Only in California

Can you spend a night in utter solitude, surrounded by miles of forest, stream, and stone, heart thudding at bear encounters, and the next night you’re decamped in a parking lot behind a supermarket getting educated about the Sikh religion.

The map usually gives detailed information about camping, but for the burg of Auberry all it said was “bicycle only camping behind Ponderosa Market.” The ride from Camp Bear was quick and included a stop at the North Fork library to charge stuff and use the wifi. The librarians couldn’t let me in, but they dragged an extension cord out onto the porch. People are damned nice …

It was smoky most of the way to Auberry and climby too, and hot. I got to town and easily found the market, but behind it was nothing but a field, sloping and stuck in the blazing sun. This was the first time that my map had given me completely bad info but I began hunting USFS land, found something a few miles distant, and went into the store to resupply before continuing.

The guy at the counter had an American flag bandana and a huge gray beard. He looked kind.

As I was paying I said, “My map said there was bike camping behind here, but I didn’t see anything.”



“How long you staying for?”

“Just one night.”

“Where you from?”


“That’s a long bicycle ride.”

“I left July 10, rode to Canada and am headed home.”

“You can stay behind the store if you like.”


“Sure. There’s some cardboard in the dumpster you can put under the tent. You want to shower there’s a spigot and I can give you a bucket.”

I went out back and one corner of the lot was cool and in the shade. I set up, cooked dinner, and went back in. Stacey had taken my battery and was charging it in the meat department.

Rick, the owner, chatted with me as he rang up customers. Everyone knew his name and he theirs. No one was in a rush and everyone chimed in on everyone else’s story. A lady told me about her friend’s husband who got drunk and ran over a brain surgeon.

“She tried to get him to stop driving drunk, gave him sex and everything.”

I wondered what the everything was.

“But he wouldn’t listen and had to go run over that brain surgeon. He’s in jail and she’s poor as a church mouse. Lost everthing. “

A man in line turned around. “It’s only money. It’s only stuff.”

A lady in back nodded vigorously. “Can’t take away God.”

Everyone thought this was exactly the right sentiment so I didn’t add “Or the alcohols,” because each customer had enough booze to open a bar.

I went back outside and Rick followed me, explaining about the beliefs, trials, and tribulations of the Sikhs.

It was interesting but it was also … bedtime. I thanked him again for his kindness and got ready to turn it.

“You’re safe back there,” he said. “Anything awful happens to you, it will be on camera.”

Which was a huge relief.


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