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Six Reasons To Send Yourself To Camp

Forget leaky cabins and shared showers. A new breed of adult sleepaway camp offers up the chance to unplug, kick back, and maybe even learn a thing or two.

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by By Allen St. John

Well-Being
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“After a week there, you feel like family,” says Tony Rocci.  “A weirdly happy family.” For the last 15 summers, Rocci, a 60-year-old sprinkler company owner who plays a mean bluegrass guitar in his spare time, has carved a week out of his summer for an escape to the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop outside of Seattle. What started as a random chance to improve his flatpicking has morphed into a seven-days-a-year lifestyle: Rocci now brings along his wife Eileen, his brother and his sister-in-law. They live in group cabins, eat at communal tables, drink good wine and pluck away with instructors like legendary guitar maker Wayne Henderson. Says Rocci: “For me it’s been a life-changing thing.” Rocci isn’t alone. Whether seen as an opportunity to chill with like-minded adults or to indulge in passions ranging from glassworks to gladiators, grownups have discovered sleepaway camp in big numbers. According to the American Camp Association, there are now more than 400 adult specialty camps of virtually every stripe operating in the U.S. Adults are seeking ways to unplug, enjoy being with family and friends, and learn or practice new skills,” says Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association. What’s so special about camp for people who haven’t done bunk beds in decades? Making fast friends, for one thing. “You’re not worrying about the mortgage. You’re in a secluded place, living together, eating together,” says Merrick Earle, a 43-year-old welder from Atlanta, who spends part of every summer at North Carolina’s Penland School of Crafts, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “You’ve got common interests and you can build a relationship in a short amount of time. That’s not easy as a grownup.” Here are six additional reasons to consider sending yourself to camp. 1. To Make Something Cool. Admit it: Your mom still has that lopsided coffee mug with “nanoo nanoo” stenciled on the side you made at camp when you were 14. Time to relearn the satisfaction of transforming a pile of raw materials into something beautiful and functional. The lovely parting gift from your craft camp stay might be an Adirondack Guide Boat you built at the Wooden Boat School in Brooklin Maine, a tube-powered guitar amplifier you wired up at the Kendrick Amplifiers Amp Camp in Kempner, Texas or a gorgeous decorative metal corset you crafted at Penland. 
Mom might not understand why you made a metal corset, but she’ll love it just the same. 2. To Brush With Greatness. Those who say “Never meet your heroes” probably never went to adult camp, where such opportunities are plentiful. You might rub elbows with a writer you love (like Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Paul Harding at Aspen Writer’s Retreat), trade riffs with a rock star whose songs you’ve been mangling for decades (Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane at Ohio’s Fur Peace Ranch; Slash and Roger Daltrey at Rock and Roll Fantasy Camps in Vegas), or even play catch with an athlete you’ve idolized since you were a toddler (Ken Griffey at Yankees Fantasy Camp). Whether your hero is a big star or a decidedly non-bold-face name, you’ll likely find them approachable in this relatively stalker-free setting. “Pat Donohue came to the deck of our cabin and stayed for four hours,” says an awestruck Carmine Rocci, a 63-year-old construction superintendent from Carlsbad, California, describing his encounter with the Prairie Home Companion star at the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop. “He just wanted to jam. With us.” 3. To Learn Something.  One of the best parts of being a kid is that you’re always learning, whether how to ride a horse, stick a front somersault off the diving board or throw a curve ball. Conversely, one of the most annoying things about being an adult is realizing those things you can’t do anymore—like front somersaults or curve balls. Camp provides the chance to reverse that trend. Consider learning how to whip up a perfect zabaglione at a Culinary Institute of America Boot Camp in Hyde Park, New York, developing your own app at Digital Media Academy in Palo Alto, California, or riding a horse at Colorado’s Drowsy Water Ranch in Granby, Colorado. Come home with a whole new set of skills!  “Instead of being someone who dabbled, I really feel like I reinvented myself as an artist,” explains Carol Shapiro, a 58-year New York criminologist who learned the multi-media art of letterpress at Penland. “It’s really intense here.” 4. To Scare Yourself. Wes Craven’s filmmaking career is based on one simple truth: fear can be fun. Intrigued by the idea of rock climbing unroped on a cliff 50 feet above the Mediterranean?  Mallorca Climbing Camp in Spain specializes in the scarier-than-it-seems craft of deep water soloing.  How about drifting a rally car around the pines on rutted woodsy trail? New Hampshire’s Team O’Neil Rally School can teach you to do that. Safely. The best extreme sports camps are as much about the mental side of the game as the physical side. “Part of me just needed to see if I had the guts to ski that stuff,” says Denver-based financial analyst Phil Holbert, 50 of Alaska’s freakishly steep Chugach Range he encountered in a Ski to Live Camp led by extreme skier Kristen Ulmer. “It turns out I didn’t. But it was exhilarating just to find out.” 5. To Scare Your Friends. Two words: Space Camp. Let the naysayers giggle! Let the family worry! It’s all good fun. In addition to wearing jumpsuits and drinking Tang, this Huntsville, Alabama institution offers the chance to sample Zero Gravity (vomit bags included!) and hone your decision-making skills in life and death situations (potentially useful). Speaking of life and death, New Jersey’s Zombie Survival Camp teach you everything from how to hot wire a car to how to fire a crossbow. But if you’re looking to really terrify friends, how about the Mooseberger Clown Arts Camp in Buffalo, Minnesota, which aims to “challenge you to be the best clown you can be”? Be very afraid. 6. To Pamper Yourself. Does the very mention of summer camp bring on ugly flashbacks of leaky cabins and shared showers?  You may want to opt for one of the places that straddle the worlds of adult camps and luxury spas, like the Ramekins Wine Country Cuisine Getaways in Napa Valley. The chateau-style accommodations are pure opulence, and the curriculum features private tastings at the best of local vineyards, culminating with a meal at hallowed foodie temple The French Laundry. Looking for something more active? The tennis camp in Florida’s Ponte Vedra Inn and Club strikes a refreshing balance between perspiration and pleasure. In the morning former pro Mike Leach and staff will rebuild your game in the style of post-modern stars like Venus Williams. But in the afternoon, it’s time to hit the beach and relax with cocktails. “We play hard for three hours in the morning,” says Leach. “Then it’s time to go find a mai tai.” Photos: Guitar camp:  Bruce Blood Penland: Robin Dreyer/Penland School of Crafts