Thursday, June 25, 2009

This Aint no Foo Foo Camp

I learned about Outback Expeditions from my brother who went to camp a year before I did. The company was owned by a guy named Scottie. An "extreme skier" who spent Winters in Colorado and Summers working at the YMCA in San Diego. When he decided to branch out on his own, he sent brochures to the kids that had taken his trips at the YMCA - Cody being one. The other counselor was Janette, another twenty-something YMCA graduate that was always in on the jokes.

The day we picked my brother up from his trip, all the kids seemed like they had had the best time of their lives. They were so different from the group we saw on the drop-off day. Friends now. Dirty, happy, laughing, Friends. I remember telling my mom "You know, I would really like to do something like that."

So the next year she signed me up. I didn't really know what I was in for, but I knew that the two counselors that owned and ran the camp were young and cool. Everyone thought they were cool. They could have dragged us through Death Valley by our heels and we would have said "Awesome". After my first trip, Summer camp became the highlight of my whole year and continued to be for a few years after that.

The beginning of every trip involved a grocery store visit to gather last minute supplies that didn't make it on the van for whatever reason. Usually before we were allowed to get out we got a speech that sounded something like this:


We gotta go into the store to get a few things-
It's 11:40 right now - you guys be back here at Noon or I'm tellin ya we'll leave ya.

You can do whatever you can to get kicked out of the store - within reason - ok? But if you do that, we don't know you.

Getting kicked out of a store could involve any number of things. I personally stuck with simple things. Running a muck with the bouncy balls they had on display, opening every freezer door and writing a message in the frost - you know, stuff like that. Once a fellow camper convinced us to take a more peaceful approach, so we sat in a circle in the middle of a random aisle, taking up the whole thing and reading the available books. And on that occasion the store manager asked us to get up, but then gave us all free cookies from the bakery!

After the first few nights at a campground we would pack backpacks and bear cans of food and head out to hike for a week or more. We never slept at "campsites" because there weren't any and we didn't use tents unless it rained. On more than one occasion a hike turned into an all day peak-climbing experience - including Mt. Banner. (Not my photo)

Even though they were young, carefree and silly, in situations that called for seriousness, I always felt safe with Scottie and Janette. And when I didn't, I reminded myself that my Mom would sue the shit out of them if something happened.

We always saw bears on our trips, and not from far away, they would wander through our campground trying to find human-food left around by careless campers. One rainy day in Yosemite we spent the afternoon in tents, resting, snacking - out and out chillin'. I stumbled out of my tent and was literally 5 feet away from one and looking straight at it. I should have scared it away, but simply stated I was too scared. Another time a bear put four big k9 holes in my unbreakable water bottle, though I didn't witness it. We were climbing half-dome. (Also not my photo)

We climbed half-dome late in the day so that we could see the sunset from the top. It was gorgeous, awesome, awe-inspiring and I wish I had the photos with me here in San Francisco. Climbing for sunset meant descending in the dark and once we were back on the trail we turned off our headlamps and hiked in the dark having been told that "our eyes would adapt". (Debateable)

And friend, I'll admit, we even sang songs around the campfire.

Most of the time the guitar came out late at night when everybody was tired and staring wide-eyed at the fire. But it wasn't Kumbayah or If I had a Hammer - I remember a Violet Femms song and a few songs from the Live album. But most of the time they were songs that were pieced together on various trips. The two songs that come to mind are, coincidentally, both about farting. (Bare with me this is going to be as uncomfortable to read as it is to write.)

One song was simply called "Farted" a song that I could not do justice explaining if I tried. And the other was a song called "Festering Fart". Festering Fart went to the tune of the theme song for Gilligan's Island. I will tell you that one line said "The Ford was a mighty big 'ol van, the driver full of prunes" and another claimed that "Monica almost blew chunks" but I think I'll leave it at that.

But the camp, probably because it was male dominated, focused a great deal of attention on farting. The campiest thing we did (aside from singing at the campfire) was earn beads for various accomplishments. We put the beads on a necklace. One of the beads was called "the Foof bead" for individuals that exhibited talent in the passing of gas. Another was the "What are you?" bead, for campers that did random ass shit with no good explanation. You could get mind, body (for physical accomplishments) and soul beads, or the bead that indicated you had gotten all three. An Earth bead for being environmentally friendly, a bead for being funny.

One bead called the "peeno" bead was never defined. It was purple, simple, and it's meaning was secret. I only saw a few people get it, but I was one of them and I'm not bragging about that. To this day I have no idea what it meant, it could very well have been the "you suck and haven't gotten any other beads" bead, or the "take a hike" bead. Who knows.

Every trip ended the same. Long, quiet drives back to San Diego to the same place we met on the first day. Our parents waiting, everyone smelling like dirt and ready to go home. We took home t-shirts with the camp's slogan on the back: "This Aint no Foo Foo Camp."

Though we got along, we rarely kept in touch throughout the school year and when we all grew out of it, the company stopped doing trips altogether. Or maybe they just grew out of it too.

So many years later it seems like a strange thing to blog about, and I certainly see it differently now than I did then. But what I know is that twelve years ago today, if I wasn't camping, I was counting down.