by Tomas A. Kvamme
Donn Olson never planned on a military career that would span 30 years.
Neither did he plan on opening a wayward rest for bicyclists trekking from ocean to ocean.
However, upon retirement from the U.S. Army, after serving as a helicopter pilot during this stretch, Olson returned to his home community and today provides the Bicycle Bunkhouse as a place for tired cyclists to spend an enjoyable and relaxing evening.
This facility is located on the Olson farm, just off Highway 47, three-quarters of a mile north of Dalbo, or 6 miles north of Highway 95 between Princeton and Cambridge.
Taking an old barn where his father once housed a dairy herd, Olson, along with his wife, Sherry, now provide a comfortable surrounding for the weary travelers.
The bunkhouse, which lies along the Northern Tier for cross-country cyclists, has gained a reputation as the place to stay along the route.
Operating since 2006, the Olsons provide a free, safe and comfortable setting for the folks looking to rest their legs after a full day of cycling.
How it started
The beginning of the Bicycle Bunkhouse dates back to 2005 when a couple of cross-country cyclists were passing by and there was heavy construction along Highway 47.
With nothing but sand to navigate, the cross-country cyclists found themselves bogged down.
Donn was outside in his yard doing “some watering,” when he asked them in, and during the conversation the visitors asked if they could camp in the yard for the evening.
Say no more, as the light was turned on and the Bicycle Bunkhouse was born.
Once Donn found out the Adventure Cycling Association, based out of Missoula, Montana, existed, he and Sherry put the wheels in motion.
The Northern Tier of the route, which also goes through Milaca, travels on to Foreston, Royalton and Bowlus.
Numerous riders have made a morning breakfast stop at Hardee’s in Milaca, raving about the hospitality extended to them while in Dalbo.
Once the cyclists reach Bowlus, they hook up with the Soo Line Trail that takes them west on a flat paved trail.
Donn noted, when the bicycles began “rolling in” in 2006, the year-end total was right around 30 individuals that had stayed at the Bicycle Bunkhouse.
He reports that “so far, this year 188” riders have taken the Olsons up on the offer to bunk in for the night.
The old record of 136 guests, set in 2012, has already been smashed.
When Donn mentioned the total so far this year, he chuckled as he added, “We expect another 15 or so to yet arrive.”
Having never before hit 200, if the additional guests do drop in, it will be a banner year for the Bicycle Bunkhouse.
Donn added, “Every year there are more and more, all during the summer.”
According to Donn the “big month” is July.
With this location being the approximate halfway point, “from one ocean to another,” a number of adventurous individuals find their way to Dalbo.
Stay for free
Once riders arrive, they are provided with a chance to stay for free.
Along with the barn, Donn converted the attached silo into a bedroom, while adding windows and a door for good measure.
The Bicycle Bunkhouse has accommodations for 15 individuals, with six bunks and nine cots available on a first-come basis.
The bunks have what Donn explained as “exercise mats,” in place, while the visitors provide their own sleeping bags.
However, the Olsons provide pillows, as Donn noted, “they are hard to carry on a bike.”
He added, “we do supply little soaps and shampoos,” along with towels, not wanting the riders to travel with wet towels.
Those towels come in handy, as the riders are refreshed in the solar shower that Donn has rigged up.
Along with the shower, he has constructed an outhouse for the comfort of guests.
The accommodations features furniture and tables, along with a “couple of fridges” filled with food and beverage.
In addition, the bunkhouse has shelves with food for sale.
However, Donn said they do provide some breakfast items free of charge.
With an honor system in place, Donn reports: “The coffee can always seems to have more money than food gone.”
“I don’t know these people from Adam, but I’ve never met a bad one and that has to say something good about society,” Donn said.
Now in their ninth year of operation, Donn and Sherry have the place set up whether they are home or not.
Riders see the sign “and figure it out,” Donn said.
To make the riders more comfortable, the Olsons have even added air conditioners.
“I try to take pictures of as many and post pictures from previous years in the silo,” Donn said.
That comes in handy, as “just last night two girls who were going cross country, and had just graduated from college, were looking for their classmates.”
Donn indicated he even has a “selfie” camera in place for the riders to use.
Into a hobby
For Donn, the bunkhouse has “developed into a hobby,” pointing out that he doesn’t play any golf and finds this enjoyable.
Beginning in 2006, Donn and Sherry felt obligated to keep open the bunkhouse, while he spends the winter months making additions.
Now comfortable with the setup, the couple even went on vacation this past June, with everything running smooth back home while they were gone.
Guests are welcome in this country location, as the entire town of Dalbo is rather small.
“Don’t blink if you are driving through,” Donn said, adding, “If they all come home for Christmas, there will be around 50 people.”
A native of Dalbo, Donn was raised on the family farm and joined the U.S. Army in 1968.
As a helicopter pilot, he served a 20-month tour of duty in Vietnam from March 1969 to November 1970, as a part of his 30-year stint.
Donn brushed off his time in Vietnam as a period when “we were kids.”
However, along the way, he had some pretty good duty with three years of service in Hawaii, along with two four-year tours in Fairbanks, Alaska.
“I never intended to make it a career,” Donn said, returning to the family farm in 1998.
Some things just work out.
Now, Donn and Sherry, married for 41 years and with two grown children, have taken on the challenge of providing the Bicycle Bunkhouse.
To learn more about their project, visit YouTube.com and search for Bicycle Bunkhouse/Dalbo.