The screeching of the metal barge against the concrete landing was my final call; my last chance to stay within the bounds of my safe reality.
I didn’t have to walk down the rocky, uneven path and onto the floating barge, but my inner desire for adventure had grown strong. I’d become weary of my average town, average friends, and average perspective; it was time to take the leap.
As the barge withdrew from the landing, the river began to ease my troubled mind and calm my nervous thoughts. Thirty five counselors stood only a few yards away in one long chain as their smiles and harmonious voices welcomed me to my summer paradise. This would be the place I would call home. These would be the strangers I would call sisters. This would be the beginning of my new identity.
My first go ’round
When I was nine years old my parents provided me with the unusual opportunity to attend an all girls, Christian summer camp in Lewisburg, West Virginia. Unfortunately, I was homesick for the entire three weeks and spent the time cowering behind my twin sister, Audrey. Her ability to fully embrace the experience brought me nothing but feelings of jealousy and displacement.
All the girls at camp were dressed in Lily Pulitzer clothing, attended expensive private schools, and sported the same bleached blonde hair; or at least that’s what I wanted to believe at the time.
Believing that was easy. It was easy to go home and make fun of my sister and her “weird obsession with ‘Ghany girls.”
What was not easy and what I was running from was the vulnerability that was necessary in order to root myself in the Camp Alleghany tradition. It never occurred to me that everyone at camp was just as desperate to fit in as I was, but seemed slightly more successful at doing so.
At such a young age, it’s difficult to disregard any prejudices or misconceptions you may have about unfamiliar people; especially when you’re six hours away from home, your parents, and your entire sense of normalcy. When I left camp that summer, my appreciation for daily routine, familiarity, and comfort had never been greater.
And I was completely oblivious to the opportunity that had just been wasted.
Years passed as I spent many summers in a seemingly empty routine of watching television, reading books, and attending tennis clinics. When my sister would come home from camp in August full of stories and laughter, I could only reflect on my past two months as unproductive and lacking. Something was missing.
Thankfully, everything changed the summer after my freshman year.
I had finally conquered high school—my greatest fear—and was excited to face my next challenge. So there I was, feeling nervous, self conscious, thrilled, unprepared, and slightly nauseous as I kissed my parents goodbye and stepped onto the barge again.
Being labeled “Audrey’s twin sister” at camp was difficult in the beginning, but the nick name quickly wore off as I established myself as an individual amongst the other campers.
Feeling disconnected from small town drama and surrounded by so many diverse people was both a foreign and liberating feeling. I was finally able to present myself in the way I had always wanted to be viewed by other people. It truly was the beginning of the evolution of my ideal self.
Losing myself, finding myself
Camp served as a filter from every day toxins that prevented me from forming real, deep friendships at home. In the wilderness, everything becomes simple and pure. There’s nowhere to hide and learning from one another is as natural as breathing. That first summer back at Alleghany I surprisingly received an award and made many friends that I would have never connected with outside of camp.
Learning how to live in peace with five other girls in a twelve foot by twelve foot tent was difficult but eye opening in the most rewarding way. One of the most valuable skills learned with any experience is the delicate balance between unity and independence. It’s important to be sensitive to every single person you meet and listen to the story they may be trying to tell.
Camp has taught me, as nothing else could, how to allow others to influence the decisions you make, but never allow someone change you and the person you want to be.
Growing up ‘Ghany
Responsibility is the key foundation to any successful organization, and camp is no exception.
Because I was a “senior camper” that year, I had many responsibilities while spending the summer at Alleghany. Some of these tasks included waitressing all three meals and taking care of younger campers while the counselors enjoyed free time. It was imperative that I presented myself in the most positive light because younger campers always admire and imitate the older girls.
There’s no greater feeling in the world than hearing a younger camper talk about how smart they think you are, how spirited you may seem, or how cool they think the weird, obscure purple streak in your hair might be. Younger campers love with such an honesty and clarity that one cannot help but adopt while living with them.
Camp will be something that forever affects the choices I make and the people I choose to surround myself with. Going back to camp, I learned the importance of second chances and how effective an open mind can be.
That special summer I grew to value individuality and responsibility. It was an eye opening experience that revealed the truth about relationships and love through the elimination of society’s distractions and negative influences. When the time came to leave camp and venture back into the real world, I stepped onto the barge bursting with pride and assurance. I blew kisses to my many friends as tears of departing sadness and satisfaction rolled down my face.
I knew I was leaving camp a changed person because I was no longer living with fear of my own future.
Now, I was my own guide.
–Erin Dyer for Camp Alleghany Blog