The Kindness of Strangers

  • Riddle: When is a bike like a puppy?
  • Answer: When it’s loaded up with 50 pounds of stuff. Because then total strangers will walk up to you and strike up a conversation.

Learning to Accept Kindness

One of the most surprising things on our cross country bicycle journey is how wonderful perfect strangers have been to us. Learning to accept that kindness wasn’t automatic for us, though.

Our second day in Nevada, while Joy and I sat at a bar enjoying a late afternoon beer, a road cyclist we had met earlier came up to our table. She’d told her husband about us and they wanted to invite us to dinner and to stay at their place for the night. Joy and I were both taken aback. Actually, I was freaked out. Why would a perfect stranger make this kind of offer?  What did they want? Was she secretly a psycho? Ultimately, we demurred. We were so unaccustomed to this kind of generosity that we didn’t know how to react. Days later we decided it was ungracious of us to refuse such generosity from strangers and that we should never turn down an offer, even if it took us out of our way or altered our plans. After all, one goal of this trip is getting to know the folks who make up America.

Tales of Kindness

While slogging up a steep incline in Nevada, a pickup truck that had zoomed past did a U-turn and then came back towards us. Once the truck reached us the driver pulled over, walked across the highway carrying a jug of water, and insisted that we fill up our water bottles because Nevada is so harsh. Then he made another U-turn and went on his way. A similar scene happened in Utah.  A driver jumped out of his truck and enthusiastically offered us water and granola bars. Having recently stopped at a convenience store, we really didn’t need either, but he was so insistent that we just couldn’t refuse.

The day we cycled through Capitol Reef was miserably hot. Late in the day we stopped at a hotel to fill our water bottles – we were almost out of water and we had another 30 miles to the nearest store. When we entered the hotel lobby, the manager declared that we were nuts to be out in that heat. He insisted that we sit in the air conditioned lobby for as long as we wanted. To encourage us to hang out he gave us the hotel WiFi password and also insisted that we help ourselves to anything in the lobby vending machines free of charge. (Joy and I each took one Gatorade.)  As we were climbing on our bikes to tackle the last part of the ride, a hotel guest stopped us, ran into her room and came back with frozen plastic bottles of water for us.

The day we rode to Natural Bridges National Park was unseasonably, exceptionally hot (a constant theme in Utah). Towards the end of the day we were running very low on water and I decided I needed to get over my aversion for asking for help. I spied a family having a picnic – an old woman and a young woman were sitting in the car listening to the radio and a man about my age was lounging under the trees where their picnic things were laid out. I rolled up to the car and asked the old woman if they had any extra water. The old woman looked at me, turned to consider Joy, and then turned to the man. She called out something to him in what I presume was Navajo. He walked over to their cooler, pulled out two ice-cold bottles of water and brought them over. I thanked them all profusely and poured the water into two empty cycling water bottles. The man had started to walk away when the old woman spoke to him again. He turned back to me and said, “I should take the empties.” He had started to walk away when the old woman spoke again. He turned to me and said, “Wait here.” He came back with two more bottles.

While Joy and I were eating lunch in Dolores, Colorado, the woman at the table next to us began asking us about our bicycles and our plans. By the time we were done with lunch, Linda and Bob had invited us to dinner and to stay with them. We had been planning on cycling another 20 or so miles before camping that night. Instead, we were lucky enough to spend a lovely evening with them in their beautiful house, enjoyed a great dinner, slept in a wonderfully comfortable bed, and had a chance to do laundry.

Nicholas Jones, owner of Lizard Head Bicycles in Dolores, Colorado
Nicholas Jones, owner of Lizard Head Bicycles in Dolores, Colorado

The same day we stopped by a bicycle repair shop across from the restaurant where we’d just met Linda and Bob. Without even asking him, the bike shop owner did a quick inspection of our bikes and discovered a few things on Joy’s bike that needed attention, including loose spokes. Upon further inspection he discovered that one of Joy’s spokes was broken. It turned out he didn’t have the right length spokes so he called a bike shop in Cortez – a town 10 miles away. “Let’s go get those spokes,” he said, while hanging the “Closed” sign in the front window. His shop was very hot (no air conditioning) so he had offered us beers while we worked on the bikes. As we jumped into the car (what would amount to a 45 minute round trip), I asked about the beer Joy was still drinking. “No worries. You can drink that in the car. I know all the sheriffs.” Ultimately, he spent three hours getting our bikes just right. And then he insisted on giving us his cell phone number so we could call him for as long as we were in Colorado. We didn’t know this beforehand but Lizardhead Cyclery  recently won an award from Adventure Cycling Association as the best US bicycle repair shop based on customer service. We know why! (BTW, visit his Facebook page to see video of his cat mountain biking.)

In Keystone, Colorado, a couple walking by stopped to engage us in conversation about our bikes and gear. After about 10 minutes of conversation they invited us to dinner and to learn more about our trip – they do tour cycling in Europe. Part way through dinner they brought out a bottle of wine they’d been saving. It turns out that it was their anniversary!

Roy Stanford takes us to Mt Rushmore

Joy and I rode most of the George S Michelson Trail (an old rail line converted to a spectacular 109 mile biking trail up the middle of the South Dakota Black Hills). At one point the trail runs close to Mount Rushmore. Visiting the monument would have added 18 miles to our day (plus all the time to visit the monument) so we decided to save that for some future trip. The day we skipped Rushmore we decided that we’d camp along the trail but stop for dinner at a tiny town not far off the trail. Over the course of dinner we met Roy Stanford, who was shocked and appalled that we’d skipped Mount Rushmore. He introduced himself by asking if we’d be open to South Dakota hospitality. In this case that meant him loading us, our two bikes and all our stuff into his truck, driving us 25 miles to his house so we could shower, and then driving us another 25 miles to tour Mount Rushmore.

Roy works at Mount Rushmore so he gave us a guided tour, including a peak “behind the curtain.” We got there just in time to see a thunderstorm – very dramatic!  And he bought us vanilla ice cream based on Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe. After visiting the monument Roy then drove us back 25 miles to his house where we did laundry and spent the night, thrilled not to be camping in a thunderstorm.

There are dozens of other examples of strangers being kind but this post is already ridiculously long.

In summarizing all the kindness we’ve experienced, an ex-colleague summarized it best:

“It is such a privilege to enjoy the kindness of strangers.” – Christina Ellwood

9 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers

  1. What an awesome blog. A very bold adventure you have undertaken. It’s to bad this summer has been ridiculously hot. If/when you make it to the Mid Atlantic you are welcome to stay at our house. I will be an evil tempter and dangle car keys in front of you.


    1. Thanks for the kind words and the generous offer. We are likely to end up somewhere north of Boston. Not sure if we will be spending time traveling along the coast. If we do head your way, we’ll let you know.


  2. Oh my gosh! This is amazing!!! I love this post so much! I intrigued my from beginning to end! It’s so amazing how wonderful strangers can be! How amazing… i’m speechless was a great trip! I hope it was worth all of that biking. Drop a follow and a like on my blog if you can! Keep on biking and writing!!


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