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Five things that will happen to you at adult summer camp

Written by
Christina Izzo
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“You’re going to an adult summer camp? Is that, like, a nicer way of saying you're going to an orgy?" That was the most common reaction I got when I told people I would be heading upstate solo this past weekend to attend Camp No Counselors, a grown-up sleepaway camp that takes over Southwoods kids' camp in Paradox, NY during its off season. With nothing but a Polaroid camera, a few pairs of shorts and a major case of the jitters, my summer-camp-newbie self came, camped and conquered, and here's what I learned along the way.  

1. You will have a nickname (and multiple Jell-O shots) before you even step foot on campgrounds 

Photograph: Christina Izzo


Three coach buses picked up the 190-odd adults who attended CNC this past weekend, and it was on that four-hour haul up to Paradox that I learned names, faces, stories and, yes, downed a crap-ton of booze. The first rule of the camp is to not start a conversation with "What do you do?" so instead of finding out about 9-to-5s, I found out about people's dream time-travel destinations, their relationships with siblings and the weirdest places they've ever peed. By the time we pulled up to Southwoods late Thursday night, an inside-joke intimacy was set and I had a handful of pet names (H to the Izzo, BK All Day) that would follow me for the entire weekend. 

 2. You will forget that an outside world actually exists

Photograph: Christina Izzo


Nestled in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, Southwoods is a stunning place but proved abysmal for cell reception or internet connection. After a few minutes of flailing my iPhone around during the opening-night bonfire, I gave up trying to connect with the rest of the world and instead focused on connecting to CNC, not a hard thing to do in a beer-sloshed bubble of tug-of-war battles, friendship bracelets and 3 a.m. streaking. The world could have been under a hybrid alien-zombie attack and I would have been none the wiser—and happily so.  

3. You will make a complete fool of yourself—and everyone will love you all the more for it

Team CelinePhotograph: Christina Izzo


I am by no means a natural athlete (I eat and drink for a living, people), so the mere thought of an afternoon-long Color War—complete with uphill running, ultimate frisbee and a still mind-boggling human version of Hungry Hungry Hippos—filled me with dread. I signed up for the least physical activity possible, a team lip-sync battle, thinking that couldn't be too embarrassing for this karaoke frequenter—until I found myself playing the part of Leonardo DiCaprio feeling up a fellow camper on the bow of an invisible Titanic while mouth-miming Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On." But then the crowd roared, our competitors giving Team Celine a standing ovation and first place, and me, one hell of a story. 

4. You will have a ridiculous amount of fun with and—more importantly—without alcohol.

Photograph: Christina Izzo


Sure, booze played a healthy role in the camp's weekend activities, from the nearly 200-person slip-and-flip tournament to the rowdy costumed dance parties that ended each night, but equal amounts of mirth were felt with nary a drop of the hard stuff, in afternoons spent belly-laughing on the lake trampoline or daily cuddle puddles laid out in the grass under the flagpole. 

5. You will leave with a wonderfully weird motley crew of new friends.

Photograph: Christina Izzo


People from all across the country, Dallas to Daytona Beach, convened at camp this past weekend and despite the varied walks of life, everyone came with the same goal: to have unrestrained kid-like fun, to dance and jump and play with abandon, and play we did. The bus ride home was soundtracked with many an "I love you," said between people who three days earlier were total strangers, as well as promises to reunite at camp next year. And this one-time camp virgin can say she's a newbie no longer—I'll be seeing you again soon, Camp No Counselors. 

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