When I first discovered that Ontario was home to a Zombie Survival Training Camp, I couldn't believe it was real. How do you even prepare for a threat that doesn't even exist? I'm not one of those guys who nerds out for zombies, but I was instantly fascinated by the concept of spending a weekend in the woods learning melee weapon skills and basic self defense training—just in case one of those ghouls try to grab my junk sometime in the not so distant future. So I packed up a rental car and went.
The most bizarre and shocking part of my entire zombified weekend (besides the simulated zombie apocalypse LARP which I'll get to later) was how down to earth and friendly every single person at the camp was. People were enthusiastic, but not to a point where you had to put your hand on their shoulder, look them in the eyes, and whisper: "Cool it bud, you're ruining my apocalyptic experience."
When we first arrived, we were greeted by one of the co-creators of the camp—a young and pleasant gent by the name of Eric. I pictured Eric to be a middle-aged paranoid doomsday type who edits conspiracy theory videos to the Requiem for a Dream theme song, but to my great surprise, he was exactly the opposite.
I asked Eric why he started the camp. He just shrugged and laughed, and told me that him and his friends all loved zombie movies and figured organizing this camp would be a fun getaway for people who wanted to simulate a horrifying zombie apocalypse. Makes sense. He also added that he doesn't believe it's possible for a zombie apocalypse to actually happen, but that it doesn't hurt to learn some skills that take you out of your element. Plus, learning survival tactics is an incredibly fun way to kill time. No conspiracy video editing for this guy (as far as I know).
On the second day we jumped right into training, where we learned how to break off a zombie’s limb if one came at you like a street solicitor for Greenpeace. We were put into groups of four and given a schedule. During the melee-training course, I was rather impressed when our instructor put on a helmet and some goggles and let us hit him in the head with pipes and poke his eyes with training knives after 15 minutes of training. Think of it as an extreme version of the trust fall exercise. School teachers take note, how confident are you in your teaching capabilities that you'll let someone pretend to stab you in the eyes?
Right after melee-training, we were brought into the forest where we learned how to build a shelter out of sticks and leaves that was somehow rain resistant. I had no idea I was even capable of making something like that, seeing how I was always the kid to spill all the glitter on my craft in arts class—a gaffe that was always followed by an embarrassing meltdown. From now on, I don't even need a tent when I go camping. Nature's got me covered. Sure, a zombie could burst right through my stick and leaf teepee and devour my guts, but that’s not the point. I have a new skill now, and that makes me feel warm inside.
My personal favourite part of the whole weekend was undoubtedly the archery section. Last time I shot a bow was when I was a little kid at some shitty sports summer camp my parents dumped me off at, at a time in my life when I couldn't really appreciate anything that wasn't Nintendo 64, or pro wrestling, or a pro wrestling game for Nintendo 64. After ten minutes of instruction, our group of survivors was nailing headshots on a scarecrow that had a pumpkin for a head, and a zombie mask over top of the pumpkin, from 30 yards away. My group was now a trained posse of zombie killers who were ready to take on the apocalypse… or so we thought.
First and foremost, the zombie apocalypse at this Ontario camp is clearly a LARP (live action role play) and when you think of LARPing the normal thing to originally associate it is with are those people who dress up like their favourite characters from Game of Thrones, while pretending to cast spells on each other. At Zombie Camp, they make LARPing cool, because the whole experience was actually pretty damn frightening.
We were put in a large group, each of us were given flags that represented our lives, and we had to work together to complete objectives—like finding supplies and bringing them back to our home base. If a zombie grabs your flag from you, you're dead and have to put on zombie make-up and chase your former teammates around—trying to drag them down into the zombie underworld. When the game started, everything was mellow, up until a dude covered in blood spotted me and began screaming like a mentally ill pterodactyl. That led to him sprinting after me while other zombies tried flanking me. I didn't realize how caught up in the moment I was while I ran for my life, until I got back to base and had to sit down and remind myself it was all just make believe—like unicorns, or a hip upscale restaurant that's wheelchair accessible.
I thought being a zombie would be awesome. Before my time at survival camp, anytime someone ever asked me what I would do during a zombie apocalypse I would always say, “get bit as quick as possible and then chase around my friends, because that's more fun than running for your life or having to deal with the hard work of rebuilding society while living in a world where there's no hot showers, video games, or YouTube.”
I learned quickly this wasn't a smart strategy. Virile humans, aka non-zombies, kept running past me—and all I could do was reach out and make a half assed attempt at trying to grab them. Running for my life and going on missions, sneaking through the forest, and dodging zombies was way more fun than wandering around aimlessly looking to bite someone's face off.
Overall, Zombie Survival Camp succeeded far beyond my expectations. I went in there thinking everyone would be uncomfortably weird as they shared their dark predictions of society crumbling into a zombified, bloody mess—but it was the complete opposite. The instructors were having as much fun as we were, and they were incredible at their particular craft of Zombie Defense. After years of laughing at LARPing videos I understand why people do it now (note: I will still look up these videos and laugh). I highly recommend this getaway for anyone, especially couples who plan on staying in all weekend and talking shit on how much The Walking Dead sucks now. Just try to keep it together when you're running through the forest being chased—because your pants will likely be soaked in your own pee.