Thursday, August 9, 2012

How to handle being Homeless, on the road

Many years ago whilst travelling, we found ourselves without a home for the night on a busy long weekend in Kelowna. It was late in the afternoon and we started driving south and checking every small town along the way

Richard in Joseph, Oregon

Another time we found ourselves in Ellensburg and we found ourselves backtracking to every town along the way back toward Seattle when we were lucky to grab a room in Snohomish. It was late afternoon and we finally found a place in Snoqualmie Pass after sunset, but we were prepared to drive to Seattle if we needed to.

Ever since then I preferred to book a room ahead of time so we knew where we would be staying for the night when on a road trip. I would usually check the maps and figure out where we would end up each day and book accordingly. You would plan your day accordingly rushing or relaxing so that you would end up where you thought you wanted to be.

Trobairitz & Troubadour, playing with their cameras in Joseph, Oregon

Rewind to the iMBC2010 a couple of years ago. I thought I had everything planned out and on our return to Canada with my riding buddy Sonja we spent too much time dilly dallying on the Oregon coast, traffic was heavy and we had too many miles to travel but we had booked our rooms in Tumwater, WA. Needless to say we were running out of daylight, we were tired but not wanting to forfeit our room and have to pay the daily rate for not cancelling our bookings in advance we trudge on and arrived where we thought we wanted to be BUT in retrospect it would have been better to book a room farther south where we ran out of energy.

This same scenario happened last year on our return from Montana. There were three of us, Bluekat & Ron, and myself. We left Orofino, ID early had a quick lunch in Lewiston and rode the Spiral Highway, relaxed had a few rest breaks. We even had a great lunch in Entprise at that great Mexican restaurant but we didn't realize how many miles we had to travel as we had booked our rooms in John Day, OR.

Karen & Erik looking for new footware, Joseph, Oregon

Our day started at 8am when we left our Motel and we barely made it to John Day around 7:30p and the restaurant was closing at 8pm so we just made it in time to have a meal. It was a long day and we were tired. I was thinking that IF we didn't have our rooms booked we would have stopped somewhere else instead.

This year for our iMBC2012 it was decided that we book our rooms for the weekend as rooms were in short supply, it was going to be HOT so having our own room with showers was the preferred option. I booked my rooms for the weekend but for the first time in many years I decided to "wing it" for the rest of the week and see how things went. I wasn't sure where I was heading after our iMBC2012 weekend so this was also the first time that I did not have a planned destination except for my last day on the road where I had graciously accepted the offer of a room later in the week, with FREE WiFi.

Trobairitz, the coffee addict

This was also the first time that I was determined to ride solo for a few days, and also the first time that I was prepared to Camp and find out if I liked it. There were going to be a lot of firsts for me this year. I am preparing for life as a retired person where funds will be in less abundance.

I am learning to relax and take things slower. My plan was find a place for the night and then look at my maps to figure out which way I was going to go the next day and meander my way doing what I want to do, which is often not possible within a group. With no timetable and no defined plan I was free to roam, or to stop, or to ride but I didn't realize how to do this nor have a plan to find a place for the night wherever I ended up. In my mind I was homeless until I found a spot to call home for the night.

Karen (I know what I'm thinking)

This is different than touring across the Country where you are making your way in one direction until you reach a destination, such as the Atlantic Ocean, or the Lobster Shack somewhere near Portland, Maine. In this instance you actually have a plan.

On this trip I decided to look at maps in the evening to figure out what to do the next day and sort of where I would end up at the end of the day. I have never had to figure out things "on the fly" before so after I left Troubadour & Trobairitz on Monday afternoon in Redmond, OR I decided to head south to Bend and find the REI. I was aware that I was still homeless and this was on mind as I was struggling to find a place to stay. I decided to find a Campsite but I am not good to figure out where they are. The two I found catered to RV's which had hookups for water and electricity, there were no facilities for washrooms or showers.

Trobairitz, an artsy reflection shot

On Tuesday I was much better with my planning. I rode Hwy 242 and the Aufderheide and it was late when I found myself near Eugene, OR where I decided to spend the night. I decided to find free WiFi at McD and with my phone apps; Priceline, Kayak among others I managed to find something on the lower price scale. I also managed to read a few reviews so I could discount some of the places I rode past. When I originally entered the downtown area I rode past quite a few places but was undecided as to which one I should pick. So I feel that I will get better with this with more practice.

Karen, my last glimpse of her (this trip)- so sad for me

Wednesday I managed to test out my Camping equipment for the 2nd time on this trip. I found out that if I can have some facilities, I rather like Camping. I found a nice KOA in Waldport and I only wished that the weather was warmer. I would have liked to sit on the beach and watch the sunset. I spend one day at the campsite in Baker City and if it weren't for the fact that I had previously booked a room at the hotel, would have gladly gone back to the Campsite for another night. I'm looking for a sleeping bag with a lower temperature rating and another excuse to go camping again before the summer ends.

A couple of weeks ago on my way home from Corvallis I wanted to arrive home on the same day and I also made a two hour stop near Marysville to meet someone. I was trying to keep occupied by recording video with my GoPro. I had the idea to show you the Express Lanes as you approach Seattle. Seattle is a maze of freeway overpasses with numerous lanes and there are also Express lanes which bypass the City. There are not that many entrances to access the Express lanes and once inside, you are not allowed to exit until you are far north of the city, near Northgate.

Sometimes it is better NOT to use these lanes, as if there is an accident, you are Trapped, unable to exit to the regular I-5 freeway lanes. When I edit my videos I usually show short clips to make them more interesting, however this video I have left long sections intact so you can see how it is to ride in Seattle Traffic. The Express lanes heading South are on the TOP Level which starts around Northgate. The northbound lanes are on the second level so it appears that you are in a tunnel without much daylight. I am not sure how many lanes there are but I think there are 8 lanes each direction. 4 are Express lanes and 4 are regular I-5 freeway lanes.

I hope you enjoy riding with me in this Seattle traffic


  1. In some ways, I'm like you. If traveling with my family I will usually make room reservations in advance especially at specific destinations. For example, in Santa Cruz, I needed to make my reservation (and pay!) over a year in advance. But when traveling on my own, I prefer to just play it by ear not even having a town in mind. On my ride down, I planned an itinerary but that was just to determine a rough time line. I wanted to make sure I allowed enough time.

    I like the way you inspersed the iMBC2012 photos in the post. Thank you!

    1. Plus if you have your camping gear, you're never homeless.

      I just watched the video. I'm glad I avoided Seattle completely.

    2. Richard:

      I like the idea of bringing camping equipment just in case you need it while visiting friends who do not have space for you but have a back yard for you to set up your tent, or to use your sleeping bag to make it easier for them to clean up after you. When I leave I "leave no trace"

      Seattle traffic isn't so bad. You should go to Toronto where they have 12 lanes of traffic each way (in spots), including express lanes. I used to think Seattle was bad until I stayed in Toronto for one summer

  2. Following advice from a friend of ours, on our Redwoods tour we booked our first night then just winged it after that. Always seemed to work out, although in Crescent City we got one of the last rooms.

    I know bicycle tourist often camp in city parks - bring ear plugs and don't camp on green grass (sprinklers!), fairgrounds and sometimes churches, fire dept. or local businesses will allow overnights. Sometimes these even come with decent facilities/showers. If you get stuck late with few options it never hurts to ask. (Of course finding someone to ask when a town has rolled up and gone home is another story).

    Freeway riding in Seattle (shudders!). Just point me to the rural route around the city!

    1. BlueKat:

      I think you can "wing it" in less busy, non-destination places, or perhaps Off Season, or in small towns. Crescent City or Eureka may be a spot where you need to reserve a home for the night. Often when you physically go there you will spot other options you didn't realize were available.

      I may be travelling alone more often so I need more practice

  3. I am an advance planner 99% of the time. Though I still have yet to book rooms for our tour of Italy. I'm torn between having a guaranteed place to stay and having the freedom of no schedule. What I need to do is figure out how to get a phone card and what are the best travel apps to use in Italy. Seattle express lanes are interesting. Traffic is never any fun, but you do a good job in that mess.

    1. ToadKathy:

      By myself I think I could "wing it", but with others I would prefer to have a spot booked in advance. I think if you are going to a place for the 1st time you should "book it". The second time you can "wing it" as you will know what to expect. There will be nothing worse than to not have a place to stay. Better to be safe and have a memorable vacation.

      I am used to Seattle Traffic. I used to think it was bad until I was in Toronto. I worked downtown near King & Yonge and mostly took the subway from Islington station. We were in SFO: San Francisco last July and luckily we had our GPS. They freeways go every direction and exits also split so you could get lost easily.

  4. I've always just winged it. I don't usually have a set end point for the night, just an idea where I want to end up. This system has only backfired on me once. My riding buddy and I got caught roomless in rural Nebraska. It was a very small town and there was a big wedding that weekend. The closest room was up in South Dakota.
    If I set a destination, then there's pressure to get there. If I ride until I'm done for the day, I'm happy.

    1. Erik:

      It's not so easy to "wing it" here in British Columbia. Even Kelowna, while a reasonable sized city, can be all booked up with no rooms available when something big happens in town. Same as Penticton when they have their big car show. Rooms are booked over a year in advance. We used to go and just keep renewing our reservation for the next year, until we gave it up, and now we can't get back in. They will not release rooms until the person from the year before releases it.

      I think Camping opens up new possibilites. You're right about the pressure to get there, especially when you are tired and have lots of miles left to get there

  5. Of course I look surprised - someone stole my chin in that picture and replaced it with a lot of neck. Yikes.

    I think you did very well - flying by the seat of your pants - with no hotels or campsites booked.

    I too get torn between accommodations rooms ahead vs. just winging it. You can usually get it cheaper by booking ahead but like you said maybe that isn't where you want to end up that night. If it helps I don't think there is any right answer.

    Gotta go - coffee is ready.........

    1. Trobairitz:

      Oh Oh, when I get home I'll see about replacing that photo, It's not the first time I have juggled photos.

      I did a lot of "firsts" on this trip and learned a few things about planning. Sometimes walking in at the last minute may get you a much cheaper room if there are lots vacant and it is late.

      I actually had a very relaxing time when I was by myself. But I am trying to find a simple way to find a campground in an unfamiliar city, I just didn't know where they hid them

    2. Thanks Bob for switching photos. You didn't have to but it is appreciated.

  6. I've done both but find what works best for me is to secure the first and last night's accommodation (and possibly one or two nights in between depending on the length of the trip or any special events we want to participate in). Then with it 'bookended' we can travel at our own pace between the fixed locations/dates. Sometimes we get caught having to travel a lot more miles before finding a bed, but it usually works out just fine.

    1. Canajun:

      I don't mind winging it if I am alone, otherwise I would prefer to book rooms ahead of time along our planned route. I don't like surprises and we have been caught short before. I must say, even when we were caught without a place to stay it always worked out. I look at a map and pick a spot on the outskirts of larger cities

  7. I'm a wing it kind of guy, myself. The only time I made reservations in advance was in Anchorage and Fairbanks on the Alaska trip. For me the allure of the next fork in the road is more powerful than a bed and shower.

    1. Paul/AZHD:

      I think in places where rooms are in short supply, then booking is less stressful, the same for small towns with few facilities. Cities are less of a problem. I also feel the alure of the next curve, but when you are tired, you are tired

  8. Bob - the first time you try (being homeless) something new is always the hardest, but then it gets a whole lot easier and you realize that you can be over planned and end up stressed to the max to make your mark, being flexible - that's a good thing. You did fantastic winging it (having a tent, a great flashlight and your morning coffee makes it a whole lot easier too wing. Having the KOA and the Motel 6 book with you doesn't hurt either.) I've never been to Seattle, but I'm going to agree with you - nothing could be worse than Toronto. I've ridden through Chicago (plus, it would seem, every major city from here to Oregon) but I go hundreds of kilometers out of my way just so I don't have to ride through Toronto!) More iMBC photo memories, I'm homesick and I'm home, what's with that!

    1. Karen;

      You have done this before and I really admire that you can travel all over the country, alone. It takes more guts than I have, but I am learning. This short excursion was just a test for me. I am hoping to travel much farther in the coming years. I may even make it to Flatistan.

      I did work in Toronto and commute daily to King & Bay across from the TD Tower. I did drive to work a couple of times a week from Shepherd and Weston Road and got used to the traffic there. Last year I drove in SFO traffic so I think I could navigate through TO if I had to. I am going to download the KOA PDF file for my laptop and perhaps Motel 6 will have an iPhone app for my next trip.

      don't be homesick, we are as close as your keyboard

  9. Great Bob, It is great to try out new things, not much of a camper me but want to give it a go this summer. Stay tuned.

    1. Try it, you'll like it - Bob did!

    2. Roger:

      I am sure that those dualsport guys you hang out with Camp. I wasn't sure about camping either but I bit the bullet did a lot of reading and bought; a tent, sleeping bag, self inflating sleeping pad, MSR internationle liquid fuel stove and even brought emergency food so I could be self contained if I needed to be.

      I had a good teacher at my first campsite in Baker City. I wished I could have stayed another day instead of moving over to the motel. Then when I got a chance I camped again at the KOA in Waldport. I really wanted to camp more. I think it makes you more self sufficient and more independent and that is a good thing.

      today I purchased a better sleeping bag rated for a much lower temperature than the one I brought on the trip. I think I am ready to try it again. Actually I can't wait . . .

      so Roger, go ahead and buy some camping equipment. You can't really go wrong. you may find that you LIKE Camping.

  10. I never plan lodging when I travel. I never know if I will stop at 5 hours or 10 or my longest run of 17 hours. That can be a mistake especially if you are in the desert at night and find no more rooms available.

    This was driving, not on my scooter...

    1. Martha:

      there is nothing as stressful as when it is late, dark, you are tired from driving all day, you have stopped at all the hotels along the way and this last one has "no rooms". It has happened to us more than once, so for the past few years we have preferred to BOOK and play it safe.

  11. Don't point that finger at me. Oilburner is a lot like you and isn't good at winging it. The ride up was planned, but that was to meet deadlines to get to places. Yes the days were long and we were forced to do some distances.

    However, once we were on our own things were much different. Oilburner had a very difficult time waiting until we ended up someplace to find something. But it gets easier.

    Try installing Allstays Camp and RV app.

    1. Lori:

      see ! it all balances out. be safe and book, or wing it good thing he has you to sort things out and not be homeless for the night. When we travel we usually go to the farthest point FAST, then work our way back the slow way. I am glad to see that I have something in common with Oilburner.

      I have already installed the Allstays Camp and Tent app, it is better for tenting. On your recommendation I have also installed AirBnB. I think it could come in handy. Thank you for discovering it