Aug 6 2016
Before morning yoga begins, the teacher asks for introductions. On the sand and facing Little Hills Lake are a chemist, investment counselor, engineers, lab workers. Elsewhere are at least one gynecologist, agronomist, hospice nurse, baker, computer programmer, accountant and many other walks of life.
We are in our 20s to 60s, and no one answer explains what brings us to this class or place, but our unique definitions of halcyon – a period of time that was idyllically happy and peaceful – surely is one of the draws.
Camp Halcyon, a three-night outing for about 125 adults near Wautoma, is a way to revisit fond memories of attending camp as kids or test it for the first time. That’s the gamut among the couples, groups of friends and solo travelers who paid $399 per person to be here.
“You arrive feeling a little bit terrified and hopefully leave with good memories,” says Drew Griswold, camp director. “That’s a part of the camp experience.”
Days begin with a trio of open bars: one with at least six kinds of bacon (double-smoked to peppered to honey-mustard); one for mimosas and an array of fruit garnishes; and one for Bloody Marys with enough cheese, meats, veggies and pickled items to make a meal.
Days end with subdued conversation around a beachfront fire or raucous rounds of beer pong and flip cup, team drinking games on a hay wagon that become more animated as the night goes on.
In cans is Pabst. On tap are brandy Old Fashioneds. Behind the portable bar, a trailer parked in a field, are bartenders from Boone and Crockett, a popular watering hole for 30-somethings in Bayview.
It’s croissants and monkey bread on the breakfast buffet, a parade of sausages for lunch, slow-roasted meats for supper. Menus are a mix of the predictable and inspired.
In between are activities, a blend of tried-and-true and first-time adventures. Guys book a free straight-edge razor shave on the beach. Women sign up to smoke cigars while sipping whiskey. The crowd whoops when asked who is looking forward to knife and hatchet throwing, and welts from paintball are worn like badges of honor.
We learn to tie-dye T-shirts and weave friendship bracelets. We watch beer making and leave camp with growlers. Archery to volleyball, wine tasting to barbecue cooking are among the other options.
The decision to not participate in anything separates this camp from those of childhood. Just lazing on the beach or splashing on inflatables is permissible. Boating time means kayaking, canoeing or stand-up paddleboarding at your own pace.
There is room for buff and brawn to categorically compromised sunbathers, and everybody follows the same rules. One is to treat each other with respect. Another is to not be a jerk.
“We’re all here to have fun,” Mike Borkowski, Germantown, wisely surmises during the first night. “It’s just a matter of finding your people” in the eclectic sea of campers.
Director Drew makes camper diversity a priority, and it is no coincidence that this camp happens on the grounds of 126-acre Camp Lakotah, a former Episcopal church camp with patches of tall pines and oaks.
Dad Andy Griswold has come to this part of Wisconsin for 50 years and now has a 50-acre farm nearby. Drew has been a camper, camp counselor and camp maintenance worker.
“Some of the best times of our lives have been here,” he says. “This is where I’ve made lifelong friends.” He is a marketing specialist who began Wander and Company, a mobile and online retailer whose inventory in some way benefits a nonprofit cause.
About 75 percent of Camp Halcyon’s first campers were ages 25 to 45, but repeaters for 2017 aren’t limited to that demographic. Genie Seep, Oak Creek, turns 60 this month and says she’ll return.
“It’s fun to spend time with younger generations,” she says. “I find it very easy-going and laid-back.”
For Melissa Bindert, 41, Fond du Lac, “this is me living my dream as an adult.” Bethany Soloski of Chicago, a generation younger, offers that “it’s cool how many different kinds of people are here.”
But not every camper lasted the weekend, and especially for older adults, accommodations are not nirvana. My home for three nights was the Swamp, a wooden shell with wire screen mesh to cover windows. Heavy plastic flaps add privacy and ward off rain.
Twin-sized cots each hold a waterproof mattress. There are no other furnishings or electricity, and the nearest toilet is 200 feet away.
Early one morning, I spotted the silhouette of a mouse, nibbling and standing on two legs, its nest in a window sill. “It’s not a five-star hotel,” Drew admits, but that never was a part of the goal.
Applications are being accepted for 2017 Camp Halcyon sessions: Jan. 12-15, July 6-9 and Aug. 17-20. The cost is $459, which includes all activities, food, drinks and lodging. camphalcyon.com, facebook.com/camphalcyon
Lodging for the January session is winterized cabins, which means the attendance cap is 80.
Camp Halcyon isn’t the only summer camp for adults in Wisconsin. Camp No Counselors, an endeavor with 10 locations (nine U.S., plus Toronto), heads to an undisclosed Wisconsin Dells location on Aug. 25-28. The cost is $575 to $599.
Activities include archery to water skiing, a “capture the flag” contest to talent show. “Play like a kid, party like a grown-up” is the motto.
The effort was fueled by “Shark Tank” TV series exposure in May (but founder Adam Tichauer left without an investor). The average camper age, so far, is 30 and the range is 24 to 42 years old. campnocounselors.com (click “locations,” then “Chicago”).
If an urban setting is more appealing for camp, consider the personalized “city summer camp” offerings at Thompson Chicago, a Gold Coast hotel with eight options: an instructor-led painting class at Bottle and Bottega; a foodie day that begins with farmers at Green City Farmer’s Market and ends with a dinner of seasonal ingredients; stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Michigan; using a Lexis to visit ice cream shops; exploring Chicago by bicycle; private tennis or golf lessons, then cocktails; a behind-the-scenes distillery tour; and a robot workshop with drinks afterward.
The cost starts at $269 per night. thompsonhotels.com, 312-266-2100.
Closer to home: Milwaukee Public Museum on Sept. 23 hosts its first sleepover for 120 adults, and registration ht capacity shortly after the event was announced. After-hours tours, IMAX films, talks by curators, drink tickets and food (including breakfast the next morning) were included in the $115 cost. Stay tuned to mpm.edu/adultsleepover for details about the next sleepover, which is May 19, 2017.