Camp Makeitupasyougo

By Rachel Nichols
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 24, 2003

nfortunate things can happen when you try to re-create the past. You know this. I know this. Anyone who has tried on the jeans they wore in high school knows this.

Yet my husband and I were determined to do it anyway this summer.

The idea began bubbling back in June, as we watched yet another group of kids in our neighborhood troop off to sleepaway camp. Max and I met when we were teenagers at camp, so we have an unusual attachment to the archery range and the soccer field, to the dining hall we used to sneak behind to steal a kiss.

For years, we've wanted a little of that camp feeling back, but we didn't know where to go. Our old camp was, well, for kids. We're not what you would call tent people, so just plopping down in the middle of the woods was out as well. Then there were the "adult camps" that have become popular in recent years -- apparently, you can spend a week doing everything from wine-tasting to square-dancing -- but few camps featured the range of activities we liked, and even fewer had the traditions we adored.

We wanted the opening-night campfire and the closing-night finale show. We even wanted a version of the "rest hour" our counselors forced us to take after lunch. Only this time, we also wanted central air conditioning.

"We really just want to make our own camp," Max said to me one afternoon, noting that we could do a more grown-up version of camp, substituting age-appropriate activities for some of the old stuff we loved best. No archery range? We could hit the driving range instead. No need for swim lessons? We could take a surfing lesson. We could even give ourselves a version of rest hour by hitting a spa for massages.

We set about designing our own cut-and-paste experience, with a few rules: We'd do at least one different sport or activity a day, preferably something we'd never done before. We'd try to incorporate as many of our old camp's strange little rituals as possible. (Once each summer at camp, we'd have a "doughnut morning," where the counselors would bring us boxes and boxes of them. So we scheduled a doughnut morning on our trip as well.) Finally, we wouldn't feel bad about getting it a little wrong, because that was half the point -- we weren't trying to be the kids we once were as much as give our adult selves a kid-like experience.

So we set out . . . to San Diego. Mind you, our old camp was in Maine. We made the change of locales because the weather on the East Coast has been so unpredictable this summer, but as we headed to the airport, I wasn't so sure. Who goes to sleepaway camp in San Diego?

"We shouldn't have tried to do this ourselves. We should have gone for more authentic," I mused to Max.

"Sunshine," he replied, and sure enough, when we arrived in San Diego, the weather was a perfect 75 degrees and clear. By the time we made our way to Coronado, the tiny beach island that runs alongside the city, I was feeling more hopeful. When I started to smell a campfire, I knew we just might be in the right place.

The Loews Coronado Bay Resort, where we spent our first few days, is not specifically designed for those yearning for their camp years -- but it easily could have been. The resort offers tennis classes, basketball shootouts, arts and crafts and, on Friday nights, a marshmallow roast on the beach. In fact, after the sun goes down on the weekends, fire pits line all the beaches of Coronado, turning the night air into an appealing concoction of burning wood and ocean spray.

One deep sniff and camp was in session. But just like in the old days, we went to bed earlier than we would have liked -- "Lights out, no talking," we joked -- because the morning was going to bring our first real test. We had set up two days of lessons at Harbor Sailboats, an American Sailing Association-affiliated academy that promised to certify us as 22-foot keelboat operators. At camp, we were always getting certified at something (Red Cross swimming levels, tennis groups, etc.), but neither of us ever really learned how to sail, and we wanted to.

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