Once upon a time (May 21-26th, to be specific) in a land far far atop a mountain two hours outside of sunny Los Angeles, approximately 300 queer humans gathered for four days and four nights of revelry, renaissance, intellectual stimulation, dance parties and deep sea bonding. They called it A-Camp 5.0, and it was beautiful! This is the first of three 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, May 2013 and October 2013.
This camp was our longest camp yet, and it still wasn’t enough time to spend with you weirdos. We were pleased to provide a resplendently fresh roster of special guests for you last spring like comedian Elicia Sanchez and musician/heartthrob Mal Blum. We were also blessed by the presence of new media superstar Hannah Hart, Little Horribles creator Amy York-Rubin, femme icon Aja of Fit For a Femme and home design expert AB Chao.
Robin, Photographer and A-Camp Co-Director: I think we should start recording our A-Camp planning meetings. We come up with some pretty random and interesting ideas, some of them make it through to the schedule and some of them don’t. For instance, this year I suggested a Renaissance Faire for camp and then suddenly we were having one.
Riese, CEO/Editor-in-Chief and Runaways Counselor: Everybody seemed really surprised that I’d been to like ten thousand Ren Faires. WE CONTAIN MULTITUDES.
Robin: It’s really rewarding to see your ideas come to fruition, even when not everyone is on board at first. Its also so much fun to work with a team that is so supportive of each other’s ideas!
Riese: We really wanted to do everything different this time — with five days, we had more room to try out new things and we just generally preferred ideas for Brand New Things over repeating things we’d done before.
Robin: One of the new things we did was to have only four teams or “houses.” Because we only had four teams, we were able to designate spots in camp to set up flags and create a feeling of being in a team village.
Riese: Also Robin and Marni were really serious about wanting to open up pranking opportunities.
Marni, A-Camp Co-Director: Four camps in, Robin and I were bemoaning the lack of pranks in a real way. Robin comes from a background of real honest-to-god pranking camp culture and our attempts at cultivating that at A-Camp hadn’t really landed. We wanted to create an environment where cabins would feel unified by the common goal of asserting their collective identity in a good-natured way on the humans around them. We decided to slash the number of color teams in half, group cabins in larger numbers and create symbols around which the cabin groups — or houses — could rally. Luckily we had the gifted and indispensable Rory on hand to meet this request.
Marni: Our vision was that each cabin/house would have a flag bearing a crest/coat of arms that would represent each cabin symbolically.
Robin: Marni and Laneia worked very hard on the concept of the flag and how they would look.
Laneia, Executive Editor and Runaways Counselor: Marni asked if I had a sewing machine and if so, could I make some flags, to which I replied YES and SURE I MEAN HOW HARD CAN IT BE..?
Marni: We sent Rory the cabin names and asked him to create a crest that would include a unique symbol representing each cabin in the house, and wow did he deliver. Not only did he create stunning and impeccably detailed crests, he was amazingly responsive to the print company’s feedback about little changes that would make them more stencil-friendly. The result was four unbelievable stencils in ABS that we’d later use to create flags for each house. Rory is the most amazing, you guys.
Robin: He was even more sweet and talented than I could possibly imagine a human could be!
Robin: Marni and I also created a fifth, secret team: The Clear House, hoping to jumpstart pranks. This involved going on Amazon to find as many clear items as possible and thinking up challenges for the other houses. The campers ended up not only stepping up to the challenges we presented but pulling some pretty amazing pranks on their own, but we’ll talk about that later.
Riese: Last camp we were short on supplies for a few of the craft activities, so this time we went completely overboard.
Robin: My house was the shipping headquarters of camp this year so I was having three, four, sometimes five boxes delivered to my house each day for a month leading up to camp. I got to know my neighborhood UPS, FedEx and USPS delivery team really well. I wondered if they thought I had a serious craft supply hoarding problem.
Riese: I personally spent about two months gathering magazines for the QTPOC Speakeasy’s Zine-Making workshop, the Chingona Chats and Crafts as well as our own, getting ‘zines from our favorite distro Pioneers Press. But other workshop leaders had so many special needs this time! Thirty billion pounds of rice! 25 hand mirrors! One liter of blue fruit punch!
Robin: Each time a box would arrive I would get so excited to open it and see what was inside. More scissors! Bondage ropes! Granola bars! It was like Christmas morning every day. The nights leading up to camp consisted of me in the living room, surrounded by boxes, laptop open on 10 different spreadsheets in google docs, stringing pieces of red, yellow, blue and green fabric onto twine.
Riese: I was looking forward to this camp like nothing else — it had been a really rough few months leading up to camp and I was so excited to see my friends and make new friends and MAKE ‘ZINES. On Sunday morning I packed up the rental SUV with a trillion boxes and my outfits, including a lot of large pieces of wood, and set off into the horizon. Driving to Los Angeles alone meant I lost precious name-and-cabin-facts-memorization time enabled by the passenger seat, but I made up for it the next day. As per every time I go to Los Angeles, I spend the last two hours of my drive frantically google-mapping the nearest Target. I don’t know, I just always forget something I need at Target.
Sophia, Cat Power Counselor: I arrived a day early and crashed at Stef’s place along with Liz and Cara because SLUMBER PARTY and Carmen San Diego bitches going up a mountain. We managed to both listlessly and stressfully wander Stef’s neigbourhood while having a close call with the Church of Scientology.
Riese: In a strange twist of fate, Robin got rear-ended like two days before camp? This would’ve been a disaster situation if we hadn’t been resourceful lesbians who realized we now had the opportunity to rent a mini-van largely on her car insurance’s dime, which we packed to the brim for our epic drive up the mountain, which was interrupted by ongoing updates regarding whether or not this one team member who had ignored all our emails for months was actually showing up. (Spoiler alert: nope.) Marni flew in late Sunday night and Robin and I picked her up at the airport. In less than 24 hours, we’d be back home on the mountain!
Pre-Pre Camp: Monday, May 19th
Carmen Rios, Straddleverse/Feminism Editor & Gladiators Counselor: A few days before A-Camp, I realized that my emotional state spiraling out of control may have been related to a lack of In-N-Out Burger in my life. I’d sent Kaylah a bizarre and emotional email about it, but she never responded. Brittani, of course, showed up with my exact order at the airport. That’s because Brittani, like In-N-Out veggie burgers and grilled cheeses with fries all animal style and a chocolate shake, always completes my life.
Sarah Hansen, Heartthrobs Counselor: I don’t know why I do this to myself, but I am always the first or second to arrive at LAX. I was second to Carmen this time, who offered me some cookies. This became a thing, the offering of cookies.
Carmen: As the human in charge of getting staff on to the staff shuttle and up the mountain, I’d ended up spending a majority of my day completing my exercises in The Desire Map and trying to hand out free cookies.
Hansen: Carmen was the best helicopter mom, she literally called me ten seconds after my plane landed, asking where I was.
Whitney Pow, Foxes Counselor: When I got off the plane at LAX, the first thing I did was grab a $12 fish taco, which was a financial and gastronomic decision I immediately regretted (and also possibly an elaborate euphemism). The way LAX and its terminals are laid out is like this giant horseshoe of death, where I always find myself landing at a terminal that is the farthest away I could ever possibly be from the Queer Terminal where I am meeting staff for pre-camp. Always. Is there an A-Camp theorem for this? Like some kind of A-Campian Theorem in which the place you need to be in LAX is always the farthest terminal from your current position?
Carolyn Yates, NSFW Editor & Bloody Valentines Counselor: Every time I arrive in terminal 6 at LAX, it feels like coming home.
Whitney: When I found the A-Camp Staff Queers, Carmen asked me immediately if I wanted a cookie, and I said yes and I ate it and it was so M&M-y and crunchy and delicious. And so many hugs were had. The waiting-for-the-bus-up-the-mountain Pre-Camp is always a huge festival of the biggest hugs. There were so many people I hadn’t seen in so long since I missed A-Camp 4.0, so the last time I found myself in these tens of queer arms was a long while ago. Every time someone arrived, everyone stood up for hugs. It was beautiful.
Ali Osworth, Geekery Editor & Foxes Counselor: I got to fly to camp sitting next to Gabby Rivera. That in and of itself is amazing because Gabby is an amazing human. But what was truly majestic was that we were flying Virgin America and Gabby had never seen their updated safety video. Watching Gabby watch the Virgin safety dance was the perfect opener to a wonderful week. It was full of wonder and amazement, laughter and joy and also full of all those amazing facial expressions Gabby makes.
Gabby Rivera, Speakeasy Editor & Mockingjays Counselor: Seeing everyone gets me super emotional, like I can’t believe it’s happening again and I get to be surrounded by all these loving, exceptional, and badass humanoids. Like thank you universe for giving us some peace and allowing me to share space with Carmen, her hair, and her laugh/shoulder bounce.
Crystal, HR Director & The Con Counselor: Kip and I discovered that the LAX food court no longer exists and so for sustenance we ate a bunch of chocolate pop tarts that had freshly smashed up in my check-in luggage. Or possibly it was just me. I definitely offered them around though.
Whitney: One of my favorite parts of the long, long wait for the bus up the mountain was geeking out with Cee about bow ties! True fact about myself: I don’t know how to tie a bow tie, or really a tie for that matter. My A-Camp resolution to my cabin this year (GO FOXES) was to learn to accessorize for the next A-Camp, which will include not only getting suspenders and a fancy tie clip but also buying a bowtie for myself and learning how to tie it. Cee showed me her tie-crafting materials for her Bow Tie Workshop at A-Camp, and all the really sweet matching pocket squares and ties she had made. And then, she gave me a quick run-through of how to tie a bow tie. I believe Hansen has an Instagram photo documenting this occasion, in which I learned how to tie a tie from the best.
Cee Webster, Tech Director & Thunderbirds Counselor: I really look forward to meeting everyone at terminal 6 and then the bus ride up the mountain. Everyone is so cute and excited to see each other. It’s like a chosen-family reunion.
Hansen: We got a lot of Starbucks, then headed out.
Carolyn: I was terrified on the bus ride up the mountain, not liking windy roads to begin with and feeling like we were all going to die when the bus motor gave out, sending us sliding backwards through the guardrail and over a cliff, which it did not, thankfully.
Hansen: Crystal and I like to sit together on the shuttle to review stats on our campers (last year we made flashcards but this year we just quizzed each other with facts we could remember from their intro emails, like “Who lives on a houseboat in Alaska?” “Who goes by the name Bearnicorn?” TRICK QUESTION SAME PERSON.)
Crystal: Sitting in the back of the bus and quizzing Hansen on details about our campers is definitely the most enjoyable parts of the journey. Everyone is so interesting!
Emily Gigler, Rhythm Nation Couselor: Roadtripping from Oakland to the mountain with Kaylah was like a queer coming of age movie ending with us charging up the mountain to the sounds of Circle by Lil Ronny.
Kaylah Wilson, Modtern & Rhythm Nation Couselor: Gigler and I rolled into Alpine Meadows bumping our favorite twerk jam and I finally felt like I was home.
Stef Schwartz, Music Editor & Firebrands Counselor: I drove up the mountain in a very fancy rented SUV with Soph, Lizz and Cara. Lizz had so many dildos and I had so much musical equipment that our colossal vehicle was completely packed to the gills. On the way, we stopped at ye olde Rancho Cucamonga Party City for last-minute cabin supplies and I picked up some very important items, including a sign featuring a parrot holding a margarita, some sparkly tinsel flamingos and an ALOHA banner which I cut up and re-imagined to say MAHALO and taped up above Carmen’s bed to greet her upon her arrival. We also stopped at Trader Joe’s for the semi-annual Gathering of the Hummus.
Stef: I have now driven up the mountain so many times that I don’t need directions at all, which is novel. I love driving up the mountain. I will drive that mountain right now. Wanna fight about it?
Riese: I could drive up that thing in a giant white van with nine passengers in the dark.
Soph: Our car of fabulosity reached the campsite before the staff shuttle but we were welcomed with open arms and hearts by Marni and the senior staff. WE WERE HERE ACTUALLY AT ALPINE MEADOWS WAS IT REAL?
Chelsea Steiner, My Bloody Valentines Counselor: As a first time counselor, I was super nervous to meet all the staff in person. When the staff bus pulled up, I had all of those “first day of schoolwp_postsfeels. As those beautiful weirdos started flooding into Wolf lodge, it was overwhelming. I think the first person I really talked to was Rory, and I immediately grabbed him and demanded we be friends. I didn’t know then that Rory, in addition to being an amazing artist and human, is also a woodland sprite made entirely of magic.
Hansen: When we got to camp finally, there was a boob cake. This was the stuff of legends: queer camp with boob cakes. Rachel wore a cowboy hat with a veil for her Bachelorette Party and it was THE MOST GLORIOUS of sights. Lizz gave Rachel a lap dance to “Closer” and yeah, it was just as amazing as you think it would be.
Chelsey Petty, Editorial Assistant & Blackhearts Counselor : I am a human who always has too many things on my to-do list. So when Stef mentioned they wanted to get Rachel a vegan boob cake for pre-camp, I was like, “I could make that.” It turned out, I could not make that. Thus, the boobs looked something like this:
Chelsey: Possibly I will have an upcoming series called “I Cannot Make That” to highlight all my failed attempts at making things. (See also: Mine and Vanessa’s dresses for the “Once More With Feeling” Singalong). We can’t all be Hansen.
Gabby: Tried my first legal weed brownie, thought I was going to lift off the mountain and land in space or maybe heaven. Couldn’t handle my shit. Went to bed hella early.
Riese: That was the night I decided to never consume any kind of marijuana product on the mountain ever again for as long as we all shall live. We were in Wolfe Lodge and Lizz was talking about her vagina and everything felt really strange and far away, like all the Wolfe Lodge Nights Before Camp were sort of blurring into my brain, all starry at the edges. So I just got up and went back to the cabin. Crystal was already asleep and I just laid there alone in the dark feeling completely insane for about two hours.
Gabby: Was happy to be bunking across the way from the famous Brittani and was hella glad to be in a room with my Jewish baby sisters: Lizz & Vanessa. They make sure that feelings happen and that everyone is around to process those feelings. I was sad that Katrina and Laura, my boo, weren’t on top of Mount Queermo.
Carmen: Kaylah, Gigler, Skinz (Soph), Daniela and I were put in Cabin 8 this A-Camp, a small (closet-like) cabin on the outskirts of camp (in the suburbs). We named it the Slut Shack and covered it in crop tops. I also hung my MAHALO banner, which Stef was kind enough to make for me, prominently.
Gigler: Slutshack! There once was a charming, cozy little cabin at the edge of the forest where there lived the saltiest, the most turnt, the baddest bitches on staff. #8isGreat
Soph: Soon the rest of cabin 8 alighted and the Slutshack was born. Where the party never stopped. I’m sure children are hearing the ghost of trap to this day. And whoa meeting the wondrous person who is Rory, who could forget?