Once upon a time (October 9th-13th, to be specific) in a land far far atop a mountain two hours outside of sunny Los Angeles, approximately 275 queer humans gathered for four days and four nights of revelry, carnivalia, intellectual stimulation, dance parties and deep sea bonding. They called it A-Camp 4.0, and it was beautiful! This is the first of four fantastic recaps which serve to ease our collective separation anxiety, give you a behind-the-scenes look at how your A-Camp soysage is made, enable us to wax nostalgic over times gone by and provide prospective campers with a brilliant glimpse into the A-Camp Experience.
A-Camp was the genesis of an idea Riese had at 3AM in July 2010: the concept was to take the spirit of the website into three glorious dimensions by renting a summer camp in the off-season and jam-packing a long weekend with panels, workshops, discussions, crafts, sports, entertainment, parties and so much more! We gave the idea a spin with an abbreviated, smaller edition of A-Camp in April 2012, followed by full-size full-length camps in September 2012 and May 2013, all hosted by everybody’s favorite dynamic duo, Julie Goldman and Brandy Howard. Which brings us to October 2013, the Little Camp That Could!
This fall’s camp was unforgettable and fucking awesome. Our amazing team was complemented by talented Special Guests including comedienne DeAnne Smith, new media superstar Hannah Hart, Me & My Bois collaborators Lex Kennedy and Emotions the P.O.E.T., rock star Somer Bingham and songstress and actress Haviland Stillwell. Our camp staff included Autostraddle.com team members, A-Camp Tumblr Inventress Emily Gigler and Autostraddle Calendar Girls Miss October 2014 Kai, Miss February 2014 Chloe and Miss June 2013 Dani.
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME RECAMPPPP???
A-Camp October 2013 Recamp #1: Pre-Camp & Day One
Every year, camp starts a day early for the A-Camp team, as we muggle our way up the mountain two nights early to get prepared for your shiny faces.
Sunday, October 6th: Pre-Pre-Pre Camp
Riese, Runaways Counselor & CEO/Editor-in-Chief: Marni and I spent the whole drive down to camp on Sunday writing the first night song to the tune of Be Our Guest. You guys, it was so hard! Seriously, Part of Your Camp (our opening number for A-Camp 3.0) took me twenty minutes by myself followed by an hour of team song-building at pre-camp. Marni and I usually feel like a pretty fucking funny pair of people (although we are usually alone so there’s really nobody to confirm this, we could be lying, potentially we spend all our time together crying (impossible: Marni only cries out of one eye), but seriously this song wasn’t happening for us. Here’s probably the best part of the unpublished, unperformed, unfinished Be Our Camp:
You’re far from home
and you’re scared
but Carly’s come prepared
no one’s emo or complaining
when the puppet’s entertaining
Cut your hair! Watch for bears!
if they eat you, be aware
that you’ll miss the greatest carnival of all!
Come on and make a pass
Learn how to flog an ass
if you’re bent, give consent
Ali’s in her element
Be our camp! Be our camp! Be our camp!
By nightfall, we’d decided the problem was that we’d picked an already-comic song, thus meaning it lacked the earnest song/preposterous lyrics of Part of Your Camp, and decided to go with A Whole New World instead. Then there was a giant cockroach on the wall above Rachel’s bed and shit got real for a minute.
Monday, October 7th: Pre-Pre-Camp
Got my bag searched in Boston Logan Airport on my way to @A_Camp2013. I think the guy learned a lot about sexual health.
— Lizz (@OhHeyItsLizz) October 7, 2013
Actual question I got at U.S. customs when explaining @A_Camp2013: “And do you see yourself as a lesbian feminist?”
— Carolyn Yates (@c_yates) October 7, 2013
I’m on my way to a mountain in California to convene with hundreds of lesbians. This is my real life. I’ll keep you updated. #ACamp
— DEA(nne smi)TH (@DeAnne_Smith) October 7, 2013
Riese: The next morning we had to leave Rachel to shuttle with her feline friends because the monster truck we rented (they were out of full-size cars, what’s a girl to do) was jam-packed with camp supplies, including a puppet theater Marni had spent two weeks building. Plus we still had to stop at Alex’s to jam-pack it with bottles of JOIA ALL-NATURAL SODAS, THE BEST SODAS IN THE WORLD!
Riese: By the time we reached the top of the mountain on Monday afternoon, we were in a total rut with that A Whole New World, too! Still I was furiously re-writing lyrics while we unloaded the van upon arrival. I was really excited about wearing a hoodie. Here’s a sample of the unpublished, unperformed, unfinished A Whole New Camp:
We can show you the world
stumbling, shivering, splendid,
tell me campers, now when did you last let your heart decide?
Dani got you a ride
sent you shuttle by shuttle
over, sideways and under
on a hellish mountain ride!
A whole new camp!
A new craft Hansen’s made for you
no one to tell us no, or no homo
or “that’s too many feelings!”
Hansen, Heartthrobs Counselor and DIY/Food Editor: I was one of the first staff members to arrive and I met Grace, Lizz and Stef in Terminal 6. We had about five hours to kill until our last staff member showed up, so I stole Stef’s captain’s hat and we all sat around while Lizz talked about how amazing her girlfriend Chrissy is (she lived up to the hype, for the record).
Ali, Wildcats Counselor and Geekery Editor: I speak to the Autostraddle staff more than I speak to most members of my family. Seriously. I get upwards of 100 emails from these weirdos per day. And that’s not counting the times I text them to ask them questions, or the weekly Skype meeting between the content editors. I LOVE these humans with my entire heart, soul, body and being. When I see their faces in person, it is everything I can do not to melt into a puddle of feelings. Walking into Terminal 6 at LAX and seeing all these familiar alternative lifestyle hair cuts that have morphed and changed since the last time (and we’ve been kept abreast by the Tumblr http://straddlecuts.tumblr.com/ but it’s not the same). AND! I finally got to meet Kai, my co-counselor and Ms. October. She’s a wonderful, wonderful person with SO MANY TALENTS.
Carolyn, Amazons Counselor and NSFW Editor: Going up the mountain always feels really surreal, even without the gorgeous landscape and stomach-churning hairpin turns — but even getting off the airplane and getting to see other staff in real life for the first time in months (or for the first time ever) feels surreal. There’s always a moment of, “All these people exist in real life?!” which is maybe weird but also a result of talking to people on the Internet all day every day. Seeing Stef in her captain’s hat in the airport feels more like being home than being in my actual home does, and that’s only the beginning.
Stef, The Gossip Counselor and Music Editor: Because I am a neurotic weirdo control freak, I really enjoy gathering and rallying the staff at the airport. I kept a detailed account of everyone’s arrival times and delays, and did headcounts constantly like a nervous kindergarten teacher chaperoning a field trip. When everyone had been assembled, I called the shuttle and we took off on our epic adventure, managing to only accidentally leave one staffer stranded at the airport (I love you Sophia)!
Hansen: We stopped at Trader Joe’s and I bought ALL the beer while wearing nautical stripes and a captain’s hat and I’ve never felt more validated in my life’s decisions.
Stef: The bus had a raised seating area for passengers, so we couldn’t see out the front window or readily observe where the driver was going. It wasn’t until we had already overshot Angelus Oaks by a wide margin that Cee and I noticed that we had gone the wrong way and were nowhere near Alpine Meadows. The driver told us the bus couldn’t make it up the mountain via the normal route, which we absolutely knew to be false, but at that point we were so far out that we had no choice but to take a scenic tour of Big Bear and its surrounding fauna. We’d all been traveling for a full day by this point, and we were a bit out of it.
Ali: I always sit in the back because I have panic attacks going up and down the mountain (and I don’t ever get panic attacks ever), but Hansen and Crystal gave me a mantra to repeat this time: “Everything is lovely and fine.” And I didn’t have a panic attack this time! Instead, Lizz and I discovered that we had made *ahem* very similar choices for the staff reading and began to plan any/all jokes we could make therein. Even though our bus got lost for an hour, I didn’t care because I was talking with my Autostraddle staff family.
Rachel, Girltrash Counselor and Senior Editor: I had never gotten to take a shuttle up the mountain with a large group of other people before — due to a variety of circumstances, I’ve ended up in cars, going up in the dead of night, driving a shuttle myself; really, everything but a sled pulled by dogs. It was so good to get to see everyone, and to get a head start on getting all of my feelings out. It made me feel like I had a leg up on the mountain and its witchy effect on my emotions. I’VE ALREADY STARTED PROCESSING, MOUNTAIN. WAY AHEAD OF YOU.
Crystal, Heartthrobs Counselor and Human Resources Director & Writer: Hansen and I sat in the back of the shuttle and used flashcards to quiz each other ‘Who Am I?’ Jeopardy-style on the campers in our cabin. We fell asleep, and I woke up super confused as to how we’d been on the road for so long and still so far away from camp.
Sophia, Holograms Counselor: Monday I managed the beautiful task of arriving at LAX perfectly on time to miss the shuttle up to Alpine Oaks for the second camp in a row. If Brittani and Liz hadn’t been driving up a couple hours later with DeAnne I would’ve been out of luck chilling in LAX until I was totally soulless. I also would’ve missed our jolly classic to camp mired in discomfort car ride where Brittani had contact problems, my friend Naomi was stung by a bee and suitcases took precedence over humans.
Laneia, Runaways Counselor and Executive Editor: We weren’t the last ones up the mountain this time! We made it, before midnight, and without crying. Nothing stresses me out/scares the everloving shit out of me like driving up a mountain, but for real, I didn’t even cry this time.
Liz Castle, Firestars Counselor and Autostraddle Contributor: Being late is not usually desirable, but by the time Brittani and I had packed the car (only 3 hours later than planned) I had received several frantic calls from Steph and Marni letting us know that a mere 3 people had accidently been left at the airport. This was great news because we had 1.5 seats left so everyone (else) turned out to be pretty stoked we were running late. Liz: In figuring out how to fit everyone in the car, DeAnne suggested that Sophia open her legs and then mimed me backing up into her lap. Turns out she meant we should spoon instead of sit hip-to-hip but was feeling too awkward about the word ‘spooning’ to frame it that way. While it was definitely not less awkward, it was effective and we were all so excited about our first camp adventure we were mostly able to ignore the fact that it felt like Miss Trunchbull’s Chokey back there.
Stef: By the time we arrived at camp, we were all exhausted but in excellent spirits. When Brittani and Liz C. finally arrived with their car stuffed to the brim with tiny travelers, I felt a lot better.
Sophia: Bren and I also became bunkmates this night and I so appreciate how wonderful she is and patient considering every night I dropped stuff on her bed and also on Saturday night I fell asleep on her bed in all of my clothes and got lipstick all over her pillow.
Tuesday, October 8th: Pre-Camp
At Pre-Camp, we stuff your bags and decorate your walls and plan what we’re gonna do to you when you get here.
Robin, A-Camp Co-Director and Photographer: I love pre-camp. This is the first time it has felt like fall in Angelus Oaks. Some of the trees had turned a beautiful yellow and the air was chilly and crisp. I always get butterflies during Pre-Camp walking around the empty camp, anticipating another amazing session. Everything felt easy and relaxed mostly because our incredible staff members were mega-prepared for their workshops, panels and for their campers!
Emily Gigler, Rockford Peaches Counselor: Precamp was predictably cold but sunny, and the leaves were all those incredible autumn colors, and everything was magical.
Somer, Nighthawks Counselor/The Talent: My wife Donna & I have been together for seven glorious years. Just having her at A-Camp this time around was a highlight for me. I mean, look how cute she is!
Rachel: My favorite part about pre-camp was that Marni had already made the pigeonholes, because I swear to God I’ve ended up spending like six hours putting them together with a staple gun every other time. Just kidding! My favorite part about pre-camp was getting super excited to see all the campers and planning out the details of all my panels and realizing how amazing they could be. Also the pigeonhole thing though.
Hansen: Crystal and I specifically requested our cabin be named Heartthrobs because we didn’t write a very nice review of the Tegan and Sara album when it came out, so this was our penance for our folly of that mean review of an album we genuinely love now. We decorated the cabin with a million pictures of Tegan and Sara, a Taylor Swift shrine (which was amazing) and a lot of rainbow streamers. Also, a One Direction poster that ended up in someone’s bed, I think?
Crystal: The Taylor Swift shrine was definitely our greatest accomplishment as cabin leaders. I’m not in this for the glory, but I secretly hoped that our campers would appreciate the physical and emotional challenges that we had to overcome to tape a giant crepe paper heart on the roof.
Carly, Camp Special Programming Director & Contributor: Everyone should always call Marni “hot cups;” that is her nickname. Also never forget the #bin! I also want to take a moment to thank Grace for being the awesome other half of the A-Camp A/V Club. Hanging out with Grace all the time is one of my favorite things about A-Camp.
Robin: We decorated cabins, put together the best gift bags we’ve had yet (thanks to our awesome sponsors) and chatted about the importance of making this experience special, creating a supportive and inclusive atmosphere for everyone and setting the tone for camp.
Liz C.: Tuesday morning Brittani and I spent approximately 17 million hours making flaming duck tape bowties for the Firestarters so we could take a group picture. BUT THEN WE FORGOT TO TAKE A BOWTIE PICTURE. I’m definitely not bitter about this at all.
Riese: As per ushe, we decorated The Runaways cabin to look like a ‘zine come to life, which will be one of many attractions in our first amusement park.
Cara, Nighthawks Counselor & Contributing Editor: I’m not at all a crafty person in regular life (stuff gets in my hair), but many of my favorite memories from camp involved crouching on the ground and trying to make paper look pretty. This was the first camp for which I was in charge of my cabin decorations and I kind of blacked out at Party City. On Tuesday, Somer and I realized I had purchased a sign that said “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” in cutout letters (it was also construction-themed). I managed to convince her that we could make it say “NIGHTHAWKS” instead and, with great imaginative prowess and some deft scissorwork, we totally did (though we were laughing really hard and I’m surprised we didn’t glue ourselves together). Take that, Gothip.
Chloe, Calendar Girl & Blue Crush Counselor: Decorating the Blue Crush cabin with Grace on day two of pre-camp was definitely a highlight of camp for me. Grace made really adorable posters from a surfing magazine that I spent way too long meticulously placing around the cabin. I also spent time counting every ring on our paper chains to make sure each bunk got the same amount. Cabin decorating was basically three hours of Grace validating my neuroticism and telling me that I was doing a good job and I will cherish it forever. Also, we set up all of the campers gift bags between the cubbies and they looked just like presents on Christmas morning, it made me really happy and was perfect for when A-Camp turned into Snow-Camp the next day.
Lizz, Flashdance Counselor and Fashion/Style Editor: In the morning before campers arrived Donna, Somer, Cee and I went for a hike. In all my A-Camps I’d never actually gotten a chance to go on a hike. It was amazing! It was beautiful and breathtaking. Literally breathtaking, I think, for Somer and I. I don’t usually “do the outdoors.” It was so relaxing though, I think it really set the stage for me to have the most relaxing and fun camp yet! If you ever go to A-Camp and you’ve never actually walked through the mountains you absolutely must! For the record though, if Cee tells you she’s going to take you on a 30 minute hike and she totally knows the way, she’s lying. It’s a two-hour hike and she has no clue where she’s going.
Riese: I have been to all the A-Camps and I have never actually walked through the mountains. But maybe one day I will, who knows, anything could happen, Lizz looks like Heidi!
Yvonne, Stormtroopers Counselor & Associate Editor: After decorating our cabins for our campers, Lane and I decided to venture off into the wilderness for the first time since getting to Alpine Meadows. We started walking past the swing sets and before we knew it, bam! There was nature in all its glory —trees, acorns, twigs, leaves, dirt and rocks. We walked a little further and found a beautiful view of the mountains. I stood there admiring the view for the longest time because shit, I definitely don’t get to see this everyday. After a while, Lane and I sat on a log and talked about relationships and what it means to be single and queer in your twenties. The real adventure was getting back to camp because we had apparently gone downhill without realizing it. By the time we basically climbed up the side of a hill and defied death, we were out of breath and happy we made it back.
Sophia: As Carmen was still in DC, I was shoving things in bags, carrying linens and trying to work double speed. Geneva and I roamed the camp afterhours and marveled at how everyone was in by eleven. We watched Adventure Time in the Smoker’s Circle and talked about how we both wanted it to snow but didn’t want it to snow (and should we do a happy snow dance just in case? for the adventure of it?)
Laneia: It always takes Riese and me like 40 hours to finish decorating our cabin. This time I made a really amazing garland out of artificial flowers and old toys — like Power Rangers and Simba and Bambi — and it was by far the most amazing thing I’ve ever made. But I didn’t get a picture of it, so you’ll just have to trust me.
Riese: We kept trying to assemble a group of funny people to help finish the song but eventually decided that we’d make the opening night work without a song. So the night before camp began, my heart was fluttering with terror that 50% of the things I’d started working on for camp were still only 75% finished and therefore for all practical purposes; unfinished. BUT The Runaways cabin looked fucking awesome, SO.
Cee, Bangles Counselor and Tech Director: I feel that my time in both Bin and later Bunk were both really fulfilling and formative experiences for me. I think I grew as a person and that Bin/Bunk will always be in my heart. #binfam #bunkisthenewbin
Brittani, Firestars Counselor & Contributing Editor: I think something a lot of people don’t quite understand about camp is that this is the only time we, the staff, see most of the people that we work with every day. Everyone is on the go from pre-camp to the moment we get into a vehicle to leave the mountain. There’s no time to really sit down and get to know the details of people’s lives the way you think there would be when you’re technically spending five days with them. I might not know Ali’s birthday but I know what she looks like when she happy cries. Taylor might be my arch nemesis but she’s also one of the most enjoyable people to be around (don’t ever tell her I said that). Sure, Carmen will lose her voice by the second day of camp but before then she’ll have made me feel like I’m doing something right in my life enough to keep me going for months on end. You only get the essence of people and in some ways, that’s better. Everyone is so in the moment and present that the truest form of their actual personality comes through–thank goodness the Autostraddle team is pretty much the best collection of people in the world.
Next: Campers arrive, and A-Camp Day One turned to Snow Camp!