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  1. #1
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    Are you assumed to be homeless?

    I am fairly new to cycling (4 years) and touring (8-9 minitours of 2 to 9 days total lifetime) and have wondered about other tourers' experiences about how we are perceived by the "non-cyclists" we encounter during our trips.

    Since I live in North Florida and tour mostly North Florida and South/Central Georgia, my experiences could easily differ a lot from those in say, New England or West Coast, especially those who frequent the Adventure Cycling routes. The Deep South is not generally plugged into the cycling culture, even though the TA passes through my hometown of Tallahassee. When I vary north or south from that line, I am a very rare bird. I have encountered fewer than one touring cyclist per week on the road, for instance. (Regardless, even before getting into cycling, I could always spot a touring cyclist and tell the difference from a bike rider who cycles out of economic necessity.

    My experience is that on tour I am almost always assumed to be a "homeless guy." Though I have changed from a mountain bike qand improvised panniers to a "real" touring bike (Jamis Aurora Elite) over the years and have taken on the "look" of a tourer (front rack, four panniers, helmet, cycling shorts, Screaming Dayglow Yellow shirt) I believe that a high percentage of restaurant staff, passing motorists, hotel owners and fellow campground residents think I am homeless, with all the connotations that involves.

    Once, while napping before putting up my tent, I was given a can of soup by a kind soul in Georgia who asked when I had last eaten. I quickly realized what the thought was and did not protest/correct the assumption for fear of embarrassing my benefactor. On another trip, I was approached by a state park ranger who admitted that neighbors had called the park offices to report that "a man had just checked in on a bike, with no camper or car or anything!" The ranger was friendly and somewhat apologetic but it provided insight nonetheless. Also last week, a waitress who had just seen me ride up on a couple grand worth of gear and bike, still took me for someone homeless just out wandering the land.

    Anyway, I have not been mistreated, run off, etc. That is not the issue -- all my interactions have been fine and only rarely have I even been honked or gestured at. Still I would prefer to avoid being feared or mistrusted. It also could be a negative should I ever need to hitchhike due to injury or a major repair situation. The waitress I referenced volunteered she didn't think that most people would pick me up in those cases (I didn't press her on the "why" of this statement.)

    So -- do any of you experienced tourers find yourselves assumed to be homeless? If so why do you think it happens -- lack of the public's familiarity with touring? your appearance? your location? And what impact if any does it have in being welcomed, treated well, getting the desired accomodations, directions, etc?

  2. #2
    Bike touring webrarian
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    I just returned from a 10 day tour of Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas. I found the people there universally friendly, willing to stop on the road and offer help, and didn't feel like I was viewed as homeless (crazy, maybe).

    However, on Wednesday afternoon (2 days ago as I write this), on my way back home, I took the bus from Alpine, TX to Midland, TX. Eric, a real Road Angel and my couchsurfer host, picked me up at the bus stop on his way to play soccer. He dropped me off at a Denny's for dinner and while studying the menu for anything vegetarian I could eat, a guy walk up to me and asked if I could find something. I said I was trying, he handed me a $5 bill and said to eat a good meal.

    I thanked him, gave him back the bill, and asked if I looked that bad? He said the backpack made it look like I was on the road and might need some help.

    Note that I wasn't in biking clothes nor did I have my bike with me. But, I had just finished 10 days of bike riding in the Chihuahuan Desert and a 3 hour bus ride, was wearing clothes I'd been in for 2 weeks, and it was 10pm in a Denny's in the used car lot section of Midland, TX. I guess I wasn't putting my best appearance forward!

    And, to think I'd shaved that morning!

    In my experience, some people will view a bicycle tourist as an inspiration, crazy, homeless, a threat, or a real treat. There is no way to know, up front, what kind of attitude will come your way. Best to smile, be upbeat, act friendly, and always say thank you to any offered assistance. There are lots of very nice people out there willing to help someone, homeless or otherwise.

    For me, it is the people I meet and the things they say that often make the most memorable stories!
    Visit the on-line Bike Touring Archive at www.biketouringtips.com

  3. #3
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    My mother thinks I'm homeless everyday!.......

    Sane adults do not ride around on bicycles,especially ones with all of their belongings strapped to it,in the middle of nowhere....normal folks just don't do that.

    So we MUST be homeless.....why on earth would you do that unless it was forced on you?

    Just be polite,take anything they offer and everybody leaves feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.We get free food or whatever and the other person feels good.....Win/Win.
    Last edited by Booger1; 05-03-13 at 12:47 PM.
    Everything should be as simple as possible...But not more so.---Albert Einstein

  4. #4
    40 yrs bike touring
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    In my experience, eccentric, hippie or crazy are more frequent labels than homeless. But homeless is gaining momentum.

  5. #5
    Senior Member robow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Booger1 View Post

    So we MUST be homeless.....why on earth would you do that unless it was forced on you?
    If you're not homeless, or a hippie bound for a commune, you must be doing it for a cause or charity, right?

  6. #6
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    I am not aware of anyone taking me for homeless, but I wouldn't necessarily know what everyone thinks so maybe some did. I have had people offer to pay for my lunch, or make other charitable offers, but in most of those cases I had already talked to them about my tour to the extent that it would have been obvious that I was not homeless.

    Folks have generally been open, warm, and friendly. More so than I think they would be if they thought I was homeless. This has been true in all parts of the country, but especially in the Plains, the southwest, and the deep south.

  7. #7
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by robow View Post
    you must be doing it for a cause or charity, right?
    That is the one that bugs me!

  8. #8
    Garlic
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    As soon as I take out my wallet, or open my mouth to speak and flash my full set of chompers, I pretty much settle that question. I have no idea what people I don't interact with think. Nobody's ever given me a hard time. Some kids playing around a town park I camped in took a collection and tried to fund a night in a motel. They came up with about $8, which I returned with great thanks. That was my only "donation."

  9. #9
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    Yeah, I agree that you don't know what the vast majority of people think. But when I do interact I can tell by far most (in my region) are puzzled and likely have never heard of touring. So one can extrapolate a little that this must be the majority with some degree of safety.

    Just to be clear -- I know to just be friendly, smiling, and naturally tend that way in these situations. Also I do not really care what people think, just more of a socialogical study than anything. It is still unfortunate for neighbors to be needlessly fearful in a campground. And I had always hoped that with a broken down bike I would be appear harmless as potential hitchhiker.

  10. #10
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    "Must be doing for charity" -- the only times you see a transcontinental cyclist written up in newspaper or on 11:00 local news is someone Riding for Cancer, etc.... I think that is where that comes from since most have never personally known someone who did this crazy thing for the pure fun of it!

  11. #11
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    I can't say I have ever been mistaken for homeless, but I have had plenty of people offer me a place to stay for the night, food, drink, etc.

    When I am driving, which unfortunately I do a lot of, if I see a touring cyclist I will often stop for them and ask if they want a cold water or need anything. I keep a cooler of bottled water in my car when I am driving as well as pretty good supply of snacks and other stuff. I have bought meals for others just as a means of paying it forward or backwards if you will. Never know when I might be in need.

    I bought a coffee for a guy the other night at McD's he was a vet and looked a bit on the shabby side, turned out he was riding his bike from somewhere in FL to NJ working his way up the east coast. We sat and chatted for a few minutes over our coffees. Turns out he is actually retired military and draws retirement, lives very simply and prefers to travel by bike or walk everywhere he goes. Said it takes him about 3 months to make the trip. Apparently he has done it more than once. His rig looked a bit homeless, but was in good repair and well put together.

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  12. #12
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    I don't imagine anyone's ever thought that. If they did, it would only be because they've never actually met a homeless person.

  13. #13
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    The thing is... Machka and I were homeless for eight months from June last year.

    We vacated the rental we lived in, put our possessions into storage, redirected our mail to be held by the post office and left the country.

    I've also been homeless after selling off stuff and going bike touring for extended periods. Machka and I have contmplated the grey nomad lifestyle following Australia's Harvest Trail on more than one occasion.

    I don't recall being ever taken as a down-on-his-luck hobo...
    Dream. Dare. Do.

  14. #14
    Senior Member jowilson's Avatar
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    If people thought that I was homeless, I would ask them how a homeless person could afford a bike, bike trailer, panniers, food, helmet, spare tires and tubes, tools, clothing, backpack, pump, camera, and most of all, the education to know where the hell I am and also to not judge people.

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  15. #15
    Senior Member shipwreck's Avatar
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    Yeah its happened a couple times to me as well. Once I had been on a canal path all day in the rain and was totally covered in filth. Came into a small city(don't remember what city it was)and was standing at a corner looking at a map and trying to figure out where I was. A woman, nicely dressed, walked up to me, pointed and said "the shelter is two blocks that way."
    I had no idea what she was talking about for a few seconds. What shelter? Are we talking a pavilion, awning or a cult headquarters where I would disappear forever? For a second I even thought she was propositioning me! After all I was had shaved that morning and had been smearing deodorant all over myself for three days...

    Yes, all four of my bags matched and there was no milk crate involved in my packing(not knocking milk crates, just don't use them touring). I keep myself better shaved on tour than I bother with at home because I don't want to look to shifty.
    Last edited by shipwreck; 05-03-13 at 04:55 PM.

  16. #16
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    I've only toured a total of 6 days but I wondered if the homeless thought I was homeless. One colorful and non-threatening guy approached me and asked me if I was "moving" when he saw me with my sleeping bag and panniers on my touring bike. Another guy in an urban park aggressively called out to me asking if I wanted to "party."

  17. #17
    Lentement mais sûrement Erick L's Avatar
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    I've had people invite me but not because they thought I was homeless. I've had people ask if i was riding for a cause. Once I was struggling up an 18% grade on a cold rainy day when a kid asked her mom if I was training for something. She answered him that I was on vacation... what vacation!
    Erick - www.borealphoto.com/velo

  18. #18
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    Last August I spent a month riding from Vantage, WA to my home in Northern California. My 12 pound Jack Russell mix was in a basket on the back of my bike. I had stopped at a convenience store in North Bend, WA and as I was waiting in line a mid thirties woman came in, obviously agitated. The bike was filthy, and although it was a month old, custom built SOMA Saga the bags at the time where cheap and weather beaten. The dog had just eaten some horse poo AND rolled in it and then gotten sick all over his basket and the rear panniers. He looked awful and I wasn't much more attractive and I was buying a growler of Mac and Jack's African Amber.

    She was more concerned with the dog's welfare than mine and I was afraid she might call the SPCA. But after I petted him it seemed to reassure her that I wasn't abusing the little guy and she left.

    It's possible that my decrepitude and the filthy bike may have convinced her I was some homeless drunkard, I think not. WA, OR and CA are carpeted with cycle tourists, I think the homeless take on things is more of a southern US thing.

  19. #19
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blindhog View Post
    So -- do any of you experienced tourers find yourselves assumed to be homeless? If so why do you think it happens -- lack of the public's familiarity with touring? your appearance? your location? And what impact if any does it have in being welcomed, treated well, getting the desired accomodations, directions, etc?
    I have cycletoured for years in various parts of the world, and no one has ever assumed I was homeless ... even though as Rowan says, we were homeless for eight months from June last year.


    I/we have been offered places to stay, meals, etc. occasionally along the way ... but not because we were deemed poverty stricken or anything.

    Most of the time, if people talk to us when we're touring, it's to ask us where we've been and where we are going, to talk about our travels and what we've seen along the way, maybe to ask questions about our equipment.



    And BTW - there's nothing wrong with being homeless. It can be quite freeing.

  20. #20
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Part of why, I preferred other countries, than my own, to visit..

  21. #21
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    I was once taken to be homeless by another homeless person! I frequently stop mid-day at a supermarket and buy a bag of washed lettuce and feta cheese. I use that to make a salad by adding a few ingredients I carry on the bike. I mix it and eat it out of the bag itself. I did that and sat down to eat it on the curb of a road behind the market. A homeless person sat down right next to me and started to chat about food he found in the dumpster. It was obvious he thought I was in the same boat as he was. To be fair my bicycle was a distant 250 feet away. But I was in very bikey clothes and shoes.

    It was actually a fun and amusing experience.

  22. #22
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    At the same time, there but for the grace of God go I. If I'm ever homeless the last thing I'll let go of is my bicycle and camping gear and clothes. I'll eat out of a dumpster in a heartbeat if necessary.

  23. #23
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Walter S View Post
    At the same time, there but for the grace of God go I. If I'm ever homeless the last thing I'll let go of is my bicycle and camping gear and clothes. I'll eat out of a dumpster in a heartbeat if necessary.

    You know that you could be quite well off and still homeless. I don't understand why people equate the word "homeless" with "poor".

    When Rowan and I have been homeless, we've been reasonably comfortable financially. And when I was going to University a few years ago, rent was very high in that city, so many of the students were "homeless" ... they migrated between friends' couches. I did a bit of that then too for a few weeks. It was a good way to save a bit of money.


    And what is "homeless" anyway? At what point does a person become defined as "homeless"? There are so many variables.

    A person who owns a house might not be considered "homeless" ... but what if that person rents the house out for a year, and goes to travel the world. That person no longer has a "home", and is therefore "homeless", but that person could be bringing in a reasonable sum from the rent, and could dwell in that house again when the year is up.

  24. #24
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    I was camped in a city park in west Texas years ago. The local Baptist church was having a feed in said park, but did not invite me to participate. I was told later that a 12 yo had complained to her mother about how rudely the 'homeless guy' had been treated by the church crowd..

    At a state park in Louisiana, while in town dining, a 'little old lady' left a bag of sandwiches at my tent. For the 'homeless guy.' Recounted to me by a camp neighbor.
    The bicycle is one of the great inventions of mankind. Delights children, challenges young men to feats of daring, and turns old men into boys again.--Me

  25. #25
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    I have cycletoured for years in various parts of the world, and no one has ever assumed I was homeless ... even though as Rowan says, we were homeless for eight months from June last year.

    Have you ever been asked for your ID by police?


    I was asked in Italy once at a train station. I assumed they thought we were homeless but it certainly could have been a routine random check.


    Contrast that to my experience in West Virginia. No matter where I go, you find at least a few people that are interested in your tour once they see the bike and all of the gear. Sometimes it even becomes a bit of an annoyance. In WV, no one showed even a glance. Expect for the last day, we needed to catch a train and wouldn't you know it some guy wanted to know my whole life history.
    "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

    Albert Einstein

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