I am back home in Europe after my nearly four weeks long touring of south Florida - a great time all together, and this feeling is getting even stronger each time my memory brings me back this unusual experience… I was a homeless!
Pedaling along Florida’s roads it soon became obvious for me that the local biking scene is nearly totally populated by the standard “after hours” leisure bicyclists, uniformed in accordance with bike magazines´ advertising sides: colorful helmet, colorful shirts, tight black pants and riding a fancy, expensive racer bike… And this is exactly the picture that other users of the state’s roads, and also people in the streets, associate with a sporting activity that involves riding a bike, and as a bike rider you are expected to fit this picture. If your own appearance does not meet this stereotype view , there is only one social category that corresponds with your presence – you are a homeless.
You are riding a dirty bike, heavily loaded with double panniers, front and back, another bag or two resting on racks above panniers, bottles and small bags attached to the frame... (yes, your all possessions), your face burnt all over by the sun ( naturally, you have nowhere to go to find a shelter), your outfit apparently does not look new and fresh (poor, without means for daily upkeep)… Yes, you are homeless!
And no, it is not a product of my sick imagination. During my trip I met a couple of other touring bikers, who made similar observation. They also were homeless!
The funny thing was that the “real” homeless, you see them practically in every town, also looked at me as if I was one of them! It happened that they greeted me, or started talking … I had no problems with playing this role. :-)
But I was extremely surprised when one day a car stopped and the driver handed me 20$ to help me in my fortuneless existence… Another day, early in the morning when i was about to pack my tent after spending the night on the road side, a good hearted driver delivered … a hot breakfast to me; there were others who gave me (together with my bike) a lift a bit in my direction, another wanted to share a diner with me… I tried to explain they were mistaken, but in vain… you look like a homeless, you are a homeless.
It should not then be any surprise that hikers have similar observations. One host of mine, a devoted hiker, with experience of major American hiking trails, could confirm this “homeless phenomenon” , as it is also typical for his discipline. As long as you keep to the trail, or its direct surroundings, your strange appearance: odd clothing, boots, unshaved face and specially – your backpack, doesn’t cause any reaction, people there are accustomed with it, but a bit farther from the trail, it is completely different – you have to be prepared to find yourself in the role of a homeless.
I did not experience any aggressive attitude against me as a homeless. Certainly, people spontaneously try to avoid any closer contact with you, and it is obviously your thing to turn the situation to your advantage.