How Don Olson’s Adventure Cycling Bunkhouse Restored My Faith in Humanity
Do you know where Dalbo, MN is? I assume not since people within a 20-mile radius of Dalbo don't even know where it is.
It's a small town — population 80 — at the intersection of SR47 and SR6 in Eastern Minnesota; the streets are lined with old barns and silos, much like many of the places we've been riding through for the past 10 weeks. There's more or less not a lot going on, so rolling up to Don Olson's Adventure Cyclist bunkhouse in the middle of SR47 to find a 100-year-old barn (completed with silo!) converted into a cyclist's dreamhouse with cots and fresh eggs and a toaster and a shower that Don built himself was like a dream.
You know that scene in Cinderella when she swoops into the castle and spins around and magic is in the air as she finds herself surrounded by so much luxury? That's how I felt entering Don Olson's bunkhouse — like a road cycling Disney princess. There was a refrigerator with cheese in it! Fresh cheese — for free — for me! Just because. (Yes!) There was a toaster so that we could have toasted bread! (Yes!) There were other cyclists!! (Yes!!) Just hanging out looking at maps and drinking coffee — because there was also a coffee maker! (YES!!!) For a cyclist who's been living in a tent the size of a twin-size bed with another adult for 10 weeks, Don Olson's bunkhouse is like Cinderella's magic castle.
If you've never spent 10 weeks living in a tent and off only the things you can carry, you may not be able to relate when I refer to toasted bread, cereal with cold milk and a shower that runs at whatever temperature the sun dictates as “magic.” That's fair. On the other hand, if you have cycle toured The States before and you've never been to Don Olson's bunkhouse, please go. It's free (!) and the experience is priceless.
Why Don Olson Has Restored My Faith in Humanity
So, once the inital Disneyland-esque head rush wore off and I was finished with my actually-quite-warm hose shower and my cereal and my toast and my coffee I found myself sitting in a real piece of apolstered furniture fat, happy and overwhelmed with gratitude for a man who transformed his father's 100-year-old barn into a safehaven for adventureres traversing through the middle of nowhere. Just because.
He told us that he wanted to keep the barn alive and that the best way to keep it standing was to use it, and this — opening it up to shelter strangers — seemed like the best way to use it.
Don hung out with us (while I was there Dustin and I shared the bunkhouse with four other cyclists; Ted and John — a pair riding together who D and I met earlier in our ride when we were sleeping behind a bar in alightning storm (worth mentioning again), Tom — a fellow on a recumbant from MN we'd run into earlier in the trip around the Continental Divide, and John — a teacher from Texas who started riding with Tom around the middle of MN) and he told us stories about the barn, and the military, and past cyclists, and his wife, and his life. He made sure the coffee never ran out and offered to drive us to the store if we needed anything. He gave us real towels (yes!) and eggs and toast, and footed the bill for all of it, asking only that we sign the gustbook before we leave.
I like living in a world where people do nice things for other people just because. Where people trust one another; where no one takes advantage; where the community meets in the middle to share stories in passing. That is the place where I want to live; that's how I want to create my life; those are the people I want to surround myself with.
It's selfless people like Don Olson who pave the path and create footsteps in which to follow.
I loved the toaster and the coffee maker and all the non-Thoreauean creature comforts the Bunkhouse had to offer me, but what I really loved the most about the bunkhouse was the big fat human experience hug I received inside those barn walls. Something that I will keep with me always, and refer back to often, as I return to my normal life and the icy shitstorm that can be shopping at Costco (or other such scenarios that represent civilization is at its worst).
Don Olson reminded me that you choose who want to be, how you want to interact with others, and how you want to embrace your community — and those simply passing through. Don Olson is the Mother Theresa of Minnesota and I will think of him and his bunkhouse often when I am feeling like humanity is spiraling downward, and when I am making my who, how, here and now choices.
Some Pictures From Don Olson's Adventure Cycling Bunkhouse: