hosting bike tourists

For the last two nights, James and I have had a relative stranger sleeping upstairs in our house. No, it’s not as creepy as it sounds: Neil, our short-term house guest, is the first person to contact me via the Warmshowers website, a resource for touring cyclists.

Basically what it is is a giant database of people who are touring or willing to host people who are touring–so if you’re, say, biking from Texas to Seattle like Neil, and happen to be stopping in Portland for a few days, you can look up anyone who’s registered in Portland, send them a message, and ask if they’d be willing to put you up for a night or two. Potential hosts can give as much or as little information as they want. (My account, for example, shows our general location and tells what we can offer–an extra bedroom, laundry, maybe meals, a shower. But you could also mention a smoking/nonsmoking preference, number of tourists at a time policy, or whatever else.)

I signed up for warmshowers when I was biking down the coast, since I thought I might stay with some people in Santa Cruz. I ended up camping instead, but was very pleasantly surprised to have a chance to host Neil on his way through Portland. A lovely fellow with an uncanny resemblance to our old roommate, Neil just graduated from college and is starting a new job in August–this ride is his interim adventure. We had a good time chatting on the porch, sharing dinner, hearing about his trip so far, and otherwise getting glimpses into someone else’s life that just so happened to intersect ours.

Even though it’s initially a little unsettling to invite a total stranger into your home, I feel good about warmshowers. I like that it rewards trusts and gives people a friendly way to stay in an unknown city. I like that it encourages community, helps people to connect to folks they might otherwise never meet. Mostly, I like that it’s totally dependent on the people involved–there’s no intermediary company, money, whatever, just a free online database–ultimately, it’s just the host and the guest making shit work. It’s very human; it feels very real.

So I’m psyched that we got to provide a home for a rambling cyclist. And I hope others take us up on it in the future. And good luck to Neil, who’s back on the road and getting close to the end:)

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