Why They Ride: Bike Travelers From Other Countries

Spanish bicycle tourist in SLC Utah
Urdin and Izaro from Spain. Photos: Julie Melini

By Lou Melini

June 2011 – October of 2009 to November of 2010 was quite the extraordinary year for bicycle travelers staying at my home. Normally Julie and I host 1 or 2 travelers every year or two. In that time period, we had 11 visitors from 7 countries including one from the U.S.

The year started with the completion of the 11- year journey by Daisuke Nakanishi of Japan. Daisuke started his journey in July of 1998 in Alaska and ending it 11 years later in October of 2009. He covered over 150,000 kilometers, while visiting 130 countries. It was quite the journey. You can read about his journey at Daisukebike.be (unfortunately his journal ends in 2007 on his website). I corresponded with Daisuke during his travels. I looked forward to his e-mails during his journey, specifically when I was able to help him (via e-mail) to drain an abscess on his knee while he was in India. He had a remarkable ride and developed many friendships and encounters of generosity. There were times I worried about him. Daisuke! What are you doing in Afghanistan! In Ethiopia Daisuke was stoned by children that were asking for money.

Japanese Bicycle touring in Salt Lake City Utah
Kokoro Ito from Japan. phto: Julie Melini

Shortly after Daisuke completed his journey, Kokoro (Koko) Ito, stayed with Julie and I for a few days early in November of 2009. Koko, like Daisuke, is a member of the Japan Adventure Cycling Club. Koko left Japan in 2005 and except for a 7-month return to Japan has visited most of Asia, Eastern Europe, Australia and the western U.S. He said he had 2 more years to bike travel after leaving my home.

In June of 2010, Julie picked up Urdin and Izaro at the train station at 3 a.m. They came from Reno, not wanting to cross the desert by bike. Urdin and Izaro had been traveling for 11 months around the world. They had 30 days to get back to the Basque region of Spain after leaving our home. Within a week of their 3-day stay, Christine from Germany arrived to stay with Julie and I for a few days. She also was traveling around the world on an 18-month journey. This was her first bike tour! Christine is a backpacker having completed the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide and Appalachian trails in the U.S. She was the 99th person, and the first German, to have accomplished this according to the Long-Distance Hiking Association. While on her bike tour she took time to hike the Florida and Arizona trails (a total of 1400 miles).

Jessica and Stephane from Switzerland.
Jessica and Stephane from Switzerland. Photo: Julie Melini

In early August Jessica and Stephane from Switzerland stayed with us for a few days after a “short” 3-month tour of Western Canada and the U.S. They flew out of SLC to go home to their winemaking business. Their visit was very pleasant complicated only by Alex (from Canada) who arrived a few days before them. Alex was to leave the day before Jessica and Stephane arrived but he decided to stay an extra day. He also arrived 2 weeks sooner than expected as he also decided to take a bus from Reno rather than cross the desert. I came home from work finding him sitting on my front porch. We have never had 2 different bike tourists stay at the same time. Alex was on a 6-month journey throughout Canada and the United States. He is young and so forgiven for his impromptu arrival. He was like having another son for a few days. His stay did remind of the days before email when I would receive last minute travelers who contacted me by phone or gave me a rough time frame of arrival via postcard. Once a German visitor arrived at the Salt Lake Airport having thought that I had received his postcard weeks earlier. (It never arrived.) He fortunately made a last minute phone call leaving a message on our answering machine. He was greatly surprised to see us sitting by his bike at the airport.

Yves, Aurelie and Florent from France.
Yves, Aurelie and Florent from France. Photo: Julie Melini

In early October of 2010 we hosted Aurelie and Florent from France. They had about 6 more months of travel to complete their 2-year bike tour of the world. Aurelie’s dad flew in to join them for 3 weeks in Southern Utah. We hosted her dad for his return trip to France. He almost wasn’t able to travel. During transport of his bike, he lost a brake pad for his hydraulic Magura side-pull road brakes. Fortunately, after a few calls to bike shops, Wild Rose had a set of pads. There’s a lesson here in not using very specialized equipment for bike touring or at the very least, carry replacement parts.

Oregon bicycle tourist in Salt Lake City Utah
Oregon bicycle tourist. Photo:Julie Melini

I thought my bike visitors were done for the year when my first American visitor arrived from Eugene Oregon in early November of 2010. He was going to the east coast, taking a Southern route. I had two other American bike travelers cancel stays, one due to illness in one member of the couple and the other for what I assume was a break-up of the relationship.

All of these travelers found my home via WarmShowers.org, a free international website for bicycle travelers (unlike CouchSurfing.org that I believe is open to any traveler). To utilize WarmShowers you simply need to agree to host other bike travelers. There are several other WarmShowers members in Salt Lake City and Utah. I did run into a few other bike travelers passing through town staying with other WarmShowers members. I also met one Japanese traveler on my way home from work. He declined my offer of a place to stay as he thought I was just offering him a warm shower.

Hosting bicycle travelers via a network has been around for over 30 years. A former Salt Laker, John Mosley, started the first U.S. list in 1976. He advertised in the now defunct Bike World Magazine (sister publication to Runner’s World) for people to be included in a list of people willing to host bike travelers. I was one of his first volunteer hosts having just completed a 3-month cross-country tour in 1975. I had the pleasure of being invited to stay with multiple families along the way (mostly in the Midwest) during my travels. So I felt I needed to “return the favor” to other bike travelers. John retired his list, Bicycle Traveler Hospitality Directory, after 30 years.

WarmShowers was started about 10 years ago or so and has been the primary bike travel hosting site ever since, though many European countries have their own version of hosting sites. If you are interested in WarmShowers but are unsure about “advertising” your home to bike travelers on WarmShowers, you have complete control. You may opt out for periods of time, be selective with what you wish to offer (for example, you may just offer your backyard for camping and the bathroom of your home), or selective in whom you offer your home to by restricting the number of guests. (Except for one group of three from The Netherlands, all of the travelers have been a couple or solo in the 35 years I have hosted traveling cyclists.) If you are planning a bike tour, contacting people on WarmShowers is not only a way to obtain a place to stay, but also a way to inquire about traveling in that part of the country. Park City resident and bike traveler, Cheryl Soshnik uses WarmShowers for planning bike tours, even though she may not be staying at the home of the member.

So why do people travel on their bikes for year(s)? The best universal answer I get is that they all enjoy traveling and bike riding. That’s the short answer. They are not out for fame, glory, setting Guinness records, raising awareness or funds for a charity, and except for Daisuke, are not writing a book. (Daisuke’s book is written in Japanese.) They are also passing travelers. I rarely receive any follow-up emails with Daisuke being the diligent exception.

Though Julie and I rarely use WarmShowers for our bike tours, hosting bike travelers has been fun. In the ‘80’s, Johnny and Stig from Denmark played Legos with my 2 young sons while taking a break from their world tour. Dave from Belgium was traveling down the Western Hemisphere. He started in Alaska in March of 2007 encountering some -40° C. temperatures. He cooked a gourmet Belgium meal for us, though Belgium and fine food is usually an oxymoron. And Michel Cordonnier of France and Marco of Switzerland came in 1997, putting a desire in my mind to get back into serious long-distance bike touring when my boys got older, a dream that I still hope to accomplish. All of the travelers were happy and content, never regretting their travels.

Dreams are one thing, doing a trip is another thing. According to Dave from Belgium, he was able to travel for up to one year. He received a small stipend and health insurance. He would also have his job back as a diesel mechanic if he returned within one year. Aurelie and Florent from France had the same offer, but they decided to forgo that security and travel for 2 years and hope for the best when they return. Michel and Marco were both engineers. (They were simply traveling together for a couple of months having met each other in Alaska). They would save as much money as possible, then set out for as long as that sum would hold up, 2 years in their case. Daisuke started his journey with $50,000 (American equivalent) and then depended on donations to his website and the generosity of his hosts along the way. Koko supplemented his travels by writing for several Japanese publications. Christine from Germany was a corporate “turn-around officer”. She would become the CEO of a struggling corporation and turn it into a profit-making venture, making a lot of money for the effort. She would then travel between jobs.

Will I ever do an extended one-year trip? I don’t know, but the dream lives on. There really isn’t a “good time” to do an extended tour. As the Nike slogan says, “Just Do It.” In the mean time I will live my dream vicariously in the travels of others that stay at my home.

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