This hardly seems like the season to think about bicycling, but it came to mind when I ran across a website that seeks hosts for traveling riders.
I still see a lot of people out on bikes in this November weather, but I haven’t joined them recently. I bicycle to work if I know I don’t have any distance to travel that day or if I don’t have a load to carry.
I recall the days when my bicycle was my only means of transportation, like when I moved to Saginaw after college. I first stayed at the YMCA for a few days before locating an apartment, then moved by bicycle from the Y to the apartment—the place downtown where Smokey Joe would come home drunk at 2:30 in the morning and begin to literally talk to the walls.
“Hi, walls. How ya doin’, walls?”
The bike ride to work through some poor Saginaw neighborhoods always included a chase or two by a German shepherd. This led to the purchase of my first car.
The website I mentioned above is called Warm Showers. It’s a world-wide collection of people willing to offer a warm shower and some hospitality to traveling bicyclists.
Kind hosts sign up on the website and their location shows up on a map. If you’re a registered user, you can download a list of Warm Shower people in the area where you’re bicycling.
Hosts aren’t obligated to allow travelers in. They have the option of saying that it wouldn’t be convenient or they can make up some other lie.
The website includes a forum for riders to discuss their hosts and for hosts to talk about their guests.
Much of the forum is taken up by a Japanese rider as he traveled through Europe and into Turkey:
When I arrived Izmir, I sent e-mail to all WSL members in Turkey. About half of them wrote me back e-mail immidiately. Almost all of them wrote me "welcome to Turkey" and some of them wrote "You are very welcome to my house!"
He then flew to South America and posted reports from three countries before flying to Miami:
When I arrived to Miami airport at 9:00PM, Sharlene and Steve came to pick me up. Thanks for their hospitality, I did not hastle anythings. I could relax at their safe place after dangerous Caracas city in Venezuela.
The reports from hosts are generally very glowing, telling how they met the nicest people and had such good conversation—all except for the unpleasant experience from a host in Pennsylvania. His guest apparently broke every Warm Showers rule, including the one about showering.
He would not take a shower, even after offered several times, and stunk up the dinner table where we fed him that night. He expected us to wait on him and was very selfish in his talks about others.
It really seems as though I should register as a host. I’m a former long-distance bicycle traveler. I still ride short distances. I’m capable of providing a warm shower. I could even allow them to stay in the empty Reporter’s Quarters above the Observer and they could have a private warm shower—without the conversation, if desired. The place could serve as an internet café on the road. The corner deli, the Pub across the street—what more could a weary traveler want?
To top it all off, there’s an excellent bicycle shop in town.
This seems like one of those pay-back situations. I think of all the people who helped my friend, John, and I while we traveled a couple thousand miles one summer...but wait a minute.
Did we ever take a warm shower? Did we ever stay at someone’s house? I recall sleeping in someone’s yard one night early in the trip, before we became adept at hiding ourselves off to the side of the road or at a deserted beach or at the edge of a park or in a burned out house. What rascallions.
Maybe I owe it to contemporary cyclists to help them remain stalwart members of the pedaling community. Don’t hide out in illegal camping spots. Go ahead and take the shower.
So much is available now that didn’t exist when John and I were traveling. Now there’s a website just for us. Honest, there’s a place called GlobalFreeloaders.com.