Written by our founder, Meghan Gardner
When I was young, I had an interesting relationship with Fear. Living on a horse farm out in the country, a child had to be rather creative to find entertainment. During the spring season, there would be occasional rain storms where the wind was so strong, it would whip the rain sideways. I remember sitting in the school classroom, watching the wind beat against the window in waves, my right leg beating out a rhythm of excitement and hands clasped tightly in front of me, counting the seconds until the end-of-school bell rang. It seemed to take forever to get home as I kept watching out the windows of the bus. The rain became lighter but I was fervently hoping the wind would stay strong.
When I finally made it home, I raced into the house, threw down my backpack, and didn’t even pause as I headed out the rear door towards the woods in back of the house. The rain stung my face and eyes, making it difficult to see as I took the familiar path deep into the woods and out to a small clearing. My heart raced to see my target: A good sized stand of birch trees. It was time to ride the storm.
Even though I was relatively tall for my age, I was quite skinny. This made a good combination for birch tree riding. I found the perfect tree – thick enough to support my weight, but thin and pliable so that the wind would whip it around with ease.
I shimmied up the long trunk, past the point of stability and kept going. I kept climbing until my weight caused the tree to bend over, the wind catching my body like a flag and whipping it around. I would wrap my arms and legs about the tree and hold on with all my might, my eyes blinded by the rain, as I screamed in delight at the intensity of the chaos and the barrage of uncontrolled sensations.
One time, in between the bursts of wind and the sound of the rain smacking against the leaves, I heard a different noise. I looked about as my tree swayed, waiting for the next burst of power, and there on the branches of the tree right next to me was a flock of chickadees. They were flitting about, scolding me with their deep “dee-dee-dee”, probably wondering what this crazy human could be doing out in the middle of a storm where only chickadees venture to play. I laughed at the site of my fellow daredevils and from then on, considered them to be a sort of kindred spirit.
As a young girl in the 1970 and 80s, I was a minority in my fascination with fast cars and racing motorcycles, rock climbing, scuba diving, spelunking (crawling through bat filled caves with nothing more than a headlamp), and many other activities that were considered risky.
I remember a time when I did something particularly challenging and returned to the group with a huge grin on my face. A woman in the group looked at me and said “She’s fearless”. I turned to her and said “No. I was terrified. I just like the feeling of fear.” I think that’s when I finally understood that the only difference between me and the people who stepped back from the sensation was how I interpreted the feeling of fear. They wanted it to stop. I wanted to ride it like a wild horse and feel it course through my blood as it set my soul on fire.
Once I became a parent, my thirst for fear mellowed quite a bit. Although, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted to create an environment for kids where they could face their fear – but perhaps something that was more of a psychological challenge than an act which was almost a guaranteed trip to the emergency room (I’ve broken more than a dozen bones and had three time as may stitches).
This is why our summer camp adventures offer “leveled” encounters that are denoted by a “Time of Day” label. A “Morning Encounter is where the lights are on, there are minimal sound effects, and the monsters barely move. The Afternoon Encounter has darkness with plenty of spotlights and diffused lighting. There are monsters that are moving about and require team effort to defeat. The sound effects can be unnerving and the environment can be scary.
Then there is our Midnight Module. In this encounter, the lighting is almost absent or intended to create harsh shadows. There may be fog machines making visibility even more limited. The sound effects can be harsh or so constant that they drown out the sound of an approaching monster. And the monsters… let’s just say you will rarely see them until they are right on top of you. It’s like a haunted house, only our monsters actually can attack you. Yes, it’s all still foam swords, NERF blasters, and safety commands; but in the moment, your mind is still alive with dread and foreboding.
The intention of a Midnight Module is to allow you to feel that burst of adrenaline and face your fear while trying to stay on task and reach your objective. Every participant who comes out of a Midnight Module has a story to tell and a sense of accomplishment. But not everyone is ready to take on such an extreme environment – which is why we created the Morning and Afternoon versions… so that a hero has time to space to grow into the experience.
Facing your fear and persevering provides you with a foundation of confidence. And that confidence stays with you – even when you face real fears that are made of more than foam swords and there are no safety commands. It changes the relationship you have with your fear. It gives you more options. Yes, you can walk away. You can also stand your ground. Or you can grab ahold and ride the storm.
With this in mind, we are presenting a “Midnight” version of our Sword Night this May which will be a Friday night adventure for ages 13 and up – and we are encouraging parents to attend with their children (we are even offer our “sibling discount” for parents). There will be a limit on the number of participants, so if you are interested, please fill out the form below and we will be in touch as we firm up the details.