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I like the idea of getting a lower gear for climbs (22t). A recommendation of crankset here would be much appreciated.
The OP's primary goal is to make the bike as comfortable as possible for long climbs. Don't really see how getting rid of the bar ends would contribute significantly (or even at all) to the attainment of that goal.
So on touring bikes you have to make a compromise and pick a next best, second choice to make road and mountain components work together. Thus bar end shifters. What new bike seller is going to sell a NEW bike with now 5 year old 10 speed STI shifters, and 10 year old 9 speed rear derailleur? This combination works but is not current.
So Russ, are you advocating "upgrading" a current LHT by putting 5 year old shifters and a 10 year old derailer on it?
And just FWIW, a preference for STI is just like any other preference -- personal.
Trek, Bruce Gordon, Peter White, and other highly respected assemblers of touring bikes specify bar end shifters.
Consider the above a very personal opinion.
I'd modify Russ' suggestion to a "light touring" or "sport touring" bike from various manufacturers. Large saddlebag (perhaps with a seatpost rack to keep it off the tires) and a handlebar bag should be able to hold what you need for so-called "credit card" touring, in which you plan to stay at B&Bs, motels, etc.
I am planning to ride Transamerica with minimal gear (no or only emergency camping equipment)
Any suggestions for a bike that is lighter weight but can handle panniers for shorter bike tours with camping gear?