Remember when I went to camp with 100 complete strangers last year in the middle of nowhere? I did it again. Last year I couldn’t adequately describe what camp did for me. I couldn’t put into words the affect the experience had on me and how it changed my life. I mean I could, I just couldn’t put my finger on the ‘why’. I could just write about what we did and the people I met. I said it was life changing at it was. People would ask me about the experience and I would describe it as “just like kids camp but with vodka and CPAP machines” . We played games and we drank. We danced and we sang 80’s song off key. And I would repeat over and over “it’s not that kind of camp” when people would give me the side eye when I said I spent 4 days in the woods with a bunch of strangers.
Well now another year of Camp Throwback is behind me and I can finally bring myself to sit down and put my thoughts into words. YES I traveled to some hidden little place in Ohio that no one who lives outside of Ohio has ever heard of with 100+ internet strangers. Twice. The first year I was scared. I was careful. I didn’t drink “too much” and I didn’t stay up “too late”. And I made friends. And without a doubt, against everything I thought possible, I had the time of my life. When I came home I immediately bought tickets for June 2016. Last year I flew in the night before and stayed in a hotel by myself because i was worried to accept the many offers I had from people to just ‘crash at my place’ or ‘fly into Chicago we’ll pick you up”. Um NO? What sort of freaks just offer a complete stranger rides and places to stay? No thank you. I will fly into the designated airport and use the prearranged shuttle service. This year? I booked a flight into Cincinnati and just said “Hey everybody this is when I’m arriving who’s going to meet me”. What was the difference? The difference is now I understand the magic of Camp Throwback. I know what it is now. What Brittany Gibbons has created at Camp Throwback is a place that I never really believed existed. You know that feeling you have when you go someplace new? That fear in the pit of your stomach? That little kid voice that no matter how old you get flashes through your mind and says ‘what if nobody likes me’? Camp is the one place on the planet where that doesn’t exist. It’s the opposite of that feeling from the second you enter the gates. If you see a group of people sitting on a blanket you can just sit down and BOOM brand new friends. If want to dance by yourself to the songs of your youth, you can and NO ONE is sitting there pointing and laughing. More than likely they will stand up and dance too. You want to wear a bikini, wear a motherfucking bikini with absolutely no chance of someone saying that you shouldn’t. More likely someone will say “oh my god, you look BANGING! Where did you GET THAT!?!” Where you can laugh so hard your stomach hurts for DAYS because you’re playing Cards Against Humanity with some of the sickest/funniest people on the planet.
What Camp throwback is to me is the one place on the planet where I hang out with 100 people who have shared and intense desire to be a good friend. To make sure that everyone feels included. That take the time to get to know you and would rather give a hug than a dirty look. They have patience, smiles and laughter and they have pure joy at the experience. And they do it year after year. Camp session after camp session. Sure Camp Throwback is the brainchild of one of my favourite people on the planet and I applaud her for this magical place. BUT the camp experience isn’t just this one person, it’s every single camper. It’s the girl who read about it online and books a ticket and a flight and shows up alone. It’s the dude who is dragged there by his wife because she heard about it on some crazy online group and insists he comes along. It’s the counsellors who make sure that everyone finds their way as they first pull up and step out of their cars looking around, eyes darting like a deer in the headlights. It’s every single camper that comes to Camp Throwback and puts aside the outside world and embraces the idea that we are all just love. Camp Throwback is a beautiful place in the middle of the woods where you can be 100% yourself and your faith in the human race will be restored. Where you can exhale and let the problems of the world fall away.
Sadly when you leave it all comes rushing back. Work, meetings, those pesky children. The world outside of Camp Throwback is not nearly as appealing or as accepting. This year I’ve cried a lot. Not only because I miss my camp family but because I now understand how beautiful it is and sadly how rare that feeling I have at camp is. To finally find the place where you belong also points out how lonely the rest of the planet can be, how ‘not camp’ every day life is. And not just the fact that apparently it’s not “socially acceptable” to have vodka for breakfast and say ‘motherfucker’ every other word. But that it’s hard to take the time to just sit on a bench and colour dirty words while someone next to you is braiding a friendship bracelet. I’m hoping that each person that ends up there comes out with a piece of Camp in their heart and spreads that love to their corner of the world. Thank you my fellow Throwbackers. You are forever my Camp Family and you hold a piece of my heart with you no matter the distance.