If there was a road to the moon, Denis Khmel would be on it.
The Moscow cyclist has pedaled over 18,000 kilometers, or 11,185 miles. Starting from Cancun, Mexico, Khmel first made his way to Tierra Del Fuego on the tip of Argentina. Now, 2 and a half years later, he’s making his way north. He crossed the international border at Tijuana about a month ago, spent a few weeks in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Arcata before winding up in Crescent City last week for the Fourth of July.
Khmel hopes to beat the cold to Fairbanks, Alaska, before completing his journey in Anchorage. He said he is giving himself roughly two months to get to The Last Frontier. The cyclist spends his nights either camping or staying with the friends he has made on his travels
“You have to trust the world,” Khmel said Wednesday, adding that he’s keeping a record of his journey for a book he plans to write when he returns to Russia. “The world has some people who can give something good and don’t ask for something in return.”
Katie Berkowitz, a retired nurse, doesn’t demand payment from the cyclists she hosts at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s Trinity Center, but she does ask for something in return — a hug.
“My philosophy is a hug a day keeps the crazies away,” she said.
Berkowitz and St. Paul’s have hosted travelers for nearly four years through the touring cyclist website Warm Showers. She encourages them to use the church’s commercial kitchen, couches and wifi. There is even a shower for the weary to wash the dust and grime of the road away until they resume their journey.
When figuring out their route, travelers contact Berkowitz through Warm Showers. They call or send her a text when they arrive in Crescent City and she meets them at the church showing them where they can stash their bicycles before taking them into the kitchen. There is a shelf in the pantry and space in the refrigerator dedicated to Warm Showers, Berkowitz said.
“There’s even a growler there if they want to take it down to Port O’ Pints,” she said.
Berkowitz said she was introduced to Warm Showers by accident. A traveler named Rick needed a safe place to sleep, took one look at the Trinity Center and encouraged his host to sign up for Warm Showers.
“I’m not a big joiner,” she said. “He continued his journey and when he came back he said ‘Well, did you sign up?’ I said ‘No.’ We signed up right then and there.”
Berkowitz welcomed her first travelers on Sept. 1, 2013. She had housed 111 visitors by the end of that year. As of Thursday, nearly 1,200 people have slept under St. Paul’s roof, either through Warm Showers or simply because they ran into Berkowitz on their way through town.
She has hosted cyclists from Korea, the Pyrenees, Australia, New Zealand, France, Canada, Germany, Russia and South America. Berkowitz has asked them to write their names in a guest book since she began hosting cyclists. She now has notebooks full of people singing her, and the church’s, praises.
“I didn’t know they were going to write me paragraphs and pages,” she said, paging through two volumes each belonging to the years 2014, 2015 and 2016. “They leave me little notes. They leave me little cards. They leave me little origami. They leave me little maps. I get more than I give.”
Bingbing Li, a native of China who has lived in Canada for several years, is one person who came across Berkowitz and wound up with a safe place to pass the night. He said they ran into each other at Safeway on Thursday.
Li says he’s walking across the world with a message encouraging people to unconditionally love their “fellow creatures.” He began his journey in Bellingham, Washington in November, spent about two months in the Seattle area and about four weeks in Portland, trekking down roads that parallel the I-5 corridor before heading for the coast at Eugene.
Li figures his journey will take 30 years and plans on crisscrossing the Lower 48 for about six years. He says he has no money and he doesn’t want any money. It’s been people like Berkowitz who have helped him, he said.
“In small towns like this grocery stores are where I find the most people on foot,” he said. “Katie went grocery shopping. My sign intrigued her and we started talking and she invited me to come sleep in the church last night.”
Since she signed up for Warm Showers, Berkowitz and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church has become well known among the cycling community. Even though the website includes a map showing where the different hosts are located, Berkowitz said most people find her through word-of-mouth.
“I’m famous,” she said. “What can I say.”