Once upon a time (May 30th-June 4th, to be specific) in a land far far atop a mountain two hours outside of sunny Los Angeles, approximately 300 queer humans — 250 campers, 50+ staff and talent — gathered for four days and four nights of revelry, intellectual stimulation, dance parties and deep sea bonding. They called it A-Camp 6.0, 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 from the Staff Side Of Things. (If you wanna know how it feels to be a camper, you’ll have to come to camp!)
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, October 2013, May 2014 and May 2015.
This camp was our best camp yet. Seriously, we were very on top of our game. This required raising prices, but we think the extra expense was well worth it — I mean, we had a bouncy castle! We had an all-star cast of special talent: actress and DIY Queen Jasika Nicole, Everyone is Gay super-idols Kristin Russo and Dannielle Owens-Reid, musicians Julia Nunes, Jenny Owen Youngs and Mal Bum and comedians Brittani Nichols, Deanne Smith and Elicia Sanchez. Plus, Orange is the New Black’s Lauren Morelli showed up for an hilarious afternoon Q&A, Kimber Hall joined Brittani for improv and former Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent sang from her soul. A DELIGHTFUL TIME WAS HAD BY ALL.
Alex, Design Director and Sponsorship Guru (6th A-Camp): Just FYI, “camp prep” for me (and many others) starts months and months before actual camp. The prep that goes into an event like this is incredible! And I’m honestly amazed every time we’re able to put it all together.
Robin, Photographer and A-Camp Co-Director (6th A-Camp): In addition to the countless hours I spend online with Marni and Riese, we had two planning weekends up in Berkeley/Oakland this year which were pretty fun and productive.
Riese, CEO/Editor-in-Chief, A-Camp Founder and Runaways Counselor (6th A-Camp): The first planning weekend was hard ’cause we had way more staff applications than we had staff positions. At some point I recused myself from the process ’cause I was too influenced by their Autostraddle work. Because we’d committed to covering everybody’s travel expenses this time, we were forced to be sensible and make Hard Choices. And then feel guilty about it forever.
Robin: The second planning weekend is to finalize the schedule, figure out the plan for things like our special talent involvement, opening night, the state fair, and random things from pigeonhole execution to EQ and supplies.
Riese: I feel like I spent a lot of money on cheese that weekend.
Kai Keller, Calendar Girl and The Beach Counselor (3rd A-Camp): I literally didn’t know I was coming to camp until a couple of months before it happened. I had been living in Thailand for a year and legit having anxiety over staying there or coming back in time for A-Camp 6.0. Guys, camp is really important. After emailing Robin and Marni a bunch, I was added to staff last minute.
Djuan Trent, Contributor and Beehive Counselor (1st A-Camp): Leading up to A-Camp, I’d had a really rough couple of months. But thankfully I got hooked up with Gabby, who made things 1000% better. She was a vet in the game and was so great at basically taking the reins when she figured out my slacker ass was, well, slacking — or, really, I was overwhelmed by all the e-mails! I didn’t know what to pack, I had no idea where my life was… I was just a mess.
Carmen Rios, Straddleverse Editor and Rodeo Disco Counselor (6th A-Camp): I had a lot to do the day before A-Camp travel started, mostly because of my poor planning and the way my life continually happens in large bursts of energy. So basically, I got out of work on the 27th, went immediately to Trader Joe’s to get a reusable shopping bag for important A-Camp reasons, then recruited Carolyn Yates via text to bring me a Bruno Mars hat, ran to a superstore, got lost in the trial size section, went home, wrote two things, packed a little, and tried to learn all the dance moves to Uptown Funk. I wanted to sleep that night, it was even on my to-do list! It didn’t happen.
Pre-Pre Camp: Thursday, May 28
Gabby Rivera, QPOC Speakeasy Director and Beehive Counselor (5th A-Camp): I had a huge job interview the day before we flew out, packed the night before and packed my sweet baby girl Laura W out of her apartment literally the night before we were to fly out. She’s my ride or die or more like my “did you eat or do you need a hug” lady love.
Stef Schwartz, Music Editor and Buffy The Vampire Gayers Counselor (6th A-Camp): I love Ali Osworth, truly I do, but I worked a full 14-hour day/night before popping home to pack and then ran immediately out the door to pick up Cameron and Ali and head to the airport on zero sleep. Ali was so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and filled with resounding joy at 5:30 AM that I think the TSA agents at JFK thought she was being sarcastic.
Ali Osworth, Tech Editor and Star Runners Counselor (5th A-Camp): Cameron and Stef woke up at four in the morning to split a car to the airport with me EVEN THOUGH THEY FLEW TWO HOURS LATER THAN I DID! They are champions. They put up with how instantly awake I am in the morning. Well… “put up with” might be too strong a word.
Gabby: At the airport, Stef saw me from across the terminal and bounded like a leather-wearing gazelle on over. I met Heather Hogan for the first time! Gave Ali hugs. And boarded the Virgin flight to LAX, excited that I’d get to watch their safety video again.
Stef: All the New York-based auto-weirdos gathered at the gate to share our pre-camp feelings… and then they all left, and Cameron and I got to sit in the airport for two more hours.
Heather Hogan, Senior Editor and Hogwarts Counselor (1st A-Camp): My girlfriend bought me a new t-shirt with dinosaurs playing Twister on it to wear to meet everyone on the Autostraddle team for the first time. I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I spilled coffee all over my new shirt practically as soon as I arrived at the Virgin American terminal. But Gabby and Stef and Cameron and Laura and Ali were so nice to me anyway that I didn’t even cry about it.
Elicia Sanchez, Comedian and Ghost Power Counselor (2nd A-Camp): The morning I was flying out from Seattle, I was desperately trying to finish an online application for one of the comedy shows I produce to be considered for a local music festival that I hadn’t finished the night before because I’d drank too much at a comedy show and only cared about nachos. I remember pushing the ‘submit’ button on my application and looking up at my oven clock only to realize I had ONE HOUR to get to the airport and get on my plane. Thanks to a helpful Lyft driver and a quick check in at SeaTac, I made it on my flight with 15 minutes to spare.
Carolyn Wysinger, Contributor and Firebirds Counselor (2nd A-Camp): I know for a fact I only slept three hours the night before. This would all come back to haunt me later. I was nervous about leaving my car in the street in Oakland and my ride to the airport almost fell through and I BARELY made the luggage weight requirement. Like really I was at 49.5. I was so happy to finally make it to LAX.
Trent: I wanted to go to camp feeling fully like my fun and alive self, but no matter how much I tried to convince myself that I was fun and alive, I was really feeling sad and weighed down by everything that was going on in my life. I boarded my 6am flight to head to LA thinking, “What do I have to offer anyone other than these totally inconvenient, abnormally unhappy pieces of me? I don’t even feel like myself. This is going to be a wretched experience (not to be confused with ratchet…I’m okay with ratchet, but not wretched).”
Elicia: THANK GOD for Virgin Airlines who serve hummus and tea and have episodes of HBO’s “Jinx” available to purchase from your seat with the last $20 you have to your name. Did I mention I’m really good at being an adult?
Riese: I have a serious thing where I like to be the first one to arrive at camp and usually I succeed at this — but Abby and I did have to make a detour in Redlands to pick up supplies for my Boxed Wine and String Cheese tasting.
Robin: Marni, Carly and I loaded up the U-Haul with the supplies I’ve been hoarding in my garage, dropped by our storage unit outside camp to grab the rest of our camp stash, and made our way up the mountain!
Marni Kellison, A-Camp Co-Director (6th A-Camp): It seemed impossible that we were going to fit all of the supplies and A/V equipment into that van, but we did it!
Carmen: I arrived at LAX earlier than my early flight was supposed to and immediately found my people. Mostly because when you’re wading through LAX looking for Autostraddle staff, we’re easy to spot.
Yvonne, Senior Editor and Shark Week Counselor (3rd A-Camp): I’m usually the first one to arrive at LAX like at the butt crack of dawn and have to wait for everyone to arrive. It’s just cheaper to fly the first flight out to LAX. It’s totally cool because I befriended the airport staff and they told me their ~*secrets*~. I know where the airport staff eats and it’s a lot cheaper than your $5 airport hummus and pretzels, my friend.
Gabby: The terminal family meet up is always the best. I know it’s silly but it feels amazing. Here we are taking up a section at the baggage claim looking queer and happy as hell. It’s nice to move in a group and to be surrounded by people who wanna give and receive hugs.
KaeLyn Rich, Staff Writer and Shark Week Counselor (1st A-Camp): I had the excited jitters about meeting my Autostraddle family IRL for the very first time and I became immediately tense when I deplaned in LAX and started searching for Terminal 6, though. The first person I saw was Gabby, who greeted me with that big Gabby-love, hugged me and grabbed my bags and then everyone was there and there were hugs and awkward hand gestures and everything was pretty great.
Carmen: I took a seat, did my first of many roll calls, and then took out some snacks for everyone after I was done yelling loudly for all men to avoid the area please and thank you.
Mey Rude, Trans Editor and Hogwarts Counselor (4th A-Camp): I’m pretty sure everyone already knows that I hate flying and being in airports. But I want everyone to know that this was the first time I’ve flown to or from camp that I didn’t cry in the airport! (My mom was on the plane with me, but it still counts) So that’s pretty cool.
Laura Mandanas, Staff Writer and Outsiders Counselor (3rd A-Camp): I’m mad that I didn’t bring more accessories to camp! Everyone looked so cute all the time. Especially Laura Wooley with her hair flowers and everything else. Have mercy.
Elicia: Once I arrived at LAX, I predictably got lost and was cursing myself for not buying cigarettes before leaving Seattle and desperately watched other people smoke as I rolled by with my luggage.
Kai: I got dropped off at LAX with a too-heavy duffel bag and thoughts like, I know this is my third camp, but do I actually know these people? I did. The first things I saw were Ali’s bowtie, Kaylah’s shade, and Gigler’s bright ass hair. Everything exactly how it should be.
Emily Gigler, A-Camp Tumblr Queen and Dance Crew (6th A-Camp): Pre-camp officially began for me when I was at LAX shooting the shit with our growing gaggle of stafflings and suddenly time slowed down and I spun around and locked eyes with Kaylah. It was when I was leaping into her open arms that I knew it was real. It was camp time.
Carolyn Yates, NSFW Editor and Fun Home Counselor (6th A-Camp): Showing up at Terminal 6 in LAX and suddenly being surrounded by a sea of queers always feels instantly and immediately like home, if home were a bare-bones waiting area surrounded by a sea of spectating confused heterosexuals.
Carolyn W: When I got to Terminal 6 I was just randomly walking and I saw a face I vaguely recognized from Facebook and it was KaeLyn!
KaeLyn: We made searching eye contact for a moment, because we’d only met via the QTPOC Speakeasy Facebook group previously, but weird eye contact turned to smiles turned to vigorous hugging pretty quickly.
Carolyn W: Thats where the shenanigans began! I got to the pickup spot and it was a big family reunion!!
KaeLyn: I feel like that pretty much sums up my whole camp experience, actually. “Weird eye contact turned to smiles turned to vigorous hugging pretty quickly.”
Carolyn W: I got to sit and entertain everyone with Heather as I recounted the epic twitter beef between Anita Baker and Cheryl Lynn. Next thing I knew we were taking gal pal pics with women sitting on our laps. Yes my A-Camp started with women sitting on my lap lol.
Gigler: Reuniting with staff friends is the best. Most of these queers I only get to see at camp, so it’s a big fucking deal. First btime staffers seem to feel like old friends pretty quickly; I talked to KaeLyn for about five minutes and I already knew I wanted to hang out with her all camp long.
Elicia: I remembered last year when I awkwardly approached the group, offered some half-assed, sweaty-faced hellos and then sat down, staring at my phone and pretended to do something on it while everyone else caught up and socialized. Luckily for me then, the A-Camp staff are of course, THE NICEST human beings and I was eventually approached by Laura Mandanas, Yvonne Marquez, Gabby Rivera and Rachel Kincaid who began small talk with me and helped me to feel less awkward. This year, once I made my way to the staff meeting spot, it was just like seeing old friends. Too much catching-up to do, not enough time to act standoffish. Also, Gabby managed to get some nice people outside to give us one of their cigarettes so I am basically indebted to her FOR LIFE.
Trent: As I approached the terminal, I gave myself a pep talk, “Everything is going to be so great! You should be so glad you’re here. Just be present in this place where you are and enjoy it. You’re in LA! You’re about to be in the mountains! You have twizzlers! What more could you ask for?” I needed to be present in the moment and embrace all the greatness I was about to experience. So, I walked into the terminal and it wasn’t hard to spot the bunch of “alternative lifestyle” looking women, eating Girl Scout cookies and vegan oreos, laughing and making all the noise (really only one person was making all the noise, but I won’t point any fingers Carmen). This was my first time meeting many of my fellow Autostraddlers, so I looked nervously for a familiar face: first I saw Rachel, then Yvonne and then Gabby, my co-captain whom I was sure lightweight hated me for all the foot dragging I’d done in our camp-prep. Gabby may have lightweight hated me, but the big warm hug she gave me didn’t show it at all.
KaeLyn: I was super excited to meet Mey, my queer big sis, who I respect so much as a writer and editor. Her cabin and my cabin were cousin cabins and I couldn’t wait to spend more time IRL with her.
Mey: I had been KaeLyn’s queer big sister ever since she joined the AS staff, but I had never seen her in real life before, so I was really excited to get to know her.
Carmen: Then Stef and I took paparazzi photos because that’s what cool people do in LAX.
KaeLyn: I needed to charge my phone and outlets were scarce, so I ended up sharing a little corner of the airport with Whitney, who was doing some important laptop stuff near a mangy outlet. We chatted for a good 30 minutes about grad school life, being gaysians, long-term relationship stuff, family, and Central NY, and I felt instantly in deep friend love.
Yvonne: Since I got to the terminal so early, I was hungry and wanted to eat at the super secret airport staff spot so I could get a full meal for about $8. I had just met Heather Hogan in real life for the first time and she said she’d come with me. So Heather Hogan and I had lunch at the super secret airport spot and that’s where I discovered that Heather Hogan was in fact the nicest, most kind person I had ever met.
Mey: Heather and I had never met before, and we were leading Hogwarts cabin together. You know how sometimes you don’t want to meet people you look up to online because they can’t possibly be that cool in real life? Heather is that cool and so much cooler. She’s genuinely one of the nicest, most fun people I’ve ever met and I was so glad to have her as my cabin co-leader.
Heather: I fell in love with Mey immediately and wanted to ask her to be my best friend almost on the spot, but I contained myself. Even now, months later, I have to talk myself out of being a fool for her. Today I have almost texted her about Wonder Woman, Steven Universe, Agent Carter, White Canary, and a question about Pokemon cards. I think I’m going to text her about Pokemon cards now, though.
Trent: During this time I listened to Carmen talk about her dog, Taylor, Rachel and I tried to walk to Kinko’s ’til we discovered that LAX is not built for pedestrian escape, and I discovered that I’ve been pronouncing Yvonne’s name incorrectly all my life. While I was enjoying meeting and observing everyone, I began to feel the heaviness again. My chest got tight, my head was hurting, the nervousness resurfaced and the tears began to build in my eyes. I had to make a quick escape because I was not about to be caught crying by all these people I’d just met, and found a random empty lot across from the terminal. I closed my eyes, felt the sun on my face, and let myself cry and stare into space. I kept my head tilted to the sun to absorb its energy and peace and release what was weighing me down. I needed so badly to be in this moment. I needed so badly to have a great experience. I needed to badly to just feel present and happy and alive. My moment to myself was interrupted by the absurd stench of dog poop. I opened my eyes and looked around only to find a huge mound of shit just chillin’ to the left of the the little space I’d found. I took that as my sign to go. Thanks Obama.
Rachel: Why were we going to Kinko’s? What did any of the three of us need there? The answers have been lost to the sands of pre-camp time. But I was so happy to with Trent and Taylor for this absurd errand! There is no one I would rather have been trapped on a terrifying strip of cement next to a highway with.
Carmen: Carolyn Yates and Cee Webster competed an In ‘N Out run for me on that blessed day, the 28th of May, which left me actually speechless because my mouth was so full of food I couldn’t talk for twenty minutes.
Back at the Mountain…
Kip Reinsmith, Video Editor Alum & A-Camp Barber (3rd A-Camp): The day/night before camp Rory and I had a slumber party and road trip! I don’t know if I’ve ever met someone so energetic after like 17 hours on a plane / in an airport. Also, his airline lost his luggage.
Rory Midhani, Illustrator and Rodeo Disco Counselor (2nd A-Camp): Most of Thurs morning was spent with Kip phoning airlines pretending to be me and tryin to track down my missing luggage because I’m a big baby and hate talking on the phone but Kip has really cool skills and he managed to get past the phone robots and talk to real people. COOL. Kip gave me clean pajamas and stuff but I was really missing my crab on a chain and I guess Kip could see that was important to me so he put in extra effort. He so cool.
Kip: Rory seemed pretty unfazed, was solely concerned with his crab/necklace understandably. Since we were driving up ourselves, we had some time in the AM to chill. And that mostly meant Rory lounging while I fretted for longer than I would like to admit about what to wear at camp.
Riese: As I’d hoped and dreamed, we were the first to arrive on the mountain, and upon arrival I immediately did the thing I’ve immediately done at every camp since 2.0: changed the awful Alpine Meadow sheets on our bed into my own wonderful sheets I’d brought from home. Then Kip and Rory showed up which was marvelous!
Kip: We rolled up a little early cuz I’m not a fan of driving up that mountain in the dark. Staff buses still hadn’t arrived from LAX and it was pretty chill.
Rory: We played fussball on a raggedly ol table and he kept winning and I think he was probably cheating because he is a sneaky fox.
Bren Christolear, Editorial Assistant and Fried Green Tomatoes Counselor (5th A-Camp): My feelings on arriving at Alpine Meadows this time were 1) Mac and 2) Arrow. Not necessarily in that order. I thought I was prepared for camp, that I had thought of everything. And then Robin and Carly pull up in a U-haul packed with things and I realized, I’m not prepared. Not even a little bit.
Robin: It’s always weird to get to camp before everyone. Its very peaceful, but a little lonely without all of your energy and excitement.
Marni: Driving up that mountain, it was hard to believe it had already been a whole year since last time – when I see those trees it always feels like we only just left. It feels like home now.
Back at the Airport….
Morgan McCormick, Contributor and Sea Otters Counselor (2nd A-Camp): I land in LAX and immediately get a call from an understandably weary Carmen who’s like “everyone is here but you we want to leave please find us” and I was like oh no, I’m letting everyone down already!
Gabby: I love when Carmen’s in charge of something because you know she’s gonna make sure everything goes perfect but there’s also this little tiny bit of worry that makes it all exciting.
Morgan: I get to Terminal 6 and people legit stand in line to hug me fiercely until Stef, my heart, plows through said line in a low tackle that I assume wouldn’t be out of place in football if I understood sports at all. It was nice to be home.
Gabby: Will Carmen just hijack a bus and take us all to In N Out burger and then to Canada so that we can pick up her boo thing instead? Like what is really gonna happen??? Then we end up in a shuttle up the mountain, cracking jokes, and photographing villages made of pebbles until the end of time.
Trent: I wiped my tears and thought happy thoughts because I didn’t want anyone asking, “Are you okay? Have you been crying?”, although I wasn’t okay and I had been crying. By the time I got back, our shuttle was on it’s way, so there was no time for sitting still and getting sad again.
Stef: The gathering of the staff and subsequent Trader Joe’s booze run is a time-honoured tradition that becomes more magical with each passing camp.
Lizz Rubin, Fashion Editor Alum & Witchblades Counselor (5th A-Camp): Because of med school and other such nonsense I had to drive up to camp after everyone else in a rental car on Friday. The fact that I missed going to Trader Joes alongside my people is a small tragedy.
At Last The Magic Bus Begins
Trent: I debated on whether or not I should try to sit wherever Kai, Kaylah and Carolyn would be sitting because this was apparently the extent of the Cool Black Girls Club on the bus. I’m a Cool Black Girl, so duh. The Cool Black Girls club is like an unspoken rule/bond between cool black girls who are familiar to situations in which they are surrounded by white people… we generally stick together and we have to be cool because, well, it’s just who we are. I chose to just sit wherever I felt and it turned out, Kai and Kaylah sat right behind me and Carolyn, right across from me — see, it’s like the law of attraction of The Cool Black Girls Club.
Carolyn W: I was already having all the feels because I lived in Los Angeles until 2013 and I miss it so much. The shuttle ride lightweight became The Carolyn Tour. I should NOT have sat next to Gabby and Kaylah because they have no sense, I wish I could recall all the jokes that were made.
Kai: At one point Kaylah and Carolyn ganged up on me to test my musical knowledge. (Don’t worry, aced it.) I then had 90s R&B songs stuck in my head for the rest of camp.
Trent: First we were on our way to stand-still, LA traffic, but once we got through that, we were on our way up to the mountain! I mostly listened to music and enjoyed the scenery. The sadness hadn’t gone away. As a matter of fact, I had to hold back tears even while we were on the bus. I just couldn’t seem to pull myself together, no matter how much I tried to focus on the present!
Elicia: On the trip up the mountain, I realized I have waaaay too many Michael Bolton songs on my iPod. J/K. NOT ENOUGH.
Rachel: I sat near Heather and KaeLyn, both first-time camp staff. I did my best to warn them about how they probably wouldn’t be able to fix EVERY emotion their campers felt and also that any bags of potato chips they bought would inflate aggressively because of the altitude. Were my warnings heeded? Only time would tell.
Carolyn W: We made it to our pitstop at VON’s and here is the thing: lots of staff are from out of town. But I’m a Cali boi and I’m a professional grocery shopper so I spend lots of time in Safeway (which owns and is identical to VON’s) so I had two objectives: #1 Camp provisions!! Got that. #2: Von’s has the best fried chicken!! So I went to get some chicken. The deli guy hooks me up because I’m cute (sorry sir.)
Elicia: For some reason I bought hot soup at the grocery store and only TWO bottles of wine and TWO packs of cigarettes like some sort of novice to the life I know I lead!
Kai: Carmen passed out some vegan-type Oreos that no one wanted because they looked strange and tasted horrible. Confession: I bit one and then put it back in the box. What’s done is done, amirite?
Carolyn W: Yes everyone was jealous of my fried chicken. Just don’t touch it though.
Cee Webster, Tech Director and Fried Green Tomatoes Counselor (6th A-Camp): At Trader Joe’s Taylor had the genius idea of going across the street to Chipotle. So we quickly bought our provisions at TJs and ran over. We got to the front of the line and ordered two burritos and two margaritas to go. The lady behind the counter said, “oh we can’t do to-go margaritas, state law, and if you’re drinking you need to have your food for here.” So Taylor says, “ok, two for-here burritos and two margaritas.” When our order was up Tay asks for two water cups with lids, and the lady says “You really can’t take these to go!”. Tay says “sure” and then we turn the corner, pour the margaritas into the water cups and run out the door onto the waiting bus. Success!
Stef: Taylor and Cee let me join in on their travel margaritas. I arrived at Alpine Meadows feeling like the Anna Nicole Smith of Angelus Oaks.
Morgan: It reminded me of when Alex and Mary and I rolled into camp 2.0 late the first night and Robin adorned in a headlamp rushed through the darkness and hug attacked me similarly.
Cecelia White, Intern and Witchblades Counselor (1st A-Camp): Here are some things that happened to me before camp, in order: Houston flooded, my house flooded, my car floated away, my phone died a watery death, and then I missed my flight to camp. I’m pretty sure Abby was woken up that morning to me being like “lol oops can I just climb the mountain to get there?”
Maddie Taterka, Staff Writer and Firebirds Counselor (1st A-Camp): My flight got delayed out of Philly and by the time I got to Houston it was clear I’d miss the shuttle, but there was A NEW PLAN.
Cecelia: Riese and Abby worked amazing, benevolent magic and Chelsey generously offered to give me and Maddie (#teamlate) a ride up the mountain in her car.
Maddie: Once I got to LAX, I found Cecelia in 6, we took a #teamlate selfie, and before we knew it, we were on our way.
Cecelia: We answered the questions for girls riding together in cars, as written by Heather Hogan, and I learned that Maddie LOVES trains and Chelsey loves ants.
Maddie: We went to Target, because in California you can buy BOOZE in TARGET, and then we went to In-N-Out and then we drove up the mountain in the dark. Chelsey was totally nervous about it, but she is a really great driver and did an excellent job.
Cecelia: It was a triumphant feat.
Back On The Mountain…
KaeLyn: As we dragged our bags and selves towards Wolf and I saw Riese and Laneia for the first time in human flesh, I felt overwhelmed and grateful and like just so OMG IT IS ALL HAPPENING. I could relate a lot to the first time campers on their first day. It’s a lot to take in: the gorgeous scenery, the chokingly high altitude, the beautiful queers everywhere, the confusion about where you are supposed to be going.
Elicia: There was a lot of hellos and hugging and fun catch up conversations.
Laneia O’Jonesy, Executive Editor and Runaways Counselor (6th A-Camp): I need to be honest here and say that I don’t remember when I got up the mountain or how. I know it depended mightily on Megan and her very reliable driving skills, and I remember being very excited to meet all these new people and see all my queer family and frands!
Riese: The shuttle bus arrival is a big smear of hugs, varying in levels of familiarity: the nearest/dearest, the “I’ve never met you in real life before,” and, “hey I saw you a week ago.”
Kip: So good to see all the people I hadn’t seen in awhile! Laneia, Riese, Rachel, Cee, and so on. Everyone was pretty low energy, cuz we were saving it. Calm before the storm, fo sho.
Cecelia: Meeting everyone was like feeling every feeling all at once.
Sarah Hansen, DIY/Food Editor Alum, Fun Home Counselor (5th A-Camp): When I get to A-Camp, I am wrapped up in the idea that I have never left the mountain whenever I am on the mountain. I cannot imagine life off the mountain. Everything/everyone is shockingly familiar and comfortable and I have never slept in a bed other than a squeaky bunk with a view of Mey, I am positive about it.
Heather: I wandered around looking for my cabin helplessly by myself for a stupid amount of time, and then Stef came over and was like, “Come on, you’re in the senior editors cabin,” and she took me to the door of it and they had saved me a bottom bunk for some reason. (The reason is they’re angels.)
Mey: I had such amazing people in my staff cabin, they immediately made me feel like I was at home again.
Kai: My thought process in picking a bed was: “Do I want a top bunk? Yea, it’s very campy. Let me just climb u- LOL, jokes. Top bunks are for small and nimble people.” Gigler took that bed, obviously. Plus there was Cameron who was my #1 camper at A-Camp 4.0 (Go Wildcats!), now sleeping in the staff bunk next to me. That never stopped blowing my mind. It was like Rugrats, All Grown Up IRL.
Carmen: We reunited the #SlutShack cabin from last camp almost immediately, moving me into a huge staff cabin near Wolf. Emily, Kaylah, Kai, Rory, and Cameron and I were on one end of the massive housing unit, and all was right with the world.
Trent: I was nervous because I am very particular about living, bathing and pooping situations, and I didn’t know what this cabin-life was going to be about. When we opened the door to the cabin, I was relieved — I could work with this.
Carolyn W.: Because Maddie had travel delays, it was great to have Vivian to help get our goodie bags squared away. I spent the rest of the night hanging out with my new team. I was happy I would get to know them off facebook before the campers came.
Stef: The thing about having this many friends in one place is that my brain can’t actually process it – I could only remember how lucky I was to be surrounded by about twenty people I love with my whole heart at any given time. I constantly found myself walking into a room and being bowled over by how delighted I was to see Laura Wooley or Morgan McCormick or some other friend I adore beyond belief. It wasn’t terrible.
Maddie: When we finally walked into Wolf at 11 it easily could have been a dream: I was on a mountain, and it was really late at night, and I walked into a lodge, and all my co workers who I’ve never seen together in one place were there! But it wasn’t a dream! It was Real Life! Everyone hugged us a bunch of times, especially my amazing co-captain Carolyn W, and our amazing “junior staff” AKA Nurse Viv, both of whom I was meeting for the very first time. Then I went to bed.
Gabby: For the first time ever, instead of partying all night long at pre-camp, I took my wheezy sleepy ass to bed right after dinner.
Carmen: I can’t believe everyone went to sleep! Who the fuck does that? A bunch of us were smoking in the circle and Cee offered me one of her beers and then, what do you know, suddenly we realize nobody else is awake. The #SlutShack crew spent about another hour awake in our cabin wishing we were getting crunk and also laughing simultaneously for no reason and being unable to fall asleep like little girls at sleepovers. It was amazing. Like, I was home, y’all.
Gigler: A moth bopped Carmen in her face while she lay peacefully sexting Geneva and she wailed like a banshee and I levitated about three feet in the air off the top bunk next to her. Camp.
Pre-Camp: Friday, May 29th
Robin: Ah, Pre-Camp. Pre-Camp is always so much fun and I wish it was longer. I think building a strong and united staff helps A-Camp feel like this safe and loving family. New staff members arrive just like new campers, sort of hesitant and excited, but nervous and it’s so nice to be able to give everyone a hug and know that in just a few days we will all be one big family working together towards this really awesome goal.
Trent: The next day came and this was my chance. I felt good, I was refreshed, I was present.
Morgan: After being sidelined from exercising for a few months following a bad jump off the back of a semi, I was ready to exercise again around the time camp started. Starting on Friday of pre-camp I got up at 5am almost every morning the following week to run around the mountain for about 45 minutes, which at 7,000ft (2,100m) above sea level ain’t no joke. But the sunlight would just then be licking the surrounding mountaintops and the air was cool and the world was quiet and I came back from it feeling safe and alive and whole and very, very smelly.
Stef: The best thing about my staff cabin was my personal discovery of #MorningKip. I always knew that Morning Kip was a thing, but encountering him in real life was a transformative experience. Dude is just the grumpiest, and it was amazing every time.
Carmen: A-Camp does something to me. It’s like the mountain air, the slightly less caffeinated coffee that enables me to drink coffee throughout the day, and being surrounded by all the people I love working with but never get to make slushies with using frozen popsicles as a foundation really wakes me the fuck up.
Rory: That morning, like every morning of camp, slutshack rose at 5am or something to the husky cackle of Carmen Rios.
Laura Wooley, Associate Editor Alum & Sea Otters Counselor (3rd A-Camp): On Friday morning, I woke up and threw open my cabin door to take in the great outdoors and was instantly bombarded with the very loud, very joyous sound of Carmen laughing.
Kai: The first moment I realized I was a lone West Coast wolf surrounded by an East Coast wolf pack was when I was shoving a pillow over my head trying to keep out Carmen’s cackles and basic sunlight.
Laura W: It was like a joke in a sitcom, except it was my real life.
Carmen: Everyone in my end of the cabin kept waking up simultaneously, just like we would fall asleep simultaneously!
Kai: This would become my morning ritual. But, like, somehow sleep is not necessary at camp? We all turn into magical, sleepless, robot unicorns and for that I am grateful.
Stef: I got stuck with the only top bunk on the whole entire mountain that didn’t have a ladder. I regularly terrified Carolyn by hoisting myself in and out of my bunk with sheer brute strength, but I probably also impressed her with my catlike grace and athleticism.
Maddie: I woke up pretty early and wandered around, finally seeing camp in the daylight. It was funny to see people who’d been asleep by the time I got there the night before. I spotted Bren across camp and it was sort of like seeing both a celebrity and a bear, because I knew who she was instantly, but she was also clearly having early morning quiet time, so I left her alone. We met for real later.
Kip: Woke up on the first full day of pre-camp with hair like I don’t care and decided to put it in a boi bun for the first time ever because I desperately needed a haircut. Got really positive feedback, I will say. Haven’t done it since. I’m a little too scared TBH. Being around my queers gives me more confidence that I’m looking good.
Riese: So the legend of Megan O’Grady is that she carries things. She loves to carry things. She loves wearing shorts, telling Laneia how pretty she is… and carrying things. But because of a back injury, she wasn’t gonna be able to carry things at camp. And she is the only person in the entire world who felt really sad about having a legit medical excuse to not carry things.
Heather: Oh, man. The legend of Megan O’Grady is that she is one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever seen in my life and I told Laneia to tell her not to ever talk to me again after the first time she talked to me because she is too pretty and it made me feel like a middle schooler and I could never think of anything to say back to her. And then! Megan talked to me anyway! (She told me of a secret place to keep my beer.)
Laneia: Megan had this spinal injury that became super serious a few months before camp, and it was immediately clear that she wouldn’t be able to do the kind of heavy lifting she’s accustomed to, which fucked with her head on a couple of levels. I tried to assuage her sad guilty feelings by insisting that the spirit of camp/family was strong and ready to help out, but she was still feeling about as useless as a chocolate teapot. So I enlisted the help of my fellow staffers to create this fun morning activity that would help her feel supported and hopefully make her cry a little.
Bren: Before camp Laneia, being the loving wife that she is, asked all of us to bring the location-specific Trader Joe’s bags from our various home ports for Megan because she collects them. At breakfast Megan was presented with about 7 million Trader Joe’s bags and she loved it and it was amazing. This recamp brought to you by Trader Joe’s.
Megan O’Grady, Program Support Coordinator (6th A-Camp): I was sobbing like a small lamb on the inside! I felt so elated and happy and thankful and blessed, like the King of the World. Though I was literally unable to lift the entire weight of A-Camp supplies to and from the various lodges and across the rocky, glittery terrain, I was able to carry the love of A-Camp in my heart for the next several days (and forever) thanks to all those bags. But seriously, that was ridiculous and wonderful. I love this job and I love you people!
Pre-camp is split into blocks for cabin prep, activity/panel prep, opening ceremonies rehearsal and getting-to-know-you activities.
Carolyn: Pre-camp, like the first day of actual camp, always has a strange timeless quality, because on one hand a lot of us interact in some way all the time, but on the other hand a lot of that is on the internet so it doesn’t feel as real, and then we’re all there and going up the mountain and the road is (hopefully) familiar and Alpine looks exactly the same and it’s as if the last camp ended yesterday instead of a year ago.
Maddie: Even though I was a NKOTB in camp terms, everyone was extremely welcoming and nice.
Trent: During pre-camp, I was solely focused on being present where I was and only embracing all of the goodness that life and camp had to offer me.
KaeLyn: I’m so grateful for pre-camp because I actually had time to get to know other staff and contributors before the 300 (Prepare for glory!) arrived. For two days, time held its breath. I also held my breath because the altitude was way more serious than I thought it’d be.
Kip: Friday I did an open call for staff haircuts because girl/boi, you know we gotta look GOOD for you. Weirdly, only a handful of staffers wanted them, I think because everyone got a fresh cut right before coming. Again, gotta look good. So instead of being really useful at pre-camp, I gave myself a haircut. You’re welcome.
Stef: Can we talk about how Robin got the most amazing haircut? I think it’s one of the haircuts you can give your avatar in Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood.
Bren: Possibly the best and strangest thing about pre-camp is meeting people in person that you know and have known for months/years but have never seen with your eyeballs. I mean, I knew from avatars that Nikki had great hair, but I had no idea she was such a good dresser!
Ali: I had a long talk with Hansen during pre-camp about how time works on the mountain. Hansen was like, it feels like we were here two weeks ago or maybe there is a reality in which we have never left the mountain. And I was like, no, it feels like it’s been a million years since we’ve been here but nothing’s changed, like a time warp. So basically, what I am here to tell you is I spent the majority of pre-camp looking for a Tardis. That, and putting up David Bowie posters all over the Star Runners cabin.
Cecelia: I expected this camp to be a particularly witchy experience for me (as co-counselor of the Witchblades and as co-leader of Witch/Craft with Mey) but my body was not prepared for all of the actually insane magic things that happened on the mountain. We knew that a private van was coming up the mountain with Rory’s luggage, except the van was super late. His luggage was supposed to arrive at 8:00am but then 8:00am turned into 10:00pm until the van was definitely lost forever. Rory was super bummed out about it, and bummed out Rory is The Worst. So I was like, you know what? We have one option left. Let’s try and magic our way out of this situation!
Rory: I was getting pretty grumpz about my missing luggage but then Cecelia the witch performed an actual magic spell.
Cecelia: So I listened to the wind and I rubbed my hands together and used the force of my strongest spell to will his bag up the mountain. Except here’s the thing about this spell, y’all. It worked.
Rory: Just a sec later I saw a lost man wondering around with my bag and I ran over to him and I wanted to hug him but he looked a bit taken aback from how excited I was to have my crab on a chain back.
Cecelia: He came from out of nowhere! At 11:00pm! On a mountain! In my memory he was no man at all, but a shape shifting apparatus and Rory is probably wearing ghost clothes. Anyway, I cried.
Rory: Now I believe in magic. Also fairies! Also ghosts because Gabby told a terrifying ghost story which will shit me up for ever more.
Cabin Decorating Day Fever
Riese: So, Laneia and I always have a cabin called The Runaways, which’s 100% new campers coming to camp alone. And because Laneia and I are obnoxiously busy during camp and can’t be as attentive as other cabin captains, we also invented The Blackhearts. Returning Runaways become Blackhearts and each Blackheart has a “little sister” in the new Runaways cabin, who will pay them all the attention we ourselves cannot! This system has worked out SO well for us and annoyed everybody else SO MUCH that this year I decided to extend it to the ENTIRE camp. SISTER CABINS FOR EVERYBODY. The Outsiders were ripe for this program as they’ve already got a cult-like set of returning Outsiders, akin to The Runaways. So, I called their sister cabin “The Star Runners,” ’cause that was another book by S.E. Hinton, who wrote “The Outsiders.” See how I made them relate topically? Like how Joan Jett was in the Runaways and then the Blackhearts? UNFORTUNATELY NEITHER ALI NOR WHITNEY GOT THE REFERENCE.
Whitney Pow, Contributing Editor Alum and Star Runners Counselor (5th A-Camp): In our email thread with our cabin people, we ended up deciding that “Star Runners” basically meant David Bowie running on the Rainbow Road from the Mario Kart video games.
Whitney: This resulted in a ridiculous and wonderful amount of David Bowie and Mario Kart Photoshops made that Ali and I made into giant posters and printed out in full color. We spent much of pre-camp cutting out pieces of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Labyrinth face and taping them up onto the cabin wall.
Bren: I’m not the best decorator. I struggled with what to do with the Fried Green Tomatoes cabin for an excruciating 15 mins before finally deciding to cover every possible square inch with green things. I worried that it wasn’t enough and then Cee arrived with a poster she hand-drew with tomatoes on it. It was perfect and not ONLY because the two tomatoes looked like perfect breasts. I mean, it helped, but it wasn’t the only reason.
Mey: Heather and I were really excited to be the co-leaders of Hogwarts cabin. We’re both pretty big nerds, and really big HP fans, and so it was really the perfect fit. We kept on coming up with cool Harry Potter themed decorations and activities we could do with our cabin.
Heather: Y’all. Mey taped a Moaning Myrtle INSIDE the toilet seat on our cabin. One of my favorite days of camp was this day because it was just me and Mey, doing crafts, and talking to each other about our lives and how we became who we are and all the things we love and don’t love about queer TV and our favorite comic books. Looking back, I really treasure that time, in large part because I don’t know if we’ll be co-leaders again, and if not, where will we find time like that at the next camp? (I’ll steal her away.)
Mey: Also, my mom is pretty amazing so she handmade these lavender scented owls for each person in our cabin, so each camper got a little mini Hedwig or Errol or Pigwidgeon. I put all the owls that my mom made in the campers’ bags and hid Moaning Myrtles in the cabin bathrooms while Heather climbed onto the top bunks and hung candles from the ceiling to make it look like the Great Hall. We also talked about comic books, our love/hate relationships with Glee, my epilepsy and why I became a writer. Then Hansen and Chelsey came in and we talked Harry Potter ships and Evanna Lynch.
Maddie: Carolyn and Nurse Vivian and I decorated the FIREBIRDS cabin, and we made them very special Firebird tokens from feathers and golden pipecleaners.
Carolyn W: We determined that Maddie was the creative force that came up with our cabin creative plan and I was the communicator. Halfway though decorating, I realized I was gonna need more tortilla chips. What followed was a series of messages in our cabin Facebook group pleading with our campers to bring random items… chips… binder paper… alcohol… cough drops… Claritin… and yes, in the end I got all of them.
Maddie: I also discovered the swings of Alpine Meadows, which I think are the greatest swings I’ve ever swang on in my life.
Carolyn W: I joined our sister cabin while they setup and fretted over my DJ setlist for Speakeasy Klub Deer which would become yet another recurring theme in my camp experience.
Gabby: Friday was my first real day getting to know Djuan Trent of Miss Kentucky and Instagram fame. And I don’t think there was a better person for me to be partnered with, honestly.
Trent: I extended an apology to Gabby for my lackluster efforts. She was totally understanding and forgiving, and I appreciated that. Things were looking up and I was glad about it.
Gabby: Trent and I made our cabin gift bags. She drew the bee on our Beehive sign. We worked together, rapped to Nicki Minaj, and just got to know each other.
Elicia: The first day of prep Rachel and I spent making the cabin look as spooky as possible. After hanging some mini-ghosts with our campers’ names, Rachel thought to grab some tea lights, balloons and streamers and tossed them over the wood beams on the ceiling of our cabin. I’m not sure what prompted this idea other than we thought hanging ghosts made sense at the time. We both grossly underestimated the skill, determination and lung capacity this task would take and by “we,” I mean, me, because Rachel kept mentioning it would be really hard to blow up a bunch of balloons with the thin atmosphere and also that maybe I should stop punching the balloons over the beams and try tossing them instead. I still felt like the cabin needed something else… something special that would stand out: so I lay down on the floor in Wolf and made an oversized Slimer drawing from memory.
Rachel: I will never be able to decorate my cabin to the degree which I would find pleasing — I don’t have the aesthetic gifts of some of my co-staff. But thanks to Elicia’s Slimer and, bless them, the tampon ghosts, I hope that our campers were able to feel both thoroughly spooked and our abiding love for them as they laid down for the night.
Elicia: HUGE SHOUT OUT to Gigler who gave me the idea of making ghosts out of the leftover free tampons. This was a goddamn stroke of genius.
Cecelia: Did you know that Witchblade is a comic series? I did not know this and I was co-counselor of the Witchblades cabin. Also, I bought a bunch of decorations that didn’t ship on time for me to bring them to camp. So I got crafty and decorated by drawing some witch things (cauldrons, pentagrams) and some blade things (knives, I don’t know). This was my first time at camp and I was very intimidated by how really good everyone’s cabin decorations were. During my decoration stress fest, there was definitely a moment when one bead of sweat and a single tear drop both rolled onto my crafts at the same time. Which, wouldn’t you know it, works very nicely as glitter adhesive.
Brittani, The Talent & Tower of Terror Counselor (6th A-Camp): Pre-camp involved a lot of doing what Liz Castle told me to regarding decorating our cabin but it worked out because later I got to take more of the credit than I should have. I put a lot of effort into the fake spider webs that I think no one cared about.
Rory: We made a Labrador-sized unicorn mascot for our cabin Rodeo Disco and blew magic life into it by the power of glitter!
Carmen: We also made smaller unicorns — drawn by him, of course — to give to our campers. Somehow, with cardboard and glitter and glue and a bunch of crazy fucking ants on the benches, we made it work. I was so proud to be Rory’s assistant that day.
Kai: The Beach cabin got pretty beachy pretty fast, much thanks to Gigler being nimble and quick.
Gigler: I beebopped around helping with cabin decorations and assembling gift bags.
Kaylah: I was putting up some scenic wallpaper outside — or doing something else really useful — when I walked inside The Beach to see that Kaylah had blown up the 24 mini beach balls we’d gotten all by herself. I was really impressed because there’s a serious lack of oxygen on that mountain.
KaeLyn: Yvonne and I got this idea for our cabin from some soccer mom’s pinterest of making our door into an actual shark face/mouth and I think it didn’t totally suck how it came out. We discussed how both of us have parents who are teachers and how they would have been really impressed with our “classroom decorating” skills as we sat on the floor, cutting shark teeth out of white copy paper.
Yvonne: I totally forgot the blue wrapping paper I bought at the Dollar Store to decorate our shark door. But luckily when we stopped at Von’s I found shiny blue wrapping paper and thought it was even better. Our Shark Door was pretty effing amazing, if you ask me
KaeLyn: Robin brought us plastic sharks leftover from a photoshoot, which we in turn gave to our campers. We had such a random assortment of shark things and way too much streamer paper and we went to town and I have no regrets. I have a lot of extra shark tooth necklaces still living in my camp suitcase, though.
Stef: I feel in my heart that I’ve been waiting my entire life to have Taylor as my co-counselor, and now that it’s happened I never want it to end. Our cabin was initially named the Flashdanciators because they were a bunch of former Flashdance/Gladiators people, but we didn’t love that name and crowdsourced a new one. Our campers came up with Buffy the Vampire Gayers, which inspired the name we ended up going with for most of camp – Campires. I know it sounds like it has something to do with camp but it actually stands for Casual Vampires; it’s no big deal.
Stef: My entire suitcase was filled with 16 pairs of plastic vampire fangs and a pair of vampire capes I’d bought at Halloween Adventure. Taylor and I took our capes for a test run and I was delighted to realize that my cape was the warmest, most comfortable item of clothing I’d brought to the mountain. I have never felt more natural in my entire life. I knew Taylor would be the perfect co-conspirator when I walked into our staff cabin and found her determinedly gluing googly eyes to a paper lantern.
Morgan: Laura Wooley and I were cabinmates at 2.0 and have traded postcards and soaps since then but I hadn’t had the distinct pleasure of extended hang time with her. Before camp even started we were recording long chat videos for our sea otters and just riffing with each other like buddies and the real life experience was much the same.
Laura W: Morgan and I spent the afternoon realizing that while sea otters are really cute animals, they’re really hard to base a decorating scheme around. Luckily, we found a bunch of silver balloons and some water-colored streamers and turned our cabin into a little otter cove.
Morgan: We’re both earnest goofy people and had a lot of fun taking care of campy things together and talking about life and love and dreams and sex. I could scarcely have asked for a better partner in crime to be excitedly anxious and anxiously excited with.
Hansen: Carolyn Yates made our Fun Home door look so glorious with TONS of comics and I am still in awe of pictures of it. Cabin decorating is always one of my favorite things, because you get a chance to sit with your co-counselor and plan out cabin initiation and try to figure out if your campers are going to get along (I stress about this so much?) based on their intro emails and Facebook activity. I also like to check out other people’s cabins and fall entirely in love with all of their fun ideas. Like the Hogwarts cabin? The stuff of my dreams.
Laura M: Cameron and I didn’t have a ton of decorations in the Outsiders’ cabin, but that’s because we spent our decorating time making pins and writing haikus about our campers instead. Jean vests are kind of our cabin’s thing (carrying over from last camp), so we wanted to do a pinning ceremony for initiation. I brought some jeans and a bunch of dinosaur figurines that had previously been decorating my bathroom. Cameron contributed pins and glue, and the two of us crafted in silence between the bunks, cutting out tiny jean vests for the dinosaurs and thinking deeply about how to distill our feelings for our campers into 17 syllables.
Robin: We played a few rounds of friend speed-dating and got to know each other a bit better. What an amazing staff we had this session!
Stef: During pre-camp, Robin and Marni had us gather in Deer for a round of friend speed dating, so the staff could get to know each other better and function as more of a team.
Riese: We really wanted TEAM UNITY hardcore this camp, which meant getting to know each other. Real talk I found staff speed-dating terrifying.
Kip: It was not as awkward as it sounds, promise. Though kind of awkward. Mostly because Robin used an air horn INSIDE in Deer to mark time. So loud.
Stef: The #1 highlight of pre-camp was Hansen sneering around the room and announcing, “I’m not here to make friends – I’m here to win!”
Kip: I got to meet Trent for the first time! And I tried to convince her to move to LA but failed pretty hard. Also I got to get Gabby to finally notice me. I’m pretty sure she’s convinced that it’s the first time we’ve ever spoken. It’s not, but I’m happy to finally be on Gabby’s radar. I’ve been friend crushing from afar for pretty long now.
Stef: At some point in the afternoon, Mal texted to talk pre-production for the family band show and I told them to hurry up and get here because camp was full of DOGS this year. I sent them a picture of Arrow the husky and also mentioned that there was a Weimaraner. Mal wrote back, “What the heck is that? Is that part of the kink workshop?” Bless.
KaeLyn: We had lasagna for lunch, ya’ll, and it was the best meal of the week. #teamlasagna I still could not fucking breathe. I just kept on drinking water and hoping I would be able to walk more than 10 feet without panting before the campers arrived the next day.
Robin: Pre-camp this session was a great reflection of the rest of camp. It was organized and chill. It felt really nice. Everyone helped each other prep their cabins and activities.
Carmen: This was also the first of many days when Brittani and I would attempt to make #CampGods happen. Did it happen? Tell me in the comments.
The Talent Train Is Coming Up The Mountain, Population Four
Kristin Russo, The Talent (1st A-Camp): We were SO SCARED when Jenny, Julia, Dannielle and I arrived at Pre-Camp. We had no idea what to expect because it was A-Camp number one for the whole carload of us and driving up the mountain was also VERY terrifying for the human in the car who’s always most afraid of dying (*points to self*).
Jenny Owen Youngs, The Talent (1st A-Camp): I was feeling some deeeeep uncertainty/looming dread about what exactly was about to happen to us. Meeting new people is scary and we were about to meet a whole ton of them.
Dannielle Owens-Reid, The Talent (1st A-Camp): Once we got there everyone was so fucking cool and tried to help as much as possible. We got into the swing of things pretty quickly, figured out who had access to the nurse for Julia’s knee, who had walkies and who was in charge.
KaeLyn: I majorly geeked out when I met Julia Nunes. Because she is from where I live, ya’ll. And she is queer. And lovely. And I once listened to her play her set list live for a local radio station. And then she came out. And can you tell I fangirled like a weirdo? Julia was so nice and didn’t seem weirded out that I was freaking out about her existence. OK, she seemed a little weirded out.
Dannielle: As soon as people knew we didn’t know anything, they were so excited to help. That was cool, we didn’t feel weird about asking a million questions.
Carly Usdin, Special Programming Director (6th A-Camp): Most of my camp prep time was spent with Grace setting up Eagle lodge and acquainting ourselves with our new gear. We really tried to up the ante this time, with a variety of lights, better sound equipment, and enough batteries (finally!). Hopefully someday we’ll have enough extension cords. I used up so much printer toner printing those A-Camp A/V Club signs. They did look really cool though, right? Right?
Riese: You know what looked really cool was the A-Camp A/V Club Signs.
Jenny: Once we got settled in our cabin, we spent the day shaking hands and everyone was SOOOOOO nice and SOOOO cool and SOOOO well-dressed. I also got a facefull of Ali’s extreme hula hoop skills.
Whitney: While I was running around on Friday we passed by two people who were hula hooping near Falcon. And I realized these two people were vaguely Jenny Owen Youngs- and Kristin Russo-shaped! We chatted a bit, and Kristin showed Jenny my nametag, which had an adorable fuzzy platypus sticker stuck to it. I fan-girled a little, since I listened to Jenny when I was a baby queer and it is surreal meeting a queer role model face to face—her music meant so much to me when I was coming out. BRB, gonna listen to Jenny’s song “Pirates” on repeat now.
Dannielle: Everybody was the fucking best, so nice, so easy to talk to, so ready to be a family.
Riese: Campers had been asking for Dannielle and Kristin to come to A-Camp pretty much since Day One. I was so pleased to finally make this dream a reality.
Lizz Rubin: Driving up alone also took me a million billion hours and I got lost a million times because I’m a chaos muppet. But then I showed up at camp, totally late, and everyone was just like “Hey Lizz good to see you!” Totally unphased by muppeting lateness.
Dannielle: Food before the campers got there was SO SUPERIOR. RIP ORANGE CAKE.
Stef: Since we had the time and the space, the family band decided to run through a couple of songs for our first official practice. We had asked Djuan Trent to sing on a couple of songs, although none of us were really particularly familiar with her singing. She told us which songs on our potential setlist she was comfortable with and we just sorta went from there. The minute she picked up the mic, it became very clear that we were dealing with a different caliber of musicians this time around.
Trent: Family band rehearsed for the first time and it was sooo fuckin’ awesome! Man, it was so great! So much talent and such cool people, I could not ask for more.
Stef: Trent’s voice is incredible, and her stage presence absolutely blew us away. The talent really stepped it up this camp. Marni, Alex and I just kind of blinked and stared at each other like, “you guys, this one’s gonna be special.”
Gigler: We frantically practiced our 7-11 dance for the opening campfire pre-show, it was all happening.
Before Night Falls
Whitney: So, true facts: My wife and I listen to the podcast Welcome to Nightvale and it was amazing to meet Jasika Nicole at camp—Intern (now Mayor?) Dana in the flesh. Jasika is one of the sweetest, most down-to-earth people ever, and we ended up chatting over the course of camp, at times about sewing clothes and other times about gender presentation and about the idea of “dapper” and the many shades of dapper that you see at Camp. (And there are so many shades of dapper—oh man you all look so good. I’m totally taking fashion notes from y’all.)
Rachel: Hey, if anyone asks, I was definitely extremely normal and chill when meeting Jasika, and did not list off all of my favorite roles of hers and how much I loved them. Lizz gracefully debriefed me afterwards and said “That went great! From here on out never mention her characters again or it will be weird.” Seriously, if I had had to go home that very day, getting to meet Jasika and her wife Claire and have Jasika offhandedly mention that carrot seed oil is naturally sun-protective would have been worth the trip.
Mey: That night, when I was walking out of Eagle lodge, I fell down (because I’m totally clumsy off the mountain, and even more when I have to navigate a mountainside covered in rocks) and totally tore up my leg. It looked a lot worse than it was, but it did mess up my outfit plans for the next few days as I couldn’t wear tights. Luckily, Megan was right behind me when I fell and then Vivian dressed my wound, so it was alright. I just had a giant wound on my leg for the rest of camp. Jasika Nicole thought it was a tattoo, though, so that’s cool.
Carolyn W: Before I came to camp I was fitted by Sharpe Suiting for a custom suit and became great friends with the owner Leon Wu. I took a snapshot of their awesome A-Camp shot glasses and sent it to Leon who was thrilled and wished us a great camp!
Alex: The camp staff fire was the best way to cap off a busy day like this. I gave everyone my homemade fig-infused bourbon, everyone loved it, we proceeded to bond and just have a generally splendid time. I ripped up and dirtied my pants that were supposed to last all of camp and got dirt/soot all over my face and it was the best. Also sidenote, homemade fig-infused bourbon cures my altitude sickness?
Gigler: I sampled Vega’s fancy ass fig whiskey around the campfire.
Carmen: I remember wandering around looking for a staff campfire and it not happening and then getting sucked into a conversation in which Brittani Nichols told me she’d never love a dog like she loves this one particular dog and then I took my drunk ass to wolf to emotionally ask people if they appreciated his presence. Also, was this the night a bunch of people in #SlutShack tried to carry me around and hand me off to each other? Probably.
Lizz: Meeting Heather IRL was super amazing. I was like “Heather I feel like I know you. You look just like your picture!” And she was like “You’re even more beautiful in person than your picture!” It was very sweet and I was happy.
Heather: That’s true. Lizz is even more beautiful in person.
Rachel: Can confirm. And since it was Lizz’s girlfriend Chrissie’s birthday, we had a party! With cake and all!
Riese: The cake was good.
Kaylah: I had a discussion with Cee about mass extinction. I didn’t sleep that night. I haven’t been that terrified since I saw Armageddon. I still can’t listen to Aerosmith…
Lizz: As usual I was cabinmates with Whit, Mey, Ali and Hansen. As usual it was lovely.
Carolyn W: At some point I remember going to my cabin and sitting on my bed. I was exhausted! And like they say in the book of Genesis “the evening and the morning was the first day.”
Jenny: Things felt a little less scary by the time my cabin was crawling into bed (hella early – at 8000 feet, just existing is pretty sleepy work).
Kristin: That night the four of us giggled like we were in 6th grade at a sleepover and Dannielle jumped so high off of her bed that she was able to grab the rafter that held the whole cabin together… so it basically immediately became clear that this was going to be the best thing of all time, ever.
Jenny: Kristin took the top bunk, “in case the bunk bed collapses in the middle of the night.” That left the bottom bunk for me. Thanks, Kristin.
Dannielle: Also, Kristin and Jenny had a tickle fight.
A-Camp 6.0, Day One: May 30th, 2015
Abby: AT LAST, IT WAS SHUTTLE DAY. I had been having nightmares about this day for months. Shuttles not showing up. Shuttles being at the wrong airport. Shuttles actually being great white sharks that ate all the campers and it was all my fault and no one got up the mountain. So I woke up bright and early and started packing up the car with Bren.
Carmen We were leaving at 7 AM to pick up campers and I woke up at 6, did my best to actually be quiet for once, and thought I was ready to peace out at 6:30 and get some coffee until I realized everyone else was waking up and I didn’t wanna miss out on the fun.
Abby: It was only one minute pre-departure when suddenly, something happened. In that beautiful early golden morning light, came a person running towards us —
Carmen: I chased Abby and Bren to our vehicle and begged them to let me help with snacks.
Abby: “GUYS I’M HERE I’M COMING WITH YOU!!!!!!!” she screamed across the woods, scaring away all the bears that were previously probably going to follow us down to LAX and eat the shuttles. That was when I knew it was all going to be okay and we were going to get every gosh darn camper up that mountain. And yes daddy, we did.
Bren: We stopped at McDonald’s for coffee and “nourishment” and then were on our way to LAX. While being on shuttle duty is very stressful because we have to make triple sure that there are No Queers Left Behind, it is also the best assignment ever because we are the first people to see the campers’ happy, beaming faces. You’d never know these people had been sitting at LAX since 8am. They were just so happy to be with each other and so close to camp! Also, LAX has some really nice art on display or at least it used to.
Back At Camp…
KaeLyn: Morgan, Maddie and I formed “Sleep Crew” ‘cause we were the first ones tucked in for all of pre-camp. Finally on the morning campers arrived I felt like a human, thanks to drinking gallons of that “enhanced water” in Eagle and Sleep Crew.
Morgan: I briefly had been a whiny face to Riese on the first night like, “but I fear change and I wanted to bunk with people I already knew from before camp,” and she was like “uh-huh sure that’s nice dear,” with her adorable face. It turned out that I loved waking up every morning with Maddie and KaeLyn and Cecelia and Carolyn W and Nikki and Laura M and Vivian! I think we were the coolant to each other’s nuclear reactors of excitement and worry.
Carolyn W: The most important thing that happened that morning was my morning ritual with Cecelia where she picked out my snapback hat for the day. The campers are coming!!!
Kai: This was a really big day for me! I came up the mountain with kind of a lot of things going on and more hair than usual. I had too many conversations with far too many people about whether or not I was going to cut my hair. Sounds pathetic and a bit vain?, but it was my top stress factor. Anyway, Gigler sat me down in the A-Camp barbershop and took out her clippers while my mind was still racing to make decisions. We sat there forever cutting off like an eighth of a centimeter at a time because I would not make up my mind. Eventually Gigler just said, “We’re doing this,” and took a big scoop out of the middle of my head so I knew she was serious. Cue the most healing haircut I have ever had. With every curl that fell, I felt myself being freed from so many worries. And by the time she finished I was nearly in tears at how light I felt, thanking her endlessly, and so SO ready to see all the beautiful faces headed up to the mountain.
Stef: One of my favourite things about camp is watching new people who’ve never been before acclimate themselves to this thing we built. I happened to walk by the swings while Jenny, Kristin, Julia and Dannielle were discussing what they’d learned so far, how the cabins all had names and how we’d decorated them, and it was so cute I couldn’t handle it. Sorry for creeping, guys.
Riese: Stef is never actually sorry for creeping.
KaeLyn: I’m just going to say it. Carolyn W and I were totally like, “OMG JASIKA NICOLE!!!” for a good portion of the pre-camper time and, like, strategizing about how to get her to take a selfie with us. We could have just asked her, like normal human people. I mean, Jasika is the most down-to-earth celebrity I’ve ever met and she just seemed shocked that we were so excited to meet her. By the end of camp, she felt like a close friend. But that first day, Carolyn and I were tittering over how to approach her without being totally awkward and it was silly times.
Lizz R.: Riese and I spent like… A lot of time setting up the merch booth. Just a whole lot of time. It got wicked next level when we figured out we could string up some twine and hang shirts from clothes pins. I also made like a sticker collage of the stickers to help sell them. It was my greatest life contribution.
Riese: I love nothing more than seeing all of my things laid out in an organized fashion, whether that be my books, our merch, my staff, or my 13 tubes of chapstick.
Dannielle: OMG WE HAD RATATOUILLE FOR LUNCH RIGHT? BEFORE THE CAMPERS GOT THERE. LAST BEAUTIFUL MEAL.
Kristin: OMG RATATOUILLE YOU ARE RIGHT DANNIELLE GOD IT WAS SO GOOD.
Marni: I’m always the most nervous on the first day/night that the campers arrive. By this point, after six camps, there’s a good mix of new and returning folks, but I still spend the whole day nursing this quiet, anxious, excited anticipation of knowing how great it’s going to be and just needing you to trust us and that it’ll all make sense soon. Even the dining hall.
Gigler: There’s such an incredible anticipation all day leading up to the first big wave of campers. Then when the shuttles arrive there’s this blast of 300 unique presences all mixing together for the first time. There’s nothing like the first day of camp.
Riese: As per ushe, Laneia and I manned the welcoming table — our job was to check in campers, give them pronoun stickers, and hug everybody who seemed receptive to a hug.
Laneia: I never feel prepared for check-in, like in an emotional way. It’s just one minute you’re eating ratatouille in an empty dining hall and the next you’re marking off names on a printed spreadsheet and downing Emergen-C like it’s your [second] job and it all happens so fast! I feel like I’m in a Louisa May Alcott book. I love it inside and out.
Kai: I was part of the welcoming committee that yelled and clapped really loudly as you walked in the door. I might’ve started you. You’re welcome.
Maddie: Waiting for campers felt like when I was like 6 years old and my grandparents would visit and I would sit in the driveway counting the cars that passed the house before they got there. So many of us were stationed at Wolf, at the ready to spring into welcoming action. I brought out my bubbles and bubbled for a while.
Ali: I’ve been to five camps. This was my fifth camp. That means I am SUPER PUMPED when I see my camper friends get off that bus AND there are a lot of you after five camps BUT ALSO I had crazy cramps that day, so if I excitedly grimaced at you in a manner vaguely reminiscent of a violent offender, my sincere apologies. I promise I was just real glad to see you.
Yvonne: I was so excited to greet the campers because my girlfriend, Gloria, was coming to A-Camp for the first time and so was my very good friend Kathryn. I told them all about A-Camp so I was thrilled they were going to experience it with me.
Gabby: My favorite job at camp is greeting campers at the entrance. First, I get to be in the natures, away from all the hectic stuff happening at check-in, and I usually have a small but fun group with me. And second, but most importantly, I get to be one of the first faces the campers see and I get to see them. There’s lots of hugging and cheering and I don’t have to be the base in any pyramid, y’all. This camp it was me, Heather, and Trent waiting for everyone.
Gabby: Heather taught us how to throw rocks at trees like softball players. Trent made about a million videos. And I just had to use the bathroom so bad but I HELD IT IN FOR THE CAMPERS. And then the first van showed up and we cheered and it was glorious and then I raced down the hill and handled my bizz. Anyway, all of you are so shiny and beautiful when you land and so, I hope I get to greet you all forever.
Heather: Trent and Gabby were both naturals at throwing rocks at trees. Trent, especially, could be a major leaguer if such a thing were a real professional sport. They also made me EVEN MORE EXCITED about being at camp because they were SO EXCITED about being at camp. Every time a new bus came, it was just more and more fervor. Like even people who’d never been to camp before seemed to feel like they were coming home when they got off the bus.
Kristin: Jenny and I sat in registration and sold merch for awhile and I saw that there were FREE BBQ POTATO CHIPS FOR THE CAMPERS… my stomach was not yet adjusted to timed meals (to be honest, it never adjusted, I like to eat all the time always), so I went up a person I’d never met (who happened to be sitting next to the giant box of potato chips) and was like “Yo, hi, hi, can I have some chips, hi?”
Brittani: I always work the release form table during registration and little did I know this camp would be the camp I fell in love doing it. To my left was a box of bags of BBQ chips and for some reason, Kristin thought I was the master of the box. (Which I might be but certainly not in this context.)
Kristin: Turns out “that person” was “Brittani Nichols,” and she gave me serious sass about my chip request.
Brittani: Anyway, Kristin came to ask for chips and because my default way to interact with pretty, nice women is to behave like a 3rd grader named Dylan that calls your shirty “fugly” even though he doesn’t quite understand what that word means, I gave her a hard time about the chips.
Kristin: Luckily I had sass to return, and that is how we first fell in love. Brittani and I, that is.
Brittani: Then, minutes later, Jenny came over with her hands clasped in front of her face in a manner far too serious than called for (I call this move, Jenny Hands) and requested chips as well. I don’t know you guys. Those two knuckleheads filled my heart with too much joy the way those bags of chips had too much air.
Jenny: This staffer named “Brittani” became extremely important to my overall camp experience.
Hansen: Real talk: I am not much of a hugger off the mountain, but on the mountain, I am ALL ABOUT IT. I generally try to overwhelm my campers as much as possible from the moment they set foot on A-Camp territory, which involves a whole lot of enthusiasm.
Elicia: Mey and I and an interchanging group of staffers spent most of the afternoon holding down the podium at the entrance to Wolf greeting campers, or staff, or ourselves, or the staff again. As a new staff member, most of the time I wasn’t really sure what I could do that was the most useful, but thankfully Mey assured me podium duty is a legitimate job no one would think we were using as an excuse to stand in the same spot and eat BBQ chips off and on. I don’t know what I would’ve done with myself if Mey hadn’t been around to give me guidance and/or affirm my choices.
Jenny: THE CAMPERS WERE ALL SO EXCITED AND IT WAS SO SPECIAL. We talked with a camper named Rose who had come from the UK and was a theoretical cosmologist (or physical cosmologist?) — whatever her title, her field of study is the very first fraction of the very first second that the universe began to exist; she also didn’t know who Taylor Swift is, which instantly became my favorite quality in any person anywhere (and I like Taylor Swift just fine).
Chelsey Petty, Editorial Assistant & Blackhearts Counselor (4th A-Camp): I was so excited that the campers were arriving and that we were all on the mountain that I decided to thrust myself to the ground and forcefully hug the mountain aka I fell down an incline and Nurse Viv had to patch me up in Marni and Robin’s cabin while everyone offered me snacks and Megan and I giggled uncontrollably about how there ended up being rocks in my underwear. Overall everyone made me feel so much better about falling and took such good care of me because they are all just the best humans.
Chelsey: For future reference, the best place to fall is camp because everyone will be really nice to you about it, but it is also the worst because Redlands is far and Viv’s nurse kit is only so expansive.
KaeLyn: LOOK AT YOUR FACES!!! So many first time campers and I loved that because I was also a first time camper! Organized chaos is kind of my favorite thing, so I was in the zone when ya’ll started coming down in waves.
KaeLyn: We made every Shark Week group of arrivals take a pic in front of our BEAUTIFUL PERFECT DOOR. And you all looked at us like, “Hey lady. We’re f-in tired and this is a lot of people. Please go away.” But I could feel the love behind the exhaustion and you were all such good sports.
Cecelia: You are all so beautiful and your hair looks so nice after long periods of travel. These are the things that I yelled to you, aggressively, as you walked down the mountain towards us.
Carolyn W: I was TERRIFIED! And I don’t get terrified. I was scared to meet all the campers. I camped out with various staff members at Wolf and waited for your smiling faces. Well maybe not smiling cause I know that walk from the bus with all your luggage and snacks is HELL!
Whitney: It’s always so wonderful to see everyone coming down that hill with their arms full of their luggage and bags of Trader Joe’s snacks. It’s always like a family reunion when everyone arrives.
Stef: While a line of campers were making their way to Wolf for the shuttle, my jaw dropped as I spotted one person wearing a black t-shirt with a banner reading A-CAMP across the front. ”
“Did you make your own t-shirt?!?!” I demanded. “No,” they told me, “I found this at a thrift store and couldn’t believe it!” You guys, did you know that Nina Persson from The Cardigans used to have a solo project called A Camp? Ever since Riese first told us the name she’d chosen for our weirdo mountain summit, I’d been waiting for there to be some sort of intersection between the band and the thing, and at last it finally happened. The band was terrible. The camp remains amazing.
Riese: I love seeing all the new enthusiastic and even somewhat panicked faces of humans who have no idea what’s in store for them. Will they meet their future wife? Will they cry in public? Will they read a poem in public? Will they decide they hate Autostraddle and never want to see any of us ever again? Of course I always freak out to meet the new Runaways, who usually seem frightened of Laneia and I’s overwhelming enthusiasm and Blackhearts lurking waiting to make blood oaths.
Elicia: I think I may have gotten a little too into shouting ‘Welcome to Camp!’ because there were a few people that looked concerned at my seemingly overwhelming level of enthusiasm. I had like three cups of coffee and two bags of BBQ chips. You weren’t wrong to feel concerned.
Carolyn W: Some of you I knew from facebook or last year. Some I knew but never met. Many many looked excited and nervous not knowing what to expect at their first camp. This was enhanced by the throng of staffers that yelled on cue “WELCOME TO CAMP!!” like crazy people every time a knew crew rounded the corner. I was live-streaming the whole thing on Periscope and it was so cool to see the reactions of Straddlers at home who wanted to be exactly in your shoes. Like Charlie who won the golden ticket to the chocolate factory! Then my campers/camp best friends came down the driveway and I almost broke my phone running to jump them.
Maddie: Meeting the Firebirds was REALLY exciting and also pretty intimidating because like, all of you humans, including Carolyn and Vivian, knew each other before camp and it was just me and Sol who were the newbies, and I thought maybe you wouldn’t really talk to me because you already had your camp family thing going, but I WAS SO WRONG. Y’all were so nice and enthusiastic about being Firebirds!
Lizz R.: I try my hardest to psychotically friendly when my campers arrive! This year it was super easy because my Witchblades were soooo cool. Like just so cool. Did I mention cool? Also this year’s grey shirts were super flattering just saying.
Stef: The very first thing I did when I saw returning camper Gilles Stromberg was drag them over to Eagle, where I grabbed Marni’s acoustic guitar and played the opening chords to “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer. Gilles sang to me and we danced alone on the stage. It was very romantic; you’ll have to trust me.
Morgan: So many hugs I had to dish out. I loved scooping you all off the ground! I hugged many of you repeatedly consensually because I love your warmth and it was so nice to be with y’all in the lovely hectic electricity of Day One. My free Hug ‘n’ Backrub Business is open 24/7 to y’all from here to eternity.
Riese: Periodically I would text Abby or Bren for updates from the airport, expecting to hear about the usual broken-down shuttles, human beings lost and never found, baby butches crushed by anvils, straight people accidentally getting a ride with the gay people, delayed flights, shuttle drivers with internalized homophobia, jet-lagged high femmes forced to sit six to a seat and luggage coming to life and eating campers. But… um… nope. It was just a lot of “second shuttle is on the way.” I WAS SO HAPPY. THINGS WERE OFF TO AN AMAZING START. !!!!!!
Carmen: By the time two buses had left for camp from LAX, we got a second to relax and I wandered inside to find Abby but found Mal Blum instead, which was wonderful. Then Mal Blum told me how they had just met Sinbad, and I was like no fucking way you met Sinbad and they were like no seriously I met Sinbad and NOBODY CARED!
Gigler: Carmen texted to tell me that she saw Sinbad at the airport! I was so excited!
Carmen: So then we started talking about Sinbad and how he mattered to us but maybe we were too old and nobody else knew who he was, and basically calling him washed up, and I was so into it that I didn’t even realize Sinbad was within earshot the whole time. In short, Mal and I roasted Sinbad. Watch out for our Comedy Central debut.
Nikki: I just want to point out I saved shuttle #2 from taking the wrong turn to camp. I had a folder with me that had directions & map because when you ask me to help with camp, I HELP WITH CAMP. As soon as I saw we were heading down the wrong Jenks Road, I fumbled my way up to the front to talk to the driver to tell him he made the wrong turn. Then he made a very intense turn around maneuver that I thought for sure we were going to get stuck, but we did not. So this is my lesson: You never know when you will need directions to camp. I think I earned my always prepared badge that day.
Carmen: I had volunteered the shuttle crew to wait around at LAX for someone’s misplaced luggage, so we ended up getting stuck in Terminal 1 for two hours longer than we’d planned to even be at the airport. Along the way, though, I stole an abandoned mixed-media piece depicting Marilyn Monroe in leather carrying guns and got into a really loud argument with a grown-ass man who should have known better than to fuck with me. So really, it was a typical day. Afterward, we stopped at In ‘n Out, where Abby emotionally outstretched her arms in the drive through in hopes of getting a burger and we all got freaked the fuck out by the planes that looked like they were landing on us. To chill out, we later went whale-watching at Von’s so I could buy some Coors Light like a salaried professional.
Carmen: I am proud to report that Abby, Bren, and I got all those campers up the mountain at their scheduled times. We got all those good-lookin’ folks onto shuttles, y’all. We also ate peanuts, acted like weirdos, and did our best to survive LAX for six hours.
Stef: If you were at the first camp, you know firsthand that this whole thing has been a wild experiment from the get-go. Every time, we polish things up just a little bit more, and this time I really felt like we’d nailed it. This was the first camp that all of the camper transportation went 100% smoothly, and everybody back on site was in awe of Bren, Carmen and Abby for accomplishing the impossible.
The Opening Number
After dinner, all the A-Campers were shuffled into Eagle for mysterious reasons.
Riese: Opening night has always been an umm… challenge. We’ve tried color wars games, icebreakers, chaotically organized meet-the-staff skits, impromptu Tegan & Sara covers and, usually, have had even our best plans (which were never THAT great) totally derailed by shuttle business and staff stuck on the side of the mountain.
Yvonne: After the first time I attended A-Camp (Oct. 2013), I gave Riese and the A-Camp directors a shit ton of feedback. (I just remember I wrote a lot on my survey!) One of the things I suggested was that I thought the opening ceremony needed to be more SPECTACULAR, because it’s the first thing campers experience at camp and sets the tone for the rest of camp. I said the opening ceremony should be like a pep rally! I think this year we totally nailed the opening ceremony. It was exactly how I had pictured it to be and more.
Riese: We had such amazing talent this time that we knew we could take it next-level. I gave my vision to Carly in a google doc and waited to see if she thought I was dumb, but she didn’t! She liked it! (Carly’s creative approval is really important to me.) Mostly she was surprised that I wanted a Taylor Swift song involved in opening night.
Ali: This was my favorite opening ceremony since the time when Robin and Marni parodied “Part of Your World” and I got to make a fisting joke? It was just so lovely.
Stef: This year, the AV Club sprung for all sorts of fancy lights, and they had this really inspired idea to have us come out and start our song in pitch darkness while they gradually lit up the stage.
Riese: Yes that was my terrible inspired idea! Next year you can make me write a post in the dark.
Stef: It sounded phenomenal in theory, but what actually happened was that we couldn’t see our instruments at all.
Marni: It was so dark at first.
Stef: Once the lights came up and we could see everyone’s faces, everything was perfect!
Whitney: I’ve listened so many times to the new Taylor Swift album “1989,” no shame! And I was thrilled to see Julia Nunes do “Blank Space” for the opening number with her ukulele and the Family Band. It was spectacular: Grace and Carly did a wonderful job with the sound and stage lighting. I was bopping around like I do singing along with Julia’s gay-ified version of Taylor Swift: “Girls only want love if it’s torture / Don’t say I didn’t / Say I didn’t warn ya.”
Mey: It was the perfect way to kick off the first night of camp.
Stef: OK, I have to admit something: several years ago, I saw this really cute video of a girl playing “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child on the ukulele and it was so well-done that it inspired me to pick up a ukulele of my own. Getting to play with Julia Nunes all those years later was pretty amazing, and I nerded out and told her as much. She was very cool about it.
Elicia: I’m glad that I always start off each camp so far with a burning desire to learn how to play an instrument and discover the existence of another Taylor Swift song I didn’t know was a thing.
Lizz R.: First of all I love Taylor Swift. Second of all I love Julia. Third of all I love when Julia sings Taylor Swift. So. And believe me, it’s hard to top the year Marni and Robin sang “Part of Your World”!
Dannielle: Julia is perfect in every way.
Riese: Djuan Trent had done a really cool YouTube dance video to 7/11 so that’s where we got the idea for the A-Camp Dance Crew to do 7/11 after “Blank Space.”
Kai: It was everything to be back with my top-shelf dance crew. You campers give us life up there. Your love makes us feel like maybe we can change the world by shaking our buttcheeks.
Stef: I will watch the A-Camp dance team all day every day, with my jaw on the floor.
Gigler: Djuan Trent put together a dope routine for 7/11 and getting to know her as we were learning this choreography to greet all of camp with was a trip. Our collective excitement and nerves united us in our determination to blow the lid off Eagle. Also Vega I really don’t know why you didn’t just learn the damn dance and join us, we felt you up there in spirit.
Carly: Heh. Felt you up. Heh. (sorry)
Alex: Gigler, next time, girl. I promise. You are so sweet!
Stef: Alex was practically jumping out of her skin trying to mimic all their moves.
Riese: Alex was being such a pageant Mom.
Gabby Trent, Kaylah, Kai and Gigler killing the 7/11 dance was one of my favorite parts of camp. If they were a 90s R&B group, I’d still be listening to their jams and watching their videos on The Box.
KaeLyn The stage directions and choreography and light design at the opening number far exceeded my expectations.
Riese: Then Dannielle introduced the whole staff to the whole camp!
Liz Castle, Contributor and Tower of Terror Counselor (4th A-Camp): I loved how Danielle yelled at everyone.
Chelsey: There was such a fun energy when everyone was being introduced. Taylor took a photo of a group of us during the opening number and my hands are clasped under my chin and I don’t think I have ever seen a photo of me looking so delighted. That is how the opening number made me feel.
Hansen: Oh gosh, ALL the confetti/glitter happened during the opening ceremony and it stayed there forever. It is probably still there.
Jenny: The Taylor Swift cover and the choreographed dance and Dannielle scream-troducing all the staff got everyone so amped and the energy in the air was just eeeeelectric by the time we got down to the campfire.
Then, all the A-Campers were escorted to the campfire in a strategic order for mysterious reasons.
Marni: The second part of the opening ceremony was the campfire and it was beautiful and amazing in all the ways.
Jenny: When we got down to the campfire MARNI AND ROBIN WERE IN BEAR SUITS, MY FUCKING FAVORITE!
Marni: Twice the bears, twice the fun amirite?
Dannielle: Marni and Robin need face punches for the fucking bear costumes.
Kristin: Jesus Christ the goddamn bear suits. At this point we didn’t REALLY know Robin or Marni super well, so I am going to put it down on record that I think this was the moment I knew we’d work for the rest of camp to become their BFFs.
Jenny: Then Riese gave a heart-cracking speech, and asked everyone to stand up according to how many camps they’d been to and scream into the darkness — when she got to first-timers I stood up and screamed my face off and lots of other people screamed too and it felt pretty massive and that was the first of the zillion times I got choked up at camp.
Hansen: Riese told us to close our eyes and I’m pretty into guided meditation, but I cheated and looked around because I’m a rebel and everyone was so quiet and still and it remains one of my favorite moments of the entire camp.
Dannielle: Riese’s words were god damn beautiful. TBH I was slightly overwhelmed how it went from like 30 people to 300 people, but I think that’s just because I have anxiety around people I don’t know and 300 people I don’t know is scary sometimes. So, the first part of opening night was hard HOWEVER, after Riese’s speech, I felt so at ease.
Liz: It helped all of us focus on why we came to camp in the first place and what a magical space it really is.
Jenny: Then I sang “With A Little Help From My Friends” with Julia, while dodging the campfire smoke monster, and everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
Riese: I got such chills when Jenny and Julia started playing. They sounded so beautiful together I think I cried?
Rachel: I cried.
Laneia: I definitely clapped my hands up around my chin and cried, yes.
Alex: I loved it so much that I told Jenny it ‘put me to sleep‘ which I cannot believe I honestly meant as a compliment but somehow I did and now Jenny is my friend thank god.
Kristin: Jenny and Julia sang songs under the stars to three hundred campers and Riese said the best words of all time while a campfire burned so like are we fucking serious, people? A-Camp could have ended after this one opening night ceremony and I’d still be a blubbering mess just thinking back on it.
Dannielle: Fucking amazing. So much fun and really set an incredible tone for the rest of camp.
Marni: ALSO we got to give all the counties their FLAGS for rainbow wars! The counties were Cherry, Pineapple, Avocado and Blueberry and each one had a beautiful flag designed by staff artist Cameron Glavin that was laser-cut out of ABS and then lovingly painted onto fabric by this bear right here and sewn by my helper-elf girlfriend. The campers also all got their bandanas at the campfire and it was so cool to look out on a sea of red, yellow, green and blue lit up by the glow of the cam.
Robin: I can’t tell you all how happy I was that we had performances for the opening ceremonies! It was so wonderful to showcase our amazing musical talent.
Carly: The opening ceremonies were these things that Riese invented in her brain, wrote down in a Google doc, then handed over to me. Thank you to all of our lovely staff for humoring me during this. Grace killed the lighting cues, Jenny and Julia were amazing, no one died walking to the campfire… I think it was a success! But please don’t make me do that again!
Riese: I think next time we’ll do something even more complicated! I can’t wait. Neither can Carly.
Then, all the A-Campers were sent to their cabins to participate in mysterious ceremonies.
Gabby: Trent and I were so excited to meet the Beehive in person. We had our first cabin meeting that night, even though everyone was hella tired. And I knew we were gonna have a great camp. The Beehive was all for cabin unity, processing feelings, and helping each other navigate intersectional/social justice-y politics and ideologies. DEEP. Mad deep and loving. Beyhive forever! We had our sister cabin meeting with the Firebirds in the dark with flashlights. Probs this is why the RED TEAM WON RAINBOW WARZ.
Mey: Heather and I were already really excited to be the Head Girls of the Hogwarts cabin, but we were even more excited when we met our campers. They were seriously so great. And a bunch of them actually had Harry Potter themed clothes! Our cabin initiation was so fun, we made wands and talked about the moral implications of using Veela hair and Fairy wings as wand cores and then met with our sister cabin Shark Week to assign Bigs and Littles.
Heather: Our initiation was awesome. I was a little nervous about asking grown-ups to do crafts, but these nerds made it even more fun that I had anticipated. They assembled their own wands out of different woods and wand cores (with a detailed info sheet about which kinds of cores and woods worked together and for which kinds of witches and wizards), and then we all shared why we chose our particular wands. I will love everyone in this cabin forever.
Stef: Taylor and I were thrilled to hang out with the Campires, who settled right in with the most incredibly organized liquor cabinet I’ve ever seen.
Chelsey: The Blackhearts/Runaways cabin initiations were so fun this time! I was super excited about how invested everyone got in my weird idea and I am just always blown away by how amazing everyone continues to be.
Riese: It was adorable.
Laneia: Ughhh fuck I love initiations so much! Our campers tend to react to us in a way similar to how you might look upon a gang of freed toddlers who were covered in syrup and carrying flames and speaking a third or fourth language that you definitely recognized but still couldn’t reconcile. I only wish initiations happened earlier in the evening so I could literally cover everyone in syrup.
Liz Castle: Brittani and I got super into cabin initiation this year and stole away each T.O.T. member individually for a super secret/creepy ritual. By the time I came back to grab our last camper she was hiding under the bed! My favorite part though was how the already-initiated campers made it so much more awesome by spooking their cabin mates just as they thought they were exiting initiation into safety. ONE OF US. ONE OF US. ONE OF US.
Nikki: I snuck into the Tower of Terror cabin before cabin initiation. By snuck, I mean they let me in the door and I just sat around talking to some of my favorite people. Honestly, I HAD NO IDEA what to do. I was in a staff cabin and all my cabin mates had their own cabins to be in charge of. SO, what is a critter to do who likes to bond with a group of people but is not part of their cabin? Join, I guess. When Torre tells you you can stay, YOU CAN STAY.
Brittani: I might not be great at decorating but I’m pretty good at culty secret society things because at this point, I am in three culty secret society things. So our cabin initiation was great. Through a very special ceremony, we attempted to keep all of our campers protected from lesbian drama. No word on if it worked.
Nikki: I would like to say, Brittani and Liz C. totally brought their A+ cabin initiation game. It was really creepy/suspenseful. THANK YOU FOR LETTING ME CRASH, I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO.
Kai: The Beach Cabin was tired and I was way too energetic for the day they just had, but I’d like to thank them for being THE BEST and tossing around our deflated beach balls anyway!
Kaylah: The Beach Cabin was the saltiest cabin in the land. There was so much snark from my cabin that I had to clutch my pearls on a few occasions…I loved it!
Rory: We initiated our amaaaazing Rodeo Disco crew with going round the circle, announcing our disco names and giving the campers My Lil Rodeo Disco Ponies each, that were reflective of their likeness and personality and favourite colours.
Whitney: I was so excited to meet all of the Star Runners, and it was amazing seeing all of them settle into the cabin and get to know each other. Our cabin initiation was both Ziggy Stardust face paints (lots of thunderbolts and stars) and a patch-pinning with our sibling cabin, The Outsiders, which is a cabin that consists of a lot of returning campers that Ali and I were counselors for. It was amazing seeing everyone, old and new, meet each other. I just want to tussle all of y’alls hair and hug you so hard.
Elicia: I was so stoked to meet my campers in Ghost Power. Tory brought everyone these awesome keychains and Rachel created a cool crossword activity for everyone to get to know each other better. Our bigs/littles ceremony was equally dorky and fun although I guess I’m not supposed to talk about it since those ceremonies are secret and sacred, but I will repeat it was dorky and fun and I appreciate everyone participating and taking it as “seriously” as possible. Also, I’m pretty sure this was the night I convinced people to play Kings in Wolf which is not only my favorite drinking game, but just like my favorite game, period. Last year I got some of the staff to play the first or second night, so all the disappointment I felt about failing to do that this year was eclipsed by the massive amounts of joy experienced in this one round of Kings with staff and campers. This also begin the trend of ending sentences to each other with ‘in my pants’ for the rest of camp which was never not funny.
Rachel: I was pretty proud of our big/little cabin bonding, which was definitely dorky and fun but also, I would argue, COOL AND MYSTERIOUS. I did not end up participating in this Kings game in Wolf, though, so I guess I’ll have to wait until next year to weigh in on that, ELICIA.
Lizz: Our cabin initiations were incredible. I can’t tell you anything, obviously, but you need to know that Cecelia is a witch. She is. It’s a good thing.
Meanwhile in the VIP Cabins…
Dannielle: Kristin chased a moth around the room for like 45 minutes.
Kristin: LOL I CAUGHT IT, TOO AND SAVED ITS LIFE EVERYONE IS WELCOME.
Stay tuned for the next Recamp, when we have our first full day of A-Camp!
A-Camp 7.0 will take place from May 29th-June 3rd in Angelus Oaks and registration will open at some point between January 29th-February 3rd, I’m still figuring it out and will let you know for sure in the last recamp!