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Old 09-08-17, 07:18 AM   #1
landrybrad
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Logistics of finding camp sites while touring - need advice

I've started to get a handle on the hardware of bike touring, but have to admit, I'm still a little intimidated about the prospect of a long tour. What concerns me most is the ability to find safe campsites. I'm looking at taking the Southern tier and Great Rivers routes on an upcoming trip. If I can't find legit campsites, and don't want to stay in a hotel...any advice about how to find a place to camp while in small towns or in the middle of nowhere? Here in Texas, at least, there is very little public land....barbed wire around EVERYTHING. When you all set out on tours, do you have all your campsites planned in advance, or wing it? Any camping advice is welcome! Thanks!
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Old 09-08-17, 10:13 AM   #2
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On long tours, I definitely do not have camp sites planned in advance. Only if I am a known busy time in a known touristy area will I sometimes make a reservation and that is more often a hotel and more often a day or two in advance. It is just too difficult to predict well where I might be and part of what I like about touring and particularly camping is the ability to take things as they come.

So there are a few suggestions. First would be to look at the Adventure Cycling maps themselves because those list services and usually have several camping alternatives along the way. Make sure to look not only at the map, but also at the addenda: https://www.adventurecycling.org/rou...d-corrections/ since those corrections often seem to be lodging related.

If that doesn't result in an alternative or two as one travels and you find yourself in a town without a tent site, then my next choice is to find someone and ask. A sheriff or more official authority is often useful but if not then I'll ask locals or businesses near the town square or park area.

Outside the USA, I've had some good experiences with a free Android application named "iOverlander" - https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...er.droid&hl=en It isn't bicycle specific and seems to have entries by motorcyclists, overland campers and others. If there is an internet connection one can see listings on Google Maps and even without one can see a list along with distances. I first started using it here in South America, so am not sure how well the database is populated for US-based entries.
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Old 09-08-17, 10:21 AM   #3
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I liked getting out of the USA, for my tours..
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Old 09-08-17, 11:30 AM   #4
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Ditto the advice about asking locals and law enforcement. Working farmers and ranchers are generally very accommodating to a friendly person. If you get permission to camp on private land, be respectful and clean, and offer to help with a chore, to make it easier for the next cyclist to ask.

You may camp for free in dispersed sites on most public land (USFS and BLM) and in the Western US, there's generally plenty of it. The trick may be having water for a dry site--carry enough for an overnight.

Even in urban areas you may be surprised at the hospitality you'll receive. I once asked a woman walking a dog in an Oregon city where I could find a cheap motel (I was getting a little desperate), and she offered her backyard for camping.

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Old 09-08-17, 11:35 AM   #5
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Personally I'm happy to wild camp everywhere, I even managed it in the US, though it is difficult as you say with all the private land. I tend to look for patches of forests, sometimes i'll look for them in advance on Google maps satellite view so I have an idea if it will be possible. Some places it's good to head for water, besides rivers or lakes there's sometimes public land. Otherwise you can get good at hiding and getting up early. Another option is to ask people if you can camp in their yard. If you see someone watering the plants, or a farmer in his field, can't hurt to ask, can it? People are mostly pretty nice, especially when they see you travelling on a bike. You may even get invited to stay indoors. Best of luck with the trip
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Old 09-08-17, 02:40 PM   #6
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Churches.

In small towns, many times the pastor lives next door or just a few blocks away.
Many churches have a grassy area out back for the kids to play in on Sundays.
(Saturday night may be a little iffy, Sunday night you may have to share with the teen group.)

Churches also have bathrooms and kitchens - and often the minister offers these.
Obviously, in 2017 churches have to be careful, but I've had good luck.
Sometimes I even get a free breakfast the next morning.
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Old 09-08-17, 03:16 PM   #7
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I always camp for free. I don't waste my money on overnight accomadations. In the past I have pretty much always camped in town, never asked permission either. Yes, I typically don't go to the campsite until around 11PM, and I'm out by sunrise. Sometimes I may be right in the 'center' of town, within a few blocks of Main St. Generally I always camp within 1 mile of a McDonalds, sometimes right across the street, or on an adjacent property to McDonalds. I spend my evening on the web in McDonalds doing route planning for the next day, never have a pre-planned route that I'm following. I'm also using satellite imagery to look down on the upcoming overnight stop to look for locations that meet me criteria as possible campsites.

For criteria:
1) Close to a McDonalds, that way I don't have far to go once I leave McDonalds to get to the campsite. The body has had the chance to dry off and by not having far to go I don't start sweating again before I get to camsite. The heart rate doesn't get a chance to climb much before I get to the campsite either. I get the route for the next day planned and I'm resting up and chilling out in the evening so when I get to the campsite I can spend 10 minutes setting up the campsite and then I'm right off to sleep generally within another 5-10 minutes. I don't waste a lot of time around the campsite like most people do.

2) Not close to water, don't want to be bothered with mosquitoes and they love standing water so I stay away from all water.

3) Typcailly something with blacktop or concrete, I don't want to set up my free standing tent on a grassy surface and have it get all wet overnight from the dew that collects on grassy surfaces. Actualy on my most recent trip I rarely set up the tent at all, didn't need the mosquito protection since I was staying away from water so I didn't need the tent and left it pack up.

4) Some place where I can get into/out of it with anyone seeing me go in, aka no houses on either side of the entrance to the property. If no one sees you go in they aren't going to call the cops on you and more than likely you will be left alone overnight and not have to deal with cops. Only twice I've had the cops make me move. The first time I had come down with a case of the stomach flu hours earlier and decided to bail on my original campsite and go for somewhere that was more central/err right in heart of town(business district...I knew when the side door of the 24/7 gas station opened I would get paid a visit from the cops and that is exactly what happened, they just had me move 20 feet over onto the adjoining property and left me alone otherwise). Only three have I had anyone, non-cop, spot me when it was a campsite I was willing to use, back to back nights very strangely??? On my last trip I had around 75 nights out on the trip and only had 3 nights where I got visited by the cops:
1) New Orleans, right on the Mississippi River Trail(federal lands), whole town sucks for stealth camping, fence/gate hell...creepist place I've ever been. Fortunately it was after 4AM when they spotted me camped right on the trail. I had set up the tent for precautionary measure since the MS River was literally right beside me and I figured I would swarmed by mosquitoes. Every other campsite I was thinking of using was failing me big time because gates/fences blocking access everywhere. Had nothing else to even try so I just looked for the most out of way place on the trail and set up the tent. When they arrived it wasn't long before I would have typically been waking up and breaking camp anyways so I didn't think much about it.
2) Yankton, SD. Planning to go for a church but when I walked out of McDonalds I noticed lightning off to the north and hadn't even bothered to check radar to know for sure which direction the rain was moving. I knew the church didn't have an overhang so I decided to see if I could find something that did. I was right beside an abandoned store/strip mall. I finally decided to duck underneath it as close to the front door as possible. I hadn't even made it asleep when the police showed up. They asked for my name, address and date of birth and checked it out and left and didn't bother me the rest of the night.
3) Napanee, IN. Camped out at a church. Lightning off to the north turned to rain but I was high and dry under the overhang to the drive up entrance. I fell asleep and woke up around 3AM when a vehicle pull up to the front door just a feet from me. The car stayed there for around 5 minutes before leaving. I figured I was going to get a visit by the cops. The car came back 5 minutes later and sit there again for several minutes before leaving and going off to an adjacent parking lot and left there lights shining right towards me. I pretty much knew for sure the cops were coming. I hadn't moved a muscle the whole time the car was there either of the first two times. I was just laying there with the rain fly on top me, not thinking a thing about what that looked like. The cops came in a few minutes later and check ID and waved the cleaning lady on in(it was now Wednesday morning). Never thought about having the rain fly draped across me made me look like a dead body that had been covered up. I and both cops had good laugh about it. The very next night in Battle Creek, MI I would head off to bed with lightning and thunder(set up the tent since I was on the west side of the church under an overhang but still not taking chances) and wake up in the morning to cleaning crew having shown up before I got up in the morning...the only two times I've seen cleaning crew while camped out at a church and I've spent many a nights at a church somewhere around the country.

5) If the forecast is calling for rain I typically look for something that appears to have an overhang where I can camp underneath it to stay dry. Again I don't want to waste my daytime drying out gear from dew or rain so I try to stay dry in the first place.

Generally, I look toward churches more than anything else as my first choice for where to stay and if I can't find any on satellite imagery that looks like an appealing place away from houses than I start looking for baseball dugouts(nice overhang), park pavillons, schools with overhangs, etc. If the forecast is calling for clear skies and it looks lie a slam dunk to be dry than I don't worry too much about trying to find an overhang and just go for something that is away from houses. I may find that right in the heart of town.

The simple secret is...if no one knows that your there, more than likely no one is going to bother you.

Once I get into town in the evening I'm both, depending on what comes first as I head into town, getting groceries and checking out the campsites in person. Some of the campsites don't pan out quite as good in person as they look like they might on satellite imagery. Sometimes I think I have a slam dunk and instead find myself looking for somewhere else once I see the location with my own two eyes. Sometimes I find the place looks better than satellite imagery wanted to make it look. Sometimes by the time I have groceries and am ready to head off to do route planning for the next day and check up on email/weather forecast, etc I may stumble into an even better campsite that I didn't spot on satellite imagery. My criteria is always the same though and I never ask for permission.

The two hardest spots I've had finding campsite have been back to back nights, New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Otherwise even in big towns/cities(Richmond,VA/Pensacola/Shreveport/Lincoln, NE) I've not had any kind of trouble finding campsites and way more often than not, being left alone all night without asking permission to camp there ahead of time. Generally in bigger towns/cities I am staying on the outskirt of town, again around the McDonalds on the outskirts versus anywhere in the heart of town to try to avoid the town troubles as much as possible. When it comes to small town America naturally I go for staying just about anywhere that meets the above criteria. I rarely have trouble finding campsites. In someplaces they are literally a penny a dozen.

In current times with the troubles everyone is trying to stir up with churches I think I would be more apt to still use churches but stay with churches in both smaller communities and even try for churches that aren't in the one mile radius of a McDonalds. Try to get myself further away from town and even preferably totally out of town altogether. They still aren't that hard to find.
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Old 09-08-17, 03:55 PM   #8
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We often camp at churches and fire stations while on tour. It's never been an issue. Once my other half asked to camp at a church and the city didn't allow camping in town so the pastor paid for a motel room for him. Rural gas stations also have allowed us to camp. Planning campsites requires you to be in a certain place on a certain day. I say wing it! Less stress and you can end up wherever

Happy Touring!
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Old 09-08-17, 08:25 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by landrybrad View Post
I've started to get a handle on the hardware of bike touring, but have to admit, I'm still a little intimidated about the prospect of a long tour. What concerns me most is the ability to find safe campsites. I'm looking at taking the Southern tier and Great Rivers routes on an upcoming trip. If I can't find legit campsites, and don't want to stay in a hotel...any advice about how to find a place to camp while in small towns or in the middle of nowhere? Here in Texas, at least, there is very little public land....barbed wire around EVERYTHING. When you all set out on tours, do you have all your campsites planned in advance, or wing it? Any camping advice is welcome! Thanks!
I book accommodation at the first place I fly into, just to get my bearings, and once there, if I like it, I might book it for the last day before my flight out. We wing everything else in between.

I find places to stay by checking Tourist Information Centres, and also (more frequently in recent years), opening Google Maps and typing "Camping Near ____ ".

I have, on occasion, free camped in Australia and Europe, but never in the US.
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Old 09-08-17, 08:37 PM   #10
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We often camp at churches and fire stations while on tour. It's never been an issue. Once my other half asked to camp at a church and the city didn't allow camping in town so the pastor paid for a motel room for him. Rural gas stations also have allowed us to camp. Planning campsites requires you to be in a certain place on a certain day. I say wing it! Less stress and you can end up wherever

Happy Touring!
You are joking, aren't you?
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Old 09-08-17, 09:59 PM   #11
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If you are touring the eastern U.S. then yes, the stress of finding a place for the night, with just winging it is a real concern.
Once you get west of the Mississippi then it is less of a concern.
When it starts to get dark people will sometimes jump all over themselves to help you.

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Old 09-08-17, 10:22 PM   #12
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You are joking, aren't you?
No! It was in Wisconsin somewhere w/ no campgrounds around and the city didn't allow camping (even outside the church) so she (the pastor) put him up in a motel room for a night after she exhausted all of her resources.

I wasn't implying this was the norm. Only that the issue was solved the one time there was one.

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Old 09-08-17, 10:37 PM   #13
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No! It was in Wisconsin somewhere w/ no campgrounds around and the city didn't allow camping (even outside the church) so she (the pastor) put him up in a motel room for a night after she exhausted all of her resources.

I wasn't implying this was the norm. Only that the issue was solved the one time there was one.

Pebs
You know, churches do survive on donations from parishoners, and a lot of them are doing it tough with all the expectations that communities impose on them. I cannot imagine your other half being a charity case. Has he even bothered to offer back the amount paid for his accommodation to the church? Or has he just grabbed the opportunity and run?

I find there to be some sort of moral compromise. Do those advocating this follow the religion of those churches? Or is it just a case of easy hypocrisy?
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Old 09-08-17, 11:19 PM   #14
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You know, churches do survive on donations from parishoners, and a lot of them are doing it tough with all the expectations that communities impose on them. I cannot imagine your other half being a charity case. Has he even bothered to offer back the amount paid for his accommodation to the church? Or has he just grabbed the opportunity and run?

I find there to be some sort of moral compromise. Do those advocating this follow the religion of those churches? Or is it just a case of easy hypocrisy?
Seems pretty clear no one is 'advocating this', it is simply relating a story of kindness by BikeliciousBabe. I doubt the pastor cared about the cyclist religion as some litmus test for her kindness. Was there some storm condition that prompted the offer and acceptance, that would make your harshness here look foolish? Why do you assume the cyclist is such a bad guy. Why not just consider that he did a chore for the church.

Some of us do not expect favors in return for our kindness.

Based on the post, it hardly seems like this cyclist is going around looking for folks to give handouts at every turn.
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Old 09-09-17, 12:26 AM   #15
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You know, churches do survive on donations from parishoners, and a lot of them are doing it tough with all the expectations that communities impose on them.
Agreed on principle, even if I can't speak to the situation in particular. I'd accept someone buying me a beer in a pub, I couldn't accept a church buying me a hotel room when I had the cash to do a bike tour, even if I didn't want to pay for a hotel room. Would much rather the church opening the lobby to my sleeping bag if I am asking for their generosity, than their funds being used to put me up in a hotel.
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Old 09-09-17, 02:18 AM   #16
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l...any advice about how to find a place to camp while in small towns or in the middle of nowhere? Here in Texas, at least, there is very little public land....barbed wire around EVERYTHING. When you all set out on tours, do you have all your campsites planned in advance, or wing it? Any camping advice is welcome! Thanks!
once over the blue ridge, and until you hit the rockies, plan your route
thru small towns....most have a city park, usually a lion's club park, many
with associated swimming pool with restrooms. check in with the local
sheriff and ask to set up for the night. most (all that i asked at) permitted
it, and some even opened the restrooms/showers for use.

in the western states (except the republic of texas) thereare yuuuuuuge
swathes of public land where you can camp.
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Old 09-09-17, 03:37 AM   #17
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Agreed on principle, even if I can't speak to the situation in particular. I'd accept someone buying me a beer in a pub, I couldn't accept a church buying me a hotel room when I had the cash to do a bike tour, even if I didn't want to pay for a hotel room. Would much rather the church opening the lobby to my sleeping bag if I am asking for their generosity, than their funds being used to put me up in a hotel.
I agree.

Unless I was in a dire situation, I would never accept a church buying me a hotel room.

However, if one offered me a patch of grass on which to pitch a tent, that would be a different story.
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Old 09-09-17, 05:00 AM   #18
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If I can't find legit campsites, and don't want to stay in a hotel...any advice about how to find a place to camp while in small towns or in the middle of nowhere?
It sounds like your plans involve using Adventure Cycling routes. They generally have enough places to stay listed on the maps that you don't really need to improvise much.

Quote:
Here in Texas, at least, there is very little public land....barbed wire around EVERYTHING. When you all set out on tours, do you have all your campsites planned in advance, or wing it? Any camping advice is welcome! Thanks!
I rode the ST including going across TX and found it easy to find places to camp there. I never plan ahead much and more often than not decide where to stop when I get there. I used the places listed on the AC maps a good bit of the time and improvised the rest. A number of times I slept in places that were not really campsites, but maybe since I didn't pitch a tent no one bothered me at roadside picnic areas or even when I slept in a dark corner of the Marfa Mystery Lights viewing station. Big trucks came and went all night long in the picnic areas, but I sleep well enough with a little noise.
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Old 09-09-17, 06:05 AM   #19
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Finding a spot to camp each night is one of the biggest challenges of touring. I never want to be caught without a place when darkness comes and then you are sol. When getting close to my daily target mileage, I start looking for camping possibilities. Seems like it always resolves itself one way or another. I've stayed in public parks, fairgrounds, rest areas, abandoned RR right of way, been invited on private property, even stayed at a truck stop. Obviously campgrounds and public lands are high on the list. One thing I don't want to project the image of vagrant so I choose my spots and make sure I am out of view and gone very early in the morning.
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Old 09-10-17, 09:04 AM   #20
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I short-tour in the densely populated Eastcoast and plan on wild camping (which I rather enjoy). For me, the trick was going ultra-compact/ultra-light which allows me to comfortably carry my rig ~1/4 mile or so I can get deeply into the woods and off trail, preferably hiking up to a high point. Total privacy, no risk of discovery (i.e. sleep well), no noisy/smokey campground neighbors, away from road noise, can go in early and leave late, etc. For me it's actually the best mix of civilized road-touring and backpacking-like camping... (except no campfires).

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Old 09-10-17, 09:15 AM   #21
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Backyards of country churches are good places. Usually cemeteries have wooded areas back from roads that are fairly discreet. Here in the midwest most farms have small wooded areas with little used two tracks between fields, that can work out. One consistent place is river banks. Usually, on one side or another of a bridge will be a two track leading down to a spot the locals use as for fishing and an unofficial boat launch. The rule is: set up late, leave early and Leave No Trace. I usually clean up the stray beer cans you find around. When it comes to campgrounds; the commercial and state park modern variety are like trailer parks, the NPS campgrounds are much better and cheaper.


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Old 09-10-17, 01:37 PM   #22
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I'm looking at taking the Southern tier and Great Rivers routes on an upcoming trip. If I can't find legit campsites, and don't want to stay in a hotel...any advice about how to find a place to camp while in small towns or in the middle of nowhere?
Campgrounds are listed on the maps. And you can you Google Maps an search "Campgrounds near [name of town]". Pan out if a search does yield results.
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Old 09-10-17, 10:31 PM   #23
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Seems pretty clear no one is 'advocating this', it is simply relating a story of kindness by BikeliciousBabe. I doubt the pastor cared about the cyclist religion as some litmus test for her kindness. Was there some storm condition that prompted the offer and acceptance, that would make your harshness here look foolish? Why do you assume the cyclist is such a bad guy. Why not just consider that he did a chore for the church.

Some of us do not expect favors in return for our kindness.

Based on the post, it hardly seems like this cyclist is going around looking for folks to give handouts at every turn.
Thank you for your understanding. It's saddening when someone does something nice for someone and others suggest/assume they must be paid back. That's not how it works.

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Originally Posted by Rowan View Post
You know, churches do survive on donations from parishoners, and a lot of them are doing it tough with all the expectations that communities impose on them. I cannot imagine your other half being a charity case. Has he even bothered to offer back the amount paid for his accommodation to the church? Or has he just grabbed the opportunity and run?

I find there to be some sort of moral compromise. Do those advocating this follow the religion of those churches? Or is it just a case of easy hypocrisy?

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Originally Posted by jefnvk View Post
Agreed on principle, even if I can't speak to the situation in particular. I'd accept someone buying me a beer in a pub, I couldn't accept a church buying me a hotel room when I had the cash to do a bike tour, even if I didn't want to pay for a hotel room. Would much rather the church opening the lobby to my sleeping bag if I am asking for their generosity, than their funds being used to put me up in a hotel.
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Originally Posted by Machka View Post
I agree.

Unless I was in a dire situation, I would never accept a church buying me a hotel room.

However, if one offered me a patch of grass on which to pitch a tent, that would be a different story.
The church didn't pay for the room. The pastor paid for the room with her own money because the church itself doesn't spend money without a majority approval from their parishioners. She first called people she knew in the community and, after exhausting all of her options, insisted she put him up in a motel room. He declined at first (he's so stubborn.....) but she called back a short time later saying she'd booked a room. What was he suppose to do? Say no? That's ungrateful. She left him a $10 gift card to a pizza place for dinner too.

The weather outside was terrible and it simply wasn't safe for him to continue riding to the next town where he could legally camp. Which is where he was headed when the pastor called back.

Religion had nothing to do with it. Churches don't only help people who abide by their religion.
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Old 09-11-17, 02:50 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by BikeliciousBabe View Post
Thank you for your understanding. It's saddening when someone does something nice for someone and others suggest/assume they must be paid back. That's not how it works.


The church didn't pay for the room. The pastor paid for the room with her own money because the church itself doesn't spend money without a majority approval from their parishioners. She first called people she knew in the community and, after exhausting all of her options, insisted she put him up in a motel room. He declined at first (he's so stubborn.....) but she called back a short time later saying she'd booked a room. What was he suppose to do? Say no? That's ungrateful. She left him a $10 gift card to a pizza place for dinner too.

The weather outside was terrible and it simply wasn't safe for him to continue riding to the next town where he could legally camp. Which is where he was headed when the pastor called back.

Religion had nothing to do with it. Churches don't only help people who abide by their religion.
Well, I presume, you paid them back by giving them a gift, or donation to the church, or at least a "Thank You" card ... and/or passed on the kindness to another weary traveller.
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Old 09-11-17, 05:29 AM   #25
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...Usually, on one side or another of a bridge will be a two track leading down to a spot the locals use as for fishing and an unofficial boat launch. The rule is: set up late, leave early and Leave No Trace. I usually clean up the stray beer cans you find around....
I do this too, but don't always count on being alone, especially in good weather. There's a reason those beer cans are there. It can be fun, partying with the locals.
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