ORLAND, Maine – Dave is from Canada, Dave travels by bicycle. Dave also has an interested strategy for finding free accommodation on the road: he trades a little labor to set up his tent on farms.
I arrived to work on The Farm one morning to find a tent set up out near the pea field. This was not an unusual sight, as, for some reason still unknown to me, great changes seem to come to The Farm between that hours of 5:30PM, when I leave at night, and 7:30 AM, when I arrive the following morning. So seeing a tent set up out in the field was no surprise.
It was also no surprise when I saw the odd shape of a stranger walking towards me with a box full of freshly picked squash. We passed by each other as I made my way out to gather some beat greens. It has become ordinary to find new people randomly teleported into these fields as laborers. So when I walked by Dave for the first time, I just gave a little nod and a quick hello.
I found no reason for a stop and chat, or to introduce myself. The way I figure it, if I am ever going to get to know someone, I will eventually do it anyway: with or without the small talk. I usually duck the terse and awkward introduction ceremonies that come with meeting new people whenever possible, even if that means storming past a fellow man on my way out to pick some beets.
Well, throughout that day, I did find reasons to get to know Dave. I interviewed him, in fact. He proved to be an interesting fellow, who proved to have an interesting strategy for traveling long distance by bicycle. We were weeding out the melon fields together when I began asking him how he ended up at The Farm — which is neither located on a main thoroughfare nor near any sort of population center.
“It was coincidence, I just saw the sign,” he replied, indicated the hand painted sign for the organic farm that hangs over the entrance to the driveway.
I then began putting together his tale:
Dave is currently on his second long distance bicycle tour. The first was a ride from Vancouver, BC down to Ensenada, Mexico. My eyebrows perked up when he explained to me how he traversed the bulk of the North American continent under his own power. He was now on his second long ride, which had taken him from his home in Montreal to Rhode Island, and then up to Maine, from where he planned on taking a ferry to Nova Scotia before returning to Montreal.
Dave’s Accommodation Strategy
Throughout these bicycle journeys, Dave tries to avoid organized campgrounds, and makes concerted efforts to retain his sparse travel funds and more fully interact with the people whose lives he rides through. One way that he does this is through trading a little work on small farms in exchange for a place to set up his tent, perhaps a little food, and the occasional bout of good company.
Devising strategies to really meet and interact with people is one of the biggest challenges in travel. I know that it is entirely possible to ride a bicycle across a country without ever really interacting with anyone. I did it once in Slovakia. It is not hard.
Dave mentioned that organic farms are his favorite places to camp, and when I questioned him about why this was, he replied:
“I think small organic farming has a greater connection to the land and the environment . . . I just like meeting people who are doing that and living that.”
This sounded good to me, but I was still interested in how he usually made his arrangements to stay on the farms. Did he always just do it on the fly, walk up to the farmhouse, and ask for a place to stay, as he did on the farm that I was working on? Or does he sometimes call in advance and formally arrange his visit?
“It’s a mix,” he answered, “sometimes I contact places ahead, and sometimes I just check in. When traveling by bicycle it is difficult to be fixed to a plan too much, because you never know when you will have bad weather or a bike breakdown that will prevent you from getting to a place when you hope to.”
“So do you always trade a day of work for a place to stay on farms?” I was becoming curious if working on farms to keep his expenses low was Dave’s consistent modus operandi of bicycle travel, or just something that he would do every once in a while as the opportunity arose.
“I enjoy the work,” he began, “so if I have the chance [to work] it is something I like to do. And often it is something the people like from you, too. So it is a chance to connect to the people who are working there, and work the land a little more.”
“What is your success rate?” I then asked bluntly, wondering how often he is able to score a free place to stay on the Road.
“Farms are great places. On farms, usually people are pretty generous,” he answered without hesitation. “But I have been refused before,” he was quick to add.
“So you have a background in farming?” I asked.
“I have,” Dave replied, “community gardens are something that I have volunteered in for a few years in the city [Montreal]. I have also done a few months of farm work here and there.”
“Do you think doing farm work or trading to stay on farms is a good way to travel?” the conversation carried on.
“Ideally, I think it would be best to stay places for some length of time. Just showing up at the door and offering your labor [at a farm] . . . it is really out of their generosity [the farmer’s] that they let you do it. But it is after you stay some place for a while and get to know the place and get to know the type of work that is required, you become more useful. On the fly, who knows if somebody will have good or useful work for you to do. But sometimes it does work out well for everyone, and you can lend a hand where it is needed.”
“Do you ever ask to stay overnight at places other than farms?” I then inquired.
“If I have to,” Dave’s quickly replied before leading into a story:
He told me that he was traveling by bike in New Hampshire around an hour before sundown — right about time to begin looking for a place to set up camp and crash. Not finding any suitable farms in sight, he began looking for a campground. So he pulled over to the side of the road after spotting a guy hanging out in his lawn. Dave asked the guy if he knew of a place to camp.
“Well, he could not think of a campground nearby,” Dave recited the tale, “but he could think of a good place to stay: “Right here” [points to ground], so he just let me camp in the backyard, and he invited me in for dinner.”
I then asked Dave how much money he spent per day, figuring that his mode of transportation and his accommodation strategy probably combined together to allowed him to travel on a penance.
“I try to do it as cheaply as possible,” Dave replied, and then stated that he cooks own food, ate a lot of fresh bread, hummus, and peanut butter. He also said that he gets fresh fruits and vegetables along the roadside “whenever I can get them.”
“I think that is a good way of doing it,” he continued, “because buying everything as you go and from the road side is another way of keeping things as local as possible.”
Dave then summarized his travel strategy by stating, “Overall, I think it has been an experience to confirm the goodness of people in my mind. Overall, it is just overwhelming generosity when people open their spaces to you.”