Saturday, July 12, 2014

Celebrating 150 Nights With Hosts

Where do I stay most often?  The hotels sky rocketed in SE Asia where rooms on average were 5 dollars a night
I’ve been on the road for about 320 days now, it’s hard to believe. What’s more incredible is that of those 320 days, I've spent 150 nights at the house of amazing hosts all around the world!  I’ve religiously used the Warmshowers tour cycling network in all the continents I’ve pedaled, but I’ve also stayed with friends, family, friend-of-friend, teachers, friends-of-teachers, and completely random strangers! I’ve been taken in by Muslim families in Turkey and Southeast Asia, Buddhists, hosted by firefighters and paramedics, retired couples, young students, and young families. My lists of hosts is as ecletic and random as there is, but they all have one thing in common; they've given me unconditional support gone out of their way to take care of me while being on the road.  I thought I’d be doing a lot more camping, but the reality is, I am a social young lady and love being around the company of others, especially locals because it allows me to learn and gain insight to the community around me. I also have to admit, a warmshower at the end of the day is my #1 motivation at the end of a long day of riding!

Mary and Steve Layman enjoying elk burgers plus goodies in Gillette, Wyoming

I celebrated staying at the house of my 150th host last week in Gillette, Wyoming and there was something oddly familiar about the Layman’s.  Steve and Mary are on the list of Warmshowers hosts in Wyoming, a state with few hosts!  The Layman’s aren’t always labeled as available due to summer plans and work schedules, but I got lucky to catch them while they were home.  In the three years they have been on Warmshowers, they’ve hosted almost 50 cyclists and have created the neatest guestbook to document all their tour cyclist visitors. For residents of a small town in Wyoming, Warmshowers exposes them to the world with some neat encounters with people from all over the world. 

This is their guestbook which is always fun to read.  Many hosts have one to record their visitors.

I always wonder how people hear about Warmshowers, especially a family like this in the northeast corner of a state where there isn’t a huge cycling community.  It turns out their youngest son went to school in Missoula, Montana and he turned his dad onto "The Crazyguy on a Bike" blog. It is here that while researching tour cycling with hopes of doing a trip some day in the future, Steve discovered Warmshowers and signed up.  He came home one day and casually told Mary and his son Aaron, who also lives at home, that he had signed up for this site called Warmshowers  to host cyclists on the road.  Steve’s famous last words were, “Don’t worry, Mary, no one will contact us, no one would come through this part of Wyoming!”  Wouldn’t you know they had the first guest two days later and the rest is history!  The Layman’s have some great stories from all their guests. My favorite was a solo Polish cyclist who arrived and never had brownies before.  Well, Mary is a phenomenal cook and baker and made a tray of brownies that vanished in the matter of minutes!  With every bite, the Polish cyclist with his Polish accent said, “This chocolate cake is really good!”

There is the camper van where cyclists usually stay, quite cozy with all your basic needs

Usually their cyclists stay in a camper van they have parked in the backyard  that they use during hunting season (I LOVE my camper vans as you know), but since temperatures were close to a 100F, they put me up in the basement.  I knew I was going to get along great with the Layman’s. In email correspondence leading up to my visit, Mary asked me what sort of food I wanted.  I never know how to answer this question, but I hadn’t eaten fish in a long time and always like my fresh fruits and vegetables.  As it turns out, Mary is a superb cook and Steve and their sons fish and hunt, so their freezer was full of all fresh fish and meat! I lucked out!  They had an all-you-can eat salad buffet waiting for me when I arrived and I chowed down while sharing stories from my trip.  

The first night we hit it off so well and couldn’t stop laughing and telling stories.  We had a lot in common that kept making me feel like I was right at home, from the setup of their house to their kids and all their activities.  Their oldest son Cole is living in Prague, teaching English.  Although he wasn’t home, they filled me in on his international living and working experience.  It was refreshing to hear of another young adventurous soul in their early thirties with a strong desire to explore the world.  Like me, it seems like Cole is also hooked on living overseas. It was hard for Mary at first, but since they went over and visited him, they are a lot more comfortable.  Plus Cole calls all the time.  In fact while I was there he called looking for a small piece of paper hidden in one of his desk drawers.  He wanted his mom to go down and look for it in his room while they were on the phone.  You might think this is a crazy request, but I could totally relate to Cole’s request and Mary's determination to find what he was looking for.  I have called my parents countless times to have them look in this drawer or that cupboard trying to find a paper, document, or clothing item that I need.  What would children abroad do without the endless efforts of their parents back at home?

After the salad buffet came round two: pasta, fish, chips and guacamole, more salad, you name it!  

S'mores, desert #1, I was actually craving them the other day, wouldn't you know?

I was only going to stay one night, but I was just too comfortable and I needed a day off from the bike.  I had been pedaling for 9 consecutive days with some severe weather conditions and long distances and the Layman's house was like heaven on earth to me at that point.  Steve had prepared a map for me to help plan the next stages of my route.  The map was color-coded with elevation and mileage for each stage and the days he thought it would take me to get to each destination.  I could make it to the Tetons and Yellowstone faster than I had expected, which meant I would definitely take the following day off!

Steve prepared a great map to help plan my travels through Wyoming choosing the most scenic route

I made myself at home at the table, a delightful break from the bike

The next morning I slept in as long as possible and spent the morning talking with Mary and getting some work done on my website.  They have a back patio setup similar to that at my parent’s house so I plopped myself down on the table outside in the shade of the umbrella and worked away. I could hear the Aspen leaves blowing on the trees and the sound of birds chirping, both relaxing and familiar sounds to my ears.  At lunchtime, when I came in, I discovered Mary had been busy baking up a storm and preparing lunch for me.  She pulled everything out of the fridge and again, I went through a buffet line of options and was absolutely delighted.  Selection is perfect for a cyclist’s cravings.  I can’t explain how I can stomach a combination such as cottage cheese with sandwich meat, pickles, salad, cheese, crackers, fresh fruit, and brownies, but I do!  I sat inside to avoid the afternoon sun while Mary was out in the garden working, covered from head to toe, just like my mom, to protect herself from the sun.  Their backyard was beautiful and looked a lot like my parent’s with a variety of flowers, plants, and a small vegetable garden.

Don't leave food out or unattended, I WILL eat it! I can't help myself.....

Steve came home that afternoon from work and stated enthusiastically, “Mary, it looks like we got a squirrel!”   I could tell Mary was a bit embarrassed because she replied, “Steve, I wasn’t going to say anything about that in front of Melissa!”  I had to laugh and out loud! Trapping squirrels probably isn't a topic of conversation you boast about with guests around your house, if fact most people might think you are crazy if you mention that you trap squirrels in your backyard, but it just so happens that my mom is also an avid squirrel trapper, so I could relate to Steve's enthusiasm to see his trap occupied.  In Eugene, our old neighbors used to have squirrel feeders, so they frequently visited our yard eating all the nuts on our front walnut tree, leaving the shell debris all over the driveway, which meant for more sweeping and raking.  My mom was up against a loosing battle, but it seemed like Steve and Mary only had a few squirrels who were attacking their tomato plants.  However, three days after I left, Mary told me the squirrel count was up to 6!

Squirrel cages don't harm the squirrel in any way and it is easy to release them.

This was actually the first time Steve and Mary had captured a squirrel and Steve didn’t know exactly where to let it go.  He disappeared with the cage for at least 45 minutes and when he came back we all had a good laugh.  Paranoid the squirrel would find his way home, he had let it go 15 miles away at a cemetery over a mountain pass.  My mom releases them about 4 miles from our house and they don’t seem to come back, so Steve was being overly cautious!

I never have a running companion, what a treat!

That evening Steve and I went for a run.  I’m still trying to increase my running mileage so that the New York City Marathon isn’t painful come November.  Steve is also a distance runner and led me on a great route through the city and countryside all along a path.  When we were out of the run, Steve found some coins on the ground.  He told me he collects them from his run and sure enough at home, he had a jar full of change that he had found while out running.  To date, for this year, he is up to almost 30 dollars in change found on runs in the town.  Now he's got me looking on the ground for money when I run and cycle!

It was 10pm by the time we sat down for dinner the second night.  In Oregon the Pritchard's are notorious for late dinners, but with my Spanish influence, I'm used to it!  We had elk burgers, a first for me!  I was delighted because I had never tried elk meat before, and what a great place to do so since the Layman’s hunt, process, and package their own meat.  I couldn’t have asked for fresher, leaner, or more flavorful meat. YUM!

It was a big celebration for 15, 681 miles

I've never blown out so many candles on a cake before!

For desert they surprised me with a cake with candles to celebrate my new milestone on my trip.  That afternoon I had calculated my distance pedaled thus far in the ten and a half month on the road and I was up to 15,681 miles (25,236km).  They never had a cyclist at their house that had cycled so many miles.  I joked with Mary and asked her what the people at the grocery store said when she went to check out with such an eclectic mix of candles.  Mary was so proud to host me, she told all the people in the grocery store about my trip.  Most people don’t get the whole bike touring thing unless they see the fully loaded bike or have a good sense of geography, and the clerks at this store were no different.  The clerk seemed confused and appalled and couldn't get over the fact that Mary takes in strangers to her house.  The clerk clarified,..... “You mean you let total strangers stay at your house?”

Yes! That is what Warmshowers is all about and any type of hosting that I do on my trip.  People open their doors to me and share experiences about our lives, including cycling, work, travel, you name it.  It usually happens that there are more stories and experiences to share than time permits when I stay with hosts.  The bike is such a great topic of conversation and provides endless hours of entertainment.  My trip has been so much more fulfilling thanks to the local people who have hosted me when I roll up to their area. Whether they be Warmshowers or not, I appreciate the company of the people who take me in.  I learn a lot from them during my stay and it's refreshing to meet such diverse people in our world.  Lately, it has become harder and harder for me to get on the road in the morning as was the case with the Layman’s.  Mary and Steve wanted me to stay, they even asked if they could adopt me!  I was especially fond of the Layman's and it just so happens that my 150th night of hosts coincided with staying at their house in Gillette.

Like I said, I’ve been on the road for almost a year now, a nomad and homeless for 320 days.  This is the longest period of time in my life that I’ve not had a home base and I’ve never been more comfortable around total strangers in my entire life! I’ve spent 150 nights at other people’s homes and I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality, support, and love!  You’ve all taken great care of me around the world and made my experience on the road incredibly memorable and enjoyable as a result! 

Thank you! Gracias!  Merci!

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