Author Topic: Some thoughts after the completion of 50% Transam + 50% Western Express  (Read 2721 times)

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Offline BikeFreak

Hi, I just returned from completing the major parts of the Transam.

Route: Washington DC Dulles Airport, then Front Royal, then south on the Skyline Drive, then connecting up with the Transam at Rockfish Gap (having missed approx 200 mi of the original route from Yorktown). Then all the way to intersection HWY 12/89 just before Panguitch, UT. From here straight south to the intersection HWY 9/89 where I connected up with the Grand Canyon connector going straight to Pheonix.

Arrival Dulles: 2nd June 2012
Arrival Phoenix: 3rd July 2012

Distance biked: 3300 mi

Daily average: 106 mi

Best day: 210 mi

Worst day: 85 mi

Money: I spent approx 20 dollars/day. I realize that since my first trip in US summer 2000 prices have increased and 20 dollars was only possible due to the many free city parks on the TA.

Punctures: 1 (front tire) after having set up camp and riding into town searching for food. It was a tiny thorn which I picked up in the grass around the tent (somehow). Tires: Vittoria Randonneur PRO 26x1,75.

Weather:
Rain: 1 rainy day in VA and 1 rainy day in KY, otherwise sun or overcast.

Bugs: Bugs were never a problem from VA to AZ. I never used my mosquito net, and I never used a repellent.

Wind: From VA to arrival in KS wind was absolutely no issue. The hills and forests give plenty of protection. The wind in KS was absolutely awful: All the way across KS a strong wind at 45 mph straight from South. The wind never died at night. It was bullfighting the bicycle across KS at 9-10 mph leaning into the wind with an angle of approx. 10 deg. The tent was almost ripped out of the ground on many nights. Also very strong winds at Hite, UT. Otherwise quite calm winds in CO, UT and AZ (again the mountains were often covering).

Temperature: According to locals, the temps in VA and KY were colder than normal. According to locals the temps in KS, CO and UT were warmer than normal. In Pueblo, CO the temp was 105 when I passed through (20 deg above normal, according to locals). Hite, UT was incredibly hot (because of the low elevation), otherwise UT was fine. AZ was also fine, if you plan accordingly = do not ride into Phoenix when the sun is up (115 deg). General note on temperature (especially for people living in tempered climate like Northern Europe or Northern US/Canada): You might be looking on some weather averages for the regions on the TA (also indicated on the maps) and it might not look "problematic" - however I would say, prepare for more hot weather than you would expect. Now, I do know that 2012 has turned out to be a major drought year, but still...

Humidity: Humidity not an issue at all exept for 1 day in KY where it reached 80% (I had a humidity meter on my bike). From VA to CO drying clothes on a string during the night was impossible. In UT and AZ drying clothes during the night worked fine. I don't know if I just slipped through eastern US without experiencing really bad humidity.

Tailwind: 200 mi of the entire distance. Read again: Approx two hundred miles out of 3300 mi. The rest was either calm, headwind or crosswinds.

Terrain:
VA: The Skyline Drive hits you like a sledge hammer on day 1 (leaving Dulles airport). Accumulated 9000 ft climbing the 2nd day. Extremely beautiful. VA was indeed hilly but I never had to use my largest gear on the cassette.
KY: Hilly as well but becomes more flat towards the West.
IL: Quite flat, but still hills:
MO: Ozarks absolutely a nightmare in terms of hills. Had to use my largest gear on the cassette a lot!! Very very steep but short hills. Much worse than the Appalachians. The steep hills continue forever and are not shown on the height profile. The roads in MO are literally laid flat on the terrain without any digging at all (also saftey problem). Western MO becomes more flat but still rolling.
KS: Eastern KS still rolling, western KS flat, but you sort of sense that it is going slightly uphill all the time towards the rockies.
CO: As known, the rockies are not so steep, especially the Monach Pass was easy. Annoying hill just before Telluride, CO, which wasn't really indicated to be so nasty on the height profile.
UT: Same as CO.
AZ: Hills in the northern part, many flat streches, then hills again south of Prescott, finally flat into Phoenix.

Adventure cycling maps:
For the 1st time I was dissatisfied with the maps (and I have done many Adventure Cycling tours).

At the beginning of the trip I started making notes in my notebook on all the changes (especially services) I encountered on the maps. At one point I got so fed up with all the notes (some required very detailed descriptions in order to explain precisely) so I gave up and stopped making notes. On certain stretches I could be doing several detailed notes each day. All the other cyclists I met also "complained" about the inaccurate map updates. I figured, and this might be selfish, if there is 2 Adventure Cycling Groups + several large van supported groups doing the TA each year, I would very much assume that those people sitting in the cars/vans have plenty of time for making notes.
 
PS: On the Western Express there were no map problems at all.
 
What can be done better in the future making the maps even better: I know its a long shot but try to add some opening hours to the services on route. For me it can be of tremendous value that the gas station in Trubune, KS is open 24h (https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Tribune,+KS,+United+States&hl=da&ll=38.46512,-101.753547&spn=0.000698,0.00155&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=46.005754,101.601563&oq=tribune+ks&t=h&hnear=Tribune,+Greeley,+Kansas&z=20). And for most cyclists it is utterly important to know that the opening hours at Hite is 8am-5pm.


a) The height profiles were not accurate compared to other routes.
b) Many services were closed (or open) even though I checked the addendums 7 days before leaving. In general: Be very cautious about grocery stores/Service stations in the middle of nowhere. Towards the end of the route I would constantly ask several local people for oncoming services in remote areas - just because I didn't trust the map fully anymore.
c) In Shaw, KS just SE of Chanute, KS there was a broken bridge and a major detour had to be done. This was not mentioned on the maps or the addendums when I left. Only by luck I talked to a German cyclist and became aware of the bridge which was gone. Later it turned out, that this broken bridge has been reported on several blogs by cyclists (for a LONG time). But Adventure Cycling never made the effort to update the addendum.

Short cuts:
1. When I reached Berea, KY, I met another cyclist going E. I met him on HWY just outside of town in front of the two campgrounds listed on the maps. He had made a short cut avoiding very hilly terrain: Instead of doing HWY563 and HWY 595, he had done HWY 27, 52 and 21. He had been very fed up with the hills in MO and KY so he decided on that alternative especially when looking at the height profiles on the maps.

The next day I decided to accept his advice and made the same short cut but extended even further. I remember I did it on a weekend so traffic might have been low - because I felt it was quite pleasant trafficwise. Well, I did: Berea-Paint lick-Lancaster-Danville-Perryville-Springfield-Bardstown-New Haven and then connect up with the TA again at the HWY 470/31E intersection. It was nice and with wery few hills avoiding all the curly roads.

2. I choose pastor Bob's (Sebree Baptist church) suggestion: Instead of following the TA directions through some hilly terrain towards Cave in a Rock (I think many cyclists a fed up with the hills at this point) I did: Sebree-Morganfield-Ohio River(HWY56). Then Ohio River-Shawneetown-Harrisburg-Marion-Carbondale-Murphysboro(HWY13). Comments: The route was quite good. HWY 56 is quiet, but from the Ohio River to Jct HWY 142/13 there was tremendous truck traffic and almost no shoulder. After the jct 142/13 the shoulder became very wide all the way to Murphysboro, however with lots of traffic. The route was not very scenic but you are able to do IL in 1 day. Furthermore, the entire route through IL is almost flat with abs no hills.

Critical spots: As noted above I did not do NV and CA. For me, the most critical spot was Hite, UT.
Leaving Blanding, UT, there is a 50 mi stretch to Hite, UT, with no services. I left Monticello at 4am (in the dark) which was another 20-30 mi away. I does get very very hot on this part so really really get up and get going before the sun rises. Approaching Hite, it gets extremely hot: I had 105 degF and I arrived at Hite at 2 pm in the afternoon just before it would get really hot. At Hite there is a small limited grocery store. All cyclists can stay inside in the cool (there is a table/bench) and relax, eat, drink etc. At 5 pm the store closes (they open at 8am) and you have to go all the way down to the camp ground where there is abs. no shade at all. You need to wait approx. 3-4 hours for the sun to set. There is a restroom facility (very clean) where you can (sort of) relax and a spicket outside. The campground was the worst on the entire trip: It was impossible to put the stakes into the ground - I had to use rocks for securing my tent. I experienced strong and warm afternoon winds (the ranger lady said it was normal). I felt the place to be very uninviting, just bare rock, extremely hot, no fellow cyclists, no other campers, nothing. Prepare yourself mentally for that one. At Hite, the ground never gets cold during the night so watch your limbs while sleeping (its annoying). The next day, get up at 4am again and leave Hite as quickly as possible (it was 90 deg at 4 am in the morning) and go for Hanksville, UT which is 75 mi away. Hanksville has many services, even though it looks small on the map. Climbing out and away from Hite while the sun is rising you experience that the temperature drops as you are gaining elevation. On the entire stretch between Blanding and Hanksville, the hills were not too bad except for the area just around Hite itself. On this stretch you will se cars and RVs so you should be able to stop a car if you need water. The entire strech is extremely beautiful, but again the ranger lady told me that many cyclists run out of water on that stretch.

Gear: I used all my gear except for my woolen underwear and woolen hat/cap. I did use my fibre-insulated jacket however. 50% of the nights on the entire trip I would never use my sleeping bag (this is amazing) and really indicated how warm it actually is during the nights on the TA.

Time of the year: I left the East coast in the beginning of June, I think leaving in the beginning of May is better temperature wise. Leaving in the beginning of July is ... your own fault - temperature wise :-).

Security: I have always been making fun of Americans having helmet mirrors and safety triangles on the bikes. If I had to do the TA again I would bring a helmet mirror and safety triangle for VA, KY and MO only. What happens on those backroads is very dangerous. Many times I had to pull off into the ditch because I got a bad feeling based on the sounds behind of me. I have biked 20000 mi in US, 20000 mi in Europe, 10000 mi in Australia, but the back roads in the Ozarks + Appalachians are def. the most dangerous I have experienced so far.

People: As with all cyclcist I met, people are friendly except for eastern KY and western VA (hillbilly country), but also areas of the Ozarks, MO. You just "feel" that you are not welcome. A Dutch lady cyclist I met was hit by a water bottle close to Lookout, KY. I myself was hit by a cigarette butt. Many cyclists report (incl myself) that locals would throttle/rev their diesel trucks while passing to produce a lot of smoke. The Lookout, KY is an area where you should pass through as quickly as possible - to my opinion.

Clothes: I had 2 bike shorts and 3 cotton polo shirts. No synthetics at all. To me, the cotton shirts were perfect for the hot weather. They don't smell and you sort of stay cool because they get damp/wet during riding. I am a person preferring hot weather over cold weather. Riding in hilly terrain at 95 degF is not an issue for me, however it becomes an issue if it gets above 100 degF. In flat terrain (like in southern AZ) I have no problems riding at +105 degF. Riding is more cool than just staying/resting in the sun.

Dogs: The dog issue is mainly isolated to KY and MO. I had approx 30 dog "encounters". I never got used to it and never will. My best method would be to yell very loud "Go home" and that would usually make them stop. I met plenty cyclists carrying a dog spray but they have never used it. When the dog "attacks" you, the situation is SO intense and you have to think about 1 million things including staying safe and away from oncoming cars etc, so you will never have time to use a dog spray - that's what I think.

Other cyclists: On average I would say that 50-75% of all cyclists like to talk. That is good. Because this is how you learn about the changes ahead of you. This is how you get all the nice and useful tips making everything much easier. The remaining 25-50% of cyclists don't like to talk.
Concerning the TA, I would say that 50% are Americans and 50% are Europeans, where Dutch cyclists make up are large percentage.

Accomodation: Along the TA there are 3 places I would like to mention: A. The place in Farmington, MO. B. The Baptist Chruch in Sebree, KY (although very "biblical" you get 1st class treatment for zero dollars) and Davids Place (Knott Historical Society, 25 dollars incl 2 meals and a refuge in hill billy country) in Hindman, KY. Besides that I absolutely loved the free city parks throughout Kansas. Most of the city parks in Kansas do have a public pool where you can swim for free or for 1 dollar.
Oftentimes I was forced to stay in a private campground like a KOA. They would charge something like 30-35 dollars for 1 person, 1 tent, 1 night. Discounts were never possible. As you know, very often you can stay in a motel for 39,99. Private campgrounds are just too expensive and not very cyclist friendly: We require nothing but are treated as RV home owners requiring 50 Amp hookups.

Very often, but not tested 100%, when on the maps it says "cyclist only lodging", those places would be for free.

To sum up:
Accomodation wise the TA is great. If you wanna go cross country and save a lot of money on accomodation, this is probably the way to go.
Even though this was the cross country cycle highway no 1, I never really met a lot of cyclists. Except for the Adventure groups, I guess I met a total of 20-30 cyclists. Thus, many nights were spent completely alone in one of the beforementioned free parks - it sort of amazed me that I almost never got to camp with other cyclists - being on the major TA.
There are definitely some safety issues on the narrow winding backroads of VA and KY.
Summer 2000 I did the Northern Tier. Comparing the Northern Tier and TA (well, I only went to Pueblo on the TA) I would choose the Northern Tier any time!! Northern Tier is weatherwise much more comfortable, less hills, equally pleasant but with more corn and soy bean fields. Safetywise I remember the Norther Tier to be very pleasant.

Based on this TA trip, I am curious about doing a bike trip only staying in cheap motels and not carrying any luggage.

I probably forgot plenty of things but feel free if you want to get some specific information.

Lucas
« Last Edit: August 11, 2012, 09:50:08 am by BikeFreak »

Offline Fred Hiltz

Re: Some thoughts after the completion of 50% Transam + 50% Western Express
« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2012, 04:08:20 pm »
*** That's wonderful report, Lucas. Thank you!***

... b) Many services were closed (or open) even though I checked the addendums 7 days before leaving. In general: Be very cautious about grocery stores/Service stations in the middle of nowhere. Towards the end of the route I would constantly ask several local people for oncoming services in remote areas - just because I didn't trust the map fully anymore.
c) In Shaw, KS just SE of Chanute, KS there was a broken bridge and a major detour had to be done. This was not mentioned on the maps or the addendums when I left. Only by luck I talked to a German cyclist and became aware of the bridge which was gone. Later it turned out, that this broken bridge has been reported on several blogs by cyclists (for a LONG time). But Adventure Cycling never made the effort to update the addendum...

Adventure Cycling people do not learn of changes by magic. They depend on us to send the info, which is easy to do on the map correction form linked on the Routes and Mapping page of the web site. I hope you have notified these good folk of the changes you found. If you have not, it is hardly fair to complain about others' failure to do it.

This minor point aside, your report will be read by many for years. Thank you again.

Fred

Offline bogiesan

Re: Some thoughts after the completion of 50% Transam + 50% Western Express
« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2012, 09:48:14 am »
Great stuff, thanks for the thorough post and your opinions, all valuable contributions to the discourse.

Imagine what this trip might have been like just a decade (or so) ago. You'd have only gas station maps or an ancient Rand Macnally atlas, no GPS, no cell phone, no iPad.



I play go. I use Macintosh. Of course I ride a recumbent

Offline JMilyko

Re: Some thoughts after the completion of 50% Transam + 50% Western Express
« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2012, 10:31:16 am »
Hello Lucas,

I echo Fred and Bogiesan's comments, great report. Lots of information that many future cyclist will find useful.

I'm sorry the map didn't live up to your expectations in all regards.

Quote
a) The height profiles were not accurate compared to other routes.

These are tough to display though we don't hear about inaccuracies on them all that often. At the scale we use, climbs and descents can hide.  If there are specific areas you can point out for me, we can look into it.


Quote
b) Many services were closed (or open) even though I checked the addendums 7 days before leaving. In general: Be very cautious about grocery stores/Service stations in the middle of nowhere. Towards the end of the route I would constantly ask several local people for oncoming services in remote areas - just because I didn't trust the map fully anymore.

Locals are definitely a good source of information, as are you to us. We won't know about closures or additions of services in most cases unless a cyclist lets us know. With the economy the way it is today, many small businesses are closing and whole towns shrinking. You can use the aforementioned online map correction form (http://www.adventurecycling.org/routes/correctionform.cfm) or send an email to cartographyATadventurecyclingDOTorg.


Quote
c) In Shaw, KS just SE of Chanute, KS there was a broken bridge and a major detour had to be done. This was not mentioned on the maps or the addendums when I left. Only by luck I talked to a German cyclist and became aware of the bridge which was gone. Later it turned out, that this broken bridge has been reported on several blogs by cyclists (for a LONG time). But Adventure Cycling never made the effort to update the addendum.

Situations like these are addressed in the Temporary ACA Route Road Closures forum discussion (http://www.adventurecycling.org/forums/index.php?board=15.0). This particular one was posted, with a detour recommended, on June 9, 2012 (http://www.adventurecycling.org/forums/index.php?topic=10736.0). There is a link to the Temporary ACA Route Road Closure discussion on the addenda page (http://www.adventurecycling.org/routes/addenda.cfm). It is recommended that it be checked as well as the addenda before leaving on a trip. Often, there is advice from cyclists who have been through and it is also your opportunity to share with other cyclists your experience.

Overall, it sounds like you had a good trip. I hope you have many more bicycle travel adventures in your future.

Best,
.Jennifer.
*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*

Jennifer H. Milyko
Adventure Cycling Association
Inspiring and empowering people to travel by bicycle.
800/755-2453, 406/721-1776 x205
www.adventurecycling.org

Follow Routes & Mapping on Twitter: @acaroutes

Offline OldZephyr

Re: Some thoughts after the completion of 50% Transam + 50% Western Express
« Reply #4 on: August 06, 2012, 09:46:42 pm »
This is an excellent, thorough post.   I hope you will consider posting it as an article in Crazyguyonabike.  It will reach a lot of people there.

There are a fair amount of journals online that mention the dogs and the unfriendly drivers in the Missouri Ozarks and in Eastern Kentucky.  Not that all drivers are bad there, or that all people have bad experiences in those areas (far from it), but there seem to be a disproportionate number of negative reports from those areas about dogs and traffic.   It doesn't make me want to cycle in those areas very much!
« Last Edit: August 06, 2012, 10:26:15 pm by OldZephyr »

Offline Miller

Re: Some thoughts after the completion of 50% Transam + 50% Western Express
« Reply #5 on: August 08, 2012, 11:48:21 am »
Excellent report, Lucas.... Can you say more about the TransAm vs Northern Tier? Overall impressions, traffic, scenery, costs...?

Thanks
« Last Edit: August 08, 2012, 02:18:33 pm by Miller »

Offline BikeFreak

Re: Some thoughts after the completion of 50% Transam + 50% Western Express
« Reply #6 on: August 11, 2012, 09:31:29 am »
Excellent report, Lucas.... Can you say more about the TransAm vs Northern Tier? Overall impressions, traffic, scenery, costs...?

Thanks

Please remember (as noted above) I did the Northern Tier in 2000 which is 12 years ago. This was my first long distance trip and will be my most memorable one - mainly because it was the 1st. That trip was done the following way: Arrive in Halifax, NS. Then ride to Maine and connect up with the Northern Tier somewhere north of Bar Harbor. Then all the way to Anacortes and then subsequently the Pacific Coast down to Mexico.

I like vast areas a lot. Most people get very much bored by cycling through corn and soy bean fields. I, however, like those areas a lot, also incl deserts.

On the trip I remember 2 hot spots: Cleveland and Buffalo. Very much traffic because you are riding downtown. Also, as I remember, the route takes you through some demographically not so nice areas in Cleveland. Otherwise the rest was splendid and beautiful. As you reach Ohio it will be pretty much flat all the way to the Rockies. Then you will have a few mountain passes (nothing compared to TA or WE) and then you are at the Pacific Ocean. The passes are not very high compared to the 11000 ft passes on TA and WE. Compared to the TA you will pass through many and very large Indian reservations. Locals told me to stay away from the road especially around pay pays and even more especially around pay day evenings. I never had trouble though. Things might have changed but there will not be som many of those free city parks and you will probably spend more money on camping. Also I remember very expensive KOA style campgrounds. TRafficwise I remember the NT to be very nice. I do know that the route has been changed drastically in ND due to oil trucks, so ask around for that matter. I almost had no rain and the temperatures were much more Northern European like - which I am used to. Brisk in the morning at 6 am and then rising steadily to 75 or 85 degF (Maybe 90). Cool nights and lots of tent condensation problems.

As I remember, I encountered two dogs somewhere in Ohio.

Lucas

Offline Miller

Re: Some thoughts after the completion of 50% Transam + 50% Western Express
« Reply #7 on: August 14, 2012, 12:55:06 pm »
Lucas,

Thanks for your impressions. This is helpful as I am trying to decide between the Northern Tier and the TransAm. I am leaning toward the Transam at the moment but ultimately hope to do both. More free camping on the TransAm is a plus. The Western part of the route is also very appealing to me to. But the pictures I've seen of the Northern Tier are impressive too. Thanks again, I've bookmarked this thread and will refer back to it in my planning... For those interested Mike Riscica has a nice comparison on the NT and TA on his NT crazyguy journal... Thanks again.

Offline jimbo

Re: Some thoughts after the completion of 50% Transam + 50% Western Express
« Reply #8 on: August 16, 2012, 09:05:16 pm »
Lucas; great report. Thanks for taking the time to be so detailed.

I just completed ( 8/8) (W to E) modified TA. On the issue of ACA maps and trying to follow changes. What I wish ACA had was an 800# only for map changes. (low-tech non-smart phone owner)  I could easily call in a change at that "spot". Sending in a report later...less likely.
Eastern KY...if we initiated conversations we found the local people friendly, but not "out-going". We experienced incredibly patient and courteous drivers in KY, especially given Eastern KY roads. One of the scarier moments I had was a NY car ( my home state). We pulled over for  large trucks in Eastern KY and got waves and toots. But 90% of the coal trucks were heading west the days we were there. We had far less dog events than you and the only one that required action ( failed) was in western VA. (He bit my pannier)
We were told by locals that most cyclist on the TA are East to West. We were riding at the hottest time of the year. I have done a modified 4000 mile NT West to East from mid Aug to mid Oct and weather was an issue for one week. On my recent 6 week ( 2500 mile) modified TA starting on the NT to Glacier the first of June with cold rain for most of two weeks; followed by high winds in MT and then heat in KY and VA the weather dominated my ride for 4 of the 6 weeks. I would agree with you that
the NT is a more comfortable ( perhaps more boring) trip. Starting the TA in the East May 1st or a week earlier would be my suggestion as well.

Offline JMilyko

Re: Some thoughts after the completion of 50% Transam + 50% Western Express
« Reply #9 on: August 20, 2012, 11:12:03 am »
Hi Jimbo,

On the issue of ACA maps and trying to follow changes. What I wish ACA had was an 800# only for map changes. (low-tech non-smart phone owner)  I could easily call in a change at that "spot". Sending in a report later...less likely.

Though it's not "map changes only" you are welcome to call our main 800# to give us information about what you've encountered on the route. When you call, just ask for Routes & Mapping and you'll be transferred to a cartographer.

Hope that helps.
.Jennifer.
*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*

Jennifer H. Milyko
Adventure Cycling Association
Inspiring and empowering people to travel by bicycle.
800/755-2453, 406/721-1776 x205
www.adventurecycling.org

Follow Routes & Mapping on Twitter: @acaroutes