Maintaining Friendships Across the Lifespan
A case study of the Katahdin Club
Posted January 9, 2017
This article was co-written with my long-standing friend, marine biologist, and adventurer, Dr. Steve Jury.
The following is a story of friendships that have lasted for decades. It’s a story of a group of guys who share histories, connections, and life goals. A group of guys who make a point to stay in touch year after year — sharing bits of wisdom and experience around the campfire and having some fun along the way. This story, which includes insights into the importance of long-standing social bonds (see Trivers, 1971), resilience (Masten, 1989), and the need for nature in one’s life (see Wilson, 1984), is the story of the Katahdin Club - which is about to enter its 30th year of activities.
Mike and I had been at it since about 8am – it was now 5:00 pm and we were still miles away from our destination of Madison Spring Hut, which sits nearly a mile above sea level and several miles deep into the White Mountain National Forest. The rest of our party was ahead of us – who knows how they were doing. Mike and I were in agony. After having scaled Mt. Washington with full backpacks, our party decided to take a six-mile trek to Madison Spring Hut — a journey that would put us at 13 total miles for the day. This second leg of the journey looked easy enough on the map. In reality, the "trail" was comprised of uneven boulders from start to finish and the terrain continuously went up and down. I found my legs cramping hard — in a debilitating manner — every ten minutes or so. Every pore of my body was sweating; poor Mike's bum knees made his experience no better than my own. When we could finally see Madison Spring Hut off in the distance, at about 7:30pm, it was like seeing the face of an angel.
In 1987, an intrepid group of University of New Hampshire grads decided to start an annual hike. After the first year, they made a pact that they would get together annually to maintain their bonds across the years. (This was actually written up as a charter on the back of a box of Cheerios that is heavily guarded in a safety deposit box). Given the outdoorsy nature of the UNH experience, the agreement was to have the annual outing revolve around outdoor adventures.
With this charge in hand, Kurt Dygert (BA in political science, 1988), Jeff Foy (BS in business administration, 1987), Steve Jury (BS in biology, 1988, PhD in 1999), Larry Sisle (BA in hotel management, 1987), and Ken Armstrong (BS in business, 1987) — all alumni of the Sigma Nu fraternity — planned for a trip up the northernmost peak and terminal point of the Appalachian Trail: Mount Katahdin in northern Maine. Thus, the Katahdin Club was born.
Due to practical constraints (including the limited time and finances of college students), as history would have it, the group instead ended up scaling Mt. Jefferson in the White Mountains that first year — but the name stuck!
The Katahdin Club is still at it — and has been consecutively for the past 29 years — with the 30th trip in the planning the stages. In fact, we just completed the most grueling trip in our history: a 19-mile, two-day backpack up Mt. Washington and over to Madison Spring Hut.
The annual trip is pretty simple — and it has its own culture and norms that have developed over the years. A Trip Chair is designated for each trip during the previous trip. The group chooses the adventure and the chair takes care of organization, communication, and leadership for that particular trip. Generally, the trips are located in the Northeast (although the Club has made it to Colorado for whitewater rafting (home of Ken Armstrong), Moab Utah for mountain biking, and even Atlantic Florida for a deep sea fishing and seasickness expedition). Accommodations and activities have intentionally targeted relatively low-cost outdoor activity that require tent camping and physical activity which have evolved as the group has evolved. Activities, which revolve around the outdoor adventure of the year (including hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, etc.), usually include games of pitch by the fire, a stop at a local swimming hole, and the annual wiffle ball game — along with the consumption of campfire-seared meats and some fine beverages.
The outdoor adventures have varied quite a bit and have included hikes up several of the Presidential peaks, hikes up other high peaks in adjacent states (e.g., Vermont's Mt. Mansfield), striped bass fishing off the coast of Maine, kayaking in the lakes of the Adirondack Mountains, mountain biking in Vermont, and more. Consistent with the holistic approach that a UNH education naturally provides, the group truly believe that hard-fought outdoor activities help build memories and maintain connections that will last a lifetime.
Across the years, the group has changed a bit in composition, with some new guys (such as myself and Derek Torrey) added in along the way. But we always maintain a core of UNH alumni. With few exceptions, the Club is still comprised of UNH alum (such as myself; PhD in psychology, 1997) and our connections to UNH sit near the heart of our mission. For instance, Jeff Foy's highly successful business, Foy Insurance (2016 Business of the Year Business in NH Magazine — Financial Services Category), has employed dozens of UNH students and alumni over the years. Two members, Steve Jury (PhD in zoology, 1999) and Larry Sisle (BA hotel management, 1987) have attended every single trip — and Jeff Foy has attended all except the very first trip.
The members of the group cut across disciplinary areas – spanning from PhD-level academics such as myself (a professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz) and Steve Jury (a professor at St. Joseph's College in Maine) — to business executives such as Larry Sisle, VP for sales at Experis in Maryland — to entrepreneurs such as Jeff Foy and Eric McDonald who have found ways to create highly successful businesses in various areas all while still residing in New Hampshire. And we vary in political views, from classic New England republicanism to strong liberal academics, making talk around the campfire often a tad fiery!
At the end of the day, the members of the Katahdin Club are held together by a set of shared values – a love of the outdoors, a strong focus on family, a strong interest in making this world a better place, and an unwavering dedication to our alma mater, the University of New Hampshire, which taught all of us how awesome the world can be if you just make a point to venture out into it.
Summer of 2017 will mark the 30th annual meeting of the Katahdin Club – can't wait to see what adventures are in store for us then!
About the authors: Glenn Geher received his PhD in 1997 in social psychology at UNH working under the mentorship of Dr. Rebecca Warner. Glenn is now chair and professor of psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz. He lives in New Paltz, NY with his wife Kathleen Bauman Geher (PhD, 1997) along with their two kids, Megan and Andrew. Glenn often writes for Psychology Today, including his blog Darwin's Subterranean World. He joined the Katahdin Club in 2002.
Steve Jury received his PhD in 1999 in zoology at UNH working with Dr. Win Watson. Steve is presently on the faculty at St. Joseph's College in Standish Maine. He lives in Scarborough, ME with his wife Heather Jury (UNH BA, 1990) with their daughter Cameron and 2 black labs. He was a founder of the Katahdin Club and is in competition with Larry Sisle (BA 1988) to be the last one to attend every year.
Masten, A. S. (1989). Resilience in development: Implications of the study of successful adaptation for developmental psychopathology. In D. Cicchetti (Ed.), The emergence of a discipline: Rochester symposium on developmental psychopathology (Vol. 1, pp. 261–294). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, ISBN 08058
Trivers, R. L. (1971). The evolution of reciprocal altruism. Quarterly Review of Biology, 46, 35–57.
Wilson, Edward O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.