by Wagner the Impaler
I just returned from 5 days at Summer Games with my wife and we found the experience unbelievably outstanding. I am writing this overview to decompress from Summer Games and avoid the intense con drop from this event.
It should be noted that although I have written some criticisms of Summer Games in this document, I absolutely loved the experience. Summer Games 2019, for me, was magical and I would describe it as one of the best weekends of my adult life.
What is Barfleet?
Barfleet is a social organization that is really a LARP on the theme of "Starfleet exists and we throw the parties in Ten Forward". Barfleet exists to throw parties that enhance the fan run con experience.
One of the really interesting things about Barfleet is that you can’t just join Barfleet – membership is only by sponsorship. A member of a certain rank has to vouch for you and basically say “this person isn’t toxic” and be willing to take responsibility for your actions. This level of accountability makes everyone feel comfortable and free. For example:
- If you drink too much then someone will take care of you
- If something triggers you then someone will talk it out
And since Barfleet is a non profit organization, it needs to hold an annual meeting and why not hold it at a camping trip?
What is Summer Games?
At its heart Summer Games is just a camping trip – for adults – although I would more describe it as:
- a 5 day experience in lightweight communal living
- a giant party with 175 of your closest friends
- a safe, consent-based environment where fleet is your family and will take care of you
- an inclusive environment right down to people knowing your dietary restrictions and making sure that your medical needs and religious beliefs are respected (I helped with breakfast and watched this first hand)
- a place where you can not only use an authentic Japanese Katana to battle frisbees (DiscHack) but also find a martial artist who would offer to restore your Katana to pristine condition
DiscHack pointed out to me the difference between Barfleet and the real world. After playing DiscHack, someone walked up to me, the member DeadPool, and first asked to see my sword and then offered to restore it. Blink. When do you find people this talented and random in the real world? Disclaimer - I took the gold in DiscHack where my fleet name was spontaneously amended from Wagner to Wagner the Impaler.
At Summer Games you are likely to encounter alcohol, sex, nudity and more all in a consent-driven, safe environment. This is not your grandparents camping trip.
Give Back Don't Take
One of the very different aspects of Summer Games is that it truly is communal living. This runs counter to all of our normal cultural programming. Here are some examples:
- Food is very often shared (I brought 180 jello shots to give out; someone else gave me a homemade apple pie and fresh plum jam; thank you anonymous wonderful person),
- If you need help - just ask; someone will have salt, pepper, a beer, whatever
- If you have help to give - give it (for people without a wagon, I moved a ton of totes)
- One of the best parts of Summer Games, if not the best, is the communal living. Planning your time as an exercise in communal living is smart as hell. Example - if you are bringing a camp stove, another person in your camp doesn't need one, right?
- Fire can be a shared resource; I kept the campfire alive part of the last night because I knew someone would want to use it and that's how I got great, great S'mores
Your Fleet Name
Throughout this document you will see references to people but not their actual name. Instead you will find “fleet names”. Examples are Shiny, Nymph, Wagner, etc. The reason for this is that Barfleet is an environment where the personal wheels sometimes come off and having an abstraction layer (the fleet name) between yourself and the real world can be useful.
Planning Your Summer Games Adventure
When you have kids, getting out of town without them is a huge, huge deal – child care had to be arranged, food had to be prepped, etc. Our planning process was the single worst mistake I made. I had my list of tasks and my wife had her own list of tasks. Because there was no single view, we each had a different perspective on what needed to be done and that led to conflict. Remember – there can be only one list!
Finally when you plan for Summer Games, you really may want to take a day off on the return side of the trip. Summer Games is fairly intense and all the happy people with jobs that I know are taking it easy today. Me? I’m a noob and I’m at my day job – grumble, grumble, grumble.
One of the more perplexing aspects of Barfleet for a noob are the constant calls for “Hail Hydrate”. This means nothing more than “it’s time to drink some water”. This is simply valid advice whenever you are outside in the hot sun and it is particularly valid when you are playing games all day in summer heat. And while there is always water available at Barfleet events, a good idea is either a Camelbak or portable water container. Remember there’s no dehydration in Barfleet (apologies to the Nymph).
This is Glamping Not Camping
I grew up camping and I thought Summer Games was camping – no. Summer Games is glamping (Glamour Camping). When your context for camping is minimizing weight, it is hard to adapt your brain to camping with electricity (kudos to Ignitable Shot Therapy for running a functional electrical grid; thanks!), air mattresses, ready access to a Walmart and tents big enough to park a motorcycle in. And yes there is one attendee who sleeps in an authentic yurt.
The underlying inverted camping assumption driving glamping is that weight doesn't matter but volume does (since glamping uses cars for travel to the camping location and wagons for travel within the camp site). A car can only hold so much volume but even a prius can haul a crap ton of weight.
This is Tote Based Camping
The best way I found to wrap my head around the model of Summer Games is by thinking of it as "Tote Based Camping". Totes are plastic storage containers that all your gear goes in. You get your totes to your campsite with a camping wagon. I found that you could effectively get by with the following categories of totes:
- Clothing (one tote for all clothing and bathroom stuff for each 2 people in your campsite; most of your clothing will actually go unused)
- Kitchen Gear / Camping Gear.
- Misc / Entertainment.
- Booze. This is Barfleet! It should be noted that there is a full bar at SummerGames. I chose to bring alcohol so that it could be in our campsite but this actually wasn’t needed.
Your Camping Wagon
You need a folding camping wagon or a folding camping hand truck. This needs to be big enough to move one or more totes and you need bungee cords on it so that when the wagon falls over you don't dump your wife's (or boyfriend's) clothes in the dirt. My second biggest Summer Games mistake was not realizing the need for a wagon and thankfully my Shiny wife saved me by purchasing one.
Pro Tip: Wagons can be enhanced and customized. Creativity is important.
Tote 1 - Clothing
Here's what you need at a minimum for each person in the clothing tote (assuming you are staying for the full 5 days, Thursday to Monday; adjust based on days on the ground):
- 10 pairs of underwear (you get wet and muddy)
- 10 pairs of socks if you wear such things; I don't
- 4 pairs of shorts
- 5 t shirts
- 2 jackets
- Shoes (see below)
- 1 pair of jeans or pants
- Pajama Pants / Sweats because at times it can be cold
- Dresses / Skirts / Kilts for the evening dance party as per your preference
Tote 2 - Kitchen Gear / Camping Gear
This is the heaviest of the totes. I'm a pretty serious cook so my needs are likely stronger than yours. Here's what goes in ours:
- Propane Torch for fire starting even in the damn rain
- Extra tarps if you have them
- Paper Coffee Cups
- Red Solo Cups
- Classic Boy Scout Mess Kit
- Small Propane Stove
- Trash Bags - you need these for daily use and for hauling out dirty clothes / stuff at the end. You need at least one for each day.
- Citronella Candles
- Plastic Knives and Forks and Spoons
- Paper Towels
- AeroPress Coffee Maker
- Extra pocket knives for giving to someone; I lost my first one before I left the house when another car in our caravan was missing one
- Toilet paper in case the bathrooms run out; just a roll or two for personal use
- Paper Plates
- Kitchen Tongs
- Plunge Whisk
- Cooking Skewers
- Long Matches
- Canola Oil cooking spray both pump and aerosol (for a flamethrower in case the zombies attack)
- Thick Leather gloves for pulling things off hot fires
- Flashlight - Camping Lantern (a lantern is a flashlight with a handle and a base). It stands up on its own and can be hung as well.
- Flashlight - Head Lamp
- Flashlight - Small, personal, pocketable
- Flashlight - Large enough to blind a zombie
- Duct Tape
- Double A and Triple A batteries (LED lights last so much longer than older styles that this may be personal paranoia)
- Kitchen Knives
- Frying Pan
- Tin Foil
- Pot Holder
- Measuring spoons
- Kitchen shears
- Light Sticks
- Butane lighter stick
- Rope for an ad hoc popup / tent level sun shield to reduce the damn heat
Pro Tip: The best trick I came up with for this tote was that I could upgrade my old crappy kitchen gear to Summer Games stuff by moving it to the camping gear tote and giving my wife nice new kitchen gear. This may actually be cheating…
Tote 3 - Food
Bring food for the requisite number of days. Food is very dietary specific so it's hard to describe. For example my wife has Celiac so our food issues are quite different from yours. You can put all the non perishable food in a single tote. Here are the baseline items that will always be in our food tote:
- Granola Bars - 3 boxes - for quick energy
- English Breakfast Tea
- Tortillas, Corn and Flour
- Summer Sausage
- Canned beans - because camping and eating beans just feels authentic; I favor Bush's Southern Style White Beans but your preference obviously
- Tuna, 2 cans
- An onion or two
- Crushed Red Pepper
- Jalapenos because spicy
- Graham Crackers
- Chocolate Bars, fully sealed
Funny Games Moment: Chocolate bars melt in summer heat and ours actually did. Then, in a true fleet moment, the phrase Chocolate Bukkake was immediately coined by Ignitable Shot Therapy. A joke was made that we could find someone in camp with this fetish and and then they spoke up …
Sidebar: Ultimate S'mores
On the last night around the campfire, Adorable Cannon Fodder shared outstandingly excellent S'Mores with me, honestly the best I’ve ever eaten. Thank you! Here is her recipe:
- Chocolate Graham Crackers
- Square Marshmallows
- Double Stuff Oreos
- Hershey's Bar
She also had the coolest wagon of all complete with hand sanitizer dispenser.
Tote 4 - Misc / Entertainment.
- Power strip and 20’ Extension Cord – if you get an electric tent.
- USB Batteries for phone charging
- USB Laser lights for tent coolness; a single USB battery can drive these for multiple nights
- Two editions of Flux card game, Firefly and Drinking
- FoxTail LED edition for night time catch
- Wireties assortment
- Popup Trash Can
- Extra Sunglasses
- Nespresso Machine / Milk Steamer (Coffee is Life). Again if you get an electric tent.
Tote 5 - Booze
This can be beer, wine, spirits, mixers, bar tools, etc. This varies for every person.
For food you also need to have a cooler to hold the cold stuff. There are two included meals at Summer Games (Friday dinner; taco night and Sunday breakfast; pancakes, eggs, bacon, goetta). You need a cooler to hold whatever other perishable items you want to eat. This varies per person but here are the essentials that HAVE to be in our cooler:
- Sea Salt Caramel Milk for Coffee; this is the coffee creamer of the gods; available from Kroger
- Half and Half; this is the coffee creamer for mere mortals
- Smoked Salmon
- Hard Boiled Eggs
- Eggs cracked into a tupperware and beaten for scrambling
A camp site is basically a small bit of land where you live for N days while you try and enjoy yourself. Given that you may be rained on, invite friend over to your campsite, etc, the big things actually matter. Again since this is glamping not camping, weight doesn’t matter but volume does. For example, our tent was heavy as hell but it had 3 rooms which meant we had a lot of space when it rained.
Do I Tent?
Even though Summer Games is a camping trip and tents are kind of a thing, you do not have to stay in a tent, there are cabins and bunk houses. These accommodate people with medical needs like CPAP machines, people without tents / equipment and people who just want to sleep in a real bed.
A tent needs to be big enough that if you were stuck inside it for N days of rain you would truthfully still be able to say "that was fun". This varies per person.
A camping table is a simple plastic table, sometimes folding, sometimes not that gives a decent workspace in camp. Unlike the Boy Scout camping I grew up with where you never had a place to work, a camping table solves this.
Folding camping chairs make it happy to sit down and talk with people. You should have least the number of chairs as you have people on your trip plus a few.
You need a heat source that you can cluster around because cooking over wood or charcoal is fun. We wanted a fire pit but my wife found the Char Griller Table Top Charcoal Grill and everyone was very impressed by it. Even Ignitable Shot Therapy, Summer Games Fire Demigod, thought it was a great idea.
A popup is just that, a popup canopy which goes over your camping table and chairs to shield you from the rain. There will be times when you are sitting under your popup while water runs underneath you and are still having a damn great time.
Note: The best trick I saw at Summer Games was the person who pitched a pop up over their tent. That one trick likely trimmed 10 degrees from the heat in their tent.
Vital - Your Pocket Knife
Ever since 9/11 I no longer carry a pocket knife everywhere I go but going camping one time pointed out to me just how important a pocket knife can be. I used mine constantly. Your choice will vary best on preference. I used a Smith and Wesson Special Tactical and it worked brilliantly.
There were a few disconcerting aspects to Summer Games, specifically:
- Connectivity. We use AT&T and there was next to no signal. I was personally glad to be disconnected but we had a kid crisis on the way to Summer Games and having to drive to the Walmart to talk to your kid, well, sucks. This is apparently fixable if you use T-Mobile as a provider since that one provider works at Summer Games. Perhaps a mobile hotspot linked to T-Mobile would work.
- Bathrooms. Oy.
Useful Advice for the Noob
Here are a series of bullet points that address different things where I had specific issues. Some of these are repeats from above and the fact that they are repeated indicates their importance.
- Totes - Get these totes from Menards. They have the advantage of being easily made raccoon proof. There is a stripper raccoon named Cinnamon that roams the campsite.
- Trash - Your trash needs to go up every single night. You cannot leave food around.
- Bathrooms - The water will go on and off every single day. This is not a big deal and it will be fine. The port-a-potties on site are not as scary as you think they will be.
- Car Bag - Pack a car bag with emergency clothing for when you get soaked. Make CERTAIN to leave this bag in the car or when your tent gets flooded you will lose your last dry clothes. My wife used the car bag to find a clean shirt on the way home when her clothing was uncomfortable.
- Tent - Whatever you do get a tent with a functional door such as the Coleman Tenaya. You will go in and out of your tent a huge number of times and a door is a dramatic improvement in quality of life. Trust me.
- Air Mattress. You need a decent air mattress. You want one with a built in inflater which has Never Flat technology or you will end up adding air in the middle of the night while cursing life, the universe and your choices. It should be noted that this option only works if you have an electric campsite or if you have a UPS plugged into your air mattress.
- Zip Up. Keep your tent zipped at all times or get used to bugs going in and out. I had a spider run over my face on the last night. Disconcerting to say the least.
- Tent Pull. Attach a lighted pull to your tent zipper. Thanks to NerdOn for this tip using a glow in the dark LED "ice cube".
- Stake down your tent. A tent with an external frame is largely self supporting so you may not choose to stake it down. This can lead to issues with your tent floating away. [These are the best tent stakes I've ever used](https://www.walmart.com/ip/Universal-Camping-Steel-Tent-Stakes-Heavy-Duty-Replacement-Pegs/890381996). Thank you Han Solo Cup for loaning them to me when I needed them!
- Shoes. You will need more shoes than you think. Camping is absolutely miserable when you don't have decent footwear.
- Label your crap. Lots and lots of things look identical; it makes it easier when you know that say this green chair is really yours.
- Your Damn Car. If you get really hot and you need a place to sleep or make love, well, go to your car with your sleeping bag and teenager it
- Your Car Keys. Attach your car keys to your belt with a carabiner and keep them in a known place other than that. Losing your car keys means you can't go home and that's a big deal. I never lose anything and I lost stuff at Summer Games.
- Cheap Wedding Ring. My wife and I went to Amazon for cheap wedding rings (think $10 for titanium) instead of wearing our good stuff.
- Cheap Watch. You lose track of time camping and a cheap watch helps keep you connected to the real.
There are other documents on Summer Games on Facebook that you should read, specifically packing lists. I read them but still wrote this one because I didn’t feel that the packing lists gave me a feel for the “Zen of Summer Games”; the packing lists had the how but not the why.
Recovering from Summer Games
Among people who go to science fiction cons, there is the phrase Con Drop:
Con Drop is a physiological reaction that often has emotional or psychological symptoms. Essentially, it's the endorphins and other happy chemicals your body has been spewing out the last 3-5 days drying up. It's the crash after the high. Con Drop generally happens two to four days after the end of the convention. Source
And I would add that Summer Games isn’t a normal con – it is an event dialed up to 11 in every damn way. This makes the con drop even worse. So just as you feel wonderful during Summer Games, I can assure you that you will feel pretty damn bad afterwards – I know because I am living it right damn now. Here are some suggestions:
- Take the day off from work after Summer Games. I didn’t do that and I profoundly regret it.
- Aggressively practice self care – if you like movies then watch movies; if you like to read comics then get out a run and devour it; if you like ice cream, buy the gallon container.
- Sleep as much as possible. This has been the biggest issue for me. I went from sleeping two to three hours a night at Summer Games to sleeping … three to four hours a night at home.
- Eat well if you can. At Summer Games you aren’t really eating a balanced meal. Better nutrition is helpful. The one exception to this is that I’ve found that sugar helps.
- Help someone else. I’ve always found that when times are bad, helping someone out makes them better. Honestly that’s why I wrote this document – it got me past the worst of the con drop. So find a friend suffering from this and get together with them; feed them dinner, etc.
And you know what? Summer Games was absolutely, unquestionably worth it.
This document was reviewed and edited by Shiny, Nymph, Dr. Shake N Bake, Uisge T'Ango Foxtrot and D’zzy L’zzy. Thank you for turning these somewhat incoherent scribblings into actual prose.
Posted In: #barfleet