WarmShowers.org is a web-based organization that connects bicycle tourists with hosts to share lodging while on tour. There are no fees, except for voluntary donations from members to keep the web site running, and accommodation provided to guests at no cost. The accommodations offered range from a place to pitch a tent with access to toilet and shower facilities to a furnished guest room or cottage with full meals, laundry service, sag service (transporting bikes, gear, and riders from their route to the accommodation or to/from bicycle repair shops, train or bus stations, or airports), and minor repairs. Guests, in turn, often bring food to share or small presents for the hosts, if convenient to do so. We provide “all the above,” serving an evening meal and breakfast. Occasionally, guests will offer to cook or treat us to dinner out, but we know from experience that a hot shower and warm meal after a long day on tour is most welcome, and a good breakfast starts the next day’s tour off right.
We first became aware of Warm Showers in the early 2000s when we lived in Hamilton, Montana, 80 km south of the headquarters of Adventure Cycling Association (ACA), and on the Transamerica and Lewis and Clark routes. There were several hosts in town and we were still working, so we didn’t sign up then. But, in the fall of 2009, we moved to western Washington, 70 km south of Bremerton, to a small town on the ACA Pacific Coast Route, Seattle Connector for the Washington Parks Route, and the route in the Kirkendall-Spring book “Cycling the Pacific Coast.” We bought a large 1920s Craftsman bungalow near downtown, and found ourselves full-up the first year, with grown children and grandchildren taking up the extra bedrooms while we all waited out the slump in the housing market to sell our former houses. Both of us continued to work at our home-based businesses, in computer consulting and long-arm quilting services.
After the family moved out, and we settled into semi-retirement, we bought a new tandem bicycle in the spring of 2011 and planned to tour again. We had gone on several multi-day tours in the 1980s, but had just taken day rides since, despite planning longer tours. Since we had three extra bedrooms now, we decided to join Warm Showers as hosts, to give us an opportunity for lodging when and if we started touring again, and to become part of the bicycle touring community, meeting other tourists and sharing stories.
Not long after we joined and shortly after we took delivery of our new bicycle, we got our first guest, Todd, who was also new to Warm Showers. The experience was perfectly natural for both of us, and we never looked back: in the six years since, we have hosted more than 160 guests, stayed with five Warm Showers hosts while on our own tours, and have so far met with one other host in a town a day’s ride away, and kept touch with her and others through social media.
Over the years, our guest list has included five small children under the age of five, and two dogs. We’ve also had two adult mother-daughter teams and one father-son team. Our guests have ranged in age from 8 months to early 70s, but most are in the 25-45 age range.
In the early years, we would sometimes ride out with our guests in the morning, up to 20 or 25 km. Sarah, below, on her second tour and first solo tour, was a bit apprehensive about cycling the back roads, but continued on another 20 days. We’ve kept in touch: she has had some amazing adventures in Patagonia and across the country, and now works as a tour guide for ACA.
Located a day’s ride from Seattle and three to five days ride from Vancouver, we found that a lot of our guests were in a “shakedown” stage of their tours: mechanical problems tend to show up within a few days of starting out. We also noted that, if guests arrived on a Surly, Salsa, Kona, or other brand specifically designed and built for long-distance loaded touring, we would send them off in the morning with no more than topping off tires and water bottles. The bike-shop road bikes, overloaded or without front racks, would get loaded onto the car bike rack and sagged off to the nearest bike shop, 30 km away in Olympia. Bike shops normally have a minimum shop fee and a two-to-three-week turn-around time, but I was able to make a deal with a neighborhood shop to get tourist’s bikes in first thing in the morning so they were on their way by noon. Most we rerouted with maps from the bike shop back to their intended route.
While we advertise a maximum of four guests (we have two furnished guest rooms with queen beds), we rarely turn away “drop-in” guests who call the same day. The group above called from a few blocks away on a rainy evening after we had already set dinner for two guests who had arrived earlier. We ordered pizza delivery while setting up sleeping space in the living room and craft studio for the extras. We’ve also set up an air mattress in the upstairs craft studio when we’ve had three or more guests who didn’t want to share a bed.
Sometimes, we get guests going both directions: the foursome above had two headed for Seattle after riding around the Olympic Peninsula, the other two coming from Vancouver, headed for California.
In this case, the couple with the baby found their friend (with the dog) was traveling the same direction, but by a different route, and arranged to meet at our house. We met her on the road while returning home that day and led her to our house before her friends arrived.
On our own tour, we didn’t plan on using Warm Showers for the last half, as we had shipped our camping gear home earlier, but Scot spotted us in a grocery store parking lot and brought us home, giving up his own bedroom to sleep on the sofa.
The only time we cancelled on guest reservations: I failed a treadmill test and woke up with a 20-cm incision down my chest and tubes hanging out. And a spot on my leg where they had borrowed one of those good bicycling veins to bypass a clogged artery in my heart. That also put us on the “unavailable” list for the rest of the summer.
We’ve had a number of Warm Showers members who have made contact and gotten information, or who have miscalculated weather, distance, or other factors that caused them to cancel or undershoot or overshoot us. Some have shifted dates after first contact. It’s always good to update hosts with projected arrival times, delays, etc.
Several years ago, Eric ran into late-season wet, cold weather, leaving him stranded “in the middle of nowhere” wet, cold, and in the dark. We got a call at 7:30 in the evening, after he had tried to contact many other hosts near his location. We made a 60-km run to rescue him. He had been touring continuously for over a year and his rain gear was worn out, not that it would have done much good in the cold November rain. He has since ridden the GDMBR (Great Divide Mountain Bike Race) and rode the first 1000 km of the Transamerica race. We’ve since upgraded our sag vehicle from a small SUV with a tandem rack on top to a cargo van.
We keep a small collection of toys our grandsons outgrew, to entertain our younger guests. Toddlers take readily to touring, as long as the parents juggle nap time and play time into their riding schedules. Older children do well on tandems, triples, and pedal trailers.
We usually cook, but some guests like to have a home-cooked meal of their own, and treat us. We’ve collected a few good recipes from guests. We convinced this couple to stay and extra day and continue by public transit on Monday during a period of cold and wet weather, so they took over the cooking chores after a day out downtown. We live within walking distance of a movie theater, supermarket, several restaurants and coffee shops, and the public library, giving guests an opportunity to explore a bit off the bike.
Some of our guests have overextended or had mechanical problems, arriving courtesy of passers-by who sagged them to our house. Sometimes—and we have first-hand experience ourselves, on tour—those “tour angels” spot trouble before the riders realize they could use help. We do now offer sag service, having acquired a van for our own rail-trail touring plans, but there are areas of poor cell service in our area, so calling for pickup is not always an option. We have hosted guests from a dozen different countries: some have purchased SIM cards to use their phones in the U.S., but some don’t, relying on WiFi for data connections.
Our father-son team, above, and a mother-daughter team, below. The mother, below, turned out to be friends with long-time friends of ours who live in her home town. Over the years, we’ve hosted cyclists who know each other, or who have stayed as guests at hosts who have been our guests. We’ve read tales of guests meeting up with other guests farther down the coast and riding together or staying at the same other hosts. It’s a small community, considering.
Over the years, we’ve met so many people from many countries, of all ages, and different work backgrounds, but the thing we have in common is that we all crazy in the same way–we just have to get on our bicycles and pedal off over the horizon now and then. Being hosts has kept us active in cycling: since opening our doors to Warm Showers guests in our late 60s, we’ve made three tours of a week or more, and many day trips, often on trails across the country. Since joining Warm Showers, we’ve logged more than 5000 km, despite nearly a year off to recover from heart surgery.
As we get older, hosting becomes a bit of a burden, especially during the busy season, when we get one to four guests a night for several days running. This year, we decided to book time for ourselves to train and prepare for our own outings, limiting hosting to a few short periods during the season. For a couple of years, we were the only hosts in our town, so we were reluctant to turn away guests, but now there are three in town and a couple of others not far away.
Our hosting facilities:
Of course, meals are prepared in the kitchen and served in the dining room, photos of both shown earlier with guests. Evening conversation moves to the living room, where there is a gas fireplace for chilly evenings and mornings. The covered porch, patio, and lower deck are also available for conversation or privacy in warm weather. We offer high-speed Internet (cable) with WiFi, and have a small older laptop with a guest account for use if needed. We often print out Google maps and cue sheets for custom routes, and have supplied GPS track files or Google map links via email or message.
We have a floor pump with Presta and Schrader fittings for use by guests, and the usual tools for minor repairs, including degreaser and shop rags. In addition to limited sag service with our own vehicles, Mason County Transit buses run Monday through Saturday from downtown Shelton, with bike racks and service to Olympia, Bremerton, and Brinnon, with connections to Grays Harbor County (Montesano & Aberdeen) and Jefferson County (Port Townsend) transit services as well as Kitsap County transit, the Washington State Ferries to Seattle, and the Olympia Intercity Transit with connection to Amtrak. Roll-on bicycle service is available on Amtrak at the Olympia-Lacey terminal with service to Seattle, Portland, and Eugene.
Over the years, in addition to delivering bikes to the bike shop in the city, we’ve also made runs to the nearby hardware store for missing or stripped stainless steel metric screws, safety-wired a homemade trailer hitch, supplied a spare tire from our stash, and delivered articles left, either in person or by parcel service. We’ve answered queries from travelers who didn’t stay with us, including route advice, and where to leave your car when starting/ending a tour nearby (try a self-storage yard). Not surprisingly, we’ve had reciprocal treatment when we travel–hosts picking up most of our gear for the last few miles, sag lifts from strangers met on the road, a lift to a bike shop for supplies, awesome meals, and close-up encounters feeding apples to a captive elk herd. Being part of the Warm Showers community enriches our lives and is a means of paying forward all the kindnesses done for us over the years, cycling or not.
Last, but not least, being a part of Warm Showers brings us closer to the bicycle touring community and makes it more likely for us to reach out to tourists we see that could use a hand. A couple of weeks ago, we were at a nearby (20 km) bakery on a rainy day when an older bicycle tourist came in to dry out and warm up, intending to wait out the rain, even if it meant bivouacking behind the bakery. We struck up a conversation, soon recognizing him as a legend among the world trekking and bicycle touring folks, as well as in his home country, Australia, for his cycling exploits and trekking with camels around Australia. The rain subsided somewhat, later that day, and Klaus took us up on our invite to spend the night, even though he wasn’t a Warm Showers member. Normally, we’d ask tourists we meet this way to join (that’s how we recruit), but Klaus has been nomadic for 23 years and, at 69, doesn’t plan to settle down anytime soon. He also prefers to camp wherever the day ends, but was grateful for a chance to dry his gear and sleep out of the rain. And, we were glad to have met him, hear his stories first hand, and to have a chance to ride with a legend, if only a short way to send him off on the next leg of his life-long adventure.