Surviving the Mud Slide at Summer Camp

When I was ten-years-old, I wanted to go to summer camp.

I did eventually find a wonderful camp called 4-H camp where kids are given real beds in real cabins with connecting bathrooms, provided with three meals a day, and encouraged to do typical healthy camp things like swim in a pool, canoe, shoot a bow and arrow, and learn the Cha-Cha-Slide.

Before I discovered 4-H, though, one of my friends suggested I go to this OTHER camp with her. This is a series about this OTHER camp. I hated this camp so much for many reasons including…

The Mud Slide.

One of the most infamous and I do mean INFAMOUS icons of this camp is the Mud Slide. It’s a steep hill with a hand carved dug-out that empties into a pool of, well, mud.

The camp boasts that campers will: Delight in the slippery ooze of mud between your toes after a ride down the mud slide.”

…followed so quickly by this disclaimer,

“The Mud Slide is a classic camp activity that has been a popular fixture at Camp for over 50 years. For your ride down the Mud Slide, you’ll want to pack shoes, shorts, and a shirt to wear that you can toss afterwards. The mud (and the somewhat unpleasant smell of the mud) will never come out, no matter how many times you run your clothes through laundry.”

I am NOT making that up – I just copy and pasted it verbatim from the camp web site.

I had heard tale of this mud slide. I think I understood that it was supposed to be some kind of thrilling right-of-passage experience. I was not interested. I couldn’t imagine enjoying it.

The night before I was set to explore the mud slide was probably my least favorite night of camp for several reasons:

  1. It was my cabin’s turn to clean the bathrooms. During the process, I found my shower towel which had gone missing. It was bunched in the corner of the bathroom floor. It was caked in dirt and gross gross gross, so I just left it there and decided my chlorene-drenched pool towel could double as my bath towel for the last two days of camp.
  2. I was STARVING. I was used to my mom cooking healthy meals with lots of salad and vegetables. I couldn’t handle the camp food. I thought it was disgusting. And the spoons tasted like soap. Just like our chore was to clean the bathrooms, it was another cabin’s chore to wash the dishes. I still shudder when I remember how that soapy, metal spoon tasted against my tongue. Needless to say, I hadn’t been eating much.

So, I was starving, and I smelled like chlorine. I remember this combination made me feel a little woozy during our nightly sermon. I remember watching a skit about a bad child falling asleep at church. The skit concluded with our counselor teaching us that the only way to go to Heaven is to ask Jesus to come into our hearts before we die.

I remember laying in my sad little cot that night. While my fellow campers asked Jesus to come into their hearts, I prayed that I wouldn’t have to go down the mudslide in the morning.

In the morning, we went to breakfast.

I usually ate breakfast, but on the morning of the mud slide, we were served under-cooked scrambled eggs. My counselor lifted the spatula of eggs onto her plate and the watery egg mixture drained through the slats. I put some egg on my plate, but the smell made me sick to my stomach. I didn’t eat breakfast. My counselor told me I should eat because we were having our charity event – an Empty Bowls Dinner that evening – so I would only have a cup of rice. It didn’t matter to me. I just couldn’t stomach more than a spoonful of the eggs. I was completed grossed out by the water eggs and slimey forks that also tasted like soap.

The day I was forced down the mud slide was also the day that I thought I may keel over from starvation.

All morning I anticipated the mud slide and thought of ways to get out of it. Maybe I could say I was sick? Maybe I could say I was homesick again?

I tried to be courageous. I stood in line, reluctantly. I watched the brave kids plunge down the “slide” swishing and sloshing into a deep, smelly puddle of mud and leaves. I watched a fellow camper scream in pain because the mud had splashed into their eye. I winced as I watched them to try clean their face with muddy fingers.

I shook my head when it was almost my turn, and I told my counselor I would not do it.

She asked if I would do it if she did, too, and I still said no.

Then, she encouraged all of the campers to cheer for me from the bottom of the hill. This is the second time she did this, and I was not amused. The first time was when we completed the ropes course and I was afraid of the tight rope. I was the last one to cross, and it took me forever because I was shaking and afraid, but I did it anyway because she had everyone cheer, “YOU CAN DO IT!” obnoxiously.

Fine.

Eventually, when everyone else was covered in mud from head to toe and screaming, “YOU CAN DO IT!” from the bottom of the hill, I reluctantly gave into peer pressure and sat in the nasty butt-shaped dirt at the beginning of the slide.

I pushed off and closed my eyes.

I probably should have kept my eyes open so I could lean with the turns, but I did not want to end up with mud in my eye like the other kid. The edges of the slide crashed into my hips. I knew I would have bruises. A tree root scraped my leg. I thought for sure I was going to be infected.

My “splash” in the puddle was an unpleasant abrupt stop. I squeezed my eyes and mouth closed as tightly as possible, and felt the loose grimey pieces of leaves and hair brush against my arms and legs. I stood up immediately. Some kids liked to splash around and celebrate, but I didn’t care to sit in that swirling pool of grimey goo any longer than I had to.

While standing, I could feel the hard pieces of dried dirt slide down my legs. Everyone cheered and all I could think about was a shower and how my soggy chlorine towel was still wet from the pool.

I HATED it, but I did it. I was officially a camper. And I was ready to go home.

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