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Getting away with the boys ain

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On a clear blue Saturday morning in June, when the Palouse was still green from the spring rains, two friends and I were bicycling northward on Middle Waitsburg Road, 10 miles outside of Walla Walla, in the farm country of southeastern Washington. The sun shone brightly on the rolling hills. The wheatgrass shimmered like a great green sea.

At the crest of a large hill, we stopped to admire a panorama of wheat fields, scattered farmhouses and the distant, snowcapped Blue Mountains. We three—a radio reporter, a public relations account supervisor and me, all in our early 30s—hadn’t seen much of each other in the prior year or two. But as we soaked in the early summer sunshine, we experienced a slightly shocking revelation: We were on a mancation.

At first, the idea was somewhat unsettling. A mancation? Isn’t that what old guys do? Had we really reached the point when spending time together necessitated weeks of advance planning? Were we already so tied down by the shackles of our schedules that a weekend of dude time seemed like a gift from above?

The answer: Yes. And no.

“Mancation,” in fact, is something of a travel industry buzzword. Though overshadowed by the recently coined (and annoying) staycations, mancations are an increasingly popular marketing ploy used by tour operators and even distilleries, many of which are capitalizing on the fact that men aren’t opposed to trips with a little bit of luxury involved. Example: The Fairmont hotel chain—known for its upscale accommodations—is among the hoteliers marketing to mancationers. And each September—National Bourbon Heritage Month, in case you didn’t know—the Jim Beam and Knob Creek distilleries offer a guys-only tour of Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.

Closer to home, Spokane’s Dry Fly Distilling—a boutique distillery that is one of Washington’s first—has become a popular destination for discerning vodka-, gin- and whiskey-loving men from around the Pacific Northwest. The distillery offers two- and seven-day distilling classes, schooling gentlemen (and ladies, of course) in everything from mashing grain to marketing spirits.

“Guys tend to bring their guy friends here,” says Dry Fly’s Kent Fleischmann, who founded the distillery with Don Poffenroth in late 2007. “We get constant inquiries from people on the west side of the Cascades.”

One could argue that mancations have existed as long as men have—but by other names. “Golf getaway in Palm Springs,” for example, circa 1962. Or “Bilsdale Fox Hunt in Yorkshire,” circa 1670-something.

In fact, mancations may have peaked in the early 1990s, well before the term was coined. A pair of books—Iron John: A Book About Men, by the poet Robert Bly, and Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man, by Sam Keen—ignited a brief trend in which men (mostly yuppies) confronted their existential crises via trips to the forest, drum circles and therapeutic activities intended to foster emotional breakthroughs.

On this trip, comfort was more important to us than emotional catharsis. In fact, we found that the best way to bond was by riding bikes, eating incredible food and drinking some awesome wines.

As we rode, we discussed the relative merits of mancationing. Obvious merit: finally getting to spend quality time with old buddies. Not so obvious merit: gaining a renewed appreciation for your girlfriend’s pleasant smell. Pro: feeling relaxed enough to express your emotions. Con: feeling relaxed enough to express your emotions.

But aside from the plain-to-see virtues of spending time together, we felt that our mancation was somehow more rewarding than we expected. Spending time together was now more