Staying With Strangers

“Don’t talk to strangers!”, “Stranger Danger!”, and “Beware of strangers bearing gifts”are all sensible admonitions, but I have never been known as the sensible one. One of the biggest questions people have asked me about my upcoming trip is “Where are you going to stay?” No matter how good hotel websites and apps make their prices, I could never afford 365 days of hotels.  Mostly, I will stay with friends I know.  After I posted my first road trip itinerary, I had about 20 friends reach out and offer guest rooms, floor space or back yard tents.  I’m sure I’ll have a few more friends accommodate when I ask them directly.  However, I don’t have friends in every state.  Even staying with friends of friends, I will probably stay with strangers about a quarter of the time. I don’t mind taking candy from strangers so if someone is offering a pillow and a roof over my head, they are practically family.

Four months from today, I will have run the first of my 50 marathons in 2016.  That week, as planned, I will be spending in comfort with my sister, her husband, and my two adorable nieces.  I will have my own room and a pool and the luxury of people who love me and want to care for me  After that I thrust myself into the unknown. Three of the next states (Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas) are completely unknown to me. After reaching out to friends, it will be a pot luck of accommodations.  I certainly won’t be expecting strangers to tend my blisters and rattled bones.

I have used some websites before like Couchsurfing.com and globalfreeloaders.com with mixed success.  I have been told that recently, getting people to respond on those sites has been difficult.  I will save my experiences with them for a future post.  I do know that it is difficult to ask people you don’t know to trust you and invite you into your world. It’s difficult to do for people you know! I had to overcome nerves and ego recently for a race practically in my own back yard.

Five months ago, a friend of a new acquaintance offered us a place to stay when we came to town for a half marathon we would be pacing. My pacing friend soon had physical restrictions that required her to cut back her race schedule, and I promptly forgot about contacting her friend to see if I could still stay at the house.  In the back of my head, I was thinking “I don’t need to worry about accommodations – I’ve already got that covered.” Time flies and four months later I’m getting emails from my pace director that it’s time to officially register for a race which is at the beach, during the height of beach season. The chances of getting a good price on a motel are slim to none.  I need to reach out to complete strangers, at the last minute and hope for a roof over my head.

Finally, asking wasn’t so bad.  The worst that could have happened is they could have said no and I would have had to stay (gasp) an hour away.  Instead, since I took the leap, I stayed with an amazing couple who have made racing their passion.  The amount of medals and race bibs and mementos and photographs of running friends and family was empowering.  I had a clean bed, a hot shower, great bedside reading material, and even a hot cup of coffee in the morning. I gained so much more than my worry and fear would have let me.

Please note that as I write this, I realize I am a 6’3″, 275lb man who is, perhaps, a little overconfident in the charm department and thinks he can handle himself physically.  This column is not not meant as advice but merely perspective.  If anything, maybe I am naive to think that people are inherently  good.  Some might also be inherently selfish and stupid, but essentially still good.  Someone offers me their home to lay my head, I am not thinking that I will be robbed or held at gun point – let’s face it, it’s clear that I don’t come from money.  I doubt that I will be trussed up and sold to an overseas sex trade operation.  If someone stole my car while I was sleeping, they probably won’t get far and would make more money if they stole the just the tires. I just choose to believe that there are many good people out there who are looking to share their lives in a tangible and present moment.  If you take a look at my schedule and see that you know someone who lives in one of the cities on my route (like Mobile, AL or Grand Island,MI), give me a shout. It’s getting time to make some new strangers into family.

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