rule, should involve golf, or a similar sporting activity. Although I'd played on a full golf course only once before, I did manage to par a hole at one of Canada's highest-rated courses, the Jasper Park Lodge Golf Resort. My older brother and I were paired with two experienced golfers from Edmonton. After consistently out-putting them with our hiking boots and rental kits, they threw their expensive clubs and bought us a round of cold beer. This is as true an insight into the world of men as you'll ever need.
The climax of our mancation is a helicopter adventure with Icefields Helicopters on Highway 11, not too far from the parkway. We'd seen the mountains from below, and at eye level with help from the Banff Gondola and Jasper Tramway. To fly above them is a different experience entirely. The helicopter takes off effortlessly, drifting over the paint-blue Clyde River, cruising among the surrounding mountains and glaciers. We land by a lake, where I challenge the men to a skinny dip in its frigid waters. What is a mancation if not the chance to reaffirm the essence of masculinity? So what if we'd rafted with kids and ridden in sidecars.
Up to this point, the maintenance of the RV was easy enough. A few buttons here, a few knobs there. Before returning to Vancouver, it was time to clear out the grey water (from the sink and shower) and the black water (from the toilet). We followed the instructions, but the black water seemed to gather at the bottom of the hose and not expel. My brother and I massaged the hose around to aid its digestion, at which point it came loose and several litres of liquid exploded all over us. We would have wet ourselves laughing, but it was too late. Of such memories, mancations are truly made.
See more of the Rocky Mountain mancation here.
Robin Esrock is host of the OLN/CITY-TV series Word Travels. His website is moderngonzo.com.
Special to The Globe and Mail
(Editor's note: The name of the Kananaskis River has been corrected in the online version of the story.)