The vision of RMV camp gates welcoming me has been present in my mind for a while now. All year I looked forward to feeling that magic again, longing to be surrounded by new people, old friends, and campers. In the middle of the Rocky Mountains, one can certainly get lost. And that is exactly what I had to do.
My friend, Hannah, joined me as we drove west. Colorado was our final destination, but we had many stops planned in between. Since I’ve taken the (un)pleasant drive through Iowa and Nebraska before, we decided to take route that’s a little farther north. After driving through Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, we hit Minnesota, where we made a comfortable bed out of my mom’s minivan I was borrowing for the trip. It was more spacious than we both had anticipated and we slept well. Back on the road in the morning, we headed to South Dakota. The Badlands were calling our name. I had been there the year prior, driving through with my family, but this time it was different. We camped at a remote campsite, 12 miles down a dirt road in Badlands National Park. The bison were visible and the coyote’s howls made us aware they were near. An early morning the next day and we were on the road again. We stopped at Wall Drug, and also stopped by Mount Rushmore.
It was friday afternoon and I was eager to reach camp. We made it to Colorado just in time for rush hour, and as soon as we made it through Denver it was smooth flying up the mountain. Hannah and I were greeted by our friend Bianca, and some of the year-round staff at camp. The camp director made a fabulous dinner on the grill and we enjoyed a quiet night in the mountains. The next morning we ate breakfast at The Happy Cooker, and what happened next was not anything that anyone had planned.
Thursday night, in the Badlands, Hannah and I were sitting on the ground, listening to some park rangers speak about how people used to hunt bison back in the day. Reaching up, I plucked a bug out of my hair. Now, having dreadlocs, I expect things to get caught in them, for bugs to mistake them for a home, so I flicked the bug aside and didn’t think anything of it. After all, we were sitting in the grass at a camp site in the middle of a park. Saturday morning, during breaking, reaching up and scratching my head, I plucked out yet another bug. Oddly enough, it was the same kind of bug I found two nights before!
Grossly enough, my friends got on the ‘ole google machine and found that, indeed, I had head lice. We were sitting in the car during the discovery. I had to get out. My stomach curled, my mouth started to water, and all of a sudden I could feel creepy crawly bugs making a home out of my head.
Now, a normal reaction would probably be to think, “Hmm, I need to get rid of these bugs.” My reaction? “I MIGHT HAVE TO SHAVE MY DREADS OFF.”
Seriously, that was my main concern. Multiple friends of mine had lice in the past, and they cleaned theirs up with no problem. After another google search about killing lice in a dread head, we ran to the corner store and bought two containers of rubbing alcohol. We went back to camp and drenched my head in the alcohol, leaving it sit for at least a half hour. Even though it was hard to not think about the bugs crawling around my scalp, we went about our day as planned. We drove down to Denver and met up with some friends, hung out in their courtyard, and celebrated in the Denver Pride festivities.
Sunday morning came around and I knew camp wasn’t going to allow me to be around campers. Head lice, after all, are very contagious through physical contact. It wasn’t until that night that I was told my fate. For ten days I had to stay off of camp. Apparently that is the incubation period for the baby lice eggs, and they needed to make sure I was not only free of bugs, but free of the nits as well. Feeling lost at that moment was an understatement. As everyone at camp got ready for bed, I drove aimlessly up the mountain. It was already getting dark, and the camp sites I passed looked hard to navigate without light. Turning around, I decided on turning the van into a bed once more.
I had a couple nights of figuring out where to sleep. Thankfully, I knew some people down in Denver who were semi-okay with my lice head keeping them company. Continually, I did treatments on my head. The nurses at camp soaked my head in canola oil to suffocate any bugs that were left. I lathered my head with vinegar as well. My dreads had never felt more…weird. With little hope of ever getting rid of them, I cried at the thought of being bald. Chopping off the last year of my life with one swift cut just to rid myself of these disgusting creatures living on my head, feeding off my blood. Needless to say, I was thoroughly grossed out.
After a few days of being a nomad, the camp director called me. He mentioned shaving my head, to which I kindly declined. Then he gave me an option I had already considered many times during my solo adventures up and down the mountain; drive home.
With a head full of bugs, eyes full of tears, and a stomach tied in knots, I called my mom to tell her the news. Camp offered to give me 200 dollars and send me on my way. They couldn’t risk an infestation, and I couldn’t afford to just hang around Colorado until these lice were gone. Without hesitation, my mom told me she would fly out to Denver and drive back home with me. That night was the only night I rented a hotel room. That night left me feeling stale.
It was now wednesday and officially my last day in those mountains. Managing to sneak my way into the back entrance of camp, I said goodbye to a few friends, closed the van doors, and went on my way.
All the suspense that led up to it, all of the excitement about camp slowly disappeared. My stay there was, to say the least, anticampmactic. After such an incredible experience last year at RMV camp, I genuinely looked forward to another summer spent there. My hopes for the summer were very high, and they still are, they’re just a tad different now. Instead of receiving a camper sunday morning, participating in all-camps throughout the week, and eating dinner in a dining hall, I sleep in sunday mornings as late as I want, I participate in whatever activities happen to come my way, and I eat dinner whenever my stomach starts to grumble.
Although I am so sad to not be at camp, I am thankful for the time that is now available for me to find a place to live next year, collect all of my shit, and hang out with people I was weary of leaving behind for a whole summer. So my summer didn’t turn out as planned. Now my summer can be filled with small adventures, close friends, and getting my life together (or at least attempting to…).