In the spirit of trying everything once, what would a cross country bike trip be without at least one night of stealth camping. For those unfamiliar with the term, it is when you camp without a spot or a permit, just finding a small place to sleep where you think you won’t be found. Of all the towns to stealth camp in, one might think that Seneca Falls, New York, the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement and strong history of women’s rights organization ought to be a good place to do so, if any.
It had not been our intention to do so, but arriving there in the evening, we decided we didn’t want to bike the several miles out of town in the opposite direction to get to a campground, and we weren’t going to stay in a hotel starting at $150 a pop, so we decided to find a place in the town park for the evening. As compared to the west coast, where this is often encouraged, this sort of thing isn’t as esteemed in the east.
In the spirit of it, we didn’t pitch a tent, and rather found a nice spruce tree with low lying limbs and some bushes around it to put our sleeping bags under, out of sight of passerbys. What we failed to think of, however, was that in being as well concealed as we were, there was nothing to encourage others to be considerate of our sleep. You can’t just get up and be like, ‘excuse me, I’m trying to sleep in this bush here, could you keep it down.’
The park which we were in turned out to be a local late-night hangout for the teenagers in town, and others who saw it fit to drink in public spaces, so despite our inability to be seen, we were kept up all night by the socializing not twenty feet where we were concealed. At first it was two bartenders who had just gotten off work, who talked and drank for about an hour, and then within 20 minutes of them leaving, a group of teenagers showed up and proceeded to laugh and talk for the next two hours. When they left, two others showed up, and proceeded for the next four hours to drink, talk loudly, and smash beer bottles until sunrise. So, the opportunity for sleep faded before us and we had to listen to drunken conversations all night long.
Near the end of the escapades of the two guys, one of them noticed our bikes and came over, starting to poke at Sonali’s bike. After a night without sleep, I broke my cover and yelled out, ‘Yo, chill out man’. The man screamed, ‘there’s someone in the bush!’ And him and his friend proceeded to burst into fits of laughter. ‘Oh my God, there are people in the bush! Have they been there the whole time!?’ ‘Chill out man!’ they repeated, ‘The guy in the bush wants us to chill out!’
I could not help but laugh quietly to myself, at the absurdity of our current predicament, and despite our frustration, we kept a low profile and were greatly relieved when they left, smashing a few more bottles on the way out.
So, that was perhaps our first and last stealth camping of the trip, and perhaps there is a lesson to be distilled from the discomfort of it all. You would like to think so, because it was a hard earned evening.
In 1848, the first gathering in relation to the rights and roles of women was held up the street in town, and over time the town has maintained a strong tradition of activism, working towards women’s suffrage, which came into effect in 1920. Now, almost 100 years later, the law has remained, but the amount of sexism in the modern world is still quite prevalent, especially in relation to language and conversation regarding women. Rarely has this been more apparent than in the conversations of the individuals we had to overhear all night long. As a fly on the wall, or two cyclists in a bush, so to speak, the irony of the evening as a cultural bellweather sticks out in a way that would not have been imagined beforehand.
Across the canal, the old knitting mill looked down over us with its stone facade, and the boats in the canal gently rocked as we packed up our stuff in the early morning to head to Syracuse and hopefully get some rest at the host’s house we are staying with for the evening.