My Weekend at Pacwar.
Like all great weekends my weekend at Pacwar was five days long in theory. I was in Portland Oregon and I was staying with two friends of mine who were die hard fans of Amtgard
, which is kind of like Larping
except without the role playing element. Just the fighting. I'd been given the option of either going along with them for a weekend away in the woods camping with all their friends or staying at their place while they went away and maybe going into the city over the weekend to hang out by myself and see what I could see. So obviously I decided to go camping in the woods. Because I'm an outdoors kind of person.
So the weekend started on Wednesday when we went to get food and supplies for the camping, including block-out, chips, biscuits, some salami and meats and a few other things like that. Now something I never thought about but I discovered when I went shopping was that American super-markets are disgustingly huge. Easily double the size of the large shops we have in Australia, easy to get lost in and confusingly laid out. Also not helping was that I didn't know any of the brands so I was guessing as to the quality of the stuff I was buying based on the price and if I'd ever seen them on a TV show. I asked my friends about a few of them but they weren't always 100% on what was good and what wasn't.
The key thing I had to remember was to bring biscuits so I could put Vegemite on it and let people try it out, a form of biological warfare according to some people I later discovered.
Once the shopping was done with we went back home. The one thing I didn't realise at the time was that I didn't buy any beer or booze or anything. My friends don't drink and it didn't even occur to me for some reason to buy a few beers for the camping. I think in part because I figured that drinking and fighting with swords wouldn't be a great idea.
I spent the day on Thursday in the city for a bit, just looking around. I had a bus voucher which was valid for as many trips as I liked until two days after I was going to fly out of the country, so I was good with just puttering around.
My only rule was I had to be back in time to drive to pick up my friend from her job that afternoon. So I was back with time to spare and we drove off to find her work, in my defence everything was on the wrong side of the road, so the fact that we couldn't find the place was only partially my fault(we were using my phone as a guide). Turned out her work was off a road but still on that road, it was confusing but we got her, got psyched up and headed... I want to say west? onwards to the campgrounds.
The campsite was west of Salem which is south of Portland, so I was wrong previously, we headed boldly south and to the west towards the campgrounds. American freeways are weird as hell to drive on. When I travel I'm usually stuck in a city or taking a bus or preferably a train to get anywhere(or I just walk across the entire country on a whim), driving in a car felt kind of new. American freeways are really solidly built but I was lost before we even got out of the city, my sense of direction is rubbish.
We arrived at the campsite at a reasonable time, before sunset but in the late afternoon, paid our entry fee and registered. Everyone had to put in their character class, I was a bard, by the end of the weekend I'd be a ranger and I think for a while I was almost a wizard, and then we went down to the area for our kingdom, which is what different guilds and groups in the community are called. We were also issued with a wristband which was to be kept on all weekend. They were to show how old we were so that underaged people weren't drinking basically. I was thirty-one years old and Australian, so I'm more than allowed to drink.
PacWar, Pacific War, is when all the kingdoms in and around the area(the Pacific North West) get together and just fight each other, elect new monarchs(the heads of the organisation), knight new knights, show off what they've made over the last year since they were last together and have competitions like archery and jousting and costume/weapons crafting. There are a lot of rules around how things are meant to be done in the games and how things are meant to be made.
The kingdom I was in is called Blackspire, it was a bunch of my friends friends and one of them had a huge tent and was cool with me sleeping in it. I warned him that I tend to snore so if I started he was free to wake me up and kick me until I stop. I make it a habit to let people know that I snore, because I'd hate it if someone was snoring all night and I wanted to sleep. Dinner was actually eaten on the way to the camp, at Taco Bell so I wasn't that hungry when we arrived.
That afternoon there was a battle on the main field, which had a cool castle built out of canvas and I stood on the sidelines watching with some of the other non-fighters.Rather violent considering that it is all foam weapons.
Afterwards I was introduced to everyone in the other Kingdoms by my friends and also went out and talked to a few people, the accent was popular with the crowd.
It turned out that there was a competition planned for that night, the campgrounds were divided by this huge hill, at the top was one set of kingdoms and at the bottom was the other. We were at the bottom, the top campsites had cabins available and more toilets and also phone/internet reception but the bottom campgrounds had the actual battlespaces and the meeting grounds so it was a toss up as to which was better. The competition was between the upper and lower camp and involved fighting and raiding for possession of a flag. If you had the others flag before midnight you'd win. I wasn't keen on fighting in the dark so I didn't join in. The XP rewards for a character win were apparently pretty decent(the RPG element of Amtgard, as close as I can gather, gave you upgrades to some abilities and armour capacity). The squeals and screams for the game were audible for a while as people tried to sneak through the woods in the darkness.
Before going to bed I ended up playing a game of Cards Against Humanity in the main hall with a huge group of people, my dry and dirty wit scored me a few winning hands, but I came in too late to have a chance at overall victory.
I slept quite comfortably on the floor of the tent.
I'll start by saying that I've done a lot of crazy things while overseas, but dressing up like a Russian archer and trying to defend a castle from a horde of attacking barbarians is probably up there as the craziest.
The morning started with someone telling us about an archery competition which was being held around the corner from our campsite and slightly up a hill. The campgrounds we'd rented were, I think, a scouting camp so there was a lot of places around the grounds for things like archery contests. There was also a big hall building which had a flushing toilet and working taps so we weren't ever really living rough.
I signed myself up for archery despite not having a bow, not having any arrows and having no experience in archery at all. I was leant a bow, shown the basics(stringing the bow was a pain it was wooden and I was petrified that I was going to snap it when I bent it back to hook the string in) and sent off to see how I'd go.
I did not go well. I managed to get exactly one target from six shots, but considering it was my first time I was told I was pretty decent.Not me but a pirate who had better aim than me.
After that there was a battle planned for midday and I was signed up to join in as an Archer/Ranger. I was given a sash to go around my waste so I could be identified by other players, then I was given a few arrows with foam heads on them so I couldn't hurt anyone(they are really weird, I got hit with a few of them and they don't hurt at all but you still feel them just tapping you) and sent to the line.
The way that the battles worked was that the two leaders would pick their fighters from the crowd one at a time, archers almost always went first because range is better than melee. I was picked very late in the piece considering I was an archer(and both of them knew I was fresh and had no idea what I was doing). They trusted me. I had a hat!
The battle was pretty weird to watch for me, I couldn't tell one side from the other 90% of the time, I didn't know the rules about headshots(banned) and was not ready for the heat(they had some volunteers going around with cold water bottles). We were defending for the first round and attacking for the second. It was intense. I lost literally every fight I even came close to, missed every shot I took, and died well and above the maximum number of allowed deaths. But it was a lot of fun. I do wish I was able to roleplay a bit, build up a character and then go full Charisma and Wisdom to bring about the downfall of my enemies, but combat by the sword and arrow were my avenues and I took them to my death.
There was a bit of a break at this point for a bit so we could all recover from the heat and the battle. We had some lunch and I got people to try Vegemite on some cheese biscuits. To limited success. I made sure to put only a small amount and made sure that they knew it was salty as hell. Some people liked it, I loved it obviously, but the rest thought it was like chewing soy sauce.
After lunch was over there was Jousting, which I was again signed up for, I was really stupidly keen for everything that day. Jousting was like the fighting, foam weapons and shields, but you had someone dragging wheelbarrow behind them with the fighter in the barrow. I elected to be the runner and my friend was behind me in the barrow with a shield and a pike. I'm visible at about 0:45 in my State Library of Queensland Volunteer shirt pulling a wheelbarrow backwards. You can hear some of my "friends" calling out "GO AMERICA!" in support of my opposition.
It doesn't look very fast in the video, but you really feel it when you're on foot sprinting with someone behind you trying to implement a grand strategy in the two second window you have when both fighters are within each others range. Jugging, five on five fighting to the death in an attempt to put a dogs skull on top of a spike.
When that was done I was exhausted and thankfully the activities which I could join in were mostly done with(there were a few more things but I wasn't really in them because they were more geared towards the long termers and I was welcome to join but I would have just hindered things a lot). So I sat on the sidelines and watched this game called Jugging
. Which was weirdly entertaining if not a bit tricky to follow(easier to follow than US Football) at which point I noticed that the money I had kept in my camera case was gone, which was a shame, it was $25 so no great loss but still. Nothing I was really willing to lose.
I returned to the campsite and discovered a few new people, it was Friday and not everyone could get time off from work so we had people trickling in all weekend basically, and then discovered that drinking was indeed allowed and that I had not bought anything with me. So everyone started shouting me a beer from their own supply.
The rest of the night is blurry but fun memories. Talking to people from all over the place, telling them about my travels and hearing their stories about their own. It was a really nice community feeling, and I was stumbling a little bit after a couple of hours.I do not remember taking this photo. Also I am in the photo so I have no idea how I took it. Also I do remember taking photos with the flash enabled and blinding about six people.
By the end of the night I was barely functioning and someone helped me to get back to my tent, it was around 1:30am or so(my camera logged the time of the photo but the camera was on Atlanta time I think). Apparently the guy I was sharing a tent with, who was also called Andrew confusingly enough, was woken up when I came in and had this horrible image of me staying awake all night being awful, so he got up and went to get some water and when he came back he was ready to try and settle me down to get to sleep. Except in the two minutes he was gone I'd passed out in my sleeping bag and wasn't even snoring(because I was sleeping on my stomach).My 1am guardian angel who walked me back to my tent. I couldn't see him in the dark so I had no idea who it was until I took this picture. I warned him about the flash.
So I woke up barely aware of reality at sometime past 11am, in fact I wrote a short story about it later(slightly exaggerating some details and also adding in some because the theme for that month was the confusion between the words raise, raze and rays which was fun to work with). I managed to crawl out of the tent and get to water. That was my main objective.
My non-drinking friends had wisely given me a wide berth the night before, I can be pretty awful when I'm really cutting loose. I promised myself I wouldn't drink again that evening.
I got water and then found my friends, they were hanging out near this food tent thing which had some actual cooked food and stir-fry stuff. I wanted to eat but my money was still gone. It was then that I realised that my camera was also gone. This was more worrying because I love that camera. I also noticed I had lost my torch. So I was kind of regretting drinking a lot at that point.
I first made sure I wasn't a complete jerk the night before to anyone, I've done the apology tour a few times over the years, it isn't fun but it isn't the worst thing to suffer through. Not apologising is worse.
It was while I was gearing up to ask for a loan of five-ten bucks that I found out that my friend had my money, she'd seen it in my camera case during my jousting battle and taken it because she was worried someone might steal it and I'd started drinking before she had a chance to tell me about it. So I had money to buy some food which was like manna from heaven except the meat was all gone so I got some salad I think and some softdrink, still worth it. I would have killed for a kebab the state I was in.
Then this other girl told me that this other guy had my camera, I'd dropped it when I took the photo of the guy who rescued me the night before and he found it on the road that morning and handed it in. Then, later still, another guy told me he found my torch but it was up in his tent which was up the hill so he told me he'd get it to me later because he wasn't keen on walking up and then back down again for no almost reason.
Saturday was the big day for fights, duels, battles and the election of a new monarch as well as the feast for the night which would involve meat and actual food instead of the dry and salty Vegemite tasting food I'd been eating up to then(and all the chocolate, I'd forgotten how much chocolate and Gatorade I bought).One of the battles of the day, I think this was actually between the battles proper and was just people warming up.
I spent most of the afternoon hanging around the sidelines of the battles, meeting ever more new people(many of whom I'd apparently met the night before) and talking about stuff. It was really nice. I met a girl who wanted to walk the Camino in Spain, I showed her my pictures(still on my camera) and she seemed even more intent on walking it after hearing how much fun I had over there. Election of the monarchs and their royal court.
That evening I was present at the Royal Court, which was where the outgoing head of the organisation leaves and is replaced with someone else. It was a great event, I didn't follow much of it, traditions and things can be weird to outsiders. There were awards for best crafting and people were promoted to knights and there was punching for some reason. I was still coming down from the night before. I was sitting with this lady who's husband was one of the newest knights she seemed pretty happy about it. I didn't use flash for my photos so the one above was about the only one that was actually usable from the event.
Once the court was done with I went looking for the guy who had my torch, I went up the hill and they said he was down the hill working in the kitchen, I went down the hill and the kitchen people didn't know who I was talking about(everyone has two names, their actual name and their Amtgard name, mine was Actorvious, this guy used his Amtgard name to me but everyone else knew him by his actual name, also I kept mispronouncing it which didn't help). There was this nice girl I met that weekend called Gypsy-Fox, I stupidly told her my less than PC opinion of Gypsy's after getting harassed by a few of them in Paris and we had a decent rapport going, I talked with her for a while waiting for this guy to materialise out of thin air. She lived in her car she told me. She liked the freedom of not being held down by property and stuff. The ideal of the nomadic life. We sat talking in the dark for a while before I left to go up the hill again looking for my torch, except this time I got to take a car(someone was driving between the camps for some reason). No joy.
Then back down again(I was offered a lift but I declined because I didn't want to miss the guy in the dark if we were driving). No joy.
Then back up again where I decided to wait because eventually this guy was going to come up and I knew, KNEW, that I wasn't going to give up. The torch was this thing I bought in Cusco, Peru, it had been around the world with me, I love that stupid thing and I wasn't willing to lose it if there was a chance to get it. So I stayed up the top of the hill and started talking to the people up there. There was this one huge extended family that formed most of a kingdom by themselves. There were a bunch of guys around a campfire listening to Metal music and trying out what I think was throat singing. I didn't know anyone up there but I started talking and it was nice. But also none of them seemed to know the guy I was looking for. I was actually beginning to think he didn't exist and I'd hallucinated him.
Eventually I gave up, I managed to get my phone working and checked my email and Facebook for stuff(nothing too dramatic had happened while I was in the wilderness it turns out). And then I went back down the hill for what I thought would be the last time.
At the bottom of the hill I found the guy who had my torch, he'd done a bit of a whip-round looking for me and when he couldn't find me he'd decided to walk back to his tent and was just starting out then.
So I walked back up the hill. For the third and final time. To get a torch that cost me about $5 but had sentimental value. Totally worth it.
By the time I got back to my campsite people were drinking a bit and I joined in, not on the level from the night before thank god, I know I promised not to drink that night, but I did help finish up a few bottles of stuff, just so it didn't go to waste.
Taken the next morning, all of these and the Vegemite were in my stomach/liver by the end of the night before.
Sunday was a better morning than Saturday, I woke up alive and felt great, the dinner the night before was behind me and I'd really got used to the people and atmosphere of the camp. Sadly it was the last day and we were dismantling tents, taking down tables and saying our goodbyes.
I had a great time that weekend, meeting people, fighting people, drinking with people. I made fast friends with them in the brief time we'd had. I left behind a lot of really nice people many of whom I'm now friends with on Facebook and stay in contact with.
As we drove away I felt bad about not fighting more, about not doing as much as I could. I kind of wished I'd helped out a bit with the volunteers but overall I felt bad that it was over. We drove away to this place nearby in Salem to get Chinese food for lunch with some of the people we'd been out with. We talked about our highlights of the weekend, I found the archery the most fun and was told that my friend had overheard two people saying that I was the highlight of their weekend, she was pretty happy for me at that.
We went our separate ways eventually, the long drive back to Portland was nice, we stoppEd on the way home for frozen Yoghurt at this place where they weigh the cup and charge you accordingly. It's a strange country America.
In my time in the United States I found two incredibly nerdy events, PacWar and DragonCon and I'd absolutely loved every minute of them. I had no expectations going into either event, I just trusted that I'd be able to fit in and that people would be nice and fun to hang out with. I was right on both counts.
My day was pretty boring compared to what I just wrote about. It took me almost five hours to write all of that. It was my brothers birthday today so at dinner we had a cake and sung happy birthday. Tomorrow I'm taking him to the Shops and we're going to get him some shirts, some socks, some singlets and basically replace all the things he's destroyed over the last few months with his OCD.
Before all of that I finally finished downloading Shadow of Mordor which was fun to play, it felt a lot like the Batman games, which is a good thing, but actually works on a PC, which is a great thing. I spent most of the afternoon working on that game and trying to back-up Far Cry 4 onto my laptop so I could test to see if it works on it so I can LAN play it with my mate. Sadly the 30gb took too long to backup and I couldn't finish the file transfers in time before I had to leave for my brothers house.
Not really much else to report on, I did the shopping, got cake. I dropped my dad off at the Rental Car place because his truck is in the shop and he is worried that the weather for the week is predicted to be too wet to safely drive his motorbike around.
Other than that a pretty quiet day.
YouTube Clip of the Day.
Every Guy Richie movie for a very long time was basically this.