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Happy Campers at Any Age

Angie Frederickson
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Scott Plantowsky

Scott Plantowsky learned from the pros at Bondurant Racing School in Phoenix. (Photo: www.hartphoto.com)

When summer arrives, kids will head to camp. If all goes well, they will explore, try new things and discover untapped talents. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

A number of adults out there certainly think so. In fact, they are so sold on the idea of camp that they want to go too. Why, they say, should only kids get to figure out what they are good at and experience new adventures?

Whether you call it an educational vacation – or grown-up camp – excitement awaits those willing to set aside their everyday adult life, at least for a little bit. These local residents did. And not one of them regrets it.

Feeling the Need for Speed

Adventure-seeking Scott Plantowsky spent a week at Bondurant Racing School in Phoenix and experienced what he says every guy should do before he dies.

Plantowsky said his philosophy is to try anything he’s physically capable of doing at least once. He also has an interest in high-performance cars. Knowing both of these things, his friends got together and surprised him with the perfect 40th birthday gift – racing school. “I was completely blown away by the gift,” said Plantowsky. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I would have never bought for myself.” Dressed in fire-retardant gear and a helmet, Plantowsky took to the winding race track each day in a high-performance Corvette. He learned how to take tight turns, when to shift gears, the right times to accelerate and decelerate, from zero to 90. “Learning from the pros was incredible. Just when I thought I had it down, my instructor took over and did the same course in half the time it took me,” he said.

Scott Plantowsky

Scott Plantowsky on the track at Bondurant in a formula race car.

On the final day, he got to drive an open-wheel, formula racecar. The car was so small that, with his 6’3” frame, he couldn’t get in without the steering wheel being removed first. After getting in and having all the essential car parts put back in, Plantowsky said, he felt as if he had boarded a torpedo. He sat just inches off the ground.

He took off on what he describes as “the most terrifying and most exciting thing” he’s ever done. On the first turn he spun out, right off the track. Both he and the car were fine, and he continued racing.

While racing school was one of the greatest things he’s ever done, he said, he doesn’t anticipate going back. “I’ve checked the box. I did it,” he said.

Wine Making from the Ground Up

Wine lovers Toni and Walter Finger have been to California’s wine country many times, but took their experience to the next level when they “enlisted” in Affairs of the Vine’s Wine Boot Camp on the Sonoma Coast. Starting early in the morning, Toni and Walter hit the vineyard, picking grapes, crushing them, and, ultimately, bottling their own creations.

“After visiting the wine country so many times, my interest in wine grew from tasting it to wanting to create it myself,” Toni said. She particularly liked learning about farming. The importance of different types of soil and weather required for growing ideal grapes was something she hadn’t considered before.

Walter’s favorite part of boot camp was competing with another group of campers to put together a wine-making machine. In a timed contest, Walter, Toni and teammates raced to assemble a machine that cleans, de-stems and presses grapes. Toni credits their machine-making success to having an engineer assigned to their group.

After the competition, Toni and Walter blended different varieties of grapes to create their own wine masterpiece. Each bottle was corked, waxed and personally labeled to take home.

Camps for adults
• Affairs of the Vine’s Wine Boot Camp, Napa Valley and Sonoma, Calif., www.affairsofthevine.com
• Blair House Cooking School, Wimberley, www.blairhouseinn.com
• Bondurant Racing School, Phoenix, Arizona, www.bondurant.com
• Chris Evert Fantasy Camp, Boca Raton, FL, www.evertacademy.com
• Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture Fantasy Camp, Oak Park, Illinois, www.gowright.org
• Giddy-Up Gals Getaway, Rancho de los Caballeros, Wickenburg, Arizona, www.sunc.com
• International Kitchens, Italy, France, Spain, www.theinternationalkitchen.com
• Michael Jordan Senior Flight School, Las Vegas, www.mjflightschool.com
• Rock n Roll Fantasy Camp, various cities, www.rockcamp.com
• US Space and Rocket Center Space Camp, Huntsville, Ala., www.spacecamp.com

Wine camp inspired Toni to expand her love of wine into a business. Since then, she has become a wine consultant, working with individuals and restaurants to select wines for specific foods and occasions.

For Walter, the best part of the trip was seeing the joy it brought Toni. “She’s quite the wine lady, and seeing her in her element means the world to me,” he said.

Urban Cowgirls

After reading a magazine article about a ranch-experience camp called the Giddy-Up Gals Getaway, mom Julie Webber decided to give it a try. Her friends thought she was crazy for doing something so outside her daily life of driving carpool and asked,

“Why would you do that?” But she headed for Wickenburg, Arizona, anyway for a long weekend with other wannabe cowgirls.

After arriving at Rancho de los Caballeros, Webber joined other women from Louisiana, California and Montana and began her western adventure. They rode horses, took skeet-shooting lessons and had a cookout with a cowboy singer and campfire.

The weekend included team penning against the other groups. Sadly, Webber’s team did not excel at penning (herding cattle into a pen while riding horseback). Their slow penning time surprised Webber, because one of her teammates herds cattle for a living.

“This experience was so outside my normal life. It was fantastic,” she said.

Although her friends were surprised that she chose to go, maybe they shouldn’t have been. She regularly does things that are out of the ordinary and challenging. When she turned 30, she ran her first marathon.

Now she’s looking into a trapeze camp in New York.

Larry Ginsberg

Larry Ginsberg and his band, Atomic Waste, jammed at the legendary Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip.

Rock Stars in the Making

Physician and single dad Larry Ginsberg spent a week last fall at Rock n Roll Fantasy Camp in Hollywood. He grew up playing the piano, but this experience was no tame recital.

“I’ve played in talent shows and jammed informally, but I had never done anything like this,” he said. “I had never rocked.”

When he arrived at camp, Ginsberg was assigned to a group of five people who were his band mates for the week. They named themselves Atomic Waste. Atomic Waste’s counselor was multi-platinum record producer Ron Nevisin, who has worked with many rockers, including Led Zeppelin, The Who and Ozzy Osbourne. The campers also learned from and jammed with Ace Frehley, former lead guitarist (aka the Spaceman) for KISS.

The fantasy week culminated in a live concert at the legendary Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip, where Ginsberg and the band performed for the crowd. “Performing live was incredible,” he said.

While Ginsberg insists he has no inner rock star dying to get out, this experience was one of his greatest. “I could have taken a vacation to Cancun, but this was something completely different. I would love to do it again.”

Jennifer Tiras, Carmen Mazzola, Scott Tiras

Chef Carmen Mazzola gives Jennifer Tiras' stuffed tomato a thumbs up. Scott Tiras wasn't so lucky.

Culinary Creations on the Amalfi Coast

Busy parents Jennifer and Scott Tiras went to The International Kitchen “camp” to learn cooking secrets from an authentic Italian chef. “Most of our vacations are with our four children, so this was something completely out of the ordinary,” Jennifer said.

The Tirases spent a week at a villa in the Italian town of Sant’ Agata sui due Golfi, where they prepared gourmet meals each night using fresh ingredients they picked themselves.

Each night Jennifer and Scott met chef Carmen Mazzola in the kitchen, ready for the evening’s assignment. Together they created Italian dinners with fresh herbs, vegetables, seafood and pasta while drinking wine and listening to Italian pop music.

One memorable meal began by picking ripe baby tomatoes in the villa’s garden and then sautéing them until they popped to make a decadent sauce. To go with the sauce, they kneaded pasta dough, cut it out and crafted perfect ravioli for the meal. They also sautéed squid that Jennifer cleaned herself.

While Jennifer is a good cook, she said, she rarely has the opportunity to enjoy it at home. “I usually look at cooking like, ‘What can I get on the table in 10 minutes?’” she said.

Cooking school was a completely new experience for Scott, who is a bit of a stranger in the kitchen. “I make a mean scrambled egg,” he said.

He loved learning to cook in a place known for culinary excellence and hopes they can return for another week. “I would go back in a heartbeat,” he said.

As for other adults out there, you should know that if something piques your interest, chances are there’s a camp for you to explore it.

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