Author Topic: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions  (Read 1742 times)

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Offline bengrier

Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« on: March 28, 2014, 09:19:34 pm »
I know there are a ton of documented opinions out there, but i am interested in your thoughts concerning our specific group. 

There are 3 of us planning a cross country voyage starting in the west and heading east, likely leaving mid June.  We are all brand new to touring but are all experienced road racers (Cats 2,3, and 4).  We have no qualms with carrying lots of extra water, food, and water filters, and would prefer stealth or free camping over hotels.  (I'm not sure this influences any comments, but we will also have dynamo front hubs powering lights and cell phones for emergency phone calls - though i'm sure there are some places where even 911 can't be reached).  So the questions are:

1. People say the western express is very hard!  Is it so hard that the time required to complete would be about the same as doing the extra ~500 miles starting in Astoria?  (seems unlikely)

2.  Do you have a really strong feeling one way or the other for which route we should pick based on start date and difficulties? 

3.  People also say the western route is really in the middle of nowhere.  Does this make it easy to just camp in a field without it being a problem?  Completely ignoring the legality of stealth camping, do you find it easy or hard to do? (this can apply to the whole crossing)

Thanks for any advice you can provide! ~Ben

Offline staehpj1

Re: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2014, 07:22:11 am »
I found stealth camping unnecessary on the Trans America and managed to camp for free in plain sight more often than I paid.  You can probably average $5 per night or less with a little effort.  It is harder near the coasts, but across the middle of the country it is very easy to camp for free.

The best advice I have is to pick your gear first.  Go as light as you can.  Then once the gear is chosen decide which bags you need to carry it.   Then pick what bike and racks are need to accommodate that. To me less and lighter gear is a big plus.  For people who aren't into going super light I'd say that if your panniers wind up being much over 30 pounds (without any food or water), you should look long and hard at your packing list.  It is possible to get down to a much lower base weight than that if you are a minimalist and pack carefully, but that isn't for everyone.

I didn't find a filter very useful on the TA (mailed it home).  In places with less restock capabilities and plenty of cold mountain streams a filter is nice, but the TA wasn't like that.   I took one and was glad I did in the Sierras, on a dirt road tour in Colorado, and will take one on my MTB tour in Idaho.  On the TA and on the ST I would leave it home.  My assumption is the the WE is dry enough that there aren't streams to filter from, but I have not ridden it.

I found plenty of places to charge the phone without adding a dynohub.  Just leave the phone turned off when not using it and battery life gets to be pretty easy to deal with.

A relatively unladen bike is a huge plus IMO.

Offline John Nelson

Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2014, 09:22:08 am »
In my opinion, start in San Francisco if time is limited. Otherwise start in Astoria.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2014, 09:23:44 am by John Nelson »

Offline zzzz

Re: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2014, 06:24:09 pm »
If you're a Cat 2 & 3(and your Cat 4 is stuck there because of his lousy sprint) the WE will not be hard.

I haven't raced in 35 years, and I was a middlin' Cat 3 when I did.  2 years ago @ 55 I did the WE and a significant part of the Trans Am and and the WE wasn't even the most difficult part of the trip ,eastern Ky / southwest Va were definitly tougher.

The one difficult section is Hanksville to Blanding. Hite was closed so I routed through Bullfrog Marina. It was very memorable for me because the wind was way up & against me but even then, with 3 of you, you can maintain a pace line.

There are many, many beautiful things to see in this country but FWIW, I think the WE route goes thru the most visually stunning section.

A word of warning if you care about your speed, you will come back slower than when you left. Even though I haven't raced in a long time I still pay attention to my average speed on all my typical rides & push the pace to my (meager) ability. I was down 1 1/2 to 2 miles an hour across the board on all my typical rides when I got back from my trip. Riding all day at 15 - 16 mph makes you real good at riding all day at 15-16 mph. And nothing else.

I can't comment on your camping question as I was credit card touring.

I hope this helps,

Pete

Offline bengrier

Re: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2014, 06:32:43 pm »
Pete,

This is exactly what I wanted to hear.  Yes, the cat 4 will be a 3 soon. He is a strong rider.  I had to look up what FWIW meant, but i am very intrigued by the terrain in that area!

Haha, good to know on my racing speed.  I feel certain I can get my crit form back up the following year (or maybe i'll be so hooked to the touring scene i'll stick with that!). 

Thanks for the boost of confidence.

Ben

Offline zzzz

Re: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2014, 08:13:04 pm »
Glad you found the reply of use. I'll add two more things :

 "(or maybe i'll be so hooked to the touring scene i'll stick with that!)."

Be careful, that may just happen. My first trip (the one your looking at now) I didn't expect to enjoy. I did it as a challenge, and to break the monotany of how I spent my free time every year, and do a little sight seeing. It was a real surprise how much I liked it. This year I did another long trip. When I got back I talked it over with my boss and we agreed that from now on I'm on a 11 month work year, come September I'll be off on my bike. I don't like to sound melodramatic but for me it was life-changing.

If you haven't seen it already, the gentleman who wrote your first reply, Pete Staehling, has a great article over at Crazy Guy on a Bike about packing light. Especially as "roadies" you're going to notice every pound you're carrying. Do yourself a favor and keep your load under 20 lbs.

pm

Offline bengrier

Re: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #6 on: March 29, 2014, 11:46:03 pm »
Pete and Pete (I shall call one of you ultralight pete and the other sleepy pete),

Ultralight Pete, i just got through reading your less encumbered touring article/blog/updates.  Very interesting.  I think this will inspire me to be much lighter, though probably not nearly as light as you!  I think i'm going to stick with ortlieb front and rear panniers and an ortlieb rack pack across the back, though i will will try not to fill them (Ouch, you now have me adding up weights and i see the weight for these bags comes to a combined 8.5 pounds not including racks!).  Going with other guys will help some with weight as we can split things like the tent and cooking equipment.  I am mostly interested in having the dynamo hub for lights.  I believe the weight is worth it to always have working lights during morning, dusk and rainy conditions to give cars that much more indication to not hit me.   I am also extremely interested in your tips on free camping.  Do you typically ask people to camp on their land?

Sleepy Pete,  Thanks for your words of warning.  I'm treating myself to a graduation gift (9 years of undergrad and graduate school!) of a salsa vaya travel for this trip that i hope to be able to travel with for the rest of my life.  I do love racing, but it's hard getting in enough training to not get my ass handed to me in P/1/2 races.... 

Thanks guys,

Ben


Offline staehpj1

Re: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2014, 05:11:00 am »
I am also extremely interested in your tips on free camping.  Do you typically ask people to camp on their land?

I most often camp in places where I wouldn't know who to ask.  In the middle of the country, picnic pavilions are usually fair game.  I might ask the clerk at the general store if they think I'd be run off.  Roadside picnic areas are often OK.  It gets sketchier nearer either coast.  When I do ask I typically just ask around casually.  That is usually cashiers, waitstaff, and what not.  I might say "is there anywhere nearby that I can pitch a tent for the night and not be run off?"  Mentioning you are on a coast to coast tour helps.  If you ever stay in motels mentioning that and asking will usually get you a discount.  If I need to look harder, and this is pretty infrequent, I might ask the local police, the local librarian, or at a local church.  Using those approaches plus once in a while camping out of sight and out of mind (Not typically necessary on the TA), I have never been run off or otherwise hassled.

On the AC Trans America Route you can get by with only staying in the places that they list if you want to.  They list contact info for the ones where you need to check in.  Using the AC maps to find places to stay was easy and after a while you get a feel for it from the experience and get to be good at finding places on your own.

Offline rabbitoh

Re: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2014, 11:48:18 pm »
Ben, I can offer some comments on the W.E. between San Francisco and Cedar City and especially between Fallon and Cedar City. On this section (Fallon to Cedar City), the towns are approx. 80 miles apart, and it wouldn't make sense to stealth camp in between the towns. It is very desolate country, and there are no fields as such; just desolate grasslands.

Middlegate and Coldsprings Station have relatively inexpensive camping available, as does Bob Scott Summit (just to the east of Austin). I stayed in motels (except for Cold springs) but I was pretty whacked at the end of each day's ride. I was 61 years old at the time and I appreciated the comfort of motels. I also avoided getting snowed on in Austin by being in a motel.

Make sure you know which days the stores in some of the smaller towns are open when you are going through. For example, Baker in Nevada, has only a small grocery store, with limited supplies, and a restaurant which is closed on certain days.

The riding is not exceptionally difficult if you are fit, which you all appear to be, but it is definitely challenging, and you will be carrying panniers.

The country between San Francisco and Cedar City, is magnificent. Enjoy your ride.
Good Cycling
Dennis

Offline Bclayden

Re: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #9 on: April 06, 2014, 11:04:19 am »
I too rode the WE from Sacramento to Baker, NV where I left that route to head NE.

Regarding the Nevada crossing specifically-  I managed fine with a 3 liter Camelback and 2 full water bottles each day during those several long days crossing Nevada with 80-100 miles of riding and no place to refill during the day.  I brought water purifying tablets for emergency use but frankly I don't remember seeing any running water crossing Nevada.  The days in this section are long with an average 3 summits per day but the climbing is generally easy in the 3-4% grade range. 

I travelled CC style so can't speak to camping but if you do camp you will want to start your day with a full load of water and not sure you will find any unless in a town.

Good strategy is to try and avoid the afternoon heat, wind and thunderstorms.  Get an early start...before sunrise...and you will finish your day by early afternoon.

The Nevada section of the cross country ride was my favorite due to it's remote and solitary nature and it felt like a "real" adventure.  I look forward to doing ti again one day.

Offline bengrier

Re: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #10 on: April 06, 2014, 04:35:01 pm »
I'm trying to pick a sleeping bag rating.  What's the coldest night I should expect if leaving July 1st?

Offline Bclayden

Re: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #11 on: April 06, 2014, 05:14:11 pm »
Also Ben...Yes, June is a good month for the Nevada crossing. 

About your emergency contact ability...Not sure about your carrier but I went 3 days without service while crossing Nevada (T-Moblie) but carried the SPOT Tracker.  SPOT uses direct satellite communication so no need for cell service.  Not 2 way capable but will send a distress signal and your friends/family can track you on Google map too.  Unit is about $130 and annual service fee another $100+ but well worth it for peace of mind...not yours but your family's. 

https://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=101

Offline John Nelson

Re: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #12 on: April 06, 2014, 08:20:55 pm »
I'm trying to pick a sleeping bag rating.  What's the coldest night I should expect if leaving July 1st?
I'd plan for nights as cold as 32 degrees F. There might only be two or three of those nights the whole way across the country, so you could do with a lighter bag if you wear all your clothes to bed on those nights.

Are you still planning to take the WE?

Offline bengrier

Re: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #13 on: April 06, 2014, 08:22:41 pm »
Are you still planning to take the WE?

Definitely.  I'm looking at either the ultralamina 32 or 45.  I was worried the 32 would be too warm.

Offline John Nelson

Re: Western Express vs. Trans-Am time and suggestions
« Reply #14 on: April 06, 2014, 08:44:09 pm »
I'm looking at either the ultralamina 32 or 45.  I was worried the 32 would be too warm.
One compromise, and the option I recommend, is to take the lighter bag and also a liner. Most silk liners are very light and small, and claim to add 10 degrees (a potentially disputable claim, but I do find that they make the bag much warmer).