Campsickness/End of the Trip

Our veteran campers talk often about “campsickness”—the nagging, tear-welling feeling of distance from our little camp. And though it’s not a perfect corollary to homesickness, there is a certain truth behind campsickness: you feel a part of something at camp and that real sense of belonging rarely exists anywhere else in the world.

Today marks the end of my trip. I have found my way back to sunny California to begin writing my thesis about all I’ve learned this summer. It is a task that looms large in my head. How can one explain the root of campsickness? How can one even begin to describe and give meaning to an experience so emotional charged and so total? At Geneva Glen, our directors often dispense a piece of advice on the last day of camp: “when your parents ask ‘how was camp?’ you just have to say ‘it was everything.’” How do you write about everything?

And so, going into it, I know that whatever the final product born from this summer is, it will be partial. It must be partial. And that’s okay because I know it will also be totally saturated with the memories of a summer devoted to summer camp. For, all things told, the experience of the last fourteen weeks has been everything.

I saw twenty camps in about as many days. I heard about camp traditions so complicated they required diagrams to be explained. I saw buildings put up without a single nail. I saw a ropes course that ended with a one hundred-foot-high porch swing. I saw new dining halls that looked to be built to actually house the entirety of a camp, and I saw old dining halls that packed campers like happy sardines.

I saw waterfront sunsets in Vermont rivaled only by those on the islands off of Washington’s coast. I saw a camp dog give birth to puppies. I got to take a personal kayak around a camp in Maine. I got to travel by a ferry and a motorboat to reach a remote, islanded camp. I drove 6,800 miles. I slept in my car. I saw parts of this country I think rare few people ever get to see. And then I counseled for ten weeks, and fell back in love with my job.

But most of all, I got the chance to talk to and work with numerous directors, administrators, and counselors all whole-heartedly devoted to the task of childcare. I saw people who talk about curating a child’s sense of independence with real reverence—the type of people who understand friendship as wholly sacred. I met people who actually listen and care about the stories, fears, and dreams of children. 

So, yes, I too am campsick. How could I not be?

The front gate to my long-time camp, Geneva Glen, pictured in the winter.

The front gate to my long-time camp, Geneva Glen, pictured in the winter.

Day 3/4: Thoughts on Road Tripping

                I have been driving a lot—a fact that I think gets glossed over in any large-scale, destination-based road trip. I can muse in this blog about great camps (and there is much musing to do), but in doing so I fundamentally neglect or outright exclude the fact that for every hour I’ve spent visiting a camp, there have been at least two hours of traveling to get there. Understandably so—who would want to read a blog about the monotony of road travel?

                ‘I drove today on a lot of pavement. Some of the pavement was smooth and didn’t make me think my car was going to take a dip too hard and crack into two pieces. Other parts of the pavement was less smooth and made me think my car was going to take a dip too hard and crack into two pieces. I bought another coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts and again proceeded to shove the empty Styrofoam cup under my seat, reminding myself that today would be a good day for trash clean-up.’

                All that said, I maintain a certain fondness for long road trips. Aside from the fact that they remind me my body’s ability to create shirt-saturating amounts of sweat by just sitting, road trips around the United States make me remember (a) the vast amount of space within our borders and (b) the power of quietness.

(a)    I forget, until I take to America’s pavement, the vast immensity of this country. I cannot seem to fathom that though Vermont is no bigger than my pinky on maps, there are hundreds of dense green miles within it, many of which lack cellphone service and are incredibly good at confusing my general sense of direction. Everything is winding, and every home seems to double as a family farm with fresh eggs and berries. And if those family farms prove everything, it’s that the roads only serve to connect what is the majority of space in America. It is entirely overwhelming.

(b)   Also, road trips (especially solo road trips) provide a certain catatonic atmosphere to do some quiet introspection. I will admit that my hours on the road haven’t lead me to any profound conclusions. I’ve mostly thought about how delightfully odd it is that I’ve now forced my path to cross with the directors and staff of so many great camps. I’ve also given some real thought to the best combinations of toppings for a pizza (opinion forthcoming).

The American road trip is thus a space of liminality—of putting one’s mind and body in an unknown place. It is, in essence, the very work that camp sets out to do. Let me be clear that I don’t believe camp is the equivalent to a road trip, but some of the driving forces are the same. The camps I’ve visited thus far have reminded me, in the words of Bill Bryson, “the benign dark power of the words.” They have, in other words, made me re-recognize the importance of campers being pushed into paths uncharted both in their steps and in their minds. 


My minivan lost somewhere in the woods of Vermont outside Farm and Wilderness Camps.