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Watch Children, Take an Epic walk, Travel in India, & Crush Grapes

Jan 1, 2006
Outside Magazine
California's Mount Whitney

Take an Epic Walk: California's Mount Whitney, part of the John Muir Trail    Photo: PhotoDisc

Watch a Kid Do Something Great
By Ian Frazier

It doesn't have to be your own kid. It can be a niece or nephew, a younger colleague or neighbor—someone whose parent you could have been. When we lived in Missoula, Montana, a local boy named Eric Bergoust competed at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics in the freestyle ski jump. I got caught up in watching him on TV, particularly after a Montana paper reported that when Eric was little he used to pile mattresses on his lawn and jump onto them from his roof. Unexpectedly, he won the gold medal. In an interview afterwards, at a momentary loss for words, he blurted out, "Missoula rules!" I was transported, inspired. I felt personally implicated, as if I were watching not only him but me.

The pleasure is admittedly even sweeter if the kid is yours. It's an emotional fact that seeing your kid in pain hurts a lot more than experiencing the pain yourself. But the other side of that empathy is even more dramatic: Witnessing your kid's triumph is gigantically more exhilarating than enjoying your own. To give one example (and only one; parents can be boring about this) from my own life: I was hiking in Glacier National Park with a friend who is an expert on plants and gardening, and she asked me the name of a yellow wildflower along the trail. My son, following along behind, said, "That's arrowleaf balsamroot." My son was eight at the time. Had the flower itself spoken, my friend could hardly have been more surprised. He had learned the local wildflowers in second-grade science, from a teacher named Yarrow. We looked up the flower in the book, and he was right; the moment is still glorious in my mind.

Now imagine this pleasure publicly multiplied in the world, big time. The boy you coached in Little League grows up to become Alex Rodriguez; the girl whose violin lessons you paid for plays Carnegie Hall. It can happen. Seventeen years ago, the photographer Sylvia Plachy took my picture for an interview. She mentioned she lived in Brooklyn and had a son in junior high. When I saw her again recently, that son, the actor Adrien Brody, had just won an Academy Award. Telling me about it, she was quietly incandescent with pride. Middle age, as we know, offers a diminishing portfolio of thrills. Thankfully, the possibility of a kid you love doing something completely great, and the thrill of seeing it, remains.

Ian Frazier has written nine books.

Take an Epic Walk
A profile of the 211-mile John Muir Trail looks like an EKG of a heart attack, but your reward for all the ups and downs is a best-of tour of the Sierra Nevada. The route crosses three national parks and summits the tallest peak in the lower 48, Mount Whitney (14,494 feet). A less strenuous choice: northwestern Spain's Camino de Santiago, a 90-mile pilgrimage to the grave of St. James.

Travel around India for a month—without once consulting a guidebook.

Crush grapes with your bare feet.
Savor the squoosh of a ripe grape beneath a purple-stained toe, like Italy's winemakers used to do. Old-fashioned wine-pressing barns, called palmentos, can still be found in Sicily. During the harvest in October, take part in a ceremonial crush with outfitter Lost in Italy as part of a nine-day tour of Sicily and the Aeolian Islands. $2,495; 888-522-5678, www.gogetlost.com

Sail in Odysseus's wake.
Stage your own reenactment of Homer's legendary king's journey—sans cyclops and sirens—by chartering a yacht in the Aegean from the Moorings for about $450 per day (888-952-8420, www.moorings.com) and reading Hal Roth's book We Followed Odysseus (Seaworthy Publications, $28). Or hop aboard a 114-passenger yacht on Travel Dynamics International's voyage, the Hero in History, in September 2007. From $7,965; 800-257-5767, www.traveldynamicsinternational.com