Remember that first day of summer camp? Cool kids, camp veterans, hang out in the drop-off parking lot and play 4-square. They eyeball this year’s crop of newbies. The first-timers try to pull off calm confidence while their eyes dart around, trying to figure out where they are supposed to be. They hold tight to their duffle bags and backpacks.
I’m into hour five of Paddle Georgia 2009, and so far it feels like the first day of camp. Camp for Grown-Ups, with a few adjustments. For example, I don’t think my bunk-mate, Husband, brought any Snickers bars or SweetTarts to sneak after lights out. That works out, however, because I don’t have to go through all the trouble of flirting with the lifeguard, getting burned when he dates my best friend, and then finding the “nice guy” who brings me a bouquet of allergy flowers from the nearby meadow. I skipped ahead to the nice guy part.
That first all-camp dinner brims with bland announcements and safety talks, punctuated by a few well worn camp jokes that the director starts to tell and the camp veterans finish from the audience. We sit on the bleachers of the Gilmer County High School gym tonight while Joe Cook, Paddle Georgia leader, mumbles a few words of welcome and occasionally jumps up and down as if to communicate excitement. Around me sit paddlers from Florida and North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Joe warns one couple from Minnesota “not to come down here and tell us how to canoe.” He fills the role of the genial yet slightly disheveled camp director, quick with a hug or a joke for everyone while most of the time forgetting what he was about to do. Over dinner, BBQ plates and slightly mucilaginous banana pudding, I look out over the crowd and try to guess other paddlers’ stories. Who will turn out to be the camp jokester? The camp flirt? The camper who gets sick/sprains an ankle/gets sunburned so bad he has to go home?
Tomorrow morning starts early, dear reader. Your faithful chronicler will be up at six, count them, six thirty in the morning for breakfast in the cafeteria of the Gilmer County High School. Mmm-yum. Then we hop into our canoes, dive into the Coosawattee, and see who flips their canoe into that white, cold water first. When we return here tomorrow night there will be stories to share and more familiarity and instant comfort between people than each of us has had since summer camp as kids. I only wish there were s’mores.