UPDATED FOR PENNSIC 50! About to attend her 43rd Pennsic, Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope has compiled an array of tips and ideas on how to have the best possible experience at the War. In part two, we’ll look at what you should do while traveling to Pennsic and once you’re on site.
Arrival and Setup
- Try not to arrive Friday evening of the middle weekend. The troll is at its busiest that day from late afternoon into the evening, so you will wait in line a long while to check in. Similarly, if you’re coming for Land Grab weekend (July 28-29), you may NOT check in until after noon unless you’re a land agent or their assistant/family member, and you can expect LONG lines much of Friday afternoon and Saturday from 9am to 6pm, possibly several hours long. No one will be allowed to camp on their land until their block has been signed off on Land Grab Friday, which usually takes until mid-afternoon, but could take into Saturday if there’s a problem. DO NOT ARRIVE ON THURSDAY. You will not be permitted on site, and there is no camping or parking on the battlefield overnight.
- Single Campers cannot check-in and set up camp until SUNDAY of Land Grab weekend. That’s July 30th.
- Bring cash or a credit card. The troll does not take personal checks. Never has, probably never will. They also don’t take Travelers Checks or money orders.
- Bring a government-issued photo ID. Required at check-in for all adults.
- Bring Proof of SCA membership. Members save $25 on admission. That’s worth a little pre-planning.
- Land Agents – Troll has a check-in time reserved just for you! Troll opens on Friday, July 28th at 9 am and will be open to LAND AGENTS (and one assistant plus any minor children, all in a single vehicle) ONLY until noon. If you are not a Land Agent, you will be unable to troll in until after noon, at which point the line will be very long.
- Arrive early in the day (except on Land Grab day). The earlier in the day you arrive, the less stress you will have setting up because you won’t be racing the sun to get your tent up and gear stowed before dark. Corollary: try not to arrive in the dark. Setting up a tent, especially if it’s new to you, is best done when you can see. If you have to arrive after dark, consider getting a hotel for that night; however, hotels close to Pennsic are usually fully booked months in advance, so you might want to find some place an hour or so away.
- Do not arrive between 10pm and 8am. The Troll is open overnight on Land Grab Friday, but is closed from 10pm to 8 am for the rest of the War. If you arrive when the troll is closed, you cannot check in or go to your camp; you must find a place off-site to park or get a hotel (see above about hotel availability).
- Check the site map. In addition to the one online, there’s usually a map tent near the Troll and at Information Point in the circle by the bathhouse, as well as in the Event Guide, available online at the website or for $5 at Information Point. If you’re not buying an Event Guide, you might want to print the online map and put it in your pouch until you’re acclimated. If you’re camping with a group and you’re not familiar with the site, you’ll need it to find your camp. If you are camping in “single camping” space (not camping with a group, has no bearing on marital status!), available spots will be marked in the map tent so you can go find them. Just be sure to select several good prospects, because sites are sometimes taken but not updated on the map.
- Have your sunscreen and wide-brimmed hat handy, along with some water. You’ll be out in the hot sun setting up before you really get unpacked, so don’t bury them where you can’t get at them quickly. Slather on the sunscreen immediately! Repeat every 4-5 hours as needed. Drink water frequently.
- Do not face your tent door toward the west or northwest if at all possible. Bad weather comes primarily from that direction, and you don’t want wind-driven rain coming through your tent door. That said, if possible, orient your tents and flies with the long sides on the north and south to reduce the amount of wind load they take in a storm. Hint: the highway is east.
- Tie/stake everything down. If your tent has loops at ground level for tent stakes, use them. Don’t assume that your tent poles or ropes will hold your tent in place. Western PA is subject to occasional ferocious thunderstorms with winds as high as 40-50 mph. You may want to replace thin tent ropes with thicker ones to ensure that they don’t snap in a storm.
- Trench your tent. If you’re camping in a low-lying area or on a slope where water might drain downhill through your tent, consider digging a shallow trench to direct water away from your tent in case of heavy rain.
- Take it easy, especially the first day or two. Get acclimated, and don’t push yourself too hard. This is probably the most physically grueling thing most of us do all year, especially fighters/fencers, and you don’t want to end up at First Aid with heat exhaustion.
- Avoid sensory overload. If you hate crowds, Pennsic may not be for you. At the very least, schedule yourself for some down time mid-day when it’s hottest. Sit in a chair in the shade with a cool drink and a hand fan in a quiet place.
- Expect bad weather. Temperatures can swing from 90 degree days to 40 degree nights in the same day. Winds and rain WILL come. Western PA is known for occasional epic thunderstorms. If a storm blows up while you’re in camp, do your campmates a favor and close up any tents with open doors. If (when) a thunderstorm hits, do not hold onto or even stand too close to any metal objects. People have been knocked over by lightning strikes on a few occasions. If a really bad storm comes in, you may want to drop any canopies so they don’t blow away and potentially damage themselves or other tents.
- Protect your belongings against rain. As previously noted, keep clothes dry in plastic bags or totes. Keep anything you buy that’s vulnerable to water protected as well. Wouldn’t you be sad to find your tablet or the new book you just spent $75 on lying waterlogged in a puddle on your tent floor?
- Baby powder can be your friend, any place you have body parts touching without cloth between them, to prevent chafing.
- Wear shorts under your skirts or long tunics to prevent chafing. Plain t-shirt-cotton shorts are cheap and easy to wash, or you can go SCA-period with linen braies. Alternatively, you can use antiperspirant (yes, on your thighs, but NOT your whole body; it can cause you to overheat).
- Bring baby wipes for cleaning grime off your feet before crawling into bed, wiping sweat from face and back of neck, and quick hand cleaning. Keep them in a cooler for even more refreshing cleanups in hot weather.
- Replenish the ice in your cooler daily. Chuck any meat/egg/dairy items that are more than 3 days old or haven’t been iced as often as they should. The Coopers’ store sells ice, and there are urchins (kids) who will deliver to your camp for a fee. Keep your cooler out of the sun to make the ice last longer. Since the sun moves over the course of the day, cover the cooler if you don’t want to have to move it twice daily. A cloth cover will do, or you can put it under a table covered in a tablecloth. Bonus: it looks more medieval!
- Drink water. A lot of it. By the time you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Carry a mug or goblet with you, or a water bottle if you’ll be away from water sources. If someone offers you water, drink it even if you don’t think you’re thirsty. Dehydration is your biggest enemy at Pennsic regardless of whether you’re a fighter or non-combatant. People go down from heat exhaustian almost every year.
- Be aware of the cannons. Cannons are fired from the top of Mt. Eislinn above the battlefield at the end of Opening Ceremonies and before and after battles. Look to the flagpole on top of Mt. Eislinn; if a red flag is up, the artillery is on the line. If you are sensitive to loud bangs, you can sign up for the CAWS (Cannon Alert Warning System) at the Silvertree Souq with Baroness Amani. The program sends a text message to your device to alert you that a firing is about to take place. Firings happen on the middle Saturday for training and Opening ceremonies, then Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday. Send any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Things to do
- Check the schedule and newspaper every day and find at least one new thing to try – a class, a tourney, an archery shoot, a performance, a merchant, a bardic circle, a party, dancing, whatever. Be open to new experiences, go with the flow, don’t schedule yourself too tightly. Don’t expect everything you try to be to your liking, but enjoy the things that are.
- Visit Newcomers’ Point, located at the Watch tent just around the corner from Troll. They’re open every day from Sunday of Land Grab through Wednesday, August 9th from 10am to 6pm. You can sit down, drink some water, and get information specifically for Pennsic newcomers.
- Attend the Newcomers’ Social. It’s on Sunday, August 6 from 1-2pm at A&S Tent #20. You’ll meet other Newcomers, as well as Chatelains (officers whose job is to assist newcomers) from around the Known World and get answers to your questions.
- Take some classes at the Pennsic University. There are over 1500 classes being offered this Pennsic (that was not a typo), including an entire track just for Newcomers. Topics include fiber arts, music, brewing, costuming, historical research, scribal arts, dancing, games, leatherwork, woodwork, and martial pursuits.
- Participate in a War Point. Although there are no official War Points this year, there are still battles and competitions. Even if you’re not a fighter or a fencer, anyone can participate in archery and thrown weapons. If you don’t have a bow or throwing weapons, ask friends in your camp if you can borrow. Even if you don’t score a single point, at least you gave it a try and maybe you’ll find it’s something you want to do more of at home.
- Go to the A&S Display. It’s on the middle Sunday (August 6th) from 1-5pm in the Great Hall. You’ll be astounded by the artistic talent of the Known World, and you’ll also find artisans who are eager to talk about their entries and teach you what they know.
- Check out all the merchants BEFORE Midnight Madness (which is on Wednesday night of War week) so you know where you want to go. Go in daylight and make a note of the places you want to return to. It’s easy to miss things in the dark. Many merchants offer bargains at Midnight Madness.
- Volunteer for at least one shift of something: troll, royal retaining, the Pennsic Independent (newspaper), Kingdom gate guard, water bearer, list runner, Information Point, the Pennsic University, whatever. You’ll meet new people and be doing your part to help out.
- Attend Opening Ceremonies, which are on the middle Saturday afternoon at 5pm, either near the Fort on the battlefield or in the Great Hall if it’s rainy. Get there early to watch all the Kingdoms process in, many with singing or musical instruments like bagpipes, drums, or trumpets. It’s awe-inspiring. But bring a folding chair, because it takes a couple of hours.
Opening ceremonies at Pennsic 49. Photo by Arianna of Wynthrope.
- Go the AEthelmearc Kingdom Party. It’s on Monday night of War weekend from 8 pm to midnight at AEthelmearc Royal camp, located on Brewers Road one block north of the Troll. Bring a mug for free drinks and food, entertainment, and schmoozing. Make sure to have ID since you may be asked to prove that you are 21 or over before being served alcohol.
- Keep a positive outlook. Camping is hard on us couch potatoes, so think of it as an adventure and try to take discomfort and setbacks in stride. Be tolerant of noise and stupidity, especially at night, because there’ll be a lot of both. If someone’s annoying you, try being polite in your request first. You can always call Security to intervene later if polite discourse doesn’t work. Be forgiving of others who lose their cool. They’re hot and tired and thirsty and a little hung over, just like you. And be open to silliness as entertainment instead of annoyance.
- Go up on Mount Eislinn to watch a battle (but beware of the cannons!), or just look at the surrounding countryside. It’s gorgeous.
- Go down to the lake and walk around it. Especially around twilight, it can be very lovely. Just make sure to put on some bug spray. You can even fish in the lake, but swimming is not permitted (and trust me, you don’t want to swim in it – can you say leeches?).
- On a clear night, look up at a gazillion stars. If you’re patient, you might see some Perseid meteor showers.
- Visit Heralds Point. The worst that can happen is that you walk away with some ideas. You might walk away with your name and device submitted.
- Buy post cards and take pictures to show your family, friends, co-workers, etc.
- Ride the Bus. It’s a nice way to see the site without wearing yourself out.
In the final installment, we’ll have tips about safety and comfort, Pennsic etiquette, and how to handle the end of Pennsic and your trip home.
Click here for part 1.