WARM SHOWERS. Rebecca Houtsma, center, bids farewell to
cyclists Ha Joo-Young, left, and Jo Yong-Ju of South Korea, in
Normal, Illinois. The two cyclists overnighted at Houtsmaís home
on their journey across the United States. (Lenore Sobota/The
Pantagraph via AP)
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #17 (September 4, 2017),
pages 8 & 13.
Exchange: Illinois couple opens home to
By Lenore Sobota
NORMAL, Ill. (AP) ó As Ha Joo-Young ate a breakfast of thin
Dutch pancakes with choices of fillings from bacon to
strawberries on a Saturday morning, the 23-year-old South Korean
said, "We are lucky today."
Ha and his travelling companion, Jo Yong-Ju, 19, had spent
the night at the home of Willy Hunter and Rebecca Houtsma in
Normal, Illinois, making the connection through a website for
cyclists called "Warm Showers."
The website describes the "Warm Showers Community" as "a
free, worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists."
All hosts are expected to do is provide a place to stay,
whether itís a room with a bed, a couch, or a place to camp.
But Hunter and Houtsma take being hosts a step further.
They provided both dinner and breakfast for the two college
students who are riding across the country to raise awareness
about "comfort women" who were forced into sexual slavery by the
Japanese military before and during World War II.
"For me, the meals are very important. Itís my way of being
part of the adventure," Houtsma said. "For the 12 hours or so
that we have them, they are our family."
Before the cyclists left, she and her husband also gave them
sandwiches, energy bars, Gatorade, and homemade banana-chocolate
"I want to fill them with as many calories as I can," she
Hunter said becoming part of Warm Showers was an idea that
had been "percolating for the last few years."
After becoming empty-nesters with their youngest child in
college and space available, they decided the time was right, he
Ha and Jo were the third and fourth cyclists they hosted. The
others were another Korean cyclist and a 70-year-old man who
rode from Seattle "doing a bucket list kind of thing," said
"I like people who are on adventures," he said.
Michael Gorman of Bloomington has been a Warm Showers host
for nearly two years.
The co-founder of the cycling advocacy group Bike BloNo first
learned about it from a musician who was travelling by bicycle
and Bike BloNo had invited to town in September 2015.
"I signed up that night or the next morning," Gorman said.
Since then, he has hosted about 20 people.
"Itís a really interesting, unique way to meet people," he
Jo and Ha have been finding places to stay through Warm
Showers wherever possible along their route.
The concept seemed surprising to them at first, with Ha
saying people in his country usually are not as welcoming to
"The kind of reception we have had in the United States is
cheering us up very much," said Jo. "It makes us more brave and
comfortable and confident."
The trip is the first time the young men have been to the
"Weíve gone through 10 states and the scenery keeps
changing," said Jo. "Itís very impressive and beautiful."
Warm Showers isnít the only part of the "sharing economy" in
which Hunter and Houtsma participate. They also are part of an
international program in which people swap use of their
"Not many people from abroad want to swap in the Midwest,"
said Hunter, but a couple from Wales planned to use their RV to
see the total solar eclipse in southern Illinois and travel the
Great Lakes area. Hunter and Houtsma used the coupleís
Volkswagen camper while visiting Wales.
A person from France also has reserved their RV.
"The camper now has its own calendar," Hunter said.
Gorman said he has used Airbnb, an online lodging program
that includes private residences, but he "didnít really have a
With Warm Showers, participants are "all cyclists, so you
have that in common," he said.
Hunter said, "Most people on CouchSurfing (another global
network) and Warm Showers are not just looking for a free space
to stay; theyíre looking for adventure."
"And they like meeting new people," added Houtsma.