So as you may have read, I went to a Christian all-girls sleepaway camp in 1989, the summer I turned 14. And while there were good times to be had in the form of eating contests and songwriting, for the most part, it wasn’t my jam. I’m positive it was healthy for me to do at the time, but I tend to be a homebody, and very shy (no, really!).
A week out of my comfort zone with mostly girls I’d never met before, food this picky eater did not care for, a pea-sized bladder, a love of seltzer water, and a bathroom that was a trek away in the dark, not to mention my vampiric tendencies of staying up all night, especially in the summer as a kid?
It did not add up to a week of comfort.
But there was one night/morning in particular, that would have made it all worth the experience, even if the other things had been ten times more uncomfortable. That was the night of the sleepout.
We went hiking – I feel like it was all of camp, but maybe it was just the older groups. And it wasn’t a big hike, just a little bit to the outskirts of the little island we were on.
When we got there, we laid camp. Only we didn’t set up tents. Instead, we lay heavy-duty tarps on the ground. Then we put our sleeping bags on top of them.
All the while, people were building an amazing bonfire, so when nightfall hit, we were prepared – with guitars and most importantly, s’mores ingredients. I’d never had a s’more before, and wondered exactly why it had taken me so long to try one. At the same time, I was glad it had, because there underneath the night sky, amidst the smell of upstate New York mountain air, and bonfire smoke, and the sounds of singing – that was the perfect way to lose my s’mores virginity.
Then it came time for sleep. Despite aforementioned vampiric tendencies, I crawled into my blue sleeping bag super excited, because never had I done this before – prepared for sleep under a sky of beaming stars. I lay awake for awhile, grateful to have my best friend Shannon falling asleep next to me, and marveling at the experience at large. We talked, read, and heard a lot about God that week, but that was by far the moment in which I felt closest to Him.
It would have seemed the awesome climax had been reached and in the morning, the denouement. But such was not the case because while it was sad to wake up after an amazing night, when you’re a teenager you feel as though each awesome night is just a portent of great things to come. This morning was no exception. Upon awaking, I smelled and felt the dew in the air, but thanks to the tarp, my sleeping bag was still totally cozy. And as awesome as the nighttime mountain air is in upstate New York, the morning air might be even more amazing.
We all rustled out of “bed” with varying levels of bleary eyes, and packed up our sleeping bags and the tarps, preparing for the journey “home.” But not too fast, because it was breakfast time!
This was no ordinary breakfast. Instead, we were told to group into pairs. Shannon and I were given a huge coffee can and a Sterno, and told to go set it up – find a spot on the beach, then put the Sterno under the coffee can (that had a ventilation hole in each side).
At which point, counselors came around with breakfast offerings: raw eggs, bacon, sausage. In a life twist, I got everything but the eggs – Shannon got everything. Because you see, you could take these breakfast ingredients and cook them on the coffee can! The Sterno turned it into a little stove, and the camp called them Buddy Burners.
Breakfast had never tasted so amazing as it did that morning next to the lake with my best friend. Getting out of my comfort zone actually ended up comforting me.
Afterwards, we went to the lake to scrape our coffee cans with sand from the lake, so they…could be used again? I’m not sure. But it was a good and cleansing capper to one of the best overall experiences of my life — literally and figuratively!