Pay it forward
During our journey we meet people who gain a special place in our hearts because they are so generous and hospitable. People open their homes to us and we learn more about personalities, language, culture, history... than we ever learned in school. During our trip in the USA, we meet several Trail Angels who make our experience on the bike even more memorable. We learn about the "Pay it Forward" philosophy. In this blog we tell you more about it!
Alpaca farm - GDMBR
Aug. 23, 2022 - "Shouldn't we cover a little bit of distance today?" Stefanie asks Niels. We just arrived in Lincoln after catching a ride with our Warmshowers hosts Valerie and Kevin from Ferndale. To avoid wildfires and a busy highway, they suggested dropping us at a place where we could re-enter the Great Divide. We don't turn down that idea; it's nice to cover some distance in a less safe environment. It's only noon so we still have plenty of time to reach our next sleeping destination. Niels hesitates for a moment but agrees to go cycling, otherwise it just seems like a lost day. After a nice lunch and a video call with the family, we start our cycling day at 2 p.m.
Progress is good and we climb the first few miles smoothly with the help of our new Spotify playlist "songs about America." Music echoes through the speakers and makes us forget about the hard work, it as well serves as a deterrent in the midst of grizzly territory. After almost 2 hours of climbing the real deal starts, the last 8km of the climb is up a narrow and steep path through loose rocks. Above us a thunderstorm erupts and for the first time in weeks we catch some rain, fortunately it is not cold. We really are in the middle of nowhere here. No one crosses our path, the dark clouds lead the way and we are alone with each other and our thoughts.
When the gradient becomes too steep we push our bikes up the last 2.5km. We climb more than 300 meters in a very short distance and it's going SLOW. "This is basically everything I hate about cycling!" Niels screams. "Thunderstorms, pushing the bikes, diarrhea (always a good timing).... and we're surrounded by bears." The narrow trails surrounded by lots of trees and bushes feel like an ideal "ambush" to him, and it feels like a bear could appear in our path at any moment. Stefanie is fed up with his negative thoughts for a moment and snarls at him, "Stop complaining, this isn't helping us!", but she quickly realizes that Niels needs to take a break. Fear is a strange thing and what we started realizing during this trip is that fear is a personal thing. You can never know how scared someone else is, you can't look into someone else's mind. Communication is key for getting through this journey together as a couple We talk about our fears and annoyances and say sorry, but this isn't always easy. Hand in hand, we cycle (or for the most part push) the bikes up the final stretch of the climb.
It seems like we made the wrong decision to ride our bikes today after all, until we reach the top. Once at the top, stunning views and a wonderful descent await us. The sun appears, a rainbow peeks around the corner and Niels feels at ease again. We quickly fly down and then arrive at what is one of the most incredible places of this trip. "The Alpaca Farm." Barbara and John have created a place worth the be called a holy grail for cyclists. An awful lot of places to pitch a tent, but even better, about five incredibly beautiful and practical cabins, each in its own theme. Tonight we sleep in "Den Schuur" amidst the mountains. You can feel the passion and love John and Barbara put into this place, the cabins are cozily decorated and every detail has been paid attention to. A bottle of wine and M&Ms, oatmeal for breakfast and some but cream is also available. A polaroid camera sits on the table in front of the guest book and our selfie appears among hundreds of other photos. More than 400 cyclists are welcomed here each season.
The following text hangs from the mirror: The philosophy we practice in offering this cabin and its contents to you is: pay it forward. We don't ask for monetary donations for you to stay here, but instead we hope that in the future you will repay our kindness to you by paying it forwards to others.
We take a seat under their porch and stare at each other in disbelief. To our surprise the fridge is full with cans of soda and beer, but we also find freshly made sandwiches. We really can't believe all of this is for free, tears of joy appear after a hard day of cycling, this place feels like heaven. After a cold outdoor shower, fresh sandwiches and a Coke, our batteries are recharged. We chat with Barbara and John, Barbara tells us she has been doing this for 25 years. John was the cyclist who stayed the longest. Six years ago he cycled the Great Divide himself and he met Barbara here. After he finished his trip, he came back and they became a couple. We crawl into our bunk bed and are grateful for these wonderful people who keep crossing our path. As we lay in bed, we see lightning outside and hear the coyotes howling, we forget about the hard work and arguing and that is just what this trip is all about, getting through the hard parts together and enjoy these encounters to the fullest.
Trail Angels on the Great Divide
When we arrive in Helena, we see a man begging at the traffic lights. We give him our bananas and the biggest toothless smile appears. It always feels good to give to others, even if it's just a simple banana. We often feel we can't do much in such situations, but we do our best and are convinced that every little action makes a world of difference. A beggar at the supermarket will always get a cookie, fruit or soft drink from us. With another cyclist or hiker, we are only too happy to share a bag of chips or water. This way we can't (yet) pay back everything we receive ourselves, but it's a start.
In the evening, we are welcomed by Matthew and Marry Ellen who treat us to a super delicious vegan meal. We share travel stories and are inspired by their adventures on their tandem, their life experience and genuine interest in our side quest for adventure. When Marry Ellen tells she is 81 years old we almost fall off our chairs. Next month they are going to Italy for a hiking trip and later this year they will leave for about three months on a small world tour. They are an example for many and it must be wonderful to grow old this way. When they hear that we have been trying to meet up with our friends Annelies and David for several weeks, who are still only 150 kilometers ahead of us, they don't hesitate for a second and Matthew proposes to give us a ride the next day to be with our friends.
Matthew's wonderful gesture allows the four of us to cycle through Yellowstone together. We sleep in campgrounds and find ourselves among other tourists, but here too we find trail angels. The neighbour across the street who offers us a beer, the other neighbour who suggests bringing something from the store for us. When we wake up the next morning and open our bear box, there are some wraps and a lovely not waiting for us.
Hotel stay in Jackson
After a week and a half of camping in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, we say goodbye to our friends. We head to Jackson, a town where a visit to the supermarket, bike store and outdoor store is planned. Around noon we reach Jackson, the town Johnny Cash talks about in his song with June Carter. "We got married in a fever..." Appropriate!
When we stop at a bike store, we meet Robin. Immediately she overwhelms us with her enthusiasm and is very curious about our trip. We strike up a conversation and before we know it she invites us to come and stay with her. "I only have a tiny apartment and no spare bedroom, so it's not a lot!" but she already made our day. We keep in touch and decide to discuss details later that day through WhatsApp. In the meantime, we buy a new bearing for Stefanie's bike, do some shopping and stroll through beautiful Jackson. When we're relaxing in the park and Niels goes out to buy some fresh fruit, Stefanie gets a call from Robin. Niels returns and finds Stefanie in disbelief. "You will never believe what Robin has done for us?!"
Five minutes later there she is, a chunk of positive energy. She explains that her apartment wasn't cleaned and there are works going on in her street. She absolutely wants to help us and so she booked us a hotel here in Jackson where prices are insanely high. "It would mean the world to me if you accept this hotel stay!", she says. For her it's all about paying it forward and she wants to treat us to this comfortable stay in Jackson. Full of disbelief we accept her offer (saying no wasn't a possibility since she had already checked in and paid) and for the first time in weeks and the first time in the US we sleep in a hotel room. We thank Robin, promise her that we will pass on this wonderful gesture and enjoy this treat to the fullest.
We are cycling for a good cause!
The bicycle is our mode of transportation during this trip, but it is so much more than that. It puts us in contact with people and these encounters make our trip unforgettable. But where for us our bikes are so normal, this is not the case for everyone. There are people who do not have money to buy a bicycle, there are children who aren't as lucky as us and never get taught to ride a bicycle.
For these reasons, we have started a fundraising campaign with a local cycling community in Belgium. Our goal is to raise € 1,000 with which we could prepare 20 bicycles for vulnerable people. Cycling should not be a privilege, in our eyes it should be accessible to everyone.
Would you like to help us raise this amount and make a difference for vulnerable families? You can donate using this link or you can also make a contribution using the details below:
IBAN Account: BE58 7390 1417 9579
BIC Code: KREDBEBB
Address to: Niels Weltens (then there are no transaction fees, we transfer the money in full)
Please mention in the announcement that it is a charitable contribution
Send us a note so we can thank you.
Thank you so much for your donation!