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finding a place to sleep

Finding somewhere to sleep as an itinerant on a bicycle is the biggest daily challenge. I have had some fantastic experiences with spontaneous hospitality offered by people that I meet on my way but, in general, I spend most of my time camping. The quality of my campsite makes a big difference to how agreeable life seems to me and there are a lot of variables that have to come together to create a totally pleasing state of affairs.

The first law of real estate holds true: it is all about location, location, location. I definitely want to be far enough away from the road to be out of view of passing traffic and I would prefer, also, to be out of earshot of road-noise but this can be surprisingly difficult to achieve. Trees to provide shelter generally improve a campsite but being too closed in makes me nervous – I like to be able to see what is coming. A flat spot to pitch the tent is essential and it helps if the ground is soft enough to drive the tent pegs in.

Water is a vital requirement and so an ideal campsite provides a source of water that is, at the very least, of high enough quality to be filtered. Glacier fed rivers, which abound here in North America carry huge amounts of silt which quickly clogs the filter and so aren’t suitable. Storing and carrying water is a delicate balancing act. I want to avoid spending all day carrying around litres and litres of water, because it’s heavy, but getting stuck at the end of the day without enough to cook and clean up with is a sorry situation.

Timing is important. There is nothing more aggravating than coming across a beautiful camp site at lunch time. I am then faced with the dilemma of whether to stay, and consequently worry about if I’ll ever make it to Panama, or to continue until I have completed what is, essentially, a totally arbitrary number of miles for the day. If I make the decision to go on, there is no guarantee, at all, that another decent campsite will conveniently appear in the evening. Similarly, it is also irritating to set up camp in an unsatisfactory location and spend an uneasy night, for one reason or another, only to find when I move on in the morning that an ideal site appears a few miles down the road.

I always ask people that I meet along the road for advice about possible camp sites but I have discovered that their criteria for a good spot and mine are often quite different. I have a long standing and deep-seated prejudice against designated campgrounds, especially the kind that cater to RV campers. A ‘restroom’ is not top of my list of priorities, nor are showers. It is amazing how quickly some social conventions lose their importance – a shower once a week is fine by me, and even longer if I have the opportunity to swim or wash in a river or lake occasionally.

Since uncertainly is the essence of adventure, not knowing where I am going to end up for the night is a large part of the charm of this kind of trip – even if, sometimes, it is slightly disconcerting. However, if anyone reading this is planning a similar trip I do have some specific recommendations:

At Mile 79 on the Richardson Highway an initially rather unprepossessing private RV campsite proves to have plenty of unexpected charms. While I didn’t actually spend the night there, it is one of those places which, when I came across early in the morning, after spending the night rather nervously squatting on private property, I really wished I had. These are the features that attracted me:

  • Tent camping is free and I didn’t see any RVs there at all.
  • The cafe/restaurant boasts a menu which offers traditional Russian specialties such as bilinis, borscht, and stuffed peppers. Now, while Russian food may lack a certain degree sophistication it more than makes up for that with the kind of high-calorie stodge factor that cyclists dream of after days and days of meagre camp fare. Sadly, since I arrived at 10.30am, not long after cooking my morning porridge by the roadside, I didn’t actually sample any of this fare but the fact the girls serving the food chatted to each other in Russian testified to the authenticity of the cuisine.
  • The bar is called the Mangy Moose Cantina which indicates a sense of humour that appeals to me.
  • There is free coffee and wi-fi available – even to the casual passer by.
  • There is a nice garden out the front of the café/restaurant.
  • It is around a day’s ride from Valdez.

If I was writing for a travel guide I’d rate this place very highly, even though, on the minus side, there is a large screen telly tuned noisily to daytime soaps constantly blaring away in the bar next to the café area.

Another unexpected gem is the bus, which is so special it deserves a post all of its own. Apparently this place has featured in a number of cycling magazines but I came across it totally unexpectedly.

{ 5 } Comments

  1. Lindsay | August 4, 2009 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Now I have read it from start to finish! The scenery is almost dreamlike – except where humans have put their stamp of course. you are priviledged to be able to get up so close on it. Dervla describes and records the lives of the people she meets. A kind of anthropology. Can you give that a go? I’m thinking of the book of the trip.

    It was great to talk. C has finished the chemotherapy and is starting to revive – from a very low base.

    Much love


  2. Ken Hovda | August 6, 2009 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    Hello Anna…My grandson Camron and I were in Alaska and drove to the Arctic Circle. We saw Fin riding south shortly before we got there so after taking pictures we headed back south and stopped to see if he needed anything and gave him some water. We exchanged cards and I began following you and he on the net. I am sorry things worked out for you the way they did but am enjoying your trip maybe as much as you are.You take wonderful pictures and we have seen many of the thing ourselves as we traveled the AlCan as you are. I live in Sandy Or,at the foot of Mt Hood so if you come through the Portland area and I can be of any help to you please let me know. 503 347 2235 Be safe…Good luck…..Ken

  3. Ken Hovda | August 11, 2009 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    What happened to you Anna? Are you OK? Write something.. IIK

  4. zanny | August 11, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Having just spent the last week moving and “finding a place to sleep” I can appreciate your list of what must be its desirable qualities… While my new “camp site” may not have the views your pictures are conveying, I hope, that it might be slightly less temporary then yours, and so far it has running water is relatively flat and not too close to the road. I wonder whether finding somewhere to sleep is ever really more permanent then that?

    I saw your old dentist lamp at Serial Space before I left, in all these years I have lugged it around the shade has fallen off and its now integrated into someone’s art piece… I left it behind in the interests of trying to reduce my own stuff down from a mountain into a pile commensurate with the temporary nature of my accommodation – but if you want it I will go back for it for you??

    Cant believe you rode past bilinis and borscht – your trip must have made you hardened to previous temptations ;)

    missing you – lemme know when your back in communication xo

  5. anna | August 11, 2009 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Hi there, everybody.

    Sorry – I’ve been out of internet range for a while riding down the Cassiar Highway. I’m hiding out from the rain today and found internet access at a community college.

    Ken, thanks for your messages and offer of help in the Portland area – I should be that way in about 3 – 4 weeks. Nice to know that you are following my trip.

    Zanny, hope your latest house move works out well. xx

    Linsday, great to talk to you, too. Hope all’s well.

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