Where I end up after a long hard day’s cycling is anyone’s guess. Besides, when riding a bicycle, carrying just enough to make a little home for the night on a little flat green piece of land, it really doesn’t matter so much.
As a way of travelling a cycle tour can be slow and difficult, but nevertheless being on a bicycle, and going where I please, has always provided me with an unrivalled sense of freedom.
More often than not where I end up can fill me with absolute awe – it might be on the side of a mountain looking across a vast sierra, perhaps in a little forest by the side of a stream, by a lake watching a beautiful sunset, or just in a back garden where someone has allowed me to camp.
These spots might take some searching, or even some asking if there are lots of homes and people around, but the search is often worth all the effort; and I seem to be getting very good at finding them too.
The search for key ingredients to a happy little home
My search for a free camp spot normally begins about an hour or so before sunset. The search is not too serious at first – just keeping my eyes open for those key ingredients that in my experience make for a nice camp spot. The key ingredients for me include: flat land (soft enough for tent pegs and no spikey bits that can’t be removed), secluded from the road, out of sight of any houses, away from agriculture (especially animals), easily accessible with the bike, close enough to running water, shelter from any wind if there is any, and – always the cherry on the top – a beautiful view.
As I’m riding I might be able to see some of these important ingredients and so I might stop and investigate further. If I then see all that I need, which isn’t often, and I feel ready to stop, then the camp spot is almost definitely mine. Often I come across a camp spot that doesn’t have all the key ingredients but is “good enough” – if it is close to sunset, raining, or I’m just feeling tired I might just take that spot. However, if it is still early I might just mentally mark the spot as somewhere to come back to if, after a search further up the road, there is nothing much better.
Creating my happy little home
Once I’ve chosen a camp spot it is then time to create my happy little home for the night. I keep all my camping stuff easily accessible. First, out comes the tent. Once the tent is set-up I lay out my sleeping paraphernalia (thermorest, sleeping bag, inner liner). I then cover my bike and lock it to the tent. I then unpack my food and cooking stuff and do my best to arrange my tent in a way so that I know exactly where everything is if I need it. In a home, even a small temporary home, everything has a home. Things can get lost surprisingly easily in a tent and there have been so many times I’ve stressed myself out trying to find things that I put down in some place with little consciousness.
Once everything is arranged in a way I like I then think about cleaning myself. If there is water close by then that is perfect – I’ll strip off and plunge right in. It is delightful to put cold water over a tired body after a hot sweaty day. I have water bottles (2 litre capacity) with me and if I know I will be camping I make sure I’ve got my water bottles full up because if there is no water, and this happens quite often, I will have enough to clean myself, as well as cook dinner and breakfast. I can get myself clean enough (just washing of the sweat) with about 500mls of water. Efficient. I’ll then get into some reasonably clean non-cycling clothes.
Next, I might take some time to breathe and take in my home for the night and put some thoughts into my journal. I’ll then begin cooking. I like to eat well and so it can take some time to prepare food on a small camp stove. Often once I’ve eaten I already might be feeling quite sleepy. I’ll tidy up a little and then maybe read a book – often just two pages in, and it might even be only 8 o’clock, my eyes will become droopy. There’s not much else to do and so sleep often comes early.
Sometimes I sleep well in the tent, other times not. Normally I’ll get to sleep easily but wake up after a few hours and be wide awake for a bit in the middle of the night. Sometimes I can be awake because I feel so excited about life and all the magic from the day before. Other times I might feel anxious about the camp spot I’ve chosen because of noises such as cars or animals. Either way I just try to accept my wakefulness for what it is. I might feel like reading or writing during this time. I’ll try to use whatever energy I have in a creative way until I feel tired again.
I have free-camped far too many times to count – perhaps somewhere upwards of 300 times, I’m not sure – but certainly I was no stranger to free-camping before this trip. Yet even now I can still feel a bit scared setting up my home in the middle of nowhere. At times I can be on edge and thoughts will creep into my mind about all sorts of eventualities. It is just me. Vulnerable? At times I feel so – but in actuality I know I’m not. They are just thoughts. Thoughts that inhibit my experience of now. On many a night such thoughts create tensions inside of me that can make enjoyment, relaxation, and sleep sometimes quite difficult to obtain.
Yet eventually I always fall to slumber and I awake to see another day. It has gotten much easier over the years and I have learnt much about myself in the process. Safety is of course important, but no matter how high the fence or how thick the walls I find that fear will manifest in some way. Moreover, waking up to the sound of birds, a beautiful view, and freshly cooked porridge always makes whatever personal challenge I may have experienced the night before.
Deconstructing a home
I normally wake up having had enough sleep quite early – sometimes as early as 5. If I sleep until 6 then that is what I consider to be a real lay in. If I’m free-camped I like to be ready to leave not too long after first light. I’ll sometimes meditate before eating my breakfast and then I begin to pack up my things. I can do this quickly if needs be, for example, if it is likely to be a hot day. However, I much prefer to take my time – to appreciate exactly where I am and the simplicity of the life I have chosen and continue to choose.
But I can sometimes feel very sad to deconstruct my little home and say goodbye to the camp spot that supported me for the night. It is always a once in a lifetime experience – the unbridled joy and happiness I may have experienced never to be repeated in that little spot. I pack up and the adventure keeps flowing…where will I find myself next…