Touring cyclists coming through Denver find free shelter with Warm Showers

Being a bicycle tourist is the closest you’ll ever get to being a cowboy of old. That makes Warm Showers hosts the proprietors of the dusty old saloon.

A biker in Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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A biker in Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) bikes; transportation; cheesman park; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado;
A biker in Cheesman Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Being a bicycle tourist is the closest you’ll ever get to being a cowboy of old, if you ask Steve Hetterich. That kind of makes him and his wife Lynn the proprietors of the dusty old saloon.

For almost five years, they have hosted people for free who are bicycling across the country using a platform called Warm Showers. It’s kind of like couchsurfing, except just for touring cyclists. 

For the Hetterichs, hosting offers an opportunity to pay it forward to touring cyclists that are often young and traveling on a budget.

“That kind of energy, Lynn and I have experienced that a lot in our lives,” he said. “We’ve been really, really fortunate. When you’re around that infectious curiosity and joy, it’s just delightful.”

Warm Showers has been around since 1993 and grown steadily over that time, according to statistics kept by the organization. Last year was its biggest year ever.

And now is the time of year when touring cyclists are coming to Colorado the most, in the experience of Denver hosts. For one, summertime is the only time that you can count on decent weather for the mountain passes.

“They’re almost going out of their way because it’s not on the typical cross-country route,” Hetterich said. “[Most] cross-country routes typically go through Pueblo. The maps don’t take them through Denver. So a lot of people are taking a side trip to Denver just to visit Denver.”

But hosting on Warm Showers isn’t exactly like Airbnb — for one, Warm Showers doesn’t have the same emphasis on amenities and comfort.

“We don’t get paid for this at all, but we do a nice job getting it up,” Hetterich said. “Most of these people couldn’t care less about that. What they’d love to have is lots of food, homecooked food would be even better, lots of drinks because they’re dehydrated a lot of the times.”

Fellow Denver host Alison Gwinn agrees. She’s a host because of her daughter, who herself has used Warm Showers. And though her daughter encouraged her to join, she also told Gwinn to make sure that she’s hosting for her own pleasure. That’s something Gwinn has taken to heart.

“If I felt I’d resent it, I won’t do it,” she said. “I don’t want to put myself or the guest in that situation. I want them to feel welcome.”

And though Gwinn hasn’t done any bicycling touring yet, her experience with cyclists has piqued her interest in trying it herself one day. Maybe after she’s retired.

“My favorite memories are just sitting around and chatting with the bicyclists about where they’ve been and what have been the most interesting places that they stop,” she said.

“There’s something about a bicyclist that makes you warm up to them. You know what they’re doing is hard, so I like the feeling that they arrive at our house tired and sweaty, and they have a day or two or more to get their bearings,” Gwinn said.

Both Gwinn and Hetterick say that their experience hosting has been mostly positive and that’s borne out in the statistics kept by Warm Showers. For the first eight years of data, there’s not one negative complaint. Even now, over 99 percent of feedback is positive, according to Warm Showers.

“You have to have a certain level of trust, but I do — I believe most people are trustworthy,” Gwinn said of her hosting experience. “Particularly this group of people.”