Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Why I Won’t Camp

Back when I was about 11 years old, my best friend, Vicky, talked me into thinking I wanted to go to summer camp. The lure? I was going to get to eat s’mores every day. That’s all sugar-deprived me needed to know. I pestered and badgered, badgered and pestered until my parents agreed to let me go.

I really had had no clear idea of what went on at camp other than the eating of s’mores, possibly while gathered around a campfire in the woods. Much to my chagrin, I found out that we had to sign up for a bunch of classes. Just like frickin’ school! Crap! I had arrived late on the first day, having spent nearly all day at a swimming pool burning myself to a crisp, so only the classes no one wanted to take were left. I got stuck with “Get In Touch with Nature,” “Archery,” and something called “Deep-End Diving.” Ugh. Two weeks of that.

That first night was agony. For some reason, the counselors thought it was a good idea to give each girl a backrub before bed. I bit my tongue and endured it for about 10 minutes before working up the courage to tell the counselor that I’d had enough. I’m surprised she couldn’t feel the heat radiating off my lobstery red back. Maybe she was just a sadist.

By the next day at breakfast (Snack-Pak cereal that we ate by slicing the box down its belly and pouring in milk to save the kitchen having to wash bowls), there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to get the hell out. It was just too creepy and foreign. As we scraped our Raisin Bran out of our boxes, we had to sing a bunch of songs such as, “A Y Camp Girl is Hard to Beat,” that everyone but me seemed to know and relish. Wasn’t that exactly how Nazi Germany started?

I was stuck there. It wasn’t even possible for me to phone home. I’ve blocked most of what happened except for this: Chestnut, the counselor in charge of my barracks and who taught “Get in Touch with Nature” was out of her mind. Her idea of getting in touch with nature was to blindfold us and make us crawl around on our hands and knees on the forest floor and to make us walk--fully clothed (including shoes and socks)--into a pond up to our necks. She also took us “camping,” which meant we “hiked” about 15 minutes through a sparsely wooded area to a tennis court on the other side of the camp, where we pitched out tents. Ah, wilderness! Chestnut dug some sort of shallow pit toilet for us and set a roll of toilet paper next to it. The next morning we had to listen to Chestnut stomp around and grouse about the person who had “crapped on the toilet paper.” It was probably her. I know that our experience wasn’t even remotely like a real camping or backpacking experience, but it’s left a lasting impression and put me off camping--probably for life.

A couple other memories of the camp experience. We almost never got any sleep for any or all of the following reasons:
  • Chestnut got it into her head that we would all very much want to hear her read Love Story out loud to us. I was 11 years old and I though it was a crashing bore.
  • After each night’s installment of Love Story, she’d crank up the volume on the Top-40 radio station that played in the barracks twenty-fucking-four hours a day. I still cringe when I hear any of the songs that were popular that summer.
  • Once Chestnut was safely away and swilling Annie Green Springs with the rest of the counselors, most of the girls in the barracks played some sort of strip game. I don’t know what the rules were because I never played, but I do know that it involved a lot of cackling and them taking off various pieces of clothing until they got entirely naked. A few times a counselor (no doubt returning to her cabin to get another bottle of Annie) would hear the cackling and dart in, flip on the lights, make a half-hearted show of outrage, and tell them to quit it.
I wrote home every day, telling my parents how much I hated camp, knowing full well it was my own fault I was there since I had practically begged them to let me go. And to add insult to injury--I never, not once, got to make and eat a single s’more.


Blogger Rusty said...

Now, really, in all fairness, it's not likely you'll run into the same fascist regime should you just go out camping with some friends or family...

Well, I guess it depends on your friends and family.

I say, repress these memories with a s'more-fest and move on, my friend.

9:47 PM  
Blogger thequeen said...

Man that sucks! I cannot believe that you had such an aweful experience,I do believe that your counselors where on drugs of some kind!!!! That is just aweful,We go camping every summer here in Washington to Whidbey Island we have a cabin right on the water.Fresh crab and clams all summer long mmmm, and of course smores just about every night, My youngest daughter says it is her PARADISE :)

11:33 PM  
Blogger Cagey said...

Be careful about maligning Camping - it sounds like many of your issues involved Chestnut, not the Great Outdoors. (please tell me that Chestnut was a name used to "protect the guilty")

3:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here are the important differences between childhood camp and grownup camping:
* Port-A-Potties
* Alcoholic beverages
* Choice of companions

I went camping for the first time last summer and had a blast. I'd definitely do it again because it wasn't anything like summer camp.

- Jane

5:46 AM  
Blogger Jamie said...

Yikes! That sounds horrible. No camp I ever went to as a kid (and there were a lot of them) was like that! Girl Scout camp was mainly drinking Tab and making lanyards, if I remember right.

I was raised camping because my parents had bought a house at the outer limits of what they could possibly afford. So camping and canoeing were a vacation for us. I associate it with blueberry pancakes cooked on a Coleman stove. Good stuff.

If you ask me, the key to happy grownup camping is having the good sense to go and get a motel room if the weather turns bad. :-)

6:14 AM  
Blogger Rozanne said...


I should have made it clear that these days I am an avid hiker, a great lover of the wilderness (real wilderness, not fake, next-to-a-tennis-court wilderness), and have been a card-carrying member of the Sierra Club for at least 10 years. In fact, one of the principal reasons B and I moved to Portland was to be close to the mountains and all the fantastic hiking opportunties within an hour's (or less) drive. People are always puzzled when they find out I don't backpack or even car camp.

So I guess I should give it a shot, for all the reasons you guys pointed out. Intellectually, I know I am missing out on some great experiences. I should really make it my goal to try camping once this summer.

And to answer your question, Cagey, all the counselors used false, vaguely outdoorsy names, but now that I think about it, Chestnut's name was actually Peanut. Apparently, the year before it had been Chestnut but it spawned too many allusions to her rather ample bosom, so it she changed it to Peanut. However, lots of girls who'd been there in previous years continued to call her Chestnut. Odd, that I didn't remember that until I read your comment this morning. Maybe I was subconsciously trying to protect the guilty! Anyway, the point is: She was a nut and it doesn't matter which kind!

8:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HA! And not some quiet little Ha! but a loud, belly-laugh Ha!

I went to a summer camp as well, and I never got s'mores either. My saving grace is I made friends with the 'bad girls' on the first day...not knowing they were the bad girls until later.

They did make camp memorable, though.

But I always got s'mores when I went real camping with my parents. And we always went in a camper or a I was a spoiled camper as well.

Some of my best memories as a child are from our camping/fishing trips. I have taken my son on two camping trips so far (yes, in a camper) and he loves it as well - but I think that is mostly because there is so much dirt involved with camping.

And So It Goes

12:21 PM  
Blogger Rozanne said...


I guess the "bad girls" at my camp would have been the strippers.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Kai Jones said...

That wasn't Camp Collins, was it? I went there, and so did my kids.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Rozanne said...


No. It was called Camp Two Endee Whee (phonetic), and it was on the outskirts of some Chicago suburb. I shudder to think that it there might be others like it out there.

3:42 PM  

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