If you are going to put your faith anywhere for a cross-country bike trip, put it in strangers, made less strange Warm Showers and trail angels. Warm Showers is an organisation like Couch Surfing, but specifically for bikers. Trail angels are nice people that see sun-burnt cyclists in a hail storm and invite them into their home, feed them, or put their bikes in the back of their pick-ups and give them a ride.
The people I met through these encounters filled in what would have otherwise been a quiet, faceless portrait of the American landscape… maybe some cows. Moo. I would venture to stay that it instilled a sense of patriotism in me, but I don’t think the kindness I experienced was uniquely American anymore than it was simply human. Town after town, I was extremely humbled by the welcomes we received and feel I have a real obligation to give back…or at the very least get a pick-up truck later on. I think the most effective way to prove the humans-are-really-nice point is through example. I’ll introduce you to a couple of trail angels:
In Osceola in the rain, we met Keith and Lucy. They offered up their fixer-upper home that they’d just bought, but weren’t yet living in. We stood on the porch while they explained with supreme humility the run-down state of the house. This went on for a while. Keith kept saying “This is funnier than hell” and drinking beer from beer in a cozy. Our alternative was sleeping in our wet skin, in wet sleeping bags, in a wet tent, in the rain (this was before we had very essential trash bag waterproofing system ) so meanwhile we’re having mini internal dance parties and they’re still going on about how there’s a smoke detector that sporadically beeps. They had a small dog, showed us pictures of their daughter (a dancer), gave us trash bags (that we used for whole trip), told us about the family lumber business (pine), and told us where to eat dinner (we went). It was the only place. We dined like princesses (Keith and Lucy’s treat!) and slept like queens.
Frankenmuth, Michigan is kind of like the Matterhorn portion of Disneyland enlarged into a functioning town. It is at once super quaint and German looking, but also heavily (solely) reliant on its quaint German-ness for tourism. It’s home to Zehnder’s World Famous all-you-can-eat chicken dinners served to over a million guests every year. We didn’t go there, but we did go to a beer garden style restaurant where we met Carol and Jim who overheard us talking about where we were going to sleep. Shortly after, their home was our home. Jim was very religious and talked to us late into the night about Christ over popcorn and cranberry juice. In the morning, he made us pancakes and sausages and showed us Youtube videos of his son who is a pianist at a Mega Church.
Somewhere in Wisconsin, we were looking for a place to shower and we found Turnip Rock Farm. They had showers and a lot more–cows! vegetables! a kind farmhand named Sam that cooked us scrambled eggs for dinner! The next morning was Father’s Day and Ben the father, farmer and cheesemaker was up making pancakes for us and his kids. It’s moments like these when I have to remind myself to have gratitude and not guilt. Amelia the mom also gave us a wheel of cheese to wheel away with which was wheely nice…
Take away: Accepting the hospitality of others is a win-win, because you have to imagine that they get something out of it too. However, I don’t recommend banking on the fact that people will host you. The ebb and flow of strangers is unpredictable. Allow it only as a serendipitous alternative.