Boris and I have had our fare share of travel experiences. For us, one of the beautiful things about extended travel is connecting with people – people who are kind, interesting and willing to give you a hand if you find yourself in a bind. Boris experienced this on his many car breakdowns while traversing Africa, and I have seen it too when living with local families in Peru and Ecuador. But I think both of us can safely say that we hadn’t experienced true generosity in our home country, the great US of A, until this tour.
Everywhere we turn, we find that people willing to lend more than a hand. They offer us food, lodging, and best of all, friendship.
We’ve had almost 30 nights of stays with either Airbnb or Couchsurfing hosts. Almost every host goes out of their way to be welcoming and accommodating. Some have waited outside their homes to see us ride in safely in the dark, cold rain. Others have brought milk and cookies to our room. Some have even given up their own beds for us!
We stumble into folks on the road, near gas stations and parking lots, who see our unusual set-up and are curious about the trip. Before we know it, we are handed a business card, a smile and a “call me if you need anything,” in case we get stranded in the general vicinity of our new friends.
Others find out about us via word of mouth and offer us their homes. One such couple is L.J. and Kelly Perry from Denver, CO. I contacted L.J. the night before I was planning to make the bus trek to Denver so I could eventually meet with Boris after recovering from my injury. I explained my convoluted story to him, and asked for a list of last-minute favors I was sure any normal person would deny to a total stranger. Not only did he say “yes” to everything (a place to sleep, a place to store my bike and trailer for two weeks, an address my boyfriend could use to mail me my ID), but he also made time to pick me up at the bus station, invite me to a tea-date in Boulder and drive me to the airport the following day. I was really overwhelmed and shared my sentiments with L.J. “Everyone has been so helpful on this trip,” I said, baffled. “Well, I’m sympathetic to your cause,” said L.J. “I mean you guys are biking across the country. I want to help you out.”
We’ve been lucky with other strangers too. Perhaps you’ll recall Rolando, the man who found my wallet and called me the following day to let me know he had it. Yes, the same Rolando who has three daughters and three granddaughters all named Ana. After he agreed to mail the wallet to me, I asked him for his address so I could send him a thank you card. “No, no. There’s no need for that. Helping you is sufficient reward for me,” he said. “Wait, you know what,” he paused, “actually, I will give you my address. This way next time you are passing through Illinois you can come to my house and have dinner with my family. I’ll give you a beer too.” Rolando called me a few days ago to make sure I received the wallet and to ask about the progress of the bike tour.
Apparently, none of this is unusual. Many of those on bike tours, their friends, and friends of those friends have confirmed my observations. Like L.J. said, people are sympathetic to a cause like long-distance biking. Here is what Darren Alff said in his Top 10 Lessons I’ve Learned From Bicycle Touring blog, “I think back to my bicycle touring adventures and the gracious individuals I’ve met along the way and I am reminded that not everyone in the world is out for themselves. There are good people out there and the more you travel, the more you come to realize this.”
This holds true for other long-distance travelers. I remember chatting about the subject with our Couchsurfer hosts in Annapolis, MD. We were the second cross-country travelers they had hosted – the first being a couple walking across America with their dogs to promote pet therapy and animal rescue. They said that fairly regularly somebody would see them walking on the side of the road with their dogs, become interested, and offer them a place to lodge for the night.
As ultimate proof of the kindness of strangers, here’s one last anecdote. I sent this blog copy for Boris to look at before I put the finishing touches on. Right after he finished reading it in a diner in Nebraska, he went up to the counter to pay, and a woman told him, “No problem, it’s on me!”
So, if any of you have doubts about the insurmountable kindness that exists out there, and the likelihood that people will go above and beyond to help you, then go on a bike-tour (or a very long walk). You’ll be surprised by the generosity you’ll stumble upon. We are all capable of great empathy, and if I walk away from this trip with only one thing, it will be knowing this.