I've been checking out some local clubs and considering joining one (Honestly, I'm not the "joiner" type, but I'm not ruling it out). I was lucky to have found a really good bike shop from the beginning, when I bought my bicycle (a Specialized Sirrus Sport) a little over a year ago. The owner and his crew are very good about teaching me about the bike as well as when, where, and the finer details of how to ride. They're nice people and they've been a really big help.
I'm going to do what I can to prepare myself as much as possible regarding as many aspects as possible. I'm already in good physical condition, but not nearly good enough to go out and do 60-80 mile rides, fully loaded with gear, day after day. I'm not about to simply bite off more than I can chew, and that's why I'm giving myself adequate time ( I feel) to prepare and learn. Like you said, a trip like that is NOT the place to get into shape.
I live in FloriDUH (fairly recently relocated). I've learned that this state has the second highest fatality rate in the country regarding auto accidents, so you can guess it's pretty crazy on the more open roads. Lot's of roadkill in the bike lanes, and I don't want to become THAT. Floriduh is also relatively flat, so I have to find a way to train for the areas of the country with higher elevations.
Thanks again for the advice! I appreciate it!