I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
July 27, 2022
I never went to camp as a kid and I’ve always regretted it. I wanted in on the kind of lifelong friendships that are born from sweaty summers spent singing ‘On Top of Spaghetti” around a campfire, splashing around in a muddy lake, and checking each other for ticks. As a sort of consolation prize for my inner child, I sent my son to camp for a few summers instead. When I went to pick him up after his first session, he eagerly ran to me for a hug, but for the first time in his life, his allegiance was clearly torn. After hugging me fiercely, he looked back at his new friends, tears welled in his eyes, and he quickly hid his face in embarrassment and confusion, wiping his cheeks with grubby hands. I pretended not to notice, but inwardly, my heart swelled in the way it does when you’re able to give your child something you never had, and it goes even better than you’d hoped. I had thought that moment was the closest I’d ever get to the camp experience.
I was wrong.
Hidden away on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau is a tiny Victorian-era village called Rugby, where a woman named Kara Kemp has created her own summer camp — one for adults. I visit Rugby fairly often and had seen pictures of the camp on social media. They depicted a merry band of grown ups doing things like hiking in the woods, swimming in the Clear Fork River, doing yoga, and drinking cocktails. Although the activities looked interesting, what really drew me in was that everyone seemed to be laughing and not taking themselves too seriously. I love doing things that take me out of my comfort zone, but only if I’m doing them with people who can giggle their way through the discomfort. These campers, I could tell, were my people.
A few years ago, I would have gazed longingly at these camp photos and done nothing — but one of my resolutions for this year was to strengthen old friendships and build new ones. Summer camp, I decided, was a big, brave way to make good on that goal. I texted a high school friend and invited her to come with me and she immediately accepted.
I was really excited about camp, but also nervous. Thanks to Covid, I haven’t been getting out as much and my people-meeting skills felt a little rusty. And so the worries invaded my brain… What if the other campers didn’t like me? What if they thought I was boring or annoying? What if they had no interest in getting to know a suburban mom with teenagers? Could I blame them? And what if my high school friend had changed since I’d last seen her? Would we still have anything in common? By the time I arrived in Rugby, I was a little bit wrecked, certain I’d hyped the experience in my mind to the point that the real thing could never live up to my hopes and expectations.
I shouldn’t have worried so much. I shouldn’t have worried at all. Kara Kemp’s Adult Summer Camp was… Well, see for yourself.
Imagine a group of about 50 people, mostly Gen Xers, who’ve gathered to share their dreams and ideas, enjoy nature, reflect on their lives, and just plain old have fun. That was camp. From the very first night, it was clear that I could leave boring cocktail party me behind and just be my real self in a supportive and safe environment. I felt this way not because someone made a grand proclamation that this was how it was going to be, but because everyone I met was immediately open and honest and real — so it felt appropriate to respond in the same way.
The activities peppered throughout the two days of camp kept this vibe going. There were yoga sessions, journaling, origami, theatre games, dance, poetry, and more — Participation was optional, but most campers went to as many of the sessions as they could manage, and they were a great way to get to know everyone.
Each session challenged me to be open, but in a fun and non-threatening way. As I’d anticipated, there was a lot of laughter, which definitely made things easier. I love this particular picture of the theatre games session, because the woman I’m smiling at ended up becoming a friend, one I think I’ll have for a long time to come.
On our first afternoon, we all hiked to the Gentleman’s Swimming Hole — It’s one of my absolute favorite hiking trails in Tennessee and it ends at a spot on the Clear Fork River that’s the oldest continuously-used swimming hole in the country. I’ve swum here before, but never with floats and pool noodles and ‘adult Capri Suns.’ This was definitely a highlight of the weekend.
9 to 5 was the group pick for movie night. Did it withstand the test of time? Not really. But the crowd was enthusiastic — and that made it fun.
Irish Road Bowling is a summertime tradition in Rugby, and I finally got a chance to participate. I didn’t do so well. In fact, I didn’t do well at all. I bombed my first try and then I missed all my other turns because I was too busy talking and honestly, I suspect I might be banned from future matches. We won’t talk about it.
The hike to the waterfall at Colditz Cove was another major highlight. Not only was the walk beautiful, but the trail actually takes you beneath the falls!
You’d better believe when I saw my Oprah moment, I TOOK IT.
A Victorian picnic was scheduled for the last night of camp, complete with music and poetry readings. It was cut short by rain, but the evening was saved with an impromptu late night party at Hester Hall that was weird and funny and very fun. I’d try to explain it, but I think you just had to be there.
And that was camp. Simple, short, and straightforward — yet I came home changed.
For one thing, I made lots of new friends that I connected with on a deeper level than I normally would have, so the friendships feel more real and more lasting, somehow. But something else happened at camp… I remembered what it was like to be in a community where people are warm and friendly and interested in getting to know each other. My own neighborhood used to be that way, but as Nashville has grown, things have slowly changed. The friendly smiles and nods and waves that used to be a big part of my daily life have all but disappeared as longtime residents have moved out and people from across the country have taken their places — people who frown or quickly look away when they come across someone they don’t know. I hate to say it, but over time, I’ve taken some of that on. Camp made me remember how good it felt when strangers used to look me in the eye and smile or introduce themselves. I decided to do my best to bring that back with me to Nashville. My smiles and ‘hellos’ are only returned about half the time, but dammit, someone out there needs to see a friendly face as much as I did in Rugby, so I’m sticking with it.
Camp just might end up being my favorite thing I do this year.