Chapter Four: A mellow day in Burlington, and my first night as a Stealth Camper.

The following events are pieced together almost purely from memory, and a few photos tucked away in my iCloud, for reasons that will become clear in the next few posts. Just kidding - it's because I'm a little forgetful and lost my notebook 🥲Anyways.

I woke up early in Mansfield State Park to the sound of car doors opening and closing, opening and closing, then opening and closing again. I popped my head off the pillow, and unzipped the tent before peeking my head out. My neighbor, a young guy in his 20's at the next campsite over, was taking his time packing up his camp, and wasn't exactly being quiet about it. I huffed and puffed a bit, but decided it a good thing: it was almost 9 o'clock, and I could've gladly tucked for another hour in the cold September morning.

I packed up camp, taking my time to make sure that my system was working: tent/sleeping pad in the left side case, followed by my food bag in the right side case. Duffel bag gets strapped to the top of the top case (lesson learned from the camera bag incident), then the guitar on top of that. Camera bag finally gets loaded onto the pillion seat, so I can keep it in reaching distance, then everything gets strapped down and secured with a complex spider's web of bungee cords and ratchet straps. It's imperfect, and pretty chaotic, but it works for now.

Having packed the bike to it's limit, I had one more thing to carry: my new laptop. Having no other place to put it, I did the only thing I could think of: I loaded it into my jacket, zipped it up, tight, and thought, "that'll have to do."

I rode off into the late summer morning, bike pointed back towards Burlington, VT, with the intent of riding out the rainy day at a Starbucks. I could feel the temperature cooling as the cold front announced its arrival, and it looked like I reached Starbucks just in time - the rain began to torrent as I ordered my tall dark roast.

The day was mellow, and I spent the afternoon tucked away in my corner booth, coffee and breakfast sandwich at the ready. I edited photos, backed up some video footage, and spent a good while writing down the events of the last few days in my Moleskine. I thought, "this is exactly where I want to be right now."

Around 5pm, I decided it best to start finding a campsite. I knew I needed to get out of Burlington proper if I wanted any chance of finding a place to sleep, so I donned my rain gear, and turned the heavy beast eastward. I was heading to Bolton, VT, a small town about 30 minutes from Burlington. The rain wavered and resurged the entire way to Bolton, and eventually led me to take refuge under a gas station canopy in the town of Richardson. I took the opportunity gas up, eat another of my dehydrated meals, and dry out slightly. The sky was lit up a coral pink as rain fell all around. Thankfully, the gas station attendant seemed to glaze over at my request to block one of his pumps for an hour or two.

Across the street, music emanated from a pizzeria/bar. "Knee Deep" by Zac Brown Band rang through the evening drizzle, and I smiled. I've always been a bit of a country buff. I thought of summer between junior and senior year of high school, when my then-girlfriend and I would spend our weekends driving around, windows down, blasting Zac Brown Band's "Uncaged" album into the summer air. It was a happy memory.

At one point, while scrolling through Apple Maps in an attempt to find a place to sleep for the night, a voice popped over from the other side of the gas pump;

"You look pretty well loaded up there!" it said.

A skinny, bearded gentleman came around the corner. He drove a Subaru, and gave me a classic "hipster" vibe.

"You're telling me: I've been wrestling it around for a few days now!" I replied.

"I'm James," he said, "Where ya headed?"

"Anywhere and everywhere," I replied. It was still a little hard to articulate an answer to that question - with such a long road ahead of me, the question inspired a little anxiety. I decided to opt for complete honesty. "I quit my job, sold my stuff, and am headed on a round-the-world trip for a few years."

"Right on!" James said.

We spoke for a few minutes, mainly about my trip and where he could follow the journey, and finally asked the golden question:

"Where are you sleeping tonight?"

I told him honestly: "I'm not too sure, to be honest. I usually just look for some hiking trails or some boat launches. Anywhere I can hunker down for a few hours."

He didn't miss a beat. "If you head down the road about ten minutes, look for Cochran Ski Area. We mountain bike there in the summer, and usually have no problem camping out at the trailhead. The owners are really friendly."

I thanked him for the suggestion - I really do appreciate it when locals give me the beta on where to camp, what areas are safe, and so on. We wished each other well, and he took off on his evening errands. I decided it best to start moving as well: it was approaching 9:30pm, the rain had just stopped for who-knows-how-long. The cold night air stung through my jacket, and I decided instead to stop as soon as I could.

Looking back on this night (about three months after the fact), this was the first night where I realized stealth camping was going to be much, much less of a problem that I thought it would be: town parks, public boat launches, and, in this night's case, a trailhead along the Winooski River, are all places to rest my head. I tucked in for the night around 10pm, read a few pages of my book, and drifted off to the rhythmic sound of rainfall on my rainfly.

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