I received this email a couple weeks ago from a fan named Jamie Tulenko and I think it really does a nice job of explaining BBM Campout to someone who has never experienced it before. It covers the good and the bad but also covers another aspect of why this fanbase is so special. I hope you spend a couple minutes reading through this and then giving your Campout experience in the comments section:
The wait is over. I have the tickets in my possession. Lower arena, and thank goodness, because I lived in a tent for the past four nights to get them. No cot. No air mattress. Just the ground. I have showered once in the past five days. I have been spitting my toothpaste into a hole in the bushes at night. I have fought corn hole matches, ambulance sirens, shouts of profanity by intoxicated individuals, and even 3:00am “Wagon Wheel” sing-alongs to get even a semblance of satisfactory sleep. And all for what? These four little pieces of card stock, rubber banded together in my sunburnt hand. What lies before me at the end of my three minute walk away from the ticket window is a car, my chariot to take me back to civilization. Back to a bed. Back to a regular hygiene routine. Back to a world where I don’t have to hold a blanket over my head to block out the obnoxiousness that threatens my sleep. I have my tickets–the much coveted motivation for these four days of insanity–and I am headed home. What emotions might I experience in this moment? Relief? Joy? Excitement? All of which are expected and entirely appropriate. But instead what surfaces in that moment, taking me entirely by surprise, is the unmistakable wave of something that is best described in many words but can be reduced to one: sadness.
I am excited. Don’t get me wrong. In fact the anticipation for the the event itself becomes so real during that drive back to Louisville that I can hardly believe I have to wait an entire month before we get this season started. But in a moment when you would expect positive emotions to prevail, I can’t seem to shake this hint of despair. And with each increasing mile I add between myself and 201 Avenue of Champions, the feeling grows stronger. This feeling–this seemingly unexplainable sensation–is what serves as a reminder that while the forthcoming event will no doubt be spectacular, the event I just left behind can only be described as exceptionally special. Now when I say “special,” I do in fact mean special in every sense of the word. That includes first and foremost (and perhaps most prominently) the “special” that people use when any other term that comes to mind seems too insulting. Oh yes, there is a whole lot of that at the campout. And by “that” I mean there are a whole lot of “them.” Yeah, you know those people. Don’t pretend like you don’t. They are the ones who at times are so numerous that they make you wonder if there are in fact any other normal people in attendance with you. They are the ones whose behavior and decision making are often times utterly unexplainable. Without fail there are things I see at the campout that I wish I could unsee. But without those people and those moments, it wouldn’t be the campout. And so (I suppose) for that–and for them–I am thankful.
But then there’s the real special. The special that you can only experience as an insider. This is the special that, when left behind, has the power to evoke sadness when you least expect it. It is rooted in the ability to walk around Memorial Coliseum and point out every camping spot you’ve ever had. You can remember that time you had to be evacuated from your tent due to severe weather. Or that time you spied on Randall Cobb with your camera from across the road as he played cornhole with fans. Or even that time you tripped someone twice your size on your dash to snatch a camping spot (accidentally, of course…). You have the drink menu at the coffee shop next door memorized, you know where all the best phone charger locations are, and 60% of your sentences over the four day span start with, “Remember that year when…” You’ve learned the schedule of the week’s events so well that you know exactly when the players will hand out pizza, when and where Coach Cal will make his state-of-the-program address, and when the team is most likely to take to the courts for some friendly shoot-around action. In short, this week has become a part of you.
But the special doesn’t end there. It comes in so many other forms as well. It’s when you run into that married couple that you only ever see once a year–but every year–and you catch up on life and learn about their new grandchild. It’s when you’re people watching by the lodge, entertained by the children dribbling their tiny blue and white basketballs, and it occurs to you that you have literally watched that one little boy grow up as he has attended campout with his dad each year. It’s when one of the players spends two hours genuinely and joyfully interacting with fans late into the night–signing autographs, taking pictures, holding babies–and in return receives an ovation of gratitude when he finally completes his rounds and decides to turn in for the night.The campout is special because the people are special. They love their coach, they love their team, but most of all they love each other, and they love being a part of something bigger than themselves. And yes, they are crazy. There is absolutely no denying that. There are things they do that in any other context would be at best considered psychotic and at worst classified as illegal. But they do it all with the best of intentions, and they do it all because they care truly and deeply about a college basketball program whose tradition is built upon the very passion these fans so perfectly exhibit.
And so as I clutch my tickets and slowly walk past the empty space in the grass that for four days I called home–the space that I fought so hard to obtain–it is bittersweet. It is at that moment that I begin to have the slightest awareness of a far greater emptiness that will only increase in the hours to come. I am on the one hand most definitely anticipating the luxuries that come with the life of normalcy to which I will return, but I am on the other hand reluctant to let go of this experience–this “special”–that just happened. Because letting go means that it’s over, and it won’t be experienced quite like that ever again. In fact it won’t be experienced at all again for an entire year. But at the end of that year, those people will be back. The family will be reunited, and I can bask once again in the insanity that I have come to know and love, however crazy that may be.