Author Topic: Advice on Heading South in Winter  (Read 2774 times)

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Offline Haven

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Advice on Heading South in Winter
« on: November 14, 2012, 03:08:24 pm »
Hi Everyone!
I'm new to the forum and new to bike touring-- though I have been a bike mechanic with Nice Ride Minnesota and a commuter/alleycat racer for some time-- and I have an urgent question:

I'm planning to snowbird from Minneapolis and do my first bike tour down on the Southern Tier route this winter (as in, starting in less than a month), but I can't for the life of me figure out how to get somewhere warm enough to start from.  We just had our first (albiet briefly) lingering snowfall here for the season, and the temperatures are regularly dipping below freezing now, so I don't feel confident about riding out of town on my bike in a couple weeks.

I was initially planning to take Amtrak to the Southeast and start down in Jacksonville by the East end of the Southern Tier route, but despite the low price of the train fare, I'm not sure it will work; it seems taking a bike (much less a touring bike and a set of large panniers) on Amtrak is quite difficult. I'm not shy about assembly and disassembly of bikes, but I'm a little leery of stripping parts off to fit my baby in a cardboard box and having to partially reassemble her upon arrival in a strange city.  I also don't know how I would manage to bring my panniers aboard; they're a full set of "kitty litter" box panniers, and are quite bulky even when empty. I had considered removing the mounting hardware and stacking them together and packing their contents into a large duffel bag, but again that sounds like a huge hassle to deal with upon arrival in Florida.

If anyone has either any advice on taking Amtrak with a loaded bike, or on alternate means of transportation-- ride-sharing websites, car rental feasibility, et cetera-- I'd really appreciate it.

~Jessamine

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #1 on: November 14, 2012, 03:33:17 pm »
Haven, if you use the Amtrak provided box, you won't have to "strip parts" or any of that business. All you need to do is remove pedals and turn bars sideways. (Note: if your bars have enough flare, this may cause issues.)

You may be able to use the kitty litter panniers as check on baggage, but I've never done it so I can't speak from experience. When I've taken Amtrak, I usually check a couple of my panniers with checked baggage, and bring two on board as "carry-on". (When I have full panniers.)

More on Amtrak bicycle/baggage policies here:
http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?c=Page&pagename=am%2FLayout&cid=1251621565020

Offline geegee

Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2012, 04:42:47 pm »
I would pack up the panniers and and things you don't need on the train into one box and check it in. You probably have to transfer in Chicago, and if you have a few hours of layover, it's not much fun if you have to lug around or worry about stuff.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #3 on: November 14, 2012, 04:53:28 pm »
Another option would be to ship whatever you don't want to carry and can't check.  Pick a hotel or bike shop near your Amtrak arrival point, call them and ask if they'd be willing to receive and keep a package for a few days before you arrive.  If you go this route, check the heavier items on the train and ship the light stuff, as UPS, FedEx, and USPS charge by weight.  And since you're going to be starting before Christmas, beware of the holiday shipping rush and allow an extra few days to get there.

Offline staehpj1

Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #4 on: November 15, 2012, 07:13:22 am »
Amtrak is super easy to manage as long as every station where you start, end, or change trains has baggage service.  The boxes are pretty big and require almost no bike disassembly.  Panniers will probably fit in the bike box if you choose.  Worst case load everything in a cheap duffel bag and dispose of the duffel on arrival.

That said I have not always found Amtrak all that cheap.  I sometimes find I can fly cheaper and you can get to more destinations by plane.  Southwest and Frontier are especially bike friendly as is AirTran now that Southwest bought them.  If going really long distance the train can take a long time and be very tiring.




Offline Westinghouse

Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #5 on: November 15, 2012, 08:27:15 am »
In your particular case, you don't have a problem. All points you raise can be easily solved with one phone call or two to Amtrak.

Offline Westinghouse

Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #6 on: November 15, 2012, 08:32:04 am »
I took Amtrak back from San Diego to Florida in 2010 after completing the ST in winter. IMO, some Amtrak employees need to be taught some hard lessons in manners. I would not use Amtrak long distance ever again. The same for Greyhound which I consider bordering sometimes on criminality.

Offline indyfabz

Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #7 on: November 15, 2012, 08:41:54 am »
Several good options given. Train with the bike. Train and ship the bike. Plane and ship the bike.

I priced an arbitrary date of 12/13. Cost for coach was $212. At this late date, a flight might cost you a good bit. Personally, I would take my
chances with a train over a plane from a weather delay perspective.

The route from MSP to JAX is the Emprie Builder to Chicago, the Capitol Limited to D.C. and then the Silver Meteor. All stations have checked
baggage so brining a bike is possible. Assuming everything runs on time, the trip duration is about 50 hrs.
(The Silver Service has a pretty bad on-time record.) Some people can deal with that. Some people cannot.

I have taken the train from Philly to Seattle with my bike twice. As noted, it was pretty easy. I checked the bike and a second bag containing my tent,
racks, sleeping bag and two panneris of stuff. I carried on the other two panniers. I re-assembled the bike and attached the racks with a set
of allen wrenches.

Offline staehpj1

Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #8 on: November 15, 2012, 10:24:01 am »
Several good options given. Train with the bike. Train and ship the bike. Plane and ship the bike.
I would also consider "fly with bike" as an option.  It has worked out well for me a number of times.  On Southwest I paid $50 as the only baggage fee.  I get a kick out of riding right out of the airport.

I have taken the train from Philly to Seattle with my bike twice. As noted, it was pretty easy. I checked the bike and a second bag containing my tent, racks, sleeping bag and two panneris of stuff. I carried on the other two panniers. I re-assembled the bike and attached the racks with a set of allen wrenches.
When ever I looked into that it was generally 72 hours of riding on the train.  The $300 or so price wan't too bad, but it wasn't cheap enough that it justified the long ride.  I rode coach for about 1/8 of that time and found that to be pushing my limit.  Getting a roomette would make it much nicer, but that was something like an additional $400, so $700 to go coast to coast, which is a lot more than I have ever paid to fly coast to coast even if checking a bike.

I think the roomette becomes a better deal if you are sharing it, but for solo travel it is too expensive to suit me.

I am curious how you managed it.  Did you get a roomette?  Did you take long layovers along the way to break up the travel?
« Last Edit: November 15, 2012, 10:25:32 am by staehpj1 »

Offline Haven

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Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #9 on: November 16, 2012, 12:08:32 am »
Thanks for all the quick replies, everyone!  With what I've read from you, I'm planning to take Amtrak right now, unless I can turn up a ride-share opportunity online in the next few days.  I'll probably have to disassemble the hardware of my panniers (see attached photo) and stack them, but then I'm thinking I'll be able to fit the empty panniers and their respective gear into a large (disposable) duffel to be checked; I'll just keep my chrome bag and guitar as carry-on.  I guess I'll spend the travel time getting in the right mindset, reviewing the route maps, and setting some things up with friends and on CouchSurfing-- not to mention starting my blog on CrazyGuyOnABike. I don't really mind downtime while traveling, as long as it's more comfortable than riding a Greyhound (ugh). ;)

Offline reed523

Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #10 on: November 16, 2012, 08:24:17 am »
Sounds like "snowbird" might be your key word.  Lots of folks heading south with their monster homes on wheels.  Sorry I don't have any good advice on how to connect with them.  I've found that even though we disagree on transportation mode, many of them have the same spirit for travel as us.  I bet finding a ride wouldn't be too difficult.

Have a great trip.  What's your cgoab journal going to be titled?

Offline Westinghouse

Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #11 on: November 18, 2012, 01:25:20 am »
I think maybe the next time I do a long tour I might not buy new panniers. I need them, but I can make carriers out of thrown-away kittly litter containers.

Offline indyfabz

Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #12 on: November 20, 2012, 08:31:46 am »
I am curious how you managed it.  Did you get a roomette?  Did you take long layovers along the way to break up the travel?

At the time, it was all coach from Philly to Chi. Left around 2:30 p.m. and arrived in Chi around 7:30 the next morning. From Chi to Seattle I got a one-person
room/coffin. Departed around 3:30 p.m. and arrived around 8 or 9 a.m. the second day. (I.e. leave on a Monday afternoon, arrive on Wednesday morning.)
We were allowed to get out and stretch the legs for 20 min or so in Minot, ND and in Havre, MT. Otherwise, I just read, watched movies in the observation
car and relaxed as the scenery sped by. The route skirts Glacier N.P. Acutally saw some mountain goats coming down from Marias Pass. The next
morning it was light out when we went through the Cascades. Amazing, especially when you are on some trestle hundreds of feet above some gorge
and cannot see the tracks below you. The second year I did not have a room from Chi. Just slept in a seat in the lower level. The seats are larger than
your average train seat and had leg support. I find the train relaxing, and I didn't have any time constraints. Running around Chi for half a day was also fun.

Offline yumadons

Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #13 on: November 20, 2012, 10:51:49 am »
I thought of hitching a ride with a snowbird too when I read this. Just noticed this in the "classified: companions" section of CGOAB. They're not leaving Minnesota til January but maybe they know somebody:

http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/classifieds/?o=1&classified_id=3414&v=1

Offline John Grossbohlin

Re: Advice on Heading South in Winter
« Reply #14 on: November 22, 2012, 07:37:57 pm »
I've done several AMTRAK/Bike trips... the longest from NY to CO and then back from WA to NY at the end of the bike trip. The AMTRAK boxes are long pack boxes so only the bars and peddles need to be removed. Panniers, tents, sleeping bags, etc. can go in an additional box. We picked up the small boxes at a U-Haul store for the return trip... good and sturdy and relatively inexpensive. Better than the similarly sized Home Depot boxes we used on the first leg. AMTRAK in WA gave us some used bike boxes for free and we packed everything in the AMTRAK waiting room. Even though I brought some with us they gave us packing tape. My son and I each used a pannier and our bar bag as carry-on bags. Even with train changes in Chicago it wasn't a problem as the boxes were handled by AMTRAK.

My first long trip was similar to what you propose but I did that in the mid-80s and flew... it was easy and cheap back then! I arrived in FL the first week or so of January, rode all over the state, and then pushed north to upstate NY as the weather broke. The only place the weather was really bad was in the Charlotte, NC area when the temperatures dropped to the teens at night and there was rain and freezing rain. I arrived home April 11... left northern PA in a light snow which stayed with me until somewhere between Wurtsboro and Ellenville. Even with the snow the riding wasn't too bad with the right gear.

Depending on how much time you have you can make this work with the right clothing.