What this blog is about

Bicycle commuting, bicycle touring, bicycle racing; bicycle ADVENTURING.
To the grocery store, up a mountain, across the country or to the finish line--
it's all an adventure.

Friday, September 4, 2009

TransAmerica Q&A: Where did we stay?

One of the most common questions we got about our bicycle tour across the country was:


Well, that is both totally up to you and quite nearly, totally out of your control. Touring has funny contradictions like that.

For us, we were not only on a budget, but also interested in having a "ground level" experience. Staying at a hotel every night would have been feasible (given that we had money to do it, which we didn't), but it would be a wholly different tour. In a hotel, you can always wash up, always sleep well and never meet the locals. On the ground, you make personal sacrifices (those daily showers and a soft place to sleep) to realize that you're really not making much of a sacrifice. Indeed, you make a profit. A profit of creativity, insight, willpower and new conversations. All worth the 'price.'

To cut to the facts, here's the pie of where we stayed:
  • State parks & private campgrounds
  • City parks
  • Homestays
  • Churches
  • Fire stations
  • Someone's yard
The west was full of state parks and recreational areas. We were also still pretty green to touring. As a result, we stayed most at 'official' state parks and private campgrounds. Some had special hiker/biker rates, some did not. We paid anywhere between $4 per person and $23 for one tent. Though the host at the Virginia City RV park tried to tell us that we had two tents. ???

Once we hit Kansas, we stopped seeing state parks or any private campgrounds (or any postcards, for that matter!). Instead, we learned that most towns allowed cyclists to stay in the city park! (Think TOWN park. This is small-town America.) Most towns just ask that you let the police know that you're there. As a bonus, most parks in Kansas come with a POOL (thus showers) and were usually free for cyclists.

We heard that the local police could be helpful in finding us a place to camp in town, so sometimes we just went straight to the police station to ask where we could pitch a tent in town. If the town was accustomed to hosting cyclists, a police officer would direct you to the city park, as usual. However, we also found that police can be kind of stingy about the law. Which is good, I guess. But fire fighters aren't!
Fire fighters are AWESOME. They're often happy to let you pitch in the grass or they might even invite you inside for a shower and a truck tour. 

Acquiring a homestay is part luck, part art.
  • You're more likely to find a homestay if you're actually in a pickle. Such as a stormy forecast or pending darkness. You're not going to get a homestay because you're being lazy or a wimp!
  • Take off your sunglasses. People want to see your EYES and see that you're trustworthy.
  • First, ask indirectly. "Do you know a safe place, out of the rain that we could pitch a tent?" This allows the person an 'out,' or an opportunity to say 'no' if they're not willing or able to host you. 
  • If indirect inquiry fails with several people, and you're becoming a bit desperate, be more direct. "Could we just pitch a tent in your yard? It's getting dark and we can't ride any farther. We'll be out really early in the morning."
  • Know your customer. For Mia and I, we look quite harmless and as young women are perceived as vulnerable. We're more likely to be helped by a mother who is concerned for our safety. If you're a scruffy guy that could pass for a bum, you're more likely be to be helped by a scruffy guy that kind of looks like a bum.
  • Be genuine. Maybe it sounds contradictory at the end of this list, but I don't like to be manipulative, just honest. I just lay my situation flat out there. 
Traveling on a well-established Adventure Cycling route, we found many churches that were accustomed to housing cyclists. These churches were often prepared with a cyclist guest book, a donation box, a place to shower, cook, launder and even access the internet. Don't expect ALL of these services at every church you encounter, but at the very least, you can at least find a safe indoor space to sleep. On a 3-month tour, THAT is luxury enough!

The only hotel that we ever stayed at was on a goof-up day. We somehow got off route and rode at least 50 miles on the Blue Ride Parkway instead of 30. The Parkway is beautiful, but lacks services and certainly is NOT flat, as it follows the ridge line of the Appalachian Mountains. Anyhow, long story short-- it was dark, the area looked sketch (unsafe), and for the first and only time on our trip, we paid for a hotel (and ordered pizza).

However, we were the recipients of jaw-dropping kindness when we were put up in a bed and breakfast, first by complete strangers, then again by a treasured friend of mine. We will always remember those experiences vividly and fondly. The timing could not have been better, as it quenched our thirst for rest before tackling the notorious hills of the east.

Do you have more questions? Leave a comment!

A state park near Yellowstone.

On a popular route, you're more likely to meet other cyclists!

Some parks are quite nice!

Other parks are quite basic.

In a church, be sure to ask first where it is appropriate to sleep!
This church asked us to not use the pew cushions, but sleeping between the pews was fine.
Except on Saturday night. ;)

A storm chased us out of our campsite,
so we ended up in this barn instead!

In Charlottesville, we had a hard time getting a yard or homestay until we started asking directly. We thought that it would be easy to find a place to crash in a college student housing area, but we forgot what a bubble colleges can be. People looked at us like, "and WHY are you asking to camp in my yard?" We finally succeeded when I explained what I thought was obvious, "we've been riding our bikes since Oregon."

If you're fortunate, you'll have the opportunity to stay in a unique place
like this botanical garden!

We were riding to an Illinois town with no real plans on where we would stay
when we were caught by a group of recreational cyclists.
We traded phone numbers and Greg was kind enough to take us out
to pizza, then let us stay the night!

When we arrived in Baker City, OR-- we weren't sure where we would stay because there was a huge motorcycle rally going on that weekend! Every campground and hotel would be booked to the brim! Before we even had the chance to ask anyone, Joy found us and invited us to stay! We even took a day off in Baker City and enjoyed our time with Joy and Ray.

The most luxurious and appreciated night I have EVER had.
A surprise courtesy of a friend.

The ONE TIME we booked a hotel. Of course it rained the next morning.
We had to walk our bikes for 2 and 3 miles downhill because our brakes wouldn't work
on the wet, oily streets. And then I walked through Poison Oak. Good thing Mia knows what it looks like!
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