MERIDIAN, IDAHO – At six in the morning on October 24, 17 BYU students entered a unique kind of contest. Dressed in hats, boots, gloves, and layers upon layers of coats, shirts, pants and wool socks, this group of friends staked their camp. Sleeping bags and blankets abounded in two huge tents, one for the men and women respectively.
For the next 24 hours, the parking lot of the brand new Chick-Fil-A in Meridian, Idaho would be their home. The reward for this parking lot camping trip? Free Chick-Fil-A for a whole year.
The leaders of this camp out, and many others, are “co-camptains” Ryan Hansen, a senior majoring in computer science from Sandy, and Cameron Asay, a senior pursuing a BFA in acting from Orem. They founded the Varsity Parking Lot Camping Team, or VPLCT, in October 2011 for BYU’s lost and found sale. Hansen, Asay and their friends already loved camping and great deals, so the next logical step was to get everyone in one place, on one team.
“We just love camping in parking lots,” Hansen said. “(Parking lots) are the perfect venue because you usually have power. You can focus more on fun things like Xbox and TV and less on the survival things.”
The VPLCT has camped out for three lost and found sales, four Chick-Fil-A grand openings and various Black Friday sales.
The Chick-Fil-A camp outs began in March 2011 when Hansen’s dad told him about the “First 100” promotion. Whenever a new Chick-Fil-A opens, the first 100 people in line 24 hours before the official opening get the opportunity to camp in the parking lot. If they are still there the next morning at six, they win 52 free meals for an entire year. Hansen said the first camp out was planned too well. They were not even sure if the promotion occurred at every new Chick-Fil-A.
“We just showed up with tents and blankets and we froze, but it was probably the best one we’ve ever done,” Hansen said. “That was before the VPLCT even existed.”
The VPLCT went out in full force on October 23 to earn their chicken, road tripping five hours in the middle of the week. It was a diverse group as well, with people studying subjects ranging from law to from theatre arts with a costume design emphasis; from neuroscience to accounting; from geology to family life.
Nathan Weatherford, a senior majoring in Spanish translation from Plano, Texas joined the VPLCT “at its inception.” While most other members of the team said they love the VPLCT because of the people, Weatherford said, somewhat jokingly, that he loves it because of the Duchess, which is the team’s newest tent that sleeps eight or more people.
“It’s got self-rolling windows, a hinged door and an opening for a power cord. Do you know any tents that awesome? I don’t think so,” Weatherford said.
But for most of the VPLCTers, it really is about the people. After all, if they are going to spend all day and night together in a parking lot, they better enjoy each other’s company. Becca Mattson, a senior from Cypress, Calif., majoring in wildlife and wildlands conservation joined the VPLCT in September and said she never would have gone to Idaho if she did not love the people. Hansen agreed.
“Although our jerseys are pretty awesome,” Hansen said, “what really makes the VPLCT is the people in the jerseys.”
But what of the VPLCT when both co-camptains graduate? Hansen said they try to not bring it up.
“The Lava Lounge (the name of Hansen and Asay’s house) is kind of like Neverland. We all pretend we’re never going to grow up. We pretend it’s going to last forever,” Hansen said. “But we do have a dream of one day, after we’ve all gone our separate ways, reuniting, and bringing all our families together to the biggest Chick-Fil-a opening ever.”
And so this group of friends will continue traveling from parking lot to parking lot, winning free food and scoring great deals, never regretting the days and nights spent as a team.
“There’s a certain time in a man’s life when a moment comes along that you cannot let pass no matter the cost,” Weatherford said. “(Joining the VPLCT) was one of those moments.”
This story was written for a class project for a feature writing class at BYU in fall 2012.