In mid-September, after our return from Oregon and when I was finally healed enough from my thoracic surgery to safely open and close the garage door and lift moderately heavy objects, we once again hung out the welcome sign on the warmshowers.org website. Almost immediately, we started getting requests, as touring season on the Pacific Coast runs until late October, with tourists taking advantage of the cooler weather in southern California in November and winter months in Central America.
Our first fall guests were Ronnie and Linda, seasoned tourists from the Netherlands, on the last stage of a two-year odyssey that took them through New Zealand and from the tip of South America to San Francisco, where they jumped north to Alaska to make their way back south to San Francisco.
Next came tandemists Normand and Helene, who had ridden from their home in Quebec to Seattle, visiting the Black Hills, Yellowstone, and Glacier parks on the way. They were on an open-ended tour, and starting their way down the Pacific Coast to see where there travels led them. Unfortunately, a week or so later, they caught the front wheel in a groove in the asphalt on a particularly treacherous section of US101 just south of the Oregon Hwy 26 intersection and crashed, fortunately neither onto the roadway nor into the guard rail, but nevertheless onto the rough shoulder. Helene was badly injured, with multiple collarbone fractures, and both suffered heavy abrasions (“road rash”). With the help of a cyclist doctor who treated them and Warm Showers host Neil in Seaside, they were able to recuperate enough to head for home. In the spirit of the generosity and comradeship of the Warm Showers organization, they lent some of their gear to another tourist who had been victim of theft. Sadly, bicycle tourists are not immune to theft, and the density of bicyclists along the Oregon Coast makes it a prime target area for thieves. Leaving a loaded bike unattended for even a few minutes invites disaster. You can read more of their epic and tragic journey at http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=Sh&doc_id=12201&v=3PV (It’s in French, with some English translation)
We have great sympathy for Normand and Helene, having survived a low-speed tandem crash ourselves in the spring of 2013. Any bicycle crash can result in serious injury or death, but a tandem crash is particularly dangerous because of the increased weight and momentum. Plus, while the captain may sense the impending fall and brace for it, the stoker may not be aware of the accident until striking the ground with great force, adding disorientation to injury. While most of US 101 through Oregon has a wide shoulder, there are still places where repaving has left a rough or partial shoulder. Slides are very common also, opening cracks parallel to the road along the edge. No matter how fast tandems travel, they are still no match for cars and trucks, so it isn’t always possible to move into the traffic lane when confronted with damaged or substandard shoulder conditions.
We had a few other reservations that didn’t pan out, when the tourists stopped short of Shelton because of rain. Then we had some who were almost drop-ins, with a few hours notice, when mechanical issues or weather made Shelton the only practical destination for the day.
Eric called us from downtown Shelton, in early evening. On his first day of his tour from Seattle to San Francisco, less than 20km from the Bremerton ferry, his chain broke. He got a ride into Belfair and bought a chain at the hardware store, but it wasn’t the right size for a 9-speed cassette, so he called us and his rescuer ferried him on to Shelton in search of a non-existent bike shop, and then to our house. The next morning, Eric and I took a car trip to Olympia to our favorite bike shop, Falcone’s, to pick up a genuine Shimano Deore 9-speed chain, then back home to install it and send him on his way, with a caution to pull the power when shifting. The old chain was just at the 75% wear mark, where shifting becomes difficult and the chain does not drop smoothly into gear, and it sounded like a shift under load did it in. He now has a spare link, as most chains are a bit longer than needed. We also carry a spare link and chain tools when we tour.
Gina, like Normand and Helene, was starting the Pacific Coast leg of a cross-country tour, having left Seattle after a five-day layover. She had started from Madison, Wisconsin, picking a route that led her to homes of college friends along the way, and plans to reach San Francisco in the next few weeks. Amazingly, she had camped at the city park in Odessa, Washington, just a block away from Judy’s brother’s house, on her way to Moses Lake. Gina had planned to make it to Elma for the night, but fought blustery and cold headwinds from Bremerton, so called us from Belfair in midday, arriving just before dark. We helped her plan the next day’s route. She was an early riser, and headed off into the mist just as the city road crew arrived to start re-configuring the pavement in front of our house.
We also quickly packed up and left in the car, dropping the cat at Just Cats Hotel on the way to Odessa to resume our postponed fall road trip, “in progress,” skipping the Montana-Idaho legs of our plan. So, we managed to host a couple more tourists than we would have had we not been forced to postpone our planned trip due to medical reasons. But, by the time we return at the end of October, the season should be over, as rain and frost discourage all but the most dedicated of tourists. Already, the days are getting too short to make good progress, and hypothermia due to damp and cold conditions is an ever-present danger in case of mechanical breakdown or even just plain exhaustion from wind and hills. Many of the RV parks and campgrounds are closed for the season, and motels, though cheaper in the off-season, are still expensive when you can only travel 60-100km per day on short days in bad weather.
As for us, we are looking forward to a winter of indoor training and a spring of trail riding before adventuring out on the road next summer, should our health hold and my blood-thinner regimen end on schedule. We certainly don’t need to risk another crash or significant road rash. The incident that postponed our trip was a four-day bleeding episode that abated only when the dosage was reduced.
So, this year’s Warm Showers guest list included only 17 overnight guests and one lunch guest (a rider who stopped short the day before), in contrast to last year’s 44 overnight guests plus a dog and a repair assist. This year saw the earliest arrivals, in January, and two tandem teams. Of course, we were closed to guests for three months during peak touring season due to convalescence from my heart surgery, and unfortunately had to cancel several reservations because of that. Cyclists ages weren’t in as wide a range this year—most were late 20s to early 50s: most years range from infants to septuagenarians.
Shelton desperately needs either more in-town Warm Showers hosts or a decent bicycle campground. We feed our guests, so we spend a bit extra for groceries, and many of our guests restock supplies before arriving, so cycling is a non-insignificant part of the summer tourist economy. Many cyclists stay at local motels, either because of lack of alternatives or because that is their style of travel. Some find local lodging through the Couch Surfer web network, but that, in our experience, is a bit more bohemian than the cyclist-only Warm Showers network, and not as desirable for a lot of older tourists. Many more would stay at an in-town or nearby campground if one was available, rather than pushing on to Elma or Olympia or, as many Canadian and European tourists do, simply go off-road onto forest land and pitch a tent out of sight of the road, a practice we try to discourage in Mason County.
As for us, we may not be available for hosting much longer, as we plan to downsize, which will entail yet another move, and to travel more during prime season: the hosting versus guest ratio stands now about 17 to 1, so we could “collect” a few nights as guests over the next couple of years without guilt. We also plan to move fairly close to bike trails and public transit, and will most likely have a guest room yet. Next year depends on how soon we can unburden ourselves of way too many books and other possessions and when and for how much we can sell our properties in Shelton and Montana. Our ideal is to pare down to what will fit in the bike trailer, but that isn’t practical, so we will also need to find another place that fits our projected life style through our 70s.