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Hosts & Cyclists Pay it Forward

The true strength and longevity of Warmshowers relies on maintaining a balance with both aspects of this community; bicycle touring and hosting. Keeping members active and engaged, long after the tour ends, is the goal.

If you have a story about paying forward what you have received while touring, please send it to Ken@Warmshowers.org(link sends e-mail).

Ken Francis Shares His Story

Similar to riding a bicycle, a gift is best when it is constantly moving forward to the next recipient.

I did not know when I set off on my loaded bicycle in 1985 that my life would be so touched by the interactions with others. I wanted to get outside of my comfort zone and meet new people, and to be challenged in new ways. Basically, at 22, I wanted to see what made people in small town America tick. Without the beach, Disneyland, mega malls and mega gyms, how did people in America live? I didn’t know just how much of an impact these interactions with others would have on the course of my life. I was still innocent and naive. These experiences helped mold me into a healthier adult.

I did not know when a stranger paid my tab in a restaurant the impact that would have on my positive self-esteem. I sat in several diners; different towns, different states, but always the same conversation, “How many tires have you gone through? How many flats have you had? Have you read Peter Jenkins, “A Walk Across America?”” At the end of my meal, the waitress would inform me that the folks who were conversing with me from the next table paid my bill on their way out. My budget stretched a bit farther with each such personal transaction.

I didn’t know that when I rolled my bicycle into the Pennsylvania Dutch community that my life would be forever changed. For the first time, I learned what it meant to truly have a sense of community. I also learned about collaboration within a family, instead of competition.  This model, or lifestyle, has help me excel in my craft as a therapist as well as in my personal life.

And lastly, when I heard about “the list” way back when (the early incarnation of Warmshowers), I did not realize that one day I would be one of the gatekeepers for it.

Most of our readership can relate to all that I have mentioned.  Most of us have experienced the wonderful generosity of others while we were on the road.  These experiences, along with weather, terrain, mechanical and internal conflicts, shape the essence of the adventure.  The journey becomes something much more meaningful than just the accumulation of miles.  

I remember the gifts; the free meals, cold soft drinks, and invitations to come inside and shower.  The best part of the gift was the feeling attached to it.  I felt supported, cared for, loved, and very accepted.  

I have to admit, it was difficult to accept the gift at first.  “Why would somebody want to help a stranger?”  Besides, I had lost weight and looked emaciated.  I was dirty and I smelled. So it felt a little uncomfortable in the beginning.  I think when I looked up and saw the joy in the eyes of the giver did I realize the magic that was transpiring.  I had been given the emotional fuel to get me down the road another day.

I resisted joining Warmshowers for years.  Not because I didn’t want to give back, but because I didn’t have the means to give back in the way I wanted to.  I waited until I had the house and garden that could support the type of hospitality I wanted to give back.  Yes, I waited too long.  There was no need to worry about perfection.  Looking back, I see how my couch would have been more than enough for a weary traveler.

I have been an active member for over 4 years.  I am still traveling and have been hosted by many fellow Warnshowers members.  But the biggest joy I have with this organization is when I can pass along what was given to me 30-something years ago.   

I don't know the outcome of the gift.  We have taken travelers on hikes, moonlight kayak trips across the bay, and on the rare occasion, to Disneyland.  We have had travelers over during our various theme parties: the Dead Cookie Party, The Pennsylvania Dutch dinner and dessert, and numerous barbecues.  And many nights have been spent playing Doolhof.  We love and enjoy these experiences.

Some riders need a temporary stop from their daily grind of miles.  Some need a safe secure place to sleep after crossing this big city for a couple of days.  Others need support, encouragement, and a brief feeling of being with family.

The conversations during these interactions tend to blend the experiences together.  One such traveler was sharing with us and his companions how much he was hating his 2 month adventure.  Every moment of it.  I challenged him to see how he had grown into a different person because of his trials.  He may never do another ride again, but he was able to change his view from thinking about how he a wasted his summer.  More than food and shelter, I am hoping that the gift he rode away with was one of insight.

So it all comes down to this: I don’t always know when a cyclist leaves if and how we have been able to help them along the road.  I am sure each guest has had their own unique experience while staying here.  I do know that they all leave with the gift of connection, support, and hospitality that I was handed so many years ago.