I also see a lot of people use the term "TransAmerica" to describe any trip across America, but I don't subscribe to that terminology either.
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The Northern Tier route travels the Erie Canal from about Albany, NY to Buffalo, NY, and is one of the features of the route.Although you can certainly take the Erie Canalway the whole 363 miles (and become an end-to-ender), the Northern Tier only uses the western third of it.
Ah, but there's another solution, though pricier. Pick a bike shop at the end of your route, and ship them the box. Offer to pay a symbolic amount for storing it (this does not work with small urban shops that are squeezed for space.) Then hire them to clean, tune up and pack your bike to ship home.When I investigated this, I found that it was almost as expensive to ship an empty bike box than a full one. So you are right, this is pricier. The cost factor ruled it out for me.
I remember this from Youtude keep your SPD bolts greased with waterproof greasePut grease on all threaded fasteners.