Friday, April 19, 2013

What to expect when you're expecting... to go to Pennsic.

My first Pennsic was Pennsic 29... August 2000. We had thought about going the year before, but decided that having the money to move into our new apartment was more important. :) We picked up a Coleman tent, Suzy madly sewed garb, and we prepared to go. We were travelling with Bob, along with our (at the time) protege brother Earnan. Bob had a large van, so we piled all our gear in, and left in the middle of the night heading south. It's about an 8 hour trip, and we were planning on arriving about breakfast time on I believe Friday of first week. It was hard to stay awake on the trip down... none of us had slept, and we had to keep poking each other awake. The rumble strip woke us a couple of times... but finally, we arrived.
Our first notion we were getting close was the smell of wood smoke coming in the van windows. Right after that, we saw it... the expanse of Pennsic stretching out before us. My first impression was of a refugee camp meeting Camelot... the mix of modern and canvas tents, the vehicles... it was amazing. Coming down Currie Road, and pulling up to the gate for the first time... the excitement was amazing. My heart was racing, and I had such a great feeling, that I was actually there! I still get that feeling, every year walking up to the tent to get my Pennsic medallion. 

What To Expect

Extreme Weather

The first night we ever spent at Pennsic was below 40*F. We started a list that year on the way home of all the things we wished we had brought - and more blankets and flannel pjs were at the top of the list. Now we use wool garb, but the idea of having warm, snuggly clothing to throw on for a chilly morning to stumble out of your tent in search of coffee or the nearest portajohn still holds true.

The first or second year we went, there were people with blisters the size of cookies on their shoulders and bright red, lobster skin. The UV index was off the charts during the daytime, and it was hard to make sure you had enough SPF on. Large-brimmed hats, veils, and other ways to shield your face and neck from the beating sun are popular at Pennsic for a reason. Bring high-SPF sunblock, other ways to shade yourself, and if you can’t remember the last time you applied sunblock... do it again. Also remember that you can sunburn through clothing.

We had a few years we couldn’t go to Pennsic because life intervened, so we missed two years of “Mud-sic” as some called it. We heard incredible stories of campsites flooded out and using scuba gear to find missing items. While we didn’t witness that level of flooding, hardly a year goes by that some of the residential side streets aren’t closed to traffic due to feet-deep mud-ruts. What will you do for footwear if everything turns to muck? Do you have one set of dry clean clothing stashed in the car just-in-case? How will you dry your clothing if it rains constantly? While there are years we haven’t used the rope & clothespins we pack, we’ve never regretted bringing them. Our campsite has trees to string a clothesline up, and our tent is tall enough to hang things inside - you might not have trees or a big tent. There are also laundry machines & dryers on site, but they fill up fast - there are other laundromats within driving distance, so it’s worthwhile to get directions in advance.

Rudimentary Bathroom Facilities 

Another thing that made our “wish we had” list quickly after our first Pennsic - a piss pot! You will need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, in the most miserable weather possible, without fail. It is a wonderful thing to know that there’s a terrible downpour right outside your door and you don’t have to go out into it. It works for us because we don’t share a tent with anyone else, and our tent is big enough that we’re never in danger of knocking it over when it’s full. I’m sure some men use soda bottles with great effectiveness - but who wants to bring a clear bottle to the portajohn in the morning to dump out? Yuck. Our pisspot works well because it’s the right capacity, has a nice sturdy lid, and it looks like just another piece of pottery. Best Pennsic purchase ever.

Despite having a pisspot, using the portajohn in the dark may still be necessary. It’s convenient to have a good clip-on flashlight so you have your hands free and can check to make sure the john is not covered in drunk vomit before you use it (which rarely happens in our neighborhood, but certainly can happen). It is *very* considerate to have a red filter on your flashlight so you don’t blind anyone else on your way - red light helps you retain your night vision. It is also handy to have those warm snuggly clothes that are easy to throw on, and shoes that are both easy to put on and are sturdy enough to protect your feet and ankles while you’re tripping over tent stakes and into sump holes in the dark - ask us about friends with twisted ankles....
Also expect to be fascinated by flush toilets at the end of two weeks... “Oh look... it swirls!!!”

Lots of Walking 

We’re in the best physical condition of the year right before, during, and after we come home from Pennsic. We’ve realized that we enjoy our time there more if we have the physical stamina to be able to have a fun-filled day and have a little energy left over to walk to visit friends, etc. at night. There is a *lot* of walking at Pennsic, sometimes uphill both ways. One end of Pennsic to the other is in the neighborhood of a mile and a half (as the drunk walks), and walking from our camp into “Pennsic Town” is about half a mile.

Even if you do a lot of walking at home, it’s probably on sidewalks and other even ground. Most of Pennsic is dirt roads, and when the roads dry out after a big storm they can leave big ruts to navigate around. Pennsic does have a (free!) bus that runs at intervals, but most of the time it’s faster to walk than wait for the bus. There are also disability services for those who have need of it.

Impact on Physical Health 
“Pennsic Plague” may sound funny, but it’s no joke. Who wants to spend their vacation in bed, sick? If you haven’t already thought about how to keep your body clean and your kitchen prep sanitary, now’s the time to start thinking about it. Pennsic provides similar challenges to other camping situations with no bathroom or kitchen facilities and limited running water access; the major difference is the number of people you’re coming into contact with in a condensed area (over 10,000) and how sweaty and dirty you & your campmates get while heavy fighting, etc. There are lots of resources on the web to help you plan, but here are some basic ideas to get you started:
1) handwashing station - this can be as simple as a bowl, jug of water, and bar of soap (portajohns only have hand sanitizer, the nearest sink is a long walk away)
2) if you’re cooking in camp, you must have a way to boil water to wash dishes - many people use paper products instead of regular dishes, but you still need to sanitize the cooking utensils and gear
3) drinking water storage - you should purchase drinking water and have it accessible at all times (there is limited access to running water), and think about ways to carry water with you as you walk around Pennsic
4) first aid kit - How will you keep a cut or wound clean and sanitary under camping conditions? There is access to medical services on site, but you really don’t want to trek down there every time you need a band-aid.
5) sex - You may think that you can go [fill in the blank] amount of time without a shower, but no. You’re wrong, for so many reasons. Safe sex means more than just using condoms - it also means thinking in advance about how to keep your body physically clean and hygienic with limited shower facilities available.

Possible Financial Stress

Pennsic has the best and most merchants available at any SCA event we’ve been to. The temptation (especially your first year) will be to BUY ALL THE THINGS. THEY ARE ALL SO SHINY AND I MUST HAVE THEM. No. Do yourself a favor and 1) set a budget for spending money before you go to Pennsic, and 2) make a list of things you’re looking for. Set your budget and stick to it so you have enough money to get home, and be prepared to break down/ have the unexpected happen.
When planning what you’re going to buy at Pennsic, prioritize things that are either only available there, and/or are better bought in person... need to be tried on, looked over, etc.

You will stand around waiting for battles to start. You will stand around waiting outside A&S tents for the previous class to finish. Waiting is practically a sport at Pennsic. Prepare to wait... have water and sunscreen with you, and maybe some snacks. This won’t just help you... it may make you some new friends. :)

Things To Think About 
  • How are you getting there? Driving, carpool, caravan? If you are taking the bus or plane, arrangements will have to be made to get to the site, and your gear may have to be sent separately. 

  • Will you be camping with a group, or single? Many shires, baronies, households and kingdoms have their own group encampments. If it’s your first time, these may be an option. It will give you a support structure, and folks to help guide you at your first Pennsic. However on the flip side... you do not have to camp with one of these groups. Make sure you are camping with people you can coexist with. You are NOT required to camp with your local group... you can camp with whomever will have you. Talk to different groups... ask how their camps are run, what fees and chores may be involved. 

  • What will you be planning for camp gear? Are you going to try and do 100% period camping, say screw it and go modern, or somewhere in between. I can not recommend canvas tentage enough... it will stay cooler in the sun, warmer in the cold, and just downright looks better. However... it is not required. If you have a tent already, you don’t have to buy a new one just to go to Pennsic. 

  • Will you be fighting? If so, you need to have an authorization before Pennsic. We do not do them at Pennsic, and no authorization card, no fighting. Some melee specific practice is also a good idea... being tossed into a crowd of 100+ fighters is an experience all its own. :) 

  • What are you eating? If you are with a group, they may have a meal plan you can buy in to. If they don’t, they may have communal kitchen facilities. If they don’t, you will either need to bring your own, or plan to eat at the food court for every meal. This is possible, but is also an added expense to figure in. Pennsic Produce, a source for fresh fruits, vegetables, and more has been a welcome addition in recent years to the food merchants. 

  • What are you wearing? Pennsic is between one and two weeks, depending on when you decide to go down. One set of clothing may have been fine for that weekend camping event you went to, but it ain’t gonna cut it for a week, much less two. You may not smell yourself, but everyone else will. You need to plan on having enough clothing to last... there are laundry facilities onsite, though cramped, and there are some offsite. Make more garb, and plan on doing laundry at some point. 

  • What are you doing? Seriously... there are hundreds of classes, dozens of battles and tournaments, more merchants than you’ll find at any other event, and parties every night. Figure out what you want to do, then start paring down... most people plan too many things, and don’t leave space for things that pop up spontaneously. You will find a last minute class you want to attend, meet someone who wants you to go to a party, or get invited to a dinner. With too much stuff planned, you will end up stressed and frustrated. With NO plan, you’ll be lost. 

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