In our years before kids, my husband and I had two really terrific adventures.
For two consecutive summers, we took long trips on our bicycles.
We planned the trips because we wanted to create memories and stories we could tell our kids.
The first summer, we rode from our home in Jamestown, NY to Baltimore, MD on a challenging route that took us up and down the hills of Pennsylvania, through the capital city of Harrisburg, and around the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore.
The second summer, we started in my husband’s hometown of Toledo, OH and rode north as we hugged the (mercifully flat) east coast of Michigan along Lake Huron until we got to Macinaw City and the shores of Lake Superior. We hopped a ferry to the Upper Peninsula and rode all the way to Sault Saint Marie, Canada before ending our trip in Tahquamenon Falls.
Nearly a thousand miles on our bicycles over two summers: sunburns, blisters, tears, breathtaking scenery, sun rises, ice cream. Yet our most enduring memories, our most compelling stories, are about the kindness shown to us by strangers.
On our first trip, thinking to conserve space in our panniers, we traveled with a one man tent. After long days in the hot sun, we squeezed into our tent with little room to relax.
Toward the end of the trip, we finished a ninety mile day, arriving at a family owned campground. We swam in the camp’s pool and chatted with the owners while we devoured dinner in their snack bar. When we shared about our cramped quarters, they offered the use of an empty cabin (for free).
We stretched out in beds for a great night of sleep, then rode away on our bikes.
The next day we approached Havre de Grace, MD, and discovered that we were on the wrong side of the Chesapeake Bay. The only way across: a bridge, no bikes or pedestrians allowed. Hot and sweaty, we walked on shaky legs into a bar during happy hour. The bartender, whose shift was ending soon, filled our Camelbacks with ice water, pointed us to a free buffet, and offered a ride across the bridge — not because she was going that way, but because we needed to get to the other side.
During our Michigan trip, we ate a hot meal — hobo dinners — with strangers at a campground after riding in at dusk in a thunderstorm. The same people later delivered cookies, fresh from the oven, to our campsite.
Then while camping near Mackinaw City, we met a nice couple. We talked, then saw each other again on the ferry to the Upper Peninsula. Days and miles down the road, we heard honking and saw a camper approaching. They had spotted us on our way into Sault Saint Marie, and offered us a ride to town. We drove to a restaurant overlooking the famous locks, where they took us, road-worn and clad in biking shorts, to a real restaurant, cloth napkins and table service. They bought us lunch, added dessert, and hugged us as they waved goodbye.
I don’t know for sure what motivated so many people during those two trips to give so generously to us. They gave with no expectation that we could return their kindness, outside the context of an established relationship. They gave when it would have been easier to go their own way, when they knew they would never see us again.
Maybe they forgot about the young crazy couple on their bikes, but we have never forgotten their kindness. They have become a part of our stories, the ones we will tell to our kids for years, about our adventures and the help we got from strangers along the way.