This time of year gives me the biggest case of Wanderlust. Growing up, this was the month of camping, mostly with the church’s young women group, but also with family and friends, and when I was in college, by myself sometimes. There’s nothing like wearing yourself on a hike to somewhere beautiful, sitting still, and just enjoying it.

But that wasn’t how we camped in church camp. That was all about preparing for End Times. Short story: you want me on your Zombie Apocalypse Team. Long story, click the read more.


In my ward (parish) growing up, there weren’t many girls my age, less than ten on a good day. Four typically. There weren’t many boys, either (this is what happens when you grow up Mormon outside of Utah), but there were loads when it came to the boys’ camp outs. The LDS church has their own Boy Scout troops, my dad was a leader for a while, and man, they went on the best trips. Week-long trips with bare bones supplies, home for church on Sunday, then back out for another week. They went to the mountains, they went to other states, they had all sorts of money for neat activities.

The girls, not so much. We’d get a week about three hours away from Dallas to Lake O’ The Pines in East Texas, get rained on the whole time, get eaten up by bugs, never have enough clean clothes or high tech supplies, and it was my favorite thing ever. Some of my best memories as a teen are putting toothpaste on chigger bites and singing camp songs with my friends.

For the months leading up to our camp trip, we’d do certification for various skills; it was very Boy Scout-esque in manner. I have the badge to prove that I can start a fire four different ways, and can fashion three different types of ovens, for example. I had to be able to identify yadda yadda plants, answer how much water a person needs every day, how to clean water with supplies found in nature, had to demonstrate specific first aid knowledge, know how to make at least six formations in a campfire and demonstrate their individual needs, and my favorite: know how to tie knots.

I loved the year we got the former Den mother whose sons had all graduated. She was intense. We learned how to tie knots one-handed, because you never know!


Okay, that is after frying my brain in the garden all day Sunday and then cooling said embers with some serrano-infused tequila. And of course, that is NOT LDS regulation tequila in my hand. But it was delicious.

We camped in style… poor, finagled-from-scraps style. Our wash station was an upside down bleach jug (emptied), with a face painted on it, a golf tee stuck in its mouth, and ‘hair’ of pantyhose with bars of soap in each foot hanging down. Soap stayed clean, water conserved, whimsy enacted. For funsies we made Sterno stoves out of rolled up cardboard shoved into tuna cans, doused with the fuel, and stuck inside a big #10 can to fry eggs on.  All the fun of a tepid chafing dish, but in the woods!

We lashed together our camp table and chairs, (this was something special we older girls did), we slept in whatever tents we could scramble up from friends and neighbors, and all of our gear had to fit in a backpack and a pickle bucket. The pickle bucket was awesome, because it had a handle and doubled as a seat for outside your tent. Not only did we establish base camps, but we decorated those things. We were encouraged to make them homes away from homes. I mean, we were girls, right? Girls love that stuff!

It wasn’t just knife-throwing, plant IDing, and hiking: we were building practice lives in the wilderness for when the End Times came. I was constantly told, “What will you do when the Second Coming happens? You need to be prepared!” This was all said calmly and in a matter-of-fact tone. It wasn’t wild eyes and panic buttons, just a gentle smile of acceptance. It was going to happen, and I would need to know how to bug out and keep my family (because of course I would have a family) safe, happy, and holy.

“We’re in the last minute, girls. It’s the eleventh hour and fifty-nine minutes. The Lord wants us to prepare.” The whole concept was called “Preparedness.” The LDS church has a 212 page manual we all had for how to survive the collapse of civilization. Which, we were constantly reminded, was eminent.

My all-time favorite activity had nothing to do with survival and making a nest for my expected-to-have family. It was canoeing. Oh, I can stop a canoe on a dime and make you nine cents change. We had races where we’d row out pretty far in the lake (there were alligator gar in the water, so you really didn’t want to get out past the shore) and stand up on the back seat. You’d use your oar for balance (and for jousting), and bounce up and down until the canoe started thumping along the water back towards the shore.

Building your quadriceps is an important part of End Times training. (Rule #1: Cardio.)

It would be close to 100F and 80-90% humidity, and there was no complaining allowed. We were dirty, tired, not able to blow dry or style our hair (and this was the ’80s, and girls ALWAYS styled their hair), and it should have been miserable. I freaking loved it. I mean, we practiced throwing tomahawks, for crying out loud. Yeah. I can throw a tomahawk with accuracy, test me, bros.

Earlier this year, one of my friends who is still Mormon tried to convince me to be a youth leader and lie about not being Mormon anymore so I could help her at Girl’s Camp. She hated camping, didn’t know how to do anything, and knew how much I loved it.

That was a hard one to turn down. But I did, because I remembered that every minute we weren’t lashing, throwing, building, hiking or cooking, we were praying and testifying, buoying ourselves up that we were going to make wonderful Apocalypse Homesteads for our husbands.

Fuck that. I wanted to throw the knives and rappel to freedom, not make up fourteen tin foil pork dinners and apple brown betty for the menfolk.

I did act as a youth leader in my late teens/early 20s, though. Oh, how I loved it. I got to show prissy girls how awesome it was to let your leg hair grow for a week, how to make banana boats (banana – slice lengthwise, leave in peel. Stuff cut with chocolate chips and marshmallows, wrap in foil and put next to fire embers), how to start a fire with steel wool and a battery, and most importantly, how to stay calm and kill* a cottonmouth while inside you are FREAKING OUT.

*I actually had to kill a cottonmouth while leading younger girls on a hike. How am I single? #WifeSkillsLifeSkills

I don’t want to hear from animal lovers that it was wrong to kill one of these. 1) They literally drop down from trees, ready to bite. 2) They’re venomous. (Poisonous = you bite it and you get sick. Venomous = it bites you and you get sick.) 3) They are five feet long and as thick as your arm. I was leading some girls on a hike along the lake when I came up short. A cottonmouth (also called water moccasin) was coiled, ready to strike right in front of me as some 12-year-old girls bumped into me. I reached back for my trench shovel (a regulation tool we were to carry in case of outdoor poops) and quick as lightning (in my head) caught it behind the head, decapitating it.

The girls were shrieking at this point, so I turned it into a fun lesson of “Here’s how you skin a snake!” (Slice off the ah-noose, (anus) grab the skin, yoink, slice up the ah-noose to where you can grab the GI tract with your fingers and gut it in one steady pull.) And then, how to eat it: wrap it around a stick and cook it over the flames like a hot dog. Mmm, tastes like chicken!

It was one of my more badass moments. (Seriously. I’m single. It’s…possible I don’t understand what men are interested in.)

Yeah, I need to hit the open world here, soon. But you know, somewhere with fewer snakes. And less “Zombie Jesus,” too. He never sounded too fun to hang with. Too many meetings and committees. And girls cleaning up while the men had all the fun.

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