Before I left Seattle for my trip across the Northern Tier I knew vaguely about Warm Showers. I knew it served the same purpose as Couch Surfing, but for touring cyclists. Hosts offer showers, kitchens, laundry, and/or space for sleeping, and they provide their contact information for cyclists passing through town. Unlike a paid service like Airbnb or Lyft, hosts have complete discretion over who they accept, and they can unlist themselves from the website at any time.
I expected we’d find a small number of homes through Warm Showers, maybe three or four per state. Rory and I planned to try it out a few times throughout our tour, but I honestly thought we’d have more luck knocking on doors and asking to crash in backyards.
As it turns out, everyone on tour uses Warm Showers. After only eleven days on the road, Rory, Lauren, and I have stayed with six Warm Showers hosts (though the two more established locations, the Bike Barn and the Bacon Bike Hostel, were cross listed with the ACA map).
We stayed with Parker in Omak, WA, the day I hitchhiked with Biscuit to the ER. Parker was away climbing in the Enchantments for the weekend, he but offered his house anyway–along with the fresh raspberries and peaches in his refrigerator. Rory and I spent the morning playing with his cats and washing our laundry. When Parker returned around 8pm we shared a few beers and talked about living in Omak, climbing, and backcountry skiing before falling asleep. The next morning we drank coffee together before he left for work, cleaned up the kitchen, and rode off towards Republic.
In Republic Rory, Biscuit, and I stayed with Dianne and Boyd. We found homemade Thai curry waiting for us when we arrived around sunset, and we all talked until midnight about Boyd’s work as a manager at a local mine. The following day Dianne and Boyd both left for work long before we were prepared to pack up, and we spent the morning enjoying the sun on their deck, writing in journals, reading, and drinking coffee.
Our first night in Sandpoint, Rory and I climbed to the base of Schweitzer (a completely unnecessary 2600 ft hill over 9 miles) to stay in Dawn’s ski condo. She was away but offered her home anyway, and we happily spent the night with a kitchen, a shower, and real beds. We also ate her pickles–with permission–but left her a beer.
Last night, Steve, Meg, and their two daughters hosted the three of us. We all cooked pasta together, and over dinner Steve and Meg told us stories about their honeymoon (a trans-Am bike trip), NASA (Steve worked for Space Ops), and off-roading (Steve and his daughter just drove the Lolo Trail in central Idaho).
Each of these stories speaks to the generosity and friendliness that we’ve experienced along the road. Complete strangers open their homes to us when they’re away, and they share dinner with us when they’re home. To be clear, Warm Showers is not a uniformly comfortable experience. We show up late, tired, hungry, and dirty, with nothing more to offer than company and stories. Sharing strangers’ space is not something I did in my day to day life in Maine, Seattle, or Chicago, and I reflexively feel burdensome or in the way.
Still, I set out on this trip hoping to meet different people and to stretch my bubble. And while Warm Showers hosts are undeniably a specific subset of the larger population (so far they’ve been relatively affluent with histories of traveling), sharing their space provides a brief window into lives, stories, and perspectives I would not otherwise have encountered.