Afton Overnighter

Thirty-five miles separate my house in south Minneapolis and the campground of Afton State park. The road between rides the Mississippi River, before crossing farmland to the St. Croix River, which hugs the park. Most know of Afton because of the ski hill. Fewer know of it because of the golf course. Even fewer know of it because of the stellar state park. I’m OK with this.

Three of us loaded up our bikes and headed west. The sun sets quickly this time of year. Last light comes by 7:30. We met at 4pm and planned on two hours of riding, which would allow us to set up camp in the daylight. As with most adventures, things didn’t go as planned. We left Minneapolis by 4:30 with the intentions of stopping at a bar near the park for dinner. Not only was the bar closed, it was for sale. So our sweaty trio moved our dinner to the golf course clubhouse, where Tanya fed us nachos and wings and cookies and double-pattie burgers and fries and too much Surly Furiouses (Furioui?). Tanya deserves sainthood.

By the time we rolled into the park, it was dark. Our lights led our way. Stars were twinkling, but there was no moon. Fireflies are done this time of year. We cruised winding roads and up and down hills to find the sign at the camp office we feared: “CAMPGROUND FULL.” Again, what’s an adventure without improvisation. Biking the 35 miles back to Minneapolis was not an option. We decided to roll through the campground for an empty site. It isn’t uncommon for a campground to be fully reserved but have open sites because folks didn’t follow through on their reservations. We would have to check each site one by one for an opening. As luck would have it, site #5 of 39 was open.

We fetched wood and water from a central location in the park to build a fire for warmth and light for setting up camp. Before long, tents (and hammocks) were pitched and whiskey was flowing. We spoke about bikes, joked about the Afton spider population and sang James Taylor songs (badly). OK, I was the only one singing.

Morning came and we headed to the river for coffee and sunshine. Our site was on a hillside in a hardwood forest. Sunshine on a sugar-sand beach was heavenly. Houseboats and fishermen floated past. A couple and a dog greeted us on their morning walk from camp. Waves lapped driftwood on the shore. I’m actually not sure why we left. Oh that’s right, because I forgot to pack breakfast. Again, it’s not an adventure unless you face adversity.

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