Going to Camp: Honoring Tomboy Spirit in the Later Years

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Don't mess with New Mexico's "Clump14"!

Don’t mess with New Mexico’s “Clump14”!

By Isabel Bearman Bucher

What has 140 feet, 46,800 sore muscles and is starving?


It’s 70 women at the YMCA Women’s Fitness Camp, in the Rockies. You go to lose a little weight, complain about the food, exercise and act out your tomboy roots, because way back when, girls didn’t go.

It all happened innocently enough–this camp thing. On a hike, as a new member of the Albuquerque senior fitness centers, I casually asked Viv, a volunteer activities leader and  retired UNM Exercise Physiology prof.,  if she’d  interested in going to a mid-August women’s fitness camp.  I’d been in years past, but life got in the way, as it does, so it had been a while.   Her split-second “Heck yeah!” arrived with a huge smile, and by the next day, 13 other women had ratified the deal.

“Says here, we gotta make up a skit,” reported Cindy, also a senior activities person, who reads fine print.  “And, we gotta pick nick names.”

So, emails to “Clump14,” were now addressed to Buggers, Pancho, Snake, Stretch, Cisco Kid, Zubbyhey, Turtle, Pearl, Boo, Jerce, Valley Girl, Mountain Woman and YoYo. Snake suggested that we make a “NM Gangnam” skit, and sent us web addresses to see YouTube videos, because nobody knew what Gangnam was.

Over the months, Clump14ers would run into each other on the ski slopes or hikes.

“So, were you a tomboy?” I’d ask casually.

“Yep,” came the answer from every one of them. “Through the babies, the work years. Always.”

“Had to hike. Just needed to be outdoors.”

“Grabbed a rope to swing from tree to tree like Tarzan,” came one, while pointing to the hairline scar. “Thwacked the trunk. Six stitches.”

“Hung upside down out of trees wearing a white dress,” I confided.  “Dirty underpants flashing.  Smoked old cigarette butts and stogies in my secret fort, chewing Fleer’s Bubble gum.”

“Beat up all the boys,” came the confession.

“Ran faster!” hooted another.

“Killed dolls. Put frogs in my baby buggy!”

There were other commonalities among us: astounding good health, risky personalities, a lifetime of sass, completely off-color and off-the-wall senses of humor and by some odd coincidence–espresso coffee. Basically, we were all having fun with life. Becoming senior citizens freed us to return to those happy-go-lucky days. We had achieved the wisdom of having lived enough life to embrace and celebrate each moment of every day.

Three days before camp…Gangnam style skit practice at Bugger’s? Total flop.

Camp Diary

Day One – 8-16-2013 – 6:A.M.

Five women in a car, seven hours, sharing life, stories, all in love with the outdoors, riding through the great San Luis Valley.  Talk ceases. Mountains rise left and right from the floor of the immense green landscape; the Everything turns eternal.  Five women celebrate as one.  We arrive, check in, get name badges, room assignments and step on the scale.  A few of us are cawing over their weight and body mass index. “Over 35;  obese.” Gasps result.

The room’s got four bunks, one double.  I draw the top.  By the 3AM potty trip, lowering 8 feet to the carpet glad for my upper body workouts,  makes me think of Cheetah, the Chimp of  old Tarzan movie fame.  I’d  read he died of kidney failure in 2011, at 80.  Good thing he wasn’t sleeping in the top bunk.

“Send cookies; fresh air stinks,” written on a bunk slat, becomes my nighttime read.

Day 2 – 8-17-2013 – 5:00 A.M.

Outside, settled and snuggled in my fleece, a deer grazes ten feet from me; a squirrel is eyeballing my steaming sweet espresso.   The great pines stand black against the orange and blue canvas of the coming sun. Camp wakes.  Two-by-two pals, walk to before breakfast Tai Chi, wake-up stretch, lap swim.  Comes later, choices of archery, tennis, riflery, mountain biking, fitball, hiking.

We all walk the half mile to and from our three daily meals in clumps, single, maybe jogging, over a flower-studded meadow surrounded by mountains.  Nobody would ever miss a meal.   In the spacious dining hall, ON ROLLER SKATES, the camp kids serve us breakfast – young, full of life, so much of their lives ahead.  The room is filled with the humming of WomenSpeak.  Heads nod, hands go over hands, eyes listen, intense–hugs wrap.  It’s what women are, have always been. It’s the comfort of the “women kin.”

Walking to mess hall

Walking to mess hall.

“We eat too much in America,” states Maureen, our esteemed camp director, because she understands the food uprising which will, and always does arrive at camp. “Food is carefully chosen, and fits all requirements for serving size, nutrition and activity.”

Eyes roll.

We begin the easy four miler to the Waterfall Trail.  After supper, Gangnam NM practice? Chaos.

Day 3 – 8-18-2013

Routine’s established.  Food mutiny surging to fever pitch.  Maureen gives the portion and nutrition speech again, adding “DRINK WATER DRINK!”.  Everybody is loading up on the extra fruit and veggies provided in huge stainless bowls, hoarding bananas.  Activities get discussed, massages get signed up for. Campers go off to chosen activities.  Gangnam NM. Practice? Better…Barely.

Day 4 – 8-19-2013

Isabel and Maureen, the camp director.

Isabel and Maureen, the camp director.

Hike. Cascade Falls. Trail opens into the immense meadow quilt of flowers. The creek is a translucent violet ribbon meandering through. Is that a moose?  A hawk soars, birds call. Rugged summits prick high against cornflower blue.  My tomboy yells! Be first! Legs become pistons; the breathing becomes rhythmic, sometimes halted undone by the perfect cameos of mountain beauty. Raspberries grow fat, a tasting diary written from the  mountain. “ISABEL!” Maureen cheers!  I’m with the front pack! “Made it,” I call back softly, way too big for my boots. We trek up a mile and stop at a huge pool. Jill strips down and wades in.  Maureen and I  find a rock, and do the ice water foot soak.  Later, propped against grandfather pines, we eat, quiet with ourselves, spooling memories.  Ten plus miles later, we’re down. Gangnam NM practice? We’re ready!

Day 5  8-20-2013

Breakfast. It had to come to this. Clump14 sneaks off to Grand Lake. At the Fat Cat Café, we order everything on the menu: eggs. sausage, ham, hash browns, pancakes, waffles, bagels, toast, English muffins, fresh orange juice, water, strong coffee.  An unnamed member of Clump14, drinks an entire little pitcher of pancake syrup. There’s an ovation. Customers stare. Every plate is clean. We sit back, sighing.  The trail calls–an easy five-miler with stunning views.

Skit night.  Nerves. We enter in black tights, white shirts, New Mexico yellow head bandanas. Gangnam music blasts. The room claps wildly, stomps the floor. Camp kids are wild! Senior citizens, rolling hips, shoulders, slapping thighs, lassoing horses. Gangnam NM style!  TOMBOYS REIGN!

New Mexico - Gangnam Style!

New Mexico – Gangnam Style!

Day 6 – 8-20-2013

It’s goodbye. We all collect in the meadow by the cars, wave, place hands over hearts. “Next year!” we shout.   Comes the echo…“Next year.”

Women’s Fitness Camp
Camp Chief Ouray
YMCA of the Rockies
P.O. Box 648
Granby, CO

Registrar Jeni Ellis @ 970-887-2152

Isabel Bearman Bucher, a recent widow, is beginning a new life, putting her boots on the trail to adventure, pointing due North, embraced by the great wildernesses that forever endure and her loved daughters and pals of the trail.

Last modified: November 7, 2013

7 Responses to :
Going to Camp: Honoring Tomboy Spirit in the Later Years

  1. Michal says:

    I love this! I never got to go to camp when i was a kid and figured i’d lost the chance when i turned 18 . . .. now at 40something, maybe there’s hope yet?

    1. Well, there’s contacts at the last of my story. YOU GO GIRL! People begin signing up in January. Best. Isabel

  2. Louella says:

    Thanks, Isabel! You certainly captured our spirit.

    1. Thanks Louella! NEXT YEAR GIRL!

      Love Buggers

  3. Kathleen Mecchi Clarke says:

    How do you sign up?

    1. Dear Kathleen,

      Look at the end of my story, there’s contact info there.
      Best, Isabel

    2. Hi – late but: Women’s YMCA Fitness Camp of the Rockies.

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