If you ask people about their trip to Acadia, you’ll hear dozens of stories – climbing, hiking, cycling and kayaking. Everyone will have a different tale to tell about different trips and different adventures. But they’ll all align on one subject – hanging out around the campfire after a day of excitement.
There’s a pattern to the night life at Acadia. Friday nights are usually pretty crazy after being trapped in cars for hours, Saturdays are low-key since people are tired out, and Sunday nights are an all-out party because no one plans on waking up early just to drive six hours home. So when we pulled into camp at 11:00 on Friday night and didn’t see a soul, you can imagine our confusion.
This year was… strange. The atmosphere was different, and the camp had taken on a muted spirit. There were people, to be sure, but the people were quiet and guarded where they would usually be loud and welcoming. As Daniel and I set up our tents we talked to our friends who had already settled in, trying to figure out what the source of this lethargy that had settled over NUHOC.
In the end… we had no idea. Thankfully a group of Iranian’s settled into camp a bit after midnight, and they brought a bit of the party back to life – bollywood-style music blared from car speakers, and headlights illuminated a dance-floor covered by a canopy of trees. I only joined in for a short while, but that short time was enough to remind me of how amazing this weekend was going to be.
I hadn’t expected too much partying or loud insanity on Saturday night, and so when I settled into a chair around the fire I wasn’t at all disappointed about the lack of loud music crashing through the trees. Instead, I had the sound of Mike and Sam playing old Chili Peppers songs… which was the perfect mood-music to accompany my devouring of a few double cheeseburgers.
After I finished eating I did a bit of wandering around to the other fires, but I found that the rest of the camp was even more muted than I had expected – no one else had any music (aside from the alumni camp that had a stereo blasting Katy Perry), and everyone seemed quite happy with the people around their own fire – no one else was really necessary… or particularly wanted.
Thus, I headed back to camp. I picked up a few other fire-hoppers along the way who, like myself, had received rather lukewarm welcomes at the other places and were looking around for a place to veg out for the night. The new blood reinvigorated our little group, and we chatted and joked into the night, listening to the guitars strumming their songs.
Sunday was… strange. It kept with the theme of the weekend. The few people who were about (I later learned that only 75 people had signed up, out of the usual 150+) tried doing the whole socializing scene for a bit, but quickly fell back to old habits and formed off into their own circles.
The event of the night, like every Sunday night at NUHOC’s Acadia, was the bonfire. Since we order a ton of wood that we can’t really take home with us, we’ve found the best solution is to burn it all in a sky-igniting pillar of fire on the last night. Last year Mike and I had helped out by chopping apart a rather large fallen tree and using it as the center-point of the fire… causing the unlit bonfire to rear nearly 10ft above the campground. This year we aimed to go even bigger, hoping to draw all of the myriad camps into one cohesive group.
Unfortunately Mike and I arrived back at camp a bit late thanks to a massive feast of lobster, ribs, quesadillas, and beer.
Someone else had taken the lead in building a fire and it was almost ready to be lit by the time we jumped out of the car. It wasn’t as huge as the year before, but it still easily reached 7+ feet tall. And more importantly, it was doing its job – almost everyone was gathered around the fire pit waiting to see it go off.
As it was lit, a great cheer broke out around the fire and people finally started mingling and chatting. I had gotten to catch up with most of my old friends already, so I took this chance to sit down with some of the newer kids and get to know how the current club was doing. He laughed, we joked, and had a rather nice time – I even scared the whole fire at one point by throwing a few packets of fire-color into the blaze… Turning a bonfire blue and green is always a good camping trick.
However, the bonfire didn’t last. I kept tending to it, but after maybe 45min or an hour of getting along people started grouping back into small insular groups. I ended up giving up on the main fire about two or three hours in when I realized that everyone from my camp had went back to their fire, and I was alone with a few small groups of people who were too busy with inside jokes and drama to be very good conversation.
I left to wander, and ended up finding what turned out to be the best fire of the weekend – the Iranian grad student’s camp. Mike was already there, playing to an enraptured audience. Seriously, most other groups would shout out requests, try to sing along, or generally be loud… but these guys were completely enthralled by Mike’s playing. I joined in the “music appreciation” fire, and played cameraman for an hour or so as Mike kept rocking out.
The guitar died out after the loss of a string (Mike did fix it, but was too tired to keep going much longer afterward), and so we all stretched out by the fire to chat about the universe. Literally the universe as it turned out, because most of the folks around the fire were theoretical physicists or engineers. We talked about quantum entanglement, relativity, and how quantum entanglement could feasibly get around relativity. We talked about space travel and politics, and discussed whether I should ever go to Iran.
The consensus on Iran was, by the way, “hell no they’ll kill you”.
I finally found myself back at my tent around 03:00, completely exhausted from the weekends activities and the nights discussions… but quite happy about the whole trip. True, the feel of the camp was still quite alien to me, but I was happy that I had gotten to meet so many new people, and actually had the chance to discuss string theory while camping.