I lost track of time as I biked on and eventually I came upon that winery and vineyard that Jody told me about. I pulled to the right, my tires grinding over loose gravel and made my way passed a few tall metal buildings towards a large house in the back. When I got close enough 8 different dogs approached me barking loudly. Dismounting my bike I walked past the dogs, up to the house and knocked on the door. No one answered. I looked in the window; no one seemed to be home.
For a second I didn’t know if this ‘Tim’ would be here, or even if I was in the right place. I hadn’t seen anyone here at this up and running vineyard and clearly no one was in the house. It was already about 4 pm, the sun was beginning to set, and I was still very worried about what would happen after sunset. I couldn’t keep biking; I had to sleep sometime, but when? Where? I didn’t know how far away I was from Mabton and I was hoping Tim could help me out tonight.
I looked around and I saw two men standing near one of the buildings so I approached them and asked if they knew where Tim was. They said he’d be back soon, so I decided to wait. Thirty minutes passed and Tim had not come back yet. Thirty minutes is a long time when you’re worried and watching the sun set, feeling that when it does, you’d better have a plan for the night. Forty-five minutes had passed when a truck pulled up an out stepped a man in a red shirt, blue jeans, and cowboy boots.
“Excuse me sir, are you Tim?” I asked nervously. This was the beginning of my journey and I was not yet comfortable asking random people for assistance, truth be told, I’m still not entirely comfortable with the idea of interrupting a man’s day and blatantly asking him to do me a favor for no apparent reason. I am still surprised at how well it works though. Good people are still around, you just have to give people a chance and make your needs known. As the saying goes, ‘closed mouths don’t get fed.’
“Yes I am, what can I do for you, son?” The man had a pleasant and helpful attitude and though his hands and face appeared rough from years of hard labor, an observant individual could sense that this ‘Tim’ possessed a gentle nature.
“Well, my name is Bryan and I’m on a bicycling trip. I guess I’m heading towards a town called Mabton and I’m not sure where to post up for the night. I met a man named Jody a few miles back who told me that there was a man named Tim at a vineyard just down the road who might be able to help me out.” My words stumbled as I nervously attempted to suggest that I’d like his help with lodging.
Like Jody before him, Tim let out a deep laugh that seems to characterize the compassionate and easy going nature of the people around here. “Well why didn’t ya say so?” Tim thoughtfully stroked his clean shaven chin as though his thick beard were missing. “I wish I could put ya up in my farm, but I’ve rented out all the rooms and if ya camp in the back yard the dogs’ll get to ya.”
Tim looked about for a bit as I shuffled my feet wondering how this was going to end. It was clear that Tim wanted to help, but the jury was out as to whether or not he’d actually be able to.
“You look like you’re prepared to rough it. I’ll tell ya what. See the railroad tracks on the other side of the road? There’s a wooded section out there that’s not near anybody. I own all that land, and if you’d like you can set up your tent out there, I’m sure you won’t be bothered. If anyone gives ya any grief, just tell’em Tim said it was ok. How’s that?”
Honestly, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Part of me was really hoping that I could do as much of this trip indoors as possible. But, another part of me realized that I was going to have to camp at some point and I might as well get used to the idea at the outset. This bike trip wasn’t going to be easy; I knew that when I left, but I guess like most people I wanted to stave off the hardship as long as I could.
I took 1000 mg of suck-it-the-hell-up. “So it’s just over on the other side of the tracks?” I gestured with my fingers while walking a few steps into the middle of the gravel driveway. From there I could see exactly what Tim was talking about. There was the road, then the tracks, and after that I could see a wooded section in the distance.
“You’ll be fine over there. Ya know I did a trip like this myself when I was younger. I didn’t bike, but I did have to get used to roughin it. This is yer first lesson on this trip. Sometimes, it’s hard. But the further you go, the easier it’ll get. Just don’t quit.”
Tim’s words caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting to find a road side scholar, let alone to find a ‘travel teacher,’ at least not this soon into the journey. Tim seemed to understand the mixture of fear and excitement I was feeling and having already completed his journey long ago, it was reassuring to know that others have gone before me and that I can benefit from their wisdom, that I need not take the journey alone. It calmed me to know that wherever I went, the masters had already been and had left behind a trail of wise men and women to learn from. So the saying is true, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
I thanked Tim for offering his woods to me, jumped on my bike and rode toward the road. I got off, crossed the rail road tracks and made my way along a dirt path to a section of green I planned to make my haven for tonight. When I got to the center of the area I realized that these ‘woods’ weren’t as thick as I thought they were. Truth was the trees were thin and there weren’t that many of them to begin with, so I wasn’t sure how concealed I’d be, but here I was and like it or not, this was going to be home for the night.
I set my bike down and unpacked my gear for the first time. Taking off my heavy pack I lowered it to the ground and took off the orange tent that I’d attached to the side of the bag. The tent I used was actually a Junior Dome tent from Wal-Mart, it was even made for a full sixed adult, but I’d camped in it before on an actual vacation camping trip, so I knew it wouldn’t be uncomfortable. Constructing it wasn’t hard either; a few flexible rods slipped through small sleeves on the outside of the tent, add pressure and the tent pops up. Slip the rod ends into small loops on the corners of the tent base and bam, it’s done.
After setting up my tent, I took my bags off the back rack of my bike. I carried three bags strapped to the back rack, plus the 40L hiking backpack I carried on my back. The bag on top held my food, drink mixes, and would later be home to the many maps I would pick up along the way. The two bags on either side of the rack would be called panniers, if they were actually panniers. Instead of shelling out $70 per bag, I bought two handle bar bags from Wal-Mart and velcroed them to the side; I added a few carabineer clips just to make sure they were attached well. In these two bags I carried about 3 liters of water and other assorted tools and bike repair items.
These bags I set inside my tent leaving my bike outside near the tent. I figured bike theft wasn’t going to be much of an issue here. If someone discovers that I’m here and has a problem with it, I’m going to have bigger issues than a stolen bike. My cellphone told me it was going on 5:30 pm; the sun was getting low and I was getting hungry. Well, time for my first meal on the road.
Digging through my hiking pack I pulled out a small stove (made by Snowpeak), a canister of isobutene fuel, and a set of collapsible metal pots. From my top bag I grabbed a bag of brown rice, a can of tuna, and a packet of hot chocolate mix. Ah yes, a feast fit for a king. The stove works by screwing the stove into the top of the fuel canister, then there is a valve on the side that lets me control the gas flow; a simple lighter or a match will light the gas. Breaking out my pots I filled them with water set them on a low flame.
When the water had come up to a simmer I added the brown rice and cooked it till done, but slightly crunchy with the water mostly evaporated. At this point I added the tuna. I do this because I know that the tuna will take some time to heat up and I don’t want the rice to be overcooked. When everything is hot and cooked, I take the tuna rice off the burner and set it aside to cool. Then I put on a second pot of water to heat up to make warm drinks with. For tonight’s menu, that drink would be hot cocoa.
Eating my meager meal that evening was an interesting experience. I watched the sun set from my tiny camp and some part of me was terrified of what I was doing, but another part of me had never felt such freedom. I was worried, but content. Afraid, yet calm. The sun was setting, my food tasted like shit, but cocoa is damn good and tomorrow’s a new day that will see me riding across the country. I didn’t know where I was, I barely had any money, but I’ll be goddamned if I didn’t feel liberated.
On to Article 5