Biking to Oregon: Day 4 - A Day Trip to the Bunkhouse

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Around 2:30 in the morning, I woke up to the sound of thunder and hard rain against my tent. I opened my weather radar app and saw a fast approaching storm. I’ve never camped in a storm like this, so I started to google what I should do. Should I stay in my tent? Should I go to the building with the restrooms and showers, since it has electricity and plumping to help ground the building? With the rain, thunder, and lighting only increasing in severity, I decided to wait out the storm in my tent. I stayed dry, but noticed a big pool of water accumulating on the rain-fly of my tent when the sun came out. The clothes I hung out to dry the night before unsurprisingly were still just as wet. Being far away from any towns, I ate two clif bars, packed my tent, and rejoined the Northern Tier route.

Weather radar of the passing storm, with me being the blue dot in the middle of it.

Although the storm had passed, it was still drizzling. I didn’t have cell service but my route and ACA’s services (hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, etc.) were saved to my phone so that I didn’t need an internet connection to access them. I saw that ACA had a restaurant on the route with no other information, so I decided to stop by in hopes of getting an actual breakfast. The “restaurant” ended up being a closed hot dog stand, complementing the river tubing shuttle service next door. With it being a dreary Tuesday morning at 7:30am, nobody was floating the river, so nobody was buying hot dogs. I continued west towards Harris, eating another clif bar along the way. I saw a café with an open sign, so I parked my bike and grabbed my lights, battery backup, and USB charger, hoping I could charge my electronics while I ate breakfast. When I walked in the restaurant, I was getting a lot of looks from the mostly baby-boomer crowd getting breakfast. I was soaking wet from the constant drizzle, holding a bunch of chargers and wires. The server brought me to a booth and I plugged in my USB charger. It barely stayed in the ancient looking wall sockets.

My USB battery backup wouldn't charge. I tried two different outlets at my booth, and then walked around the restaurant testing different outlets at open tables. A few guys sitting at a booth were friendly and asked me about my trip as I tried to get my battery backup to charge. It wasn’t out of battery, but I didn’t want to let it get too low. I eventually gave up and sat down to eat apple fritter french toast.

After breakfast, I stopped by a gas station to refill on clif bars and water. I had bought a couple water bottles but only needed one of them to top off. The same guys I saw at the restaurant stopped by to get gas and said hello again. I gave them one of my unopened water bottles I bought from the gas station, since I bought too many and the alternative was throwing it away. The rain was still off and on, although the forecast didn’t call for any thunderstorms. I continued west, aiming to stay in Bowlus that night.

The route took me on a backroad where I saw a sign “Construction Ahead, Road Closed”. Not expecting this closure, I continued on anyway hoping that nobody was working or that they would let me by. As I got closer, I saw machinery digging up the road.

Road construction in Minnesota. I was lucky enough to be waved through.

I stopped by the side for a moment and a truck pulled up to tell me to wait for the dump truck and then I could bike though. He had talked to the workers in the machines via radio so they would know to expect me to come by. I was thankful that he was kind enough to do this, and I was also looking forward to biking a section of road free of cars, knowing I was the exception to the road closure rule.

When I was planning my route in the month before my trip, I was looking at the services that ACA put on the route. They use shorthand codes to group services, such as CG for Campground or RS for Restaurant. Two of the codes, COC and COL, stood for Cyclist Only Campground and Cyclist Only Lodging, respectively. I was curious so I looked at if there were any of these along my route. The first one was in Minnesota and I would pass through it that day. It was called the “Adventure Bicyclist Bunkhouse” in Dalbo, which was a barn that was converted into a hostel for cyclists.

The story goes that cyclists would ask Donn, the owner of the farm, if they could camp on his lawn since there aren’t many campgrounds in this area. Donn said they could camp even if no one is home. Then, cyclists would ask if they could set up camp in the barn to avoid having to pack a dew-soaked tent in the morning. From there, Donn added amenities like bedrooms, a flushable toilet, shower, and a kitchen stocked with food.

I was 60 miles into my ride when I stopped by the bunkhouse. The ACA provides phone numbers for all of their services, so I called ahead. Donn picked up the phone and I said I was an hour out and hoping to stop by for a break, but wasn’t planning to spend the night.

Welcome to the Adventure Bicyclist Bunkhouse.

When I arrived at the bunkhouse, Donn got off his lawnmower to show me around. He was exactly how I picture a midwest farmer, wearing a Menards hat with a strip of fly paper on the brim.

Inside the bunkhouse.

Donn showed me around the bunkhouse and got out some maps to describe what I can expect on the next part of the route. He talked about the 100 miles of paved bike trails that connected Bowlus to Fergus Falls, which motivated me to keep going.

No shortage of things to look at.

Donn went back to keep mowing the lawn, so I unpacked my sleeping bag and some clothes to help dry out from last night’s storm. I took advantage of the fully-stocked kitchen and made some microwaved mac and cheese for lunch, along with a snickers bar and a root beer.

One of the bedrooms in the bunkhouse.

It was tempting to spend the night here, but it was only the middle of the day and I was looking forward to starting the next day with the bike trails instead of continuing on the highway. I packed up my bike again and continued west, still drizzling with a light headwind.

Between Dalbo and Bowlus, I stopped at a gas station to refill fluids and snacks. I got a pack of peanut M&Ms, and with not wanting to stop much longer, I decided to eat them while biking. The route led me on to a county road which had cracks perpendicular to the road every 20 feet due to the harsh winters in northern Minnesota. I was resting one of my forearms on my handlebars to steer my bike while I used my other arm to eat M&Ms. Every few bumps in the road caused an M&M to fly out of the pouch. I should’ve just pulled over to finish them, but instead I started eating them faster so that they were less likely to fly out going over the bumps.

Later on, I saw an off-leash dog barking at me in an unfenced yard along the highway. As I started to pass by, I saw the dog run towards the road, but since there was a lot of tall grass and brush separating the owners yard and the highway, I wasn’t worried. I lost sight of the dog and saw the grass move as the dog ran through it, then on to the highway and started chasing me. This all happened while eating a clif bar, but I held on to it and pedaled as hard as I could to outrun the dog, who was barking next to my left leg the whole time. The dog eventually got bored and turned around to go home. A tow truck driver then passed me, hopefully just witnessing the highlight of his day. He laughed and gave a friendly wave as he passed by.

The sun eventually came out, so I pulled over next to an abandoned bar to take off my jacket and put on sunscreen. The headwind was picking up and I was ready to be done for the day. I was also starting to notice how uncomfortable it was to sit down. Biking multiple 100+ mile days in a row was uncharted territory for me and the skin on my ass.

I continued to Bowlus on the flat roads, alternating between sitting and standing to give my ass a break. Bowlus had a COC - Cyclist Only Campground - with a phone number attached to it. It was a city park and the phone number was for the restaurant next door, where the owner managed the park. She told me on the phone that the campground was open. Only one more untrained, off-leash dog separated me between my destination for the night. This time the dog never made it onto the highway, only reluctantly turning around after being called by its owners several times.

When I made it to Bowlus, I parked my bike at the restaurant to get dinner and asked about camping. I paid $15 for the camping in addition to dinner, then sat outside to eat. After dinner, I set up camp at the park across the street. There were no designated campsites, but there was a shelter with picnic tables next to a public restroom. Being the only one camping, I did my best showering with the sink in the restroom and then did my daily clothes washing. Setting up camp under the shelter meant I didn’t have to worry about a dew-soaked tent in the morning. I called it a night after a long, wet, and windy day.