A Game of Catch(ing Up)
Reconnecting with friends through a fun-filled guys getaway to Lake of the Ozarks, MO
By Jack Henderson
Twenty years ago, my friends and I were celebrating our graduation from school. Life’s adventures waited for us in the years ahead. My friend John was the first to get married and now has three beautiful kids. Steve, Shawn and Brian followed his lead and before long we all had families, and somehow time seemed to speed up. Unfortunately, that meant our weekly poker games, annual fishing trips and other “guy time” stuff fell by the wayside. Thankfully, Facebook was there to help us keep in touch.
Last month, after coming back from a grueling business trip, Steve had enough. He called me and we decided that it was time to get the gang back together again. We wanted a place that was centrally located, not too expensive and where we could fish, golf and hike together—just like the old times.
After looking at a few different locations, Lake of the Ozarks came to mind—it was a place we’d all talked about visiting while we were studying at Mizzou. While we were all spread out now, it was an easy road trip for everyone.
We rented a lakeside cabin—the ideal compromise between rustic camping and creature comforts. Staying in the same place meant plenty of time for us to spend together, and a boat rental conveniently maximized our time fishing on the lake and gave us the flexibility to sail around and experience other activities, too.
Floating and fishing
The cabin worked out perfectly. With the dock directly in front of the cabin, we loved having such easy access to the water, and it ended up being a great home base for our stay. The deck overlooking the lake came complete with chairs and a grill, and our first night, we transformed the sun deck into an epic poker parlor under the stars. As the sky came alive with twinkling lights, so did our recollections. Memories and stories flowed freely that night.
During the day, we cruised around the lake on our rented boat, finding “secret fishing spots” that Steve had found online. Between jokes about crappie season and catching crappie fish, Shawn came up with a brilliant idea: everyone threw $20 into a jar with the pot going to the person who caught the largest fish during the trip.
Within minutes, there were more lines in the water than people on deck. Since we only kept the best fish, we were lucky the fish were plentiful. We quickly had about 10 crappie, enough for a sizable feast that we couldn’t wait to prepare for dinner back at our cabin.
We had needed an antidote to the everyday routine. A moment that didn’t flash as quickly as the past 20 years. We needed a moment to just be, and we had found it here. There’s something primal about being able to catch, prepare and eat your dinner all in the same day, and I’d forgotten how great it felt to kick back with my best buddies and just enjoy each other’s company.
On the links
If there's one thing that's better than being able to cook your own fresh-caught fish, it's spending time on the links with your buddies. The next day, we hit the course at the Lodge of Four Seasons. All of us admired the views as we walked through the woods and teed up on holes overlooking the water.
Despite normally being a terrible golfer, Steve managed to be the best of our group that day while Brian somehow lost a ball on nearly every hole.
Luckily, once back at the cabin we could sooth those wounds with burgers and beer as we watched the sun set over the lake and planned the next day's adventure. I felt completely at peace with my buddies, and could see why Lake of the Ozarks won USA Today’s “2016 Best Recreational Lake” award.
Hiking at Ha Ha Tonka
Since his golf game wasn't so hot, Brian wanted to go hiking on the last day to redeem himself. There are 22 awesome trails around the lake, but we’d heard of one that could actually take us to the ruins of the Ha Ha Tonka castle as well as natural wonders including sinkholes, the state’s 12th-largest spring and natural stone bridges at the southeastern end of the lake.
After touring the castle ruins, it was John who said what we were all thinking. “Guys, this has been an awesome adventure. It’s great to share something with all of you again—let’s make sure that we keep building off this trip.” Each of us nodded in agreement.
Back at the cabin, Shawn officially won the pot for catching the biggest fish. Amid plenty of good-natured ribbing, we agreed that the rest of us would be extra motivated the next time we visited. While chatting online and sharing photos of our families on social media was a good way to stay connected, real adventures and shared experiences were necessary too.
The one thing that was certain is that our bonds were stronger now than they had been in a decade. This trip wasn’t about “boys behaving badly,” it was about recharging and getting back in touch so we could return as better husbands, fathers and friends.
Plan your own guys getaway for maximum outdoor adventure in Lake of the Ozarks.