Hi Guys. This post is not anything like what I normally post here, but I wanted to share my experiences at Camp Grounded in case anyone was interested. It’s quite a long post – feel free to skip past it if you’d like – Michelle
Camp. That one word for me means summer adventures in northern Quebec with loads of outdoor activities like swimming, canoeing, learning new skills and making friendships that survived the 11 months until we met again. I have incredibly great memories of my summers at camp, so when I saw this article on the CBC news website way back in March I was intrigued. Summer camp for adults? With the added incentive of forcing us off the digital grid for a few days? Having been accused by various loved ones that I spend a bit too much of my time glued to my phone or staring at a computer screen engrossed in some internet randomness, I thought this might be a wonderful way to really relive a cherished part of my childhood. Because I grew up in the dark ages, the ‘no digital anything’ rule would be just like those balmy summer days of yore, before we all had smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and various other digital necessities procrastination tools. So, doing something completely out of character, I signed up for a summer camp for adults in the California redwoods at an old Boy Scout camp – I was going to Camp Grounded.
Camp started Friday afternoon and ran through Monday, so after work on Thursday, June 13th I hopped on a plane and travelled cross-continent to San Francisco. Because I was arriving late at night, and had never been to the city, I was worried about finding a place to stay overnight, and worried I’d have to rent a car to get to camp. Thankfully the organizers of Camp Grounded suggested campers use Zimride to carpool the three hours to camp. The lovely couple who offered my friend and me a lift also very graciously put us up for the night in their incredibly gorgeous home before we headed out on our digital-free adventure.
On arrival at camp we were met with bear hugs from greeters who directed us where to leave our luggage, and gave us paper bags in which we were to put all our digital paraphernalia (goodbye smartphone, e-reader and DSLR) as well as money, watches and other valuables. As w-talk (work-talk) and real names weren’t allowed I was then given a nickname in a naming ceremony by a guy who hadn’t worn a shirt in years. It was about this time that I had the first inkling that camp was more than likely not going to be anything like the one I so fondly remembered from my childhood.
The camp I attended as a child was an all-girls camp that was bilingual (two days English, two days French with Sundays being both languages) so right off the bat the presence of guys and American accents set it way apart from the camp of my memories. If I’m being honest I’d have to also say that my first impression of Camp Grounded was every single hippy-esque Californian stereotype I’d ever heard realized in one place.
Camp Grounded was just a few hours north of the head offices of Google, Apple, Twitter and Facebook – so I naively assumed it would be full of tech geeks with that pasty white glow one gets after prolonged exposure to computer screens and no sunlight. While there were quite a number of people there who did work in Silicon Valley (and judging by the cars leaving camp on Monday had done rather well for themselves) there were also a number of people there who could be described as hippies. Later, while talking with some other campers they referred to camp as a ‘Burning Man’ reunion. I was unfamiliar with the term, but apparently it’s a yearly festival in the desert – some say a modern-day Woodstock but without the music. I also heard the camp atmosphere being referred to that of a cult, and jokes being made about not drinking the Kool-Aid.
I wasn’t really all that worried about the digital-free aspect of the long weekend – I was more concerned after I heard that I’d signed up for a whole weekend of vegan, and a lot of times, gluten-free meals. Dinner the first night consisted of kale salad and meat-free Sloppy Joes, and I was pleasantly surprised with how tasty the meal was. The meals for the rest of the weekend continued to be delicious with only a dish here and there being unpalatable to my meat, dairy and gluten-loving appetite. The home-made hot sauce and gluten and dairy free Mac n’ cheese were both amazing.
I enjoyed some of the meals so much I even asked my camp counsellor if it might be possible to get some of the recipes. I didn’t hear anything back about that request which is unfortunate.
Over the weekend I didn’t really miss my phone other than wishing I had it to take pictures and check the time. I brought with me a disposable camera which as you can see from the pictures in this post wasn’t a great substitute for a phone’s camera or my absent DSLR. I was quite honestly surprised at how little I missed social media and easy internet access. Instead I had a lot more trouble with not being able to know in an instant what time it was. I’m not honestly sure if that’s because in real life I always need to know what time it is, or if it was because I wasn’t really enjoying myself at camp and wanted to know how much longer I had until it was time to leave.
When I was young, camp meant doing outdoor activities like canoeing, swimming, tennis and windsurfing. When I saw the Camp Grounded website I assumed that since it was a digital-free weekend the camp would encourage us to do active things – get us pale pasty office drones out there in the world and feel the sun on our skin, and the wind in our hair. While there were some interesting activities like archery, rock climbing, making art on wood using the sun and a magnifying glass, truffle making, tree drawing and bug eating (see this article here to find out why) there were only two activity sessions on the first day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. That evening when I heard about other campers different experiences there were several activities I wanted to try. It was very unfortunate they were not repeated the next day.
One evening’s entertainment was the talent show which, while a bit too long, was pretty amazing – there were a number of quite talented folks at camp (including two people who came with their fire swinging equipment – there are those California stereotypes again). On the last night there was an 80’s dance which was pretty cool – some people went all out with their costumes, the councillors decorated the dining hall with balloons and streamers, and the cover band was incredible. I could have done without the streakers, but given there were a few people at camp who were quite a bit more free than I when it came to wearing clothes I guess it was bound to happen.
The one event that completely ruined camp for me
Sunday was the camp-wide activity – Colour Wars, and this one activity completely ruined Camp Grounded for me. We were all divided into teams based on our favourite colour – mine was blue. I was looking forward to Colour Wars – my childhood camp was always divided into two tribes, and throughout the month you earned points for your tribe by doing individual activities, earning badges, and participating in camp-wide programs. At Camp Grounded there were about 10 different colours and after breakfast that morning we all met our groups and were tasked with coming up with cheers, chants, posters, slogans etc. This might have been fun, however the sheer volume of items they asked us to create seemingly took hours to finish. When all the teams reconvened on the parade ground we all had to present the judges with their various cheers and slogans, and we were to be judged on them. This again could have been fun, except the judging was a farce with the judges assigning points in a random manner that reflected only the level to which a team would, to put it bluntly, kiss ass for what seemed like hours as each team repeatedly went up to do their cheers, and fawn over the judges.
Eventually it was time for lunch and we all sat in our teams, and at least where I was sitting, the talk turned to how Camp Grounded was nothing like what had been expected by the campers. There was a general feeling of discontent with some comparing it to being in high-school – the popular kids were the councillors and the chosen few of the campers who knew them previously, and the rest of us were the wallflowers who were being asked to obey their every whim.
About halfway through lunch the judges decreed that as of that moment we were no longer able to feed ourselves, and had to find someone to pair with and feed each other. I, along with some of the campers around me, refused to participate, and continued to eat as before. If a plausible explanation had been given for the request, or if there had been a reasoning behind it, I would have more than likely participated, but the dictate simply to force us to do something for the councillors amusement was despicable.
After lunch we had about 30 minutes free time, so a few of us wandered off to explore a couple of the areas we hadn’t seen yet. Shortly after came a loudspeaker announcement saying that the afternoon activities had been postponed for ‘4 Simpson’s episodes‘ (the units of time that were used at Camp Grounded as no campers had watches). Later I heard that mine wasn’t the only group of campers that was unhappy with the way the day had gone (in fact quite a few left camp completely before that evening’s event, which was the 80’s dance), and that the delay of the Colour Wars was due to the discontent.
Once the delay was called a bunch of us ended up at the Typewriter range (the Boy Scouts had a rifle range – at Camp Grounded there were typewriters set up) where we chatted about Camp Grounded, reminisced about our different camp experiences growing up, and when they found out I was going to be playing tourist in San Francisco later that week made numerous excellent suggestions of places to see and things to do. Strangely, along with trying my hand at archery for the first time, sitting around and simply chatting with a bunch of people I didn’t really know, and more than likely won’t see again was one of the best times I had at Camp Grounded. I truly enjoyed talking with them without the crutch of what we all did for a living or talking about current world events.
The idea and premise behind Camp Grounded is inspired and I very much wished I was writing a blog post about how much fun I had, but unfortunately I cannot. Perhaps it’s my fault for very much wanting to recreate those summers I had growing up, but I can’t take all the blame. Camp Grounded was advertised as drug and alcohol free. It wasn’t. This alone wouldn’t normally bother me – drugs aren’t my thing, but I’m aware there are some people who enjoy them. What bothers me is that it was advertised as one thing, but no effort was made to ensure it stayed that way. This reinforced the ‘high-school’ feel of camp in that there seemed to be two sets of rules – one for the ‘popular’ kids, and one for the wallflowers and that wasn’t the experience I was looking for.
Perhaps if camp had been located a few hours from home the failings I perceived wouldn’t have bothered me so much, but I flew across country at no small cost for what I hoped would be an amazing experience. Being so completely disheartened and disappointed after spending so much money to get there has, I think, made the negative feelings a bit more acute. I wish it was different, but I wouldn’t recommend Camp Grounded to anyone.