Picking up Stray Bicyclists

Posted by Doug Shidell, August 8th, 2009 3 responses

I saw them two miles into my homebound commute; father and son, fully loaded with panniers and asking directions. The guy on the street wasn’t very helpful. He only knew the autoroute to their destination. I was going that way, so I volunteered to lead them.

Before we’d ridden a mile I knew they needed more than a shop. They were tired, a bit cranky, lost and carrying camping gear, but faced with an expensive motel stay because there was no way they would get out of the city before dark. I volunteered our backyard for the night. It’s exactly the sort of thing that others had done for me on my long ago trip to Portland, Oregon.

By chance, they were riding west from Portland. their destination was a friend’s house in Vermont. Too far into the ride to carry the novelty of the adventure and too far from the end to feel the accomplishment, they were at a mental low point, and the normal tensions of parent and teenage son were heightened. It would have been great to hear travel stories of wonder and parent-child bonding, of cherished memories and life changing experiences, but that wasn’t for this night. Dad needed someone to talk with and son needed “space” and rest.

What we could offer was an ear and a respite from the road. We fed them cheese and crackers until the large pizza arrived, then followed up with a couple of large scoops of ice cream and chocolate chip cookies. They took hot showers and dried off with the thickest towels we had. We listened as Dad unloaded his travel blues while the boy slept. In the morning Dad woke up early and worked on the bikes in our basement bike shop as son continued sleeping. I made a pancake breakfast for Dad, but son chose to get another hour of sleep.

I gave Dad a copy of the “Twin Cities Bike Map,” marked the location of shops for picking up the gear he needed and highlighted the route out of town. Then I hopped my bike and went back to work. It was a small respite for the travelers and a break from the daily grind for me. For them, I hope they form that bond and settle into a close friendship as they continue their travels.

For me, I’ve made a down payment on a debt. I can never directly repay those who helped me on my cross-country trip. The best I can do is pass the favor to another traveler. I’ve done it once. I still have a couple more to go before the debt will be fully repaid.

Filed under: Bikeverywhere News

3 Comments to “Picking up Stray Bicyclists”

  1. Tony Says:

    Thanks for telling this story. I’ve had “trail angels” assist me while hiking the Appalachian Trail, and it’s nice to know they can be found on the bike trails as well.

  2. Laura L. Says:

    You did well in treating the “stray” cyclists who happened into your life with decency and respect. It sounds like you were sensitive to multiple needs, and had just the right resources (incl’g bike tools and knowledge.)

    You should consider joining WarmShowers.org. You’ll more likely have chances to keep repaying your “debts,” and will also find it easy to search out help when you are on the road yourself.

    Pedals up!

  3. Dave Leedom Says:

    It’s a rainy day in western Oregon so I thought I’d start my thank you letters to the many fine folks my son and I met on the road this summer. One of them was Doug Shidell. He and his wife were a precious gift to us that evening. The backyard camping was great and the fruit, snacks and pizza they provided was royal. However, it was the gift of their time in listening to a weary traveller that I will always remember.

    Yes, the stress of the road had been taking a toll. Oregon to Minnesota and that far again to the east coast is a long time to spend with one person and a long way for a 15 yr. old to ride a bicycle. In spite of the bickering, I think we did do a little bonding. The help from people like Doug and his wife were significant in keeping our train on the tracks the whole way.

    The other gift we received from Doug was a true view of your beautiful city. We tended to avoid metro areas with all their congestion but were in need of replacing some camping gear so entered the city from the west, making a bee-line for the chain store co-op. It was to have been a quick, boulevard-bound in-and-out. We got bogged down a bit trying to find our way through a large nature preserve and found the day getting away from us.

    Had we been forced to stay in a motel, we probably would have just got on another thouroughfare and made a due-east escape and glad to put a harrowing experience behind us. Doug’s rescue and the sharing of his map opened up your world to us. The citizens of Minneapolis / St. Paul are absolutely blessed with the river and rail trails interweaving your cities. My salute to the leaders and supporters who developed those resources both for sheer enjoyment as well as efficient people movement.

    Doug’s map was invaulable in helping us link safely from one corridore to another on relativly quiet neighborhood streets. We followed the Mississippi River Trail as far possible before needing to turn east to Wisconsin.

    We reached our destination of Vermont. The final push through New Hampshire and Maine was preempted due to weather and lack of time. Another trip, hopefully sooner than later. I would recommend it to anyone; the road will always be there, so go.

    Thamks, Doug