As the BBN prepares for three days of Madness surrounding Memorial Coliseum, I’d like to look back at my first, and only attempt to conquer Campout. It was 2013, the 40-0 talks had already begun, but more importantly, I saw a side of the fan base I had never seen before. I spin a mean yarn, attempting to emulate the late-great Hunter S. Thompson. It actually kind of worked – over the summer, this essay helped me win the first scholarship from The Gonzo Foundation, a non-profit headed by Thompson’s widow, Anita. So if you like a wild and crazy tale, this is the story for you.
As you will see, even without the torrential downpours, Big Blue Madness Campout is not for the faint of heart.
A bag of spicy Jack Link’s jerky, a sleeping pad, a stick of deodorant, a lawn chair, an assortment of bourbon bottles and a tent; at 3:30 in the morning my quest for conquering the Big Blue Madness Campout began. After a knee-jerk decision the night before, it was time to make the mess outside of Memorial Coliseum my home for the next three nights. Nothing in my short 22 years could have prepared me for this unforgettable journey.
Wednesday October 2nd, 3:55 AM
Struggling to stay awake, a tree shaded my eyes from the brightly burning temporary structures across the street from the Coliseum. The line spectators had formed over the past 12 hours made no sense to me at the time, and I found comfort in the cool grass.
I had not 5 minutes of additional rest before the crowd began to stir- awakening from a year long slumber that was further exacerbated after an unsuccessful NIT season. Their restlessness could not be tamed. At 4:00 AM the masses began flocking to the tiny patches of grass on both sides of the Coliseum. There was no time to think during the confusing chaos (there was little ability to think at that hour regardless), only time to push your way through the crowd to find the spray-painted lines on the turf. Bodies hit other bodies, bodies hit the curb, and bodies didn’t show any sign of slowing down until the curses from Big Brother (UKPD and UKAthletics staff) pushed the crowd back to where they were supposed to be: on the other side of the street.
The 4:00 AM false alarm was followed by the most childish treatment of adults ever witnessed- but rightfully so. However you cannot be too surprised that Kentucky fans ignored the signs that stated a start time of 5:00 am, after all The US Census Bureau reported in 2000 346,000 of Kentucky adults were illiterate. Entertained by the way things had started, I did not mind standing behind a yellow rope held by Big Brother that moved a few steps closer every 15 minutes, but I did mind the cigarette smoke coming from the cool cat near the front. Upon further examination of the crowd, I realized that my groggy mind couldn’t classify this crowd at all. The variety of people young and old, short and tall, fat and skinny, couldn’t be generalized other than the sweeping notion that every person standing in the middle of the road before the crack of dawn was an insane Kentucky basketball fan.
While we children remained in timeout behind the yellow rope a strategy was formed. Partnering up with some Campout vets, Crossfit Mike was to use his broad shoulders to create a running lane through the crowd while carrying the large canvas tent. With my smaller tent, my goal was to follow the lead blocker, while making space for my tent-mate Schmitty to bring in the bulky contraption that would hold up the larger tent. The goal was to be as close to the white (ish) brick of the Coliseum as possible.
Developing a strategy was a great way to occupy time that seemingly stood still. The slow move finally reached its apex at 4:45 when toes reached the street curb (but not actually on the curb, or your feet would be SQUASHED by Big Brother). Megaphones announced instructions that no one paid attention to as the seconds inched closer to the free-for-all. Suddenly the yellow rope was down and all hell broke loose. Following Crossfit Mike, he darted through the crowd carrying the canvas like a football. Anyone in between our path was thrown off their course, with a few people hitting the ground after cross(fit)ing Mike’s path. An empty space was spotted and I quickly had to find my own spot nearby. In between the largest tree and the sidewalk I found a small patch of dirt lined with spray paint. I staked claim to my new home, declaring an early victory on the journey to conquering the Big Blue Madness Campout.
Not everyone could succeed. The curb that Big Brother had restricted caused a spill or two or ten. The screech of women cursing captured Drew Franklin’s cell phone was commonplace. Campers attempted to steal other people’s places, going as far as pitching their tent on top of another. While people had their differences sorted out by Big Brother (sorted out means they got moved to the back of the line) I smugly grinned and waltzed to a friends house nearby for some much needed quality sleep on a stained sofa.
Wednesday October 2nd, 5:00 PM
With school and work matters sorted out (a.k.a procrastination) it was finally time to kick back and enjoy the sights and scenes of a setting that is rarely seen on God’s green Earth. The seemingly unending construction on campus kept many campers from catching up on sleep during the sunlight. While every camper was clearly exhausted, it didn’t prevent them from enjoying themselves, mostly through some friendly and highly competitive games of cornhole. Small talk didn’t last long before Schmitty and I were ready to take on the big dogs in cornhole.
The largest conglomerate on the west side of the Coliseum was an intimidating one. Big boys from Eastern Kentucky had country music blaring into the wee hours of the night; accompanied by an old dead snake adorning the group’s headquarters, a city slicker may have hesitated to enter their cornhole universe. Good thing I’m not your average city slicker. My first opponent proved to be my cornhole enemy of the week. Jerry from Letcher County wasn’t a physically commanding fellow but the man in his 60s was a dominating personality. Treading carefully, not wanting to awaken the quiet beast, Schmitty and I slowly showed them that we weren’t going to mess around. However, my friend Mr. Beam quickly decided that my quiet corn-hole demeanor would be short-lived and trash talking began to spill from mouth faster than a foaming Irish Car Bomb. Apparently Ole Jerry had been around the block a time or two. The trash talking sent Jerry into a frenzy, completely destroying me (even in roshambo) at any opportunity for the remainder of the campout.
Luckily, the attention paid to my rather humbling defeat was quickly diverted when a high ninja kick swept across the curb onto Lexington Avenue. The smooth delivery drew attention from any and everyone in the nearby crowd. Eager to find out who this small man with big moves was, I approached the mystery ninja with caution, unsure if my actions would provoke a violent reaction from the apparent ghost-faced killa. Adorned with a bright red “Git R Done” hat and a holey UK polo signed by Twany Beckham, the ninja I learned to be named Scooter was anxious to speak with fans. After approaching Scooter, I quickly had trouble comprehending anything he was saying, as though he were speaking in strange tongues. The dialogue between us was more of a monologue, involving the ninja Scooter’s past accolades.
Scooter was obviously full of two different kinds of shit, but I couldn’t hide my curiosity. The greatest “story” of his legend occurred during the reign of Billy ‘Clyde’ Gillespie. The ninja Scooter had similar interests with the main man in Kentucky, primarily their shared affection for the drink. While witnessing the destruction of the Wildcats at the hands of the #1 Volunteers, Scooter’s skills were tested by a howling resident of Rocky Top. Attempting to foil the ninja’s plan of attack, Scooter was clawed and bitten in the bar fight before Big Brother intervened. While it’s easy to believe that this guy could get himself into trouble at a bar, the next part of the story is where things just got silly. According to the ninja Scooter, his skills were too much to contain, unleashing his abilities on not one, not two, but ten police officers. Any normal person would have been destined for years of doom inside penitentiary walls, however Scooter’s powers were once again too difficult to contain. With ten men in the hospital nursing their wounds from Scooter, the police feared for their own too much to keep the savvy Scooter behind bars.
Even though his story held no merit, I ensured that I would never get myself into a similar situation with the deadly dynamo, befriending an unlikely character before winding down in my dingy tent.
Thursday October 3rd, 7:30 PM
As twilight drew near, my stomach yearned for sustenance outside of my bourbon/jerky diet. Similar to a loner stranded in the desert searching for food, I peeled myself from orange lawn chair and dragged myself down the sidewalk of the Avenue of Champions. A large crowd had gathered in front of Memorial Coliseum, but my stomach prevented my brain from inquiring. Though barely able to keep my heavy eyes open, I was approached by a tall gangly figure with a box in his hand. Was this one of the ninja Scooter’s minions, set to carry out a devious plan to oust me with a hidden weapon in the box, or was it a mirage? A quick smack to the face and I was able to focus: the pride of Madisonville, Jon Hood stood before me, presenting me a slice of Papa John’s pepperoni pizza. Proclaiming him as a savior, I embraced Hood with a hug before quickly devouring the pizza and scaring the shit out of the Kentucky basketball player.
After finally satisfying my stomach with a coat of greas, I made my way back to the campsite to regroup before continuing the shenanigan-filled adventure. After spending some time cutting up, we hiked the small slope to the Blue Courts for the greatest show during the campout. The Harrisons’ strokes and the fantastic leaps by Lee were attention-grabbing… until I saw her. John Michael Montgomery’s lyrics rang through my head when I laid eyes onto her, “She’s got ruby red lips, blond hair, blue eyes”, and just like that, I bid my heart goodbye.
Struggling to understand if this beautiful blonde was as real as Jon Hood, or simply another mind-trick, I approached the saucy lass as the show wound down. The fantastic Felicia’s looks could only be outdone by her voice: a sweet mountain accent that was more entrancing and mysterious than Daisy Buchanan’s of The Great Gatsby. Whether it was her presence, or the Mason jar talking for me, I stammered immediately:
“How…hey, um, how’re you doing there missy?” Really, missy? I scolded myself inside my head, for almost too long, before she replied,
“Not as good as you, but ain’t it worth a try?”
I must be REALLY damn good looking or something, because there’s no other reason any normal person would respond positively to my open remarks. I couldn’t believe it, but Miss Felicia was actually considering spending a night on the ground (rather than on the town) with Mr. Roush.
With little experience outside of her small home of Floyd County, Felicia was enthralled by the smooth talk from an experienced college kid. The non-funny jokes I persisently hear crickets from, churned out beautiful soft laughs that made my insides melt. The night was slowly starting to turn into a “perfect” night, a classification for only the best nights one could have during an eventful four (or five) year stint in undergrad. The laughs were loud, the weather was ideal, and the guitar strummed a few rows down, turning a 12 year old Nick Roush’s dream into reality.
Before I knew it, I had crushed my own dream. A nearby camper caught my attention when he exclaimed, “Hey! It’s Emmet Smith!” Without even considering the fact that Smith probably hates Kentucky after attending Florida, my love for the Cowboys overpowered my affections for the fabulous Felicia, and I immediately searched for the Hall of Famer. In the midst of my interrogation of Mr. Smith (Where’s your gold jacket? and Can I have an autograph?) I lost sight of my beloved beauty from Floyd County. Alcohol can make and break your night, and it wouldn’t be the first or last time during the campout. Now the only souvenir from my mountain beauty lies on a dirty t-shirt, an autograph from Hall of Famer Emmet Smith simply reading as “Gary”.
Friday October 4th, 6:30 PM
After cursing my head all morning for my dumb decision, I found solace at 2:00 PM when ticket voucher cards were distributed, signaling that my long journey was coming to a close, and 4 tickets to Big Blue Madness would soon be in my hands. Camaraderie amongst campers was higher than ever before, sharing laughs and predicting the future of our great team with “C-A-T-S CATS CATS CATS” ringing in the background throughout the day. All that was left was the proverbial cherry on top.
After destroying my prospects with the phenomenal Felicia from the night before, my friends were eager to get me back on the map. Coolhand Joe (not Paul Newman’s Luke) set me up with a date for a fraternity themed ‘Woodstock’ party that evening. Considering Matt Norlander’s Bonaroo comparison to the campout, I found it appropriate to end my journey with a full transformation into a #BBN hippie. After a shower and a trip to the Goodwill, the scene was set for a phenomenal night. All I had to do was make my way back to my old sleeping pad for one more night before receiving the ultimate reward at 7:00 am.
Saturday October 5th, 8:24 am
Naked and concussed in my bed with puke scattered on my floor, it took me 2 seconds before I started screaming “SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!!!! SHIT! SHIT! SHIT! DAMN IT! SHIT!” Throwing on whatever I could find, I sprinted out the door and raced to the campsite only to find my tent mangled and alone on the deserted lawn next to Memorial Coliseum. I lost years of my life during those 4 days and I had nothing to show for it.
My friend Mr. Beam had turned into my enemy. After finishing off a bottle the mind went blank. Apparently Mr. Beam took me to my home near campus. When he sat me down on the couch, he knocked my head against the countertop. After taking me upstairs, he was so stubborn that he wouldn’t let me wake up even when a friend tried to wake me after sliding through my nasty floor.
For added effect, listen to at least the opening of ‘Southern Trance’, ironically performed at Bonaroo by the phenomenal band Moon Taxi.
An adventure isn’t always what you expect. You might encounter danger, fall in love, or simply lose your freaking mind. What keeps us sane during the everyday adventure we call life, is by enjoying the time you have with the people you love. While we may often put this happiness in jeopardy, there’s never enough time to grow and learn from your mistakes. Self-inflicted or not, there’s one thing that I will always take with me from my first #BBM campout…I do not belong inside Rupp Arena during Big Blue Madness.