On a cold rainy evening in October last year, I stopped into our local cafe for dinner with my husband Bob and one of our good friends. While waiting for our food, I noticed from our booth next to the window, a young touring bicyclist riding up onto the sidewalk, stopping, then staring down at his map. The cyclist, Ben, as we would later find out, came into the cafe after a long day of riding to inquire about motels in town to spend the night. I overheard the waitress tell him that the motel adjoining the cafe was full and so were all the other ones in town. Being a fellow cyclist or maybe just feeling sorry for him on this wet, chilly night, I nudged Bob with my elbow and told him to get up and ask Ben if he wanted to stay at our house for the night. I’m sure Ben was surprised that total strangers would offer their spare bedroom but I’m pretty sure we looked pretty harmless that night. We invited Ben to sit with us for dinner and afterwards he followed us on his bicycle to our home.
The next morning still cold and raining, Ben jumped back on his bike and continued his bicycle tour. Ben from Minnesota was riding his bicycle on the TransAmerica Trail from the west coast of the United States to the east coast. He started in Oregon at the Pacific Ocean and was hoping to ride his bicycle as far the the weather would allow. Bob and I had seen other touring cyclists on the roads all summer but didn’t know that our tiny town was on a designated coast-to-coast route that hundreds of cyclists complete every year. The route travels through 10 states and is 4,250 miles long. It takes on average about three months for cyclists to travel the entire distance. The trail was established in the summer of 1976 for the BikeCentennial when 2,000 cyclists rode the entire distance. Most of the cyclists use maps made by Adventure Cycling Association.
I followed Ben’s blog about his trip until he ended his tour in Missoula, Montana because of bicycle mechanical problems and unseasonably early winter weather predicted for the Rocky Mountains.
After Ben’s visit, I joined a website called Warm Showers. It’s network of people all over the world willing to host cyclists traveling through their towns. The cyclists will contact the hosts ahead of time, usually one or two days before and ask if they are willing to host them. Warm Showers hosts will give cyclists a safe place to camp in their yard, sleep in their guest rooms, or on their couch. They sometimes make dinner and breakfast for them and of course let them take showers after a long day of riding bikes. Not all Warm Showers hosts are cyclists; some non-cyclists host for the opportunity to meet and talk to people from all over the world. Currently, we are the only Warm Shower hosts for 50 miles in either direction.
It was mid-June this year when we hosted our first group of four west bound cyclists, all of them in their early twenties. Fien was from Belgium, and Josh, Zach, and Lauren were from the United States. Fien had a rough start to her tour when the airline lost her bicycle somewhere between Belgium and Miami, Florida. The bike was found and her tour finally began at the Miami airport. Her route would lead her eventually to the TransAm trail where she met Josh, Zach, and Lauren somewhere in Kansas on their cross country tour. The four became friends and they rode together until making it to the Oregon coast about 10 days after leaving our house. Fien continued on and made it to her final destination, Vancouver B.C.
The youngest cyclist we hosted was Natasha. 19 years old, she rode her Mom’s bicycle from New York to the Oregon coast and then up to San Francisco by herself, carrying her ukelele the whole way. A student at Cornell, her next big trip planned is to hike the entire Appalachian trail by herself. Her sense of wanderlust makes Cheryl Strayed of the best selling book Wild seem kind of tame.
The oldest cyclist we hosted a 69 year old pastor named Dee. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease he was riding with his recently retired friend John. Their trip started near Eugene, Oregon and the two rode the TransAm trail until Missoula before veering off onto the Northern Tier until eventually making it to Bar Harbor, Maine.
A lot of the cyclists we met didn’t really consider themselves hard core cyclists. Jacob and Megan from Washington D.C. started their tour with very little riding experience. The day they rode to our house, they started their day in Halfway, Oregon, rode down into Hells Canyon, and then up to Cambridge in 103 degree temps. Ouch!
During the summer we saw a couple of cyclists hauling their dogs. We hosted a cute couple from New Jersey. Jamie, Greg, and Petunia stayed the night heading west.
Neil from South Carolina and Sandrine from Toronto arrived in August as they were headed east. These two met before the trip when Sandrine posted an ad for “cycling partner” wanted. Bicycling the TransAm trail takes a lot of physical and mental work the cyclists tell us. You have to be totally committed before undertaking the three month long journey. Sandrine, having second thoughts about the trip, ended her tour a couple of days after they left our house. Neil had motivation to keep going, he was riding for charity and collecting donations along the way for “Soldiers Best Friend.”
I’m in awe of the women that ride across the United States by themselves. Christine was another one. She stopped to spend the night heading west. Christine, like a lot of cyclists, took a leave of absence from her job to fulfill her dream of riding the entire TransAm Trail.
Instead of a guest book, I have each cyclist personalize and sign their names on a wooden clothes pin. It’s been fun seeing everyone’s creativity shine. “Kentucky dogs,” made by Jonathon of Oregon is one of my favorites. All the cyclists heading west confirmed that the loose dogs in Kentucky are the worst at chasing bicyclists.
Since moving to our small town where we don’t know a lot of people, Warmshowers has been a good way to connect with more people on a personal level. The traveling cyclists tell us that they have been blown away by the kindness of compete strangers they’ve met along the way. This gives us hope for humanity.
As the end of the year nears, meeting the cyclists has been one of my highlights of 2014. Listening to their stories and reading their blogs from the road makes me want to jump on my bicycle and run away from home for a few days or months, stay tuned…