This post has no picture. This post starts in the dark and ends in the dark.
I have a project underway. This minimalism project. My minimalism does not include paying large amounts of money simply to sleep.
My bicycle has a tent, sleeping bag and a comfy mattress. So my place to sleep has no door to lock. No walls, no heater, no AC. My place to sleep depends on the goodness of strangers, the weather, the sounds and smells of the world. If someone wanted me killed, raped or robbed, it would be fairly easy.
This does something to a person’s psychology. First of all, I carry with me a deep benevolence towards those around me. I wouldn’t even steal an apple from the many orchards near the road. It’s not mine. Someone grew that on purpose to make their living. I’ll buy it at their stand. I choose to think that my intentional decency is protective. That it connects me to other good people. That it gives me a body-confidence that deters douchebaggery. I don’t look like a vulnerable person.
I also have a presumption of other people’s decency. In all honesty, I get scared. Not when in remote places, where there are only bears, wolves and cougars – just around humans. Humans are alarmingly unpredictable.
So when I’m stealth camping, there are little things that I do to be sneaky. Invisible = safe. Last night, I relaxed that a little and I wish that I hadn’t. Don’t worry. I’m not killed, raped or robbed. Just disappointed and tired.
I came across a provincial campground at Vaseaux Lake. Lovely! The fee is $18. I didn’t wish to pay it and so didn’t set up in a camp site. What I did do, however, was find a grassy bit of shoreline that was out of sight and perfect for the night. I waited for some time, had a bite to eat and, normally, I’d wait until dark to put up the tent. One of those sneaky things. It was so warm and tucked away and safe feeling, I decided to go ahead and set up.
Nope and nope. A camper from down the way spotted me and told me it was unacceptable for me to stay there. That I should either pay the fee and camp in a site or leave.
I understand that this is technically a fair perspective. I also have to wonder what makes a person get out of their 25 foot trailer to get rid of a woman on a bicycle.
I felt a pride, a screw-you, that kept me from being honest with her. My impulse was to hide my vulnerability. I had some back and forth with her and then said “well there’s lots of forest” and packed up without any rudeness or argument.
After she walked away, I burst into tears. I didn’t even know why. Evening was coming on as I wept and pedalled. Slowly I began to make sense to myself. (Solitude on the open road is good that way.)
I have been a four star hotel self and now I am a sleeping in ditches self. I am able to see the strata of society in ways I simply couldn’t from high up. I also have the great good fortune of choice in the matter. I am scrambling alongside of road-people who really don’t have a dollar or a friend to call. So I can’t say that I’m suffering, really, when I’m cold, hungry or disrespected.
But I can say that it’s really easy to notice safety, comfort and status when they’re gone. Yesterday, I was feeling vulnerable, rather alone, and the safety of the campground was deeply soothing.
Ah, I love these teachable moments. Such fertile ground. If I had been honest with the woman, perhaps she would have felt compassion and gone away feeling warm and good for me to have a safe place to sleep. I had a choice of changing the game to vulnerability or meeting war with war. Too often, I pick the latter and pay for it.
So then it’s ride ride until it’s dark enough to set up without being seen. The area became more populated with no real forest areas to choose from.
Sneaky stealth camping trick #2 is to find just the right spot at just the right level of dusk so that you can see what you’re doing, but be hard to spot. Then, in the morning, it’s the same thing in reverse. Avoid having to use a light.
I found a disused fruit stand shack flanked by orchards that was right on the highway. (Trick #3: try to stay close to main roads where people can hear you scream.)
I went around back and shone a light into the broken window. (Trick #4: Avoid places with used needles or broken bottles.) All good. I prepared to camp behind it.
The site was too exposed to want to actually set up the tent, so I crawled into it flat and zipped the mesh over my face (trick #5). I threw a khaki tarp over my bike and stuff (#6) for maximum incognito.
Rain. Sigh. Cold. And the constant sound of trucks on the road and the sh-sh of distant sprinklers against trees kept sounding like footsteps in the grass.
When you are exposed and alone and all your senses are giving you miserable information, you want to make it stop. But if you can’t make it stop, you find out things about yourself.
Like…it’s okay. It’s okay. I’m okay. Even with so little, I’m okay because I have enough. Even with ‘low status’ my love, friendships and self-respect give me dignity. Even with physical and emotional pain, I can get through it without stuffing money, food and liquor into it.
I prefer, of course, to stuff money, food and liquor into my unhappiness. And I came to a place in life where I needed to be without those crutches to cross the Rubicon into a fully realized self. I tried hard to make them into a boat for the crossing, but it didn’t work. So I’m in the water and getting wet. It’s good.
North Americans get weirded out by people sleeping wherever. They find it unsettling. I think to them it means that I’m shifty and dangerous and beneath them. I wish they were more weirded out by things that actually matter. Like wanton, earth-killing consumption, dishonesty and people who don’t question what they think.
It’s morning now and it’s still dark and I’m still cold – but I slept where I chose to and I know who I am.