The bus was parked at Union Station around 6 p.m. on Friday, August 11. All eyes wandered to my Tupac tank top as I boarded the Debauchery Express — almost the last one on the bus, as usual. I tried not to feel like a lost puppy with my tail between my legs. I sauntered to the back of the bus wondering why I hadn’t made more time to shove a few tacos down my throat hole as bottles of Fireball begat bottles of Fireball, and the scent of freshly cracked brews wafted. A winding hour and forty-five minutes later, Henry the bus driver pulled up to our campground in Sedalia, a middle-of-nowhere jaunt surrounded by mountainous beauty, as was to be expected. We received our bunk assignments and collected our belongings: rolling suitcases, duffels and stuff sacks filled with more ridiculousness than humanly necessary.
When I was first asked to join in on the debut Denver adventure of Camp No Counselors (CNC), a company that hosts adult three-day sleepaway camps around the country, it was pretty much an instant “yes.” A chance to rediscover the summer camp days of my youth at an all-you-can-drink-eat-dance-and-do party in the woods? Why not? If it sounds familiar, it’s probably because you caught CNC’s segment on Shark Tank. Frankly, Mark Cuban should be kicking himself for missing out on this traveling circus.
Without further ado — and just a smattering of shame — here are ten things I learned on my first romp in adults-only sleepaway-camp land.
1. If your friends bail on you, do it up solo.
Endless liquid courage is all you really need to take this solo journey head-on. Although at times you’ll catch a glimpse of camp crews who all decide to wear onesies together to the bonfire, or the group that rocks its custom T-shirts on Saturday, having “you” time is more of a gift. You’ll have no one to answer to, and all the time in the world to do as you please — even if that means a breezy, mid-morning nap on a hammock while staring lazily into the trees. Whether a much-needed, newly divorced escape or a hideaway from your work-frenzied reality, CNC offers a refuge of positive distractions and disconnection (no, there is no cell service or wi-fi) in the very best of ways.
2. Step outside of your comfort zone — more than once.
Whether it's sharing a mimosa over great conversation with a stranger at breakfast or climbing the ropes course before lunch (and hopefully not being the most in-shape guy on the trip who has to call for help), ditch your social and physical norms in favor or something new. Got a talent? Hop on stage and be the dirtiest joke-teller, read some comedic prose or dance like the best-version Beyoncé we ever did see. You can be yourself, or certainly someone else.
3. Bring a flashlight.
When creating your packing list, a headlamp or a flashlight is going to be crucial. There’s no telling what’s out there in the woods, but more than likely, there’s a rock or a root waiting to trip you after you’ve had three too many at the open bar and have the bright idea to take a late-night whiz in the woods as you topple to your death. Also, don’t forget your CBD salve for those inevitable scrapes and bruises.
4. Say “yes” to some more s’mores.
You are guaranteed at least one night of bonfire action, accompanied by the dude who deems himself “Dick Grabber” to the crowd, just before he booty-bounces on Jacob, the camp director, as he gives the welcome speech. But this most entertaining of campfire shows is best paired with a flaming marshmallow or two, accented with some Hershey’s love and sandwiched between two crunchy grahams.
5. When all else fails, arts and crafts is the answer.
Too drunk to find the coordination for softball? Think you might accidentally shoot an arrow into a dude’s eye at archery? Worried you might capsize your kayak and drown to the bottom of the lake for all eternity? Dockside arts and crafts will be your best friend. Get a tan while you stain your hands with tie-dye, make a pair of friendship bracelets with your new CBFF, and cover yourself in Flash Tattoos. Let your creative juices flow, and give yourself a break already. You’ve certainly earned it.
6. Hydrate — yes, even you, Colorado.
Mimosas and Bloodys at breakfast, wine and beer at lunch and an open bar from happy hour until TBD. Sounds like a lot of liquor, and the altitude is no joke. They say beer is made of 90 to 95 percent water, so grab a few from the ice trough in the dining hall, and go hard on some shotguns. You don’t want to be the guy who passes out in the liquor shed (we still don’t know if he was trying to rob the booze store or if he just got lost on his way home). But seriously, Nalgenes, CamelBaks — you know the drill.
7. Embrace your costumed alter ego.
Camp is, no doubt, the time to bust out your very best doppelgänger. With two theme nights set to unfold, you’d better get it together. Saturday is Band Camp night, and since this gang doesn’t seem to know who the Disco Biscuits are, you can just call yourself a disco gangster. Just grab everything you own with hard-core sequins and you’ll fit right in — especially with "Vogue"-era, cone-tits Madonna and a duo of MC Hammers. But don’t forget your platinum-blond wig! Sunday night calls for Candyland, so you can either go soft or go hard — candy, that is.
8. Who needs a do-not-disturb sign when you’ve got the woods?
Every morning at breakfast, you’ll hear someone complaining about not getting enough sleep, because one, two, three or four cozy couples were playing the bunkbed boogie and moaning into midnight. (Those crybabies seem to have forgotten their earplugs/noise-canceling headphones.) Instead of being the talk of the thirty-person bunk, commit to an impromptu rustic rendezvous under the moonlight with just the stars looking down on you. Do as Coloradans do: There’s nothing like a good necking in nature.
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9. Don’t forget your pimp cup.
Because you call yourself a “chronic recycler,” it chips away at your heart every time you see someone toss a plastic cup in the trash. So what’s a green camper to do? Make your own pimp cup, of course. All you need is a plastic chalice and some bedazzling gems, and you’ll be the life of the party, because you’re that one-of-a-kind environmentally-friendly pimp.
10. Slip-N-Flip or get a grip.
Sunday is — plain and simple — all about Color War. You’ll spend the day shmoozing with teammates, playing competitive sports together or designing a 50 Shades-meets-Game of Thrones team flag to rep your group – a dragon, complete with condom eyes – as your team cheers, “Grey Gets Laid!” After lunch, it’s an hour-long relay that concludes in CNC’s very own Slip-N-Flip, a hybrid Slip ’N Slide-meets-flip-cup competition. If you don’t want to partake, that’s too damn bad. It’s up to you to get lubed up and down to that cup, and the pressure is on. Color War all boils down to this very moment, and Red has been in the lead all day long. You might get stuck on the slide, break your toe on the way down or forget how, exactly, to flip that cup, but it's teamwork, and everybody’s got to give it a go. Besides, once the underdog Green team claims victory, it’s sangria for all, and there’s nothing quite like a celebratory sportsmanship toast with all your brand-spankin’-new camp besties.
If you missed out on the first installment of Camp No Counselors Denver, bookmark its return in just a few weeks, September 22 through September 25.