725 season tickets. That’s it. Somehow, at Campout, over the next 36 hours we are going to determine who gets those Duke Men’s Basketball tickets. Campout is kind of like a simple game, really … part will, part skill, part luck. And, like any game, it’s supposed to be fun.

October 1

6:40 pm — Mandatory Attendance

I arrived at the designated Campout area (the parking lots near the entrance to the Wallace Wade Football Stadium) at 6:40 pm on October 1, just in time for early check-in. The temperature was about 70°F as an early autumn sun went down behind the still-green leaves of Durham’s trees.

Students and trailers at CampoutWhile a Friday evening for Fuquans normally entails some rest and relaxation (and free food at Fuqua Friday!) I knew this sunset would be a harbinger of anything but the typical weekend. Throughout the weekend, new meanings to terms like “all-nighter” and “happy camper” will be learned by the 1,800 graduate students attending Campout.

Perhaps the most important term we would relearn is “mandatory attendance.” As I stood in the “Ab-Bak” line for initial check-in at the main tent (that we would all become very accustomed to over the next 36 hours) I wondered just how many times I would have to race down to this tent upon hearing some sort of siren or horn and get back in this very same line. I had heard varying accounts from second-year students about the check-in protocol: “They’re gonna call you 36 times … watch out for 3 check-ins back-to-back … you should be able to relax between 3-6 am because they hardly ever issue check-ins then …” I got the drift. Be ready for anything, except for some particular window, maybe. All part of the fun, right?

7:15 pm — Speed Dating

We all convened at the check-in tent and were asked to sit down to hear the logistics of the weekend.

Students at CampoutAs expected, we would have to check in at the main tent with our Student ID in our assigned line every time we were called, which could be at any time during the next 36 hours. After a reasonable amount of time following a given check-in, they would issue a “one-minute warning” for those not yet in their respective lines. We would be allowed to miss only one check-in for the duration of Campout to still remain eligible for the lottery on Sunday morning, but besides that, the rules of the game were few and straightforward. It was time to kick this Campout off in style.

And what better way to kick off this game than with another game? Every year on the first night of Campout there is a “Speed Dating” session undertaken by those brave graduate students who are perhaps looking to leave Campout with something a little more valuable than basketball tickets (I know, good luck right). 75 women, 75 men, all assigned numbers (on Post-It Notes), eight lightning-fast dates per student, 5-to-10 minutes each … and if all went well, some real numbers would be exchanged at the end of a successful date. To me the idea of cramming unpredictable excitement into a time window and relying on luck to determine your success seemed bit familiar for some reason,  but with virtually all my early-game bravado still in store, I thought hey, why not.

The men were supposed to find their dates among the women standing off to the side of the main check-in tent.  I wasn’t surprised to be matched up with two women I already knew from Fuqua, but my seventh date was nowhere to be found (I know, getting stood up for a fake date). My misery loved the company of an equally miffed first-year student at the Law School who was amused that she’d been stood up twice already. So we broke the rules and chatted it up, and when the time for the eighth and final date came around, and both our assigned students were still rather engaged in prior, not-so-speedy dates, we extended our own to a whopping 15 minutes. While we weren’t on each others’ lists and wouldn’t get “official” credit for our number exchange, we had fun laughing at how seriously some of our colleagues seemed to approach the Speed Dating exercise.

10 pm — Getting Settled

The real seriousness was yet to come, of course. I had joined a large group of about 65 first-year students, and we had 4 large RVs at our disposal. Around 10 pm, after setting up and settling in, we were still wondering when the first check-in would be, and whether we’d hear it in our relatively remote corner of the upper parking lot. This didn’t stop us from unpacking our speakers and getting our own party started, ready to enjoy a beautiful night that was imaginably young by the standards of what she doubtless held in store for us. In this regard, Campout started like any other weekend’s festivities, albeit outdoors. A quick scan of the rest of the upper parking lot confirmed that our group wasn’t the only one with this idea—the dozens of RVs and U-Hauls rented by Fuquans and other Duke graduate students were hubs for their own unique bashes. Portable grills, widescreen TVs, and full-blown sound systems decorated our makeshift campgrounds. One second-year setup went all out with bales of hay stacked around their U-Haul, possibly to compensate for the impressive but rather uncamplike electronic setup complete with a 50” LCD TV, four mammoth speakers and, yes, a microwave.

It seemed that whatever these all-nighters were going to have in store for us, we were ready to be tested.

The “official” music was provided courtesy of LASA, the Duke Latin American Student Association, and INDUS, the South Asian Business Club. We all had our choice between Latin music and Punjabi (Bhangra), and I was enjoying going back and forth between the two makeshift dance floors and taking in the different cultures before I noticed a few people scurrying away from LASA a little more excitedly than I would have expected. Before I could ask a friend why everyone was going back over to Punjabi, we finally heard the very faint blare of megahorns—the music had drowned out any chance of us hearing it on our own!

11:48 pm — First Check-In

Not knowing how long the megahorns had been wailing or how long we had until they closed off the line, I sprinted across the parking lot, weaving through RVs and people. It’s funny what the prospect of “mandatory attendance” will do to get you moving. I evidently made it down to the tent and to my line in time.

This would be the longest check-in we would have, as we would all be adorned with irremovable orange bracelets with our respective numbers to expedite the process for the duration of Campout. Once we were done, I returned to my group’s RV area and we resumed our regularly scheduled activities, though a little bit wary of when the next sirens would sound or whether we would even hear it this time. Turns out we wouldn’t have to worry about that much longer, as I was approached by a police officer not 5 minutes after we’d continued our own all-nighter.

“Sir, we’re going to need you to turn off your music. It’s far too loud and some residents are complaining.”

Not wanting to hinder my chances of earning basketball tickets or my MBA so soon in the game, I gladly obliged. I suppose it was a lot like typical university parties after all—music’s too loud and you get shut down by the cops. Some all-nighter this was going to be … we were barely past midnight and already our plans were being shaped by authority figures with bullhorns. If we wanted to stay happy campers, we were going to have to entertain ourselves some other way.

I refrained from drinking any alcohol, not because I don’t drink, but to remember the details of these 36 hours. As the temperature had fallen to a cool 53°F, I had to employ a sweatshirt to keep me warm, unlike a few of my more spirited friends. And everywhere I looked, I watched my fellow eager, would-be Cameron Crazies partaking in rousing games of Flip Cup, Beirut, Beer Pong (which are all different, by the way) and various other games. The games went on and on, good cheer and good beer alike flowing easily throughout the campgrounds, until a much more discernable siren than the last brought us back to our adult sensibilities.

October 2

1:42 am — Second Check-In

This check-in was in line with a more typical “last call” for most of us, but though these lines went much faster, we hoped there would be some lenience for us this night. I returned to our RV area, and after a few games of Cornhole, I felt I could chance a nap, whose duration would be wholly dependent upon the next check-in, whenever that would come…

6:42 am — Siren Call

Not a dream, but real sirens, woke me up for check-in #3. I knew that my typical rabbit ears would be more of a blessing than a curse for the next day or so. Alerting a few of my fellow campers of the check-in, I jogged (with well-rested grace and alertness, of course) toward my line:

Campout check-inKind of a blur, huh? I don’t remember too much more besides checking in and checking out with the rest of my tired campmates:

Campout crowdSoon, it was back to bed for me, and everyone else seemed to have the same idea.

8:48 am — Fourth Check-In

Our sweet dreams were cut short by sirens again. This check-in was a little more manageable given our internal clocks. Most of us stayed up after this one—some of us cleaned our areas, some of us commiserated with one another, and yours truly chanced a little Financial Accounting case reading with the little burst of morning energy I had, and was promptly both lauded and ridiculed by my fellow campers.

9:52 am — Double Duty

The cool morning eventually gave way to a very, very beautiful Saturday afternoon, no hint of the rain we’d had early in the week, and the two check-ins we had at 9:52 and 10:36 am felt routine and reasonable.

1 pm — Shower Time

After a nice lull, complete with some lazy football throwing and a little Ryder Cup enjoyment on a second-year’s widescreen, I got a little confident around 1 pm and trotted over to the Wilson Center to clean up, and returned at 1:15 pm without incident.

1:29 pm — Triple Threat

As the megahorns blared our seventh check-in at 1:29 pm, I reconsidered my assumption. I would soon find out how timely my brief sojourn was, as the sirens would sound again at 1:46 pm. And 2 pm. And 2:16 pm. Like most people, I was sure that they wouldn’t call us three times in a row, and almost positive they wouldn’t four times in a row, but boy I was wrong. I’m glad I didn’t leave after the second siren, like a few of my groupmates did … they weren’t very happy campers upon learning they’d been eliminated from Campout.

3:30 pm — Nap Time

After enjoying some more football, both televised and with my still eligible campmates, I figured I could chance a real nap around 3:30 pm, mainly in preparation for what had to be a much more taxing all-nighter later on. Now I’m not a fan of Katy Perry, but as her “Teenage Dream” droned through our speakers, its lyrics and feel seemed to fit right in with this extended tailgate us grad students were enjoying. As I settled into one of our RVs, it seemed like a fitting lullaby…

3:52 pm — Check-In Again

… authority called at 3:52pm, with its reality of “mandatory attendance” and my nap was short-lived.

After that check-in, I partook in some Foursquare with a few students from the Law school, then came back up to our RVs just in time to catch a massive Flip Cup race between the Duke Medical School Physician’s Assistants and my own Fuqua first-years, 20 students a side. After a relatively even start, the rest of the race was … all business.

4:30 pm — Hitting a Dozen

The 4:30 pm check-in made it a dozen for us happy campers, and we spent the rest of the afternoon without a care for midterms and mock interviews.

6:45 pm — Missed One

Dinner was around 6:45 pm, and was followed by a 7:02 check-in, and after a few minutes of vacillation the daredevil in me decided to risk a shower in the Wilson Center. No way they’d have another check-in so soon, or more than one in case I was wrong and had to use my freebie.

7:45 pm — Surprise Visitors!

I returned to campus at 7:45 pm, evidently just in time … not for a check-in, but for a surprise visit from Coach Krzyzewski and the Duke Men’s Basketball team!

Basketball team at CampoutAfter a video montage of their champion season and some sage words of advice, we were left to our own devices for the evening. This night proved to be a bit warmer, both in temperature and in temperament from law officials—they let us play our music all night long. LASA and INDUS were back in full force, and there was no shortage of sound to keep us all moving deep into the night, sound from both the speakers and the sirens that would test our will for a few more hours still.

10:10 pm — Check-In Flurry

The calls at 10:10 pm, 10:59 pm and 11:39 pm felt frequent, but not as frequent as the second flurry of calls that took place between 1:33 and 2:33 am (1:33am, 1:58am, 2:11am, 2:33am for those playing along at home). At this stage in the game, it seemed that nobody wanted to lose because of a … traveling violation, and we were all determined to play this out to the end. Even the exhausted among us would be roused again if we had to be.

October 3

2:33 am — Catching Some Z’s

And if you came up late from that 2:33 am check-in and told me that you overheard one of the checkers telling the others they could get some sleep because they weren’t planning on having another check-in for a few hours, I might believe you even more. I took that opportunity to stretch out in my RV and grab some relatively worry-free sleep…

6:15 am — “Final” Check-In

… before being woken up by a 21-gun salute of a 21st siren at exactly 6:15 am.

Campout studentsIt wasn’t technically a check-in, as we were informed that we had to clean up our respective camp areas—leaving behind nothing larger than the size of a quarter—before the final check-in siren would sound. Though our group managed to clean our area in about 20 minutes, we were all told via megaphone that the wooded areas also needed to be cleaned up, which likely was the main reason our real final check in was delayed.

8:13 am — Final Results

When that time came, we all waited intently to see just how well we had played this game.

We were told that this year’s Campout had the largest attrition rate of any Campout in recent history. The 1,789 campers who had registered at 7 pm two days prior were now only represented by around 1,250 campers, which loosely translated to about 60% odds of winning one of the 725 season tickets to Duke Men’s basketball. As I went through my “Ab-Bak” line one final time, and greeted my checker—with whom I’d struck up a faux-gung-ho check-in rapport—with a tongue-in-cheek “I bet you have bad news for me,” I actually was neither surprised nor particularly disappointed to hear his sympathetic “Yeah, I do actually…”

It was supposed to be fun, and it was. I’d done what I could, and the luck took care of itself. Sure, tickets would have been nice to have, but it actually didn’t matter that much in the end. If you pull off two strange all-nighters in a row, chances are you’re gonna be a happy camper no matter what happens.