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We went to an adult summer camp—and had a blast

Written by
Carolyn Stanley

I have a confession to make: I’m not generally one for organized fun. That means things like music festivals, bachelorette parties, any get-together that includes the words “game night”…you get the idea. (You might say I have what Portlandia refers to as “early onset grumpiness.”)

But when a friend raved about Camp No Counselors, I was intrigued. I only barely did the camp thing as a kid—one week between fifth and sixth grade, and a summer science program in high school that wasn’t very outdoorsy—and the idea of lakeside lounging and backwoods shenanigans at an adult summer camp sounded pretty appealing. So a few weeks later, I found myself on a bus heading toward Camp Shock Top: a first-ever collaboration between Camp No Counselors and, yes, the beer brand.

Four hours of sandwiches, tall boys, giant cookies and a Dirty Dancing screening later, my fellow campers and I arrived at our destination in the Adirondacks, waiting with a fully stocked outdoor bar strung with lights. This was it—time to put my outer grump away in favor of my inner child (plus booze). And it was surprisingly easy! It helped that there was a camp rule not to ask anyone about their work—a nice break when it feels like every social gathering in the city finds a way to turn into a networking event. Most people were first-time (adult) campers, too, and any over-the-top party vibes I was worried about were nowhere to be found.

After a night in the bunks (strangely I had no trouble passing out in a shared room of 20 people, but then, my superpower is falling asleep anywhere) it was time for a full day of activities. The dreaded organized fun, this time arranged into sign-up sheets detailing our options: archery, ropes course, kickball. But once again, my qualms were unfounded—nobody was taking roll or forcing me to participate. I spent a blissful morning at the lake—which, by the way, is equipped with a giant inflatable slide, a floating trampoline(!) and a captained speedboat for tubing and wakeboarding excursions. There was even a yoga class on the dock—a nice grown-up touch. (Tubing, by the way, is not lazily floating along like I thought it was. See below.)


Photograph: Carolyn Stanley


After discovering how blissful the lake was, I ended up spending pretty much all my free time there. But evenings were dedicated to a themed dance parties (night one: ’90s; night two: Olympics), games of carpet-ball at the outdoor bar, a talent show by the campfire and late nights gazing up at a ridiculous number of stars. (Oh, and more s’mores than an adult should probably eat. Sorry, teeth.)

Saturday afternoon was definitely the biggest test of my organized-fun tolerance: a giant color war, with all 200-odd campers divided up into four teams to compete in classic camp challenges culminating in a massive relay race across the the camp property. Teams? Compete? Race? Not typically words a socially anxious, coordination-challenged editor likes to hear. But I knew it was time to lean in…to my partner in the three-legged race, anyway. And I have to say my team kicked ass—not literally of course; we came in dead last—but our lip-sync battle crew killed it with a decidedly NSFW routine to “Truffle Butter” and we were the only ones to purposely forfeit a challenge for the sake of sending our tug-of-war opponents flying (so worth it).

By the end of the weekend, I had a tan, a camera roll full of photos and more than a few new friends (and okay, a bit of a hangover). All in all, I was more than impressed with my Camp Shock Top experience—and it makes me wonder if I need to reconsider my stance on organized fun. I may still have a few years of youthful enthusiasm left before the grumpiness sets in.


Photograph: Carolyn Stanley

For the uninitiated, here are a few tips for your first adult summer camp:

• Bring earplugs. Out of a dozen or more bunkmates, the odds that at least one is gonna be a snorer are high. Trust me on this one.

• You might not come back unscathed. During a competitive round of slip ’n’ flip (that’s Slip'N Slide followed by flip cup, FYI), things got a little rough. Luckily, there are no concerned parents to answer to—only quizzical coworkers who want to know what’s up with the skinned knee.

• It’s okay if you’re terrible at sports. (You know, hypothetically.)

• Finding a place to sit in the cafeteria is just as high-stakes as it was in middle school.

• You can never have too much lake time.


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