Sight of stars begs us
relax in silence, resting
in the shade of earth.
There has been very few days of this trip where I knew where I was going to sleep at the start of each day. That’s new to me. In fact, I often don’t know where that will be until I finally stop for the night, declaring that spot as my temporary home.
I did my best to not think about this too much before leaving on this trip. After all, what’s the point in worrying excessively about a problem you know you’re not going to deal with until the moment it has to be decided? And by essentially just putting it out of mind, I’ve done well. The only day that I actually felt anxious about where I was going to sleep was day one, and ever since, I’ve decided that what will be, will be.
Especially in the first week, I was impressed by how little I needed to sleep in my tent. I’ve already written about how the owners of a bike café in Crosby, MN, and a farmer/writer of erotic fiction in Little Falls, MN, showed me hospitality. If that was how the entire trip was going to go, the tent would very likely get little mileage. But such isn’t the case. In fact, I have spent most nights sleeping in the tent.
The best gonzo camping night would have to be when I stopped in a cemetery in southern Minnesota. I had just ridden past the town of Chatfield when I decided that I needed to keep my eyes out for any place I might be able to camp. The map didn’t show anything for a few miles. And even then, it was just another small town: no camp grounds, no public parks. And it wasn’t quite late enough to just squat in any old park in the middle of these small towns. Ideally, I was hoping to find a place while it was still light out. Then, as I coasted down a small hill through a forested part of what was largely farmland, a driveway and a sign popped out. St. Mary’s Cemetery, it said. I rolled right past it, but gradually slowed to a halt. I mean, why not? I had to at least check it out.
The only deal breaker, that I could imagine, would have been if someone was there. Someone not dead, I mean. But it turned out to be better than just the bare minimum. Once to the top of the hill, the graveyard overlooked a beautiful tableau of rolling hills across the farmland, with the occasional cow meandering across the moors. The cemetery itself was a picturesque rolling yard, punctuated with little monuments to people long passed. And on the edge where the forest began, there was a low spot where the canopy of the trees had left a small dirt patch where no grass could grow, and a tree had recently fallen that cemetery caretakers apparently had to cut up to move off the grounds. Sticks of varying sizes, and even logs, were available to make a fire. So that night, after setting up the tent, I sat by my small camp fire on the edge of the graveyard, smoked some weed that was gifted to me for the trip, ate the remainder of my pickles, and sang a few songs in the darkness that only the dead could hear.
A few days earlier, I found myself in a similar situation. Hoping to make camp in the daylight, I pulled off the road into the driveway of a farmhouse. The plan was to ask if it would be alright if I made camp on the edge of what was their immense yard. But when I knocked on the door, a teenage kid opened it. I introduced myself and said what I was hoping to do, and he said, “Oh, ok. Let me call my dad.” So I walked back to the bike, politely waiting for him to come back and tell me to bugger off. I could only imagine what this might have sounded like to his dad on the other end of the line – “Hey, dad, I’m home by myself and some guy is at the door and he wants to sleep in our yard.” I would bet the dad’s response wasn’t, “Oh, good. Does he look nice?”
But before I left, I asked the boy if he knew of any camp grounds in the area, or any other place I might be able to bunk down for the night. He said he didn’t, so left in the same situation as I had arrived. Though once I pulled out of the driveway, the road quickly descended downhill. Faster and faster I rolled, with no end of the hill in sight. The vast tracks of farmland were traded in for dense walls of trees on both sides of the winding road as I continued to fall into the earth.
Then some buildings came into view. The steep grade tapered off, I rolled into a small village that straddled a river, and a party was happening! People in bathing suits were walking the streets with beer in hand, dozens of them crossing the street from the bar to building that advertised river tubing and kayaking.
I stopped into the pub to grab a beer and get some information. What the hell was this place? Upon learning that I had been biking all the way from Grand Rapids, a couple patrons at the bar bought me a beer and filled me in on what I had stumbled upon. Turns out this was the village of Welch, and apparently the otherwise sleepy town grows in size by 500 to 1000 each weekend as people show up to party on the river. Once I got his attention, the bartender gave me a few suggestions on where to camp for the night.
So after hanging out with a few of the other guests of Welch, I climbed back on the bike and crossed the bridge to a green area next to a bike path that went through the river valley. Though it wasn’t a designated camping area, there was a bathroom, fresh water access, and even an outlet that I could use to charge my phone. So I threw up the tent next to one of the picnic tables, made myself a little dinner, and eventually fell asleep, content in having found such a wonderful place after being told to hit the road by the farmer’s son only a couple hours before.