Author Topic: TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia  (Read 3340 times)

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Offline will6953

TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia
« on: October 04, 2012, 01:36:44 am »
I plan to bike across the country from VA to California this summer using the transam route and switching onto the western express midway through colorado.  I have gone on 100 mile plus bike rides, but nothing to this extent yet.  I was planning on starting in May because I figured if I started any later that it would get too hot.  I plan to use a hennessy hammock for camping.  My bike is a 2013 1.2 trek road bike.  Some questions I have: Is the traffic ever much of an issue?  If I have pedals for bike shoes to clip into should I switch them out for regular pedals so I can wear more comfortable shoes?... or would the clip on bike shoes be beneficial to increase my mileage per day?  How often do you think I'll end up sleeping on the side of the road in the woods somewhere as appose to a camp area? Any suggestions when it comes to how many extra tubes to bring or if I should put more durable(less likely to get flat) tubes on my bike?  How much clothing should I bring besides bike shorts/jerseys?  Any recommendations when it comes to food and the best way to regain all the energy that gets burned each day?  For anyone who has done this trip, about how much money did it cost you?...not including motels.  If any experienced cross country cyclists have advice or just any good information to know, it would be much appreciated! I'm trying to carry as little weight as I can and be as efficient as possible.  Thank you!

Offline staehpj1

Re: TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia
« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2012, 07:55:45 am »
I have not done the Western Express, but have done the Trans America and Southern Tier, so I think my comments might be useful.

Personally I would not use a hammock.  There will be places where you will go for days without seeing a tree.

The Trek road bike can work if you either:
A. Pack extremely light
or
B. Use a trailer

You will want lower gearing and maybe a bit fatter tires.  I found the ride a bit harsh with 23 mm tires on the southern tier and was happier when I put 25 mm ones on.  If they fit 28 mm might be even better.

Shoes, I personally would stick with bike shoes and clip less pedals, preferably ones that you can walk in.  Opinions on this vary though.  Optionally you can carry some other footwear for off bike. 

Traffic, it depends on how traffic tolerant you are.  It wasn't a problem for me or my companions.

On the TA you can manage to camp every night either in a campground, or some other place with no need for commando camping.  There are lots of options listed on the AC maps including many free ones.  We stayed in a lot of town parks and in or at a few churches among other places including with hosts.  I think we averaged about $5 a night if you average in every night for the trip.

Tubes...  I usually carry two spares and a lot of patches.  In goat head thorn country you might carry 3.  I prefer lightweight tubes and avoid heavy duty ones or slime tubes.  Again opinions vary on that, but lightweight tubes save a good bit of weight especially when you are carrying multiple spares.

I believe in carrying as little duplication in clothing as possible.

Cost...  This can vary quite a bit.  One guy recently said he did it on $400, but I would figure on a good bit more.  Maybe $20 a day if you are frugal, but not in to dumpster diving.  Allowing extra money and time allows for a lot less worry though, so if you can I'd allow an extra week or more and $30 a day.

A couple links to some articles I wrote that might be useful:
http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/Ultralight
http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/frugal

Also a general link to my journals and stuff:
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/directory/?o=5v&user=staehpj1&v=u

Offline indyfabz

Re: TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2012, 09:18:48 am »
Try looking through here:

http://www.adventurecycling.org/features/howto.cfm

Query: Might a start date of mid to late May put one in the NV desert in July?

Offline John Nelson

Re: TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2012, 10:02:31 am »
I also agree that a hammock might not be the best choice for this route. You mention "sleeping on the side of the road in the woods" but on a good portion of this route, there are no woods by the side of the road.

If you stick to the route, traffic is only an issue in a few places. Many people are seduced by a short-cut, however, and traffic can be bad on these short cuts. You will avoid traffic (and increase distance and hills) by sticking to the route. I encourage you to do so. Some people prefer light traffic even if it comes with no shoulders, and others prefer wider shoulders even if it comes with higher traffic. The ACA routes generally prefer the former (as do I).

I did the TransAm with zero flats and the Northern Tier with only one. This can be accomplished with good tires, not riding too close to the edge of the road, riding around road debris, and brushing your tires off every time you take it off pavement.

I did the TransAm on $16 a day, which I'm sure is below average. This is possible if you stay out of motels and expensive campgrounds, buy most of your food in grocery stores, and start with a bike in perfect condition. Luckily, the TA has a lot of free places to stay and they are identified on the ACA maps (which is a good reason by itself to use the maps). I agree with Pete, however, that you should budget about $30 a day (less if you are sharing expenses with somebody). I only count expenses from wheel-dip to wheel-dip, nothing that comes before or after.

Eat whatever you like, but eat often. My cross-country trip this year was powered mostly by sandwiches, fruit and cookies. On most days I would put two apples and two bananas in my handlebar bag and a large sub sandwich in my pannier. You should be aware, however, that fresh food can be hard to come by along the TA in Virginia and Kentucky, so you have to be willing to eat junk when only junk is available.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia
« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2012, 04:35:54 pm »
Clipless mountain bike pedals and shoes are fine; you may have trouble walking on road bike shoes.

I'd suggest taking one outfit to wear off the bike; zip-off pants/shorts are fine.  I liked to change to sandals off the bike, and wear socks with the sandals when it got chilly.

The closer to the first of May you can start, the cooler it'll be.  I wouldn't start much earlier than mid-April, because you could hit a cold front in the Appalachians.

Add one more to the no-hammock chorus.  There's a long stretch with trees only in a city park, and you don't want to rile up the natives by tearing up their park.  I like a tent for a bit of extra space, some go for a bivy for lighter weight. 

Offline zzzz

Re: TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia
« Reply #5 on: October 11, 2012, 10:15:55 pm »
Hi Will:

I just got back from a version of this route 10 days ago. I had a fantastic experience on this ride and you are in for a treat.

I left from San Francisco and took the Western Express to Pueblo then (apostate alert!) drove across Kansas and Missouri and picked up the TransAm route in Illinois and rode that through Va. for 2700 mile in 31 riding days. I was "credit card" touring so every night was a hotel and most meals were in a diner or restaurant. I will keep my comments here to what you directly asked but I will include my email for anything else I can help you with.

Just for some background, I'm 54, started riding at 14, raced for 15 years and have been a recreational "roadie" since. I ride between 3500 to 5500 miles a year depending on work, weather etc. This was the first time I ever had panniers or even a rack on one of my bikes.

- I used a road bike with a compact crank (34/50) and the cassette was 12-28. That gearing was fine for all the hills I ran into (btw: the steepest stuff is in the east), but I was travelling very light.

- Traffic was generally very good as were the roads. There were individual spots that is was unpleasant. For me the worst place was Rt 50 east of Monarch Pass as it runs along the Arkansas River in Colorado. Maybe it was because it was a Saturday but there was a lot of RV traffic and they seemed totally unconcerned if they tagged me or not. This was very much the exception.

- I used clipless pedals with carbon soled road shoes and had a pair of very light weight sneakers bungied to my rack where they were immediately available. I would do the same again.

- I didn't do any camping but it seemed like I passed a fair amount of campsites or places you could wing it.

- Tires were the only real mistake I made. I was riding sew-ups (you may have to look that up) and while they were heavy sew-ups and relatively wide (24mm) they were no match for a thorn that grows out west that I was not familiar with. Five flats in the first 1200 miles, then I didn't have another for the rest of the trip. If I was to do it again I would switch to clinchers and go with a 28mm tire. There are some torn up shoulders you will sometimes be forced to ride and you'll be glad to have the wider tire. My guess is 4 tubes and two tires until you get to Pueblo should be fine and there are bike shops along the way to re-stock. Once you get out west bike shops become MUCH FURTHER APART. You will want to load up in Pueblo.

- I brought 2 pairs riding shorts, 2 summer jerseys, 1 winter jersey,2 pair socks, 1 rain shell, 1 pr tights, 1 pir very light weight street pants, 1 shirt, and 1 pair swim suit. Add your medical stuff, toiletries, and tools....my panniers weighed 15 lbs with everything except extra water which I always had to carry out west. But I had no camping stuff.

- as far as food...you eat and you eat, and then you eat some more, and then you have 2 desserts. On the bike I ate a lot of Nutter Butters and Fig Newtons and I always had Peanut Butter, dried apricots, and a bag of tortillas for lunch if there was no place to stop. I didn't lose a pound on the trip.

- My trip cost $6000 and most of it was hotels and restaurants. I think it can be done for less than a third of that easily.

My final thoughts : Get yourself in really good shape before you leave. The hills is far western Va and eastern Kentucky are steep and they keep coming and when you get out to Nevada (& some places in Utah) there will be days where it is 80 miles + between anything, not even a house or a ranch, and it will be hot, and there will be 2 or 3 mountain passes. You will need lots of carrying capacity for water. I bought 2 pvc 2 litre bags for water that roll up when not in use and weigh almost nothing. Make sure you get these. Link is below.

http://cascadedesigns.com/platypus/water-bottles/platy-bottle/product

If you want, you can email me directly @ pwm2@lehigh.edu

Pete


Offline Bclayden

Re: TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia
« Reply #6 on: October 22, 2012, 01:13:01 pm »
I completed the Western Express from Sacramento to Baker, NV then on to SLC all on an off-the-shelf 2011 Trek Madone 4.5....carbon frame of course.  100 miles per day and a perfectly suitable road touring bike right out of the box if traveling with a light load.

The ride was CC style so no panniers...just a Camelback and small under-saddle bag. Total cargo weight 13 pounds with an additional 15 pounds of water at the start of each day.  Didn't want for anything and the bike reformed very well.

Did use heavier-duty Continental touring tires and flatted 3 times in 800+ miles.  No mechanical issues. 

I went with my normal bike shoes with clips.  Much more efficient riding for me.  Many bike shoes have a rubber sole and are easy to walk in.  Heavier but more versatile.

Traffic is traffic. Most of the time not a problem but occasionally can be a challenge.  You can minimize your risk and maximize your comfort level though.   Be aware ALL the time, don't wear earbuds, do wear bright clothes, use as much lighting as you can and stay faaaar to the right.  Even if you're not a mirror guy, as I wasn't,  you will be glad to have it on occasion.  I use the mirror that attaches to the end of the drop down handle bars.  Not good for detail but you can see if traffic is approaching when you can't hear it coming otherwise...a big hazard when you are startled.   

Offline John Nelson

Re: TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia
« Reply #7 on: October 22, 2012, 08:46:36 pm »
For me the worst place was Rt 50 east of Monarch Pass as it runs along the Arkansas River in Colorado.
Ah yes, but if you don't get killed there, and even if you do, it's spectacular scenery in the Arkansas River Valley.

Offline zzzz

Re: TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia
« Reply #8 on: October 23, 2012, 08:47:08 pm »

Ah yes, but if you don't get killed there, and even if you do, it's spectacular scenery in the Arkansas River Valley.

That's true John, the scenery is spectacular, and despite my unease I was still able to enjoy it. And, if your traveling west to east, it's downhill during that whole stretch as well. So if it turn's out this is the place you take your last mortal breath, you will be surrounded by beauty AND feeling fast & easy.

All kidding aside, as road cyclists we all know we always have to share the road with cars and trucks and some will be more courteous than others. For anyone considering this trip, I can't recommend it enough.

Pete

Offline will6953

Re: TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia
« Reply #9 on: November 14, 2012, 01:35:00 am »
Thank you everyone so much for the advice!  Since I originally posted this thread, some new questions have come to mind.  Does anyone have a recommendation for a good bike lock and were you ever in a situation where you didn't have an ideal spot to lock your bike? How did you deal with washing your clothes each day/dealing with them being damp for awhile?  And also I'm trying to carry as little weight as possible...if anyone has a recommendation for a very light weight easily packable tent, I plan to buy one soon.  I also am thinking of how I will go about packing for this trip.  I don't want to use a trailer.  The only things I figure I'll be carrying are toiletries, a tent, and water/snacks plus spare tires and general necessities.  Should I use panniers or what do you guys think the best way for me to go about packing my bike is with the goal of being as light as possible?  Thanks again for the help!

Offline JMilyko

Re: TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia
« Reply #10 on: November 14, 2012, 08:08:55 am »
Thank you everyone so much for the advice!  Since I originally posted this thread, some new questions have come to mind.  Does anyone have a recommendation for a good bike lock and were you ever in a situation where you didn't have an ideal spot to lock your bike? How did you deal with washing your clothes each day/dealing with them being damp for awhile?  And also I'm trying to carry as little weight as possible...if anyone has a recommendation for a very light weight easily packable tent, I plan to buy one soon.  I also am thinking of how I will go about packing for this trip.  I don't want to use a trailer.  The only things I figure I'll be carrying are toiletries, a tent, and water/snacks plus spare tires and general necessities.  Should I use panniers or what do you guys think the best way for me to go about packing my bike is with the goal of being as light as possible?  Thanks again for the help!

Have you read this article on Ultralight Bicycle Travel from our How To pages?

http://www.adventurecycling.org/features/ultralight.cfm

It's a good place to start.

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 John Nelson

Re: TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia
« Reply #11 on: November 14, 2012, 11:02:19 am »
Does anyone have a recommendation for a good bike lock and were you ever in a situation where you didn't have an ideal spot to lock your bike?

Much has been written about bike locks with very little consensus. I think everyone agrees that it depends on where you are. In some places and circumstances, no lock or a small lock is sufficient. In others, the best lock in the world is insufficient. Everybody gets to pick their own balance point between risk, convenience and weight. Some people take no lock at all, some a very lightweight cable, and others heavy chains and U-locks. Take your pick.

How did you deal with washing your clothes each day/dealing with them being damp for awhile?

I think most people look for a Laundromat periodically. Others just rinse them out in a sink or shower. In many climates, they will dry overnight on a line. If not dry, you can strap them to the outside of your gear. Don't pack damp clothes inside of waterproof panniers.

if anyone has a recommendation for a very light weight easily packable tent

There are many suitable tents on the market. A lot of people subscribe to the N+1 theory, i.e., buy a tent designed for one more person than you have. Minimalists go with tarps or bivvies or hammocks. You can get tents under 3 pounds, but they tend to be quite expensive. Tents over 6 pounds for one person are too heavy. You might consider something in the $200 range at about 4-5 pounds. That's a nice compromise. Many tents fit these parameters. If you are a true minimalist, however, spend twice that much to get the smallest, lightest tent (or just take a bivvy), and skip the ground sheet.

I also am thinking of how I will go about packing for this trip.  I don't want to use a trailer.  The only things I figure I'll be carrying are toiletries, a tent, and water/snacks plus spare tires and general necessities.  Should I use panniers or what do you guys think the best way for me to go about packing my bike is with the goal of being as light as possible?

Most people don't go for "as light as possible". But some do. Again, there are tradeoffs involved and you get to pick. It depends on what you mean by "as light as possible". It's possible to go quite extreme, especially if the expected weather is mild. Cutting weight of gear means that you can cut weight of the panniers and racks too, so the effect multiplies. High-quality waterproof panniers can be quite heavy, so if you're cutting weight to the bone, you probably want simple, lightweight panniers with plastic bags inside to keep things dry. Never take two of something if one will do. You can get by on just one set of riding clothes and just one set of off-bike clothes. Figure out what the coldest conditions you will likely experience and then take just enough clothes that if you put all of them on at the same time, you won't freeze to death. If you're going super ultralight, you probably won't want to take a spare tire. You may be able to get by without a spare tube either, but that will leave you vulnerable to the small risk of an unpatchable failure. A tire lever and a couple of allen wrenches are the only essential tools. Again, every decision comes with some level of risk.