Cycling across the US
Facts and FAQ:
- The route: I started in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, took the Panhandle bike trail to the valley of the Ohio river. I headed southwest, mostly on country roads to join the Transamerica trail of the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA). I (approximately) followed it until Springfield, Missouri, where I joining the Route 66. The ACA recently started promoting this route for bicycles. The original Route 66 has been mostly replaced by the I-10 freeway, but parallel frontage roads and country roads are usually available. In the western states (Arizona, New Mexico), some stretches just don't have any other option than the shoulder of the freeway. Most detours that follow the "original" route 66 (and not the current I-10), e.g. to Santa Fe (New Mexico) or Oatman (Arizona) are well worth the extra miles (for the scenery and the respite from the business around the I-10 couloir).
- How long ? about 4700km (3000mi), ridden in 21 days including 2 rest days, which averages to about 250km/day (150mi).
- Longest day ? 340km, on the penultimate day. Between Kingman (Arizona), Oatman, Needles, and Barstow (California). The reason was the empty stretch of the Mojave desert between Needles and Barstow: about 240km (150mi) with basically 2 gas stations on the way. This is the real desert, with temperatures above 40deg (100degF) when I was there. I considered riding it during the night, but I arrived in Needles at around 10am, and just didn't want to wait there doing nothing, so pushed it and made it to Barstow late that night, after about 15 hours on the saddle.
- All by yourself ? Yes, the trip was self-supported, i.e. carrying all the gear I needed, but stopping at local services whenever I had to. For example to get food and water, stopping in hotels or motels at night, at bike shops for replacement parts, etc.
- Any big mountains on the way ? No, going south of the rockies (New Mexico/Arizona, instead of Colorado/Utah) meant I avoided big climbs, and got instead long straight stretches in the desert. I made a detour to the mountains north of Albuquerque and Santa Fe (New Mexico), following the original route 66 (as used in the 1920s). The stretch in eastern Arizona proved challenging due to the altitude: although it lies on a fairly flat plateau, you often are above 2000m where the lack of oxygen starts to be noticeable. The wind also predominantly blows from the west, which made some days feel like 12-hour long climbs.
- What was a day like ? Any stops for sightseeing ? No, the goal was to cycle, so most of my days were spent on the saddle. Usually starting at sunrise, and on the saddle on average 12 hours per day until sunset. I resupplied in gas stations and convenience stores on the way, occasionally asking people for water. Once I got to the desert in the western states, I started riding before sunrise (some days around 4:30-5am) when the (head)wind was not as strong.
- The biggest challenge ? The physical part is obviously huge, and I train almost-daily year-round to be ready for this kind of trip. But if you're prepared physically, you're only halfway prepared. The biggest challenges proved to be logistical: picking the route, finding resupply points, taking care of the gear, handling mechanical issues, etc. Then, probably just as challenging, the mental part: not all days are a easy nor "type-1" fun. Monotony and boredom occasionally make an appearance too.
- Mechanical issues ? No major ones. I had a bunch of flat tires though, notably 3 of them in just 24 hours at one point. My handpump then broke, when I was in the middle of nowhere, in New Mexico. That forced me to hitchhike back to the previous town on my route. Gas stations have handy compressors but don't always go as high as you'd like for road bike tires. Luckily in my case the local supermarket had hand pumps in stock. I also replaced my tires halfway through the trip, the rear one was in very bad shape. I mounted a fresh cassette and chain before the trip. They held up fne but were completely used up by the end.
- How was the weather ? A bit of everything, as you would expect in 3 weeks and so many different regions. Often very hot, i.e. above 30deg (85 degF), and sunny. I found out that wearing white arm sleeves (as you can see on some pictures above) is better to stay cool (and protected from the sun) than a short-sleeve shirt. I had a few days of rain and even some heavy thunderstorms, but with temperatures above 10deg (50degF) so it was easy to manage since there's no serious risk of hypothermia. The mornings in the high desert (Arizona) were very cold, around 5deg (40degF), until the sun would come up and quickly heat things up. I started my days early, so I did make good use of hat, jacket and gloves.