In near-triple-digit heat, Malibu couple Dorothy Clay Sims and Oregon Hunter find what little shade there is at the top of Piuma Road, high up in the Malibu mountains every Sunday morning. Some 2,000 feet below, Malibu is blanketed by a layer of coastal fog, but high up in the hills it’s blistering hot.
The couple—married 28 years—sets up a small watering hole if you will—an ice chest filled with cold bottled water, an Igloo water jug, sanitizing hand wipes and a trash can so no garbage is left behind. It almost looks like a lemonade stand, only here, everything is free and it sure catches people a bit off-guard. Most who take advantage of the free water stand are bicyclists winding their way through Malibu’s back roads.
Although the free water giveaway just started this summer, the couple had been thinking about it for some time after moving here from Florida a few years ago. Hunter, a doctor, explained he would see cyclists up in his neighborhood, “looking like they could use ice water.”
“We’d been going to Burning Man for 10 years. Part of the principles of the Burning Man experience is gifting and promoting community. I was thinking we could do that here because we can’t do that on the playa [at the festival],” Hunter said.
“People always want to know how much the water costs, and it’s free,” Sims said.
“They just really have trouble believing it,” Hunter reiterated. “They want to give us money and we say, ‘No we don’t want money. We really just want to give the water.’” When recipients offer to give the couple money or food in exchange, they gently suggest the offers be made to the homeless. Sims offered, “There’s apparently another 20,000 more homeless people in the county because of the virus.”
The couple has also been on the receiving end of generosity on the Camino de Santiago, the famous pilgrimage in Spain, last year.
“We were there for a week in 2019 and people gave things to the pilgrims and we were pilgrims for that week. I thought this is such a great experience,” Hunter explained. “It really connected people. I thought we could do that here. We can make this our own Camino experience and try to give back to the community here.”
Sims, a lawyer, said she enjoys the social aspect, especially during these socially distant times. “Hanging out there and just communicating with people—they keep a distance and are respectful—I really like that more than anything,” she said. Sims described how “people would have hugged us if not for the virus.”
Last week, the couple encountered a woman who they described as near heat stroke.
“I felt if she continued, she could have passed out on the road. You worry about people,” Sims said.
The couple has a long history of volunteerism, feeding homeless here and in other countries: “It’s important to us.” Two of their children served in the Peace Corps. While Hunter is the physician, Sims said she would prescribe volunteering to everyone as “important for mental health.”
The two have met cyclists from as far away as Amsterdam, Germany, Russia and, of course, Californians—all who want to enjoy Malibu’s scenic backcountry for rides as long as 70 miles or longer.
“It’s so impressive,” Hunter described of riders who make long hauls up the mountains on two wheels. “A lot of these people ride from their homes.”
The Malibu Times found bicyclist Wendy Watson enjoying a chilled refreshment.
“This is a gift,” the Palos Verdes resident exclaimed. “Like a mirage. It’s perfect and unexpected. We bicyclists worry about how we’re going to get enough water.” When Watson warned the couple, “You’re going to run out,” they answered in unison, “We hope so.”