In the final weeks before our senior year, my friends (Jon, Phil, Denton, CJ, and Jeffery) and I decided we needed to celebrate the close of summer with a bang. We ended up commemorating it with something more like an atomic explosion at Northern Michigan’s premiere paintball facility, Area 51 (www.area51paintball.com).
During the fourth weekend in August, we headed to a cottage on Higgins Lake, each of us dreaming (and Jon “knowing”; he had already played once before) of the fun we’d have. On Saturday, we arrived at Area 51 around noon and wound up playing for four straight hours. With forty acres of land, we didn’t know what game to start with. Eventually, we chose one called “Sanctuary.” In this game, an “attacking team” tries to take down the flag of the “defending team” by carefully fighting their way through an area littered with bunkers and other defensive obstacles. The referee split us up evenly, putting CJ, Jon, and Jeffery on the “orange team” with about seven or eight other people, and leaving me, Denton, Phil and some others on the “white team.” The white team played defense first. I behaved cautiously in the beginning, but eventually I grew impatient and went head first into enemy territory. In time, my team won by eliminating all the enemy players.
In Round 2, the teams switched positions (attacking team defends and vice versa). Denton, Phil and I decided to flank the right side of the defending team’s position, but some entrenched opponents caught sight of us and opened a barrage of fire. Denton and Phil managed to find cover, but I foolishly stood behind a bunker instead of within it. I paid for my embarrassing mistake dearly. Within seconds, a paintball struck my right leg, mid-thigh. As I walked off the course with my gun over my head (the signal for being a “dead man”) I saw CJ and Jon camouflaged beneath bushes no more than 15 yards in front of the bunker; they were undoubtedly my assassins. Moments later, a few of my teammates stormed the flag from their position on the right flank. To my amazement, they made it to the flag and decisively won the game.
Fifteen minutes later, after a quick break, both teams fought for control of a white 55-gallon drum in the middle of a structure called “The Castle.” An enemy hit me within the first few seconds of the game, but the paintball bounced off me (when this occurs, a player yells “no break” and may still play). Invigorated by my close call, I flanked to the right of the barrel by myself and wound up directly behind another player. He was facing away from me at the time, so I hesitated to shoot, not completely knowing which team he played for (colored bandannas on players’ arms reveal their team affiliation, and I couldn’t see his bandanna). When he turned around to reload, however, I saw his orange bandanna and opened a round of accurate and deadly fire, which resulted in my first kill.
As the day pressed on, I experienced more ultimate success, humiliating failure, and obnoxious fun than I had all summer. Those four hours raced by, and when we finished we swore to come back and play again. I regard this trip to be one of the most bonding outings I have ever had with my friends, because, in all honesty, pumping a few paintballs into your best friend’s back has got to be one of the most exhilarating things on the planet.
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