Author Topic: West to East, Western Express & Trans Am -- Dates?  (Read 5393 times)

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Offline nlsteve

West to East, Western Express & Trans Am -- Dates?
« on: February 03, 2012, 08:45:36 pm »
Hi folks:

I have seen some other threads that touch on this topic, but none exactly on point for me.  I hope to do the Western Express variant of the Trans Am in 2013.  It could be either spring or fall. 

I need to block out some dates for the trip well in advance, and was wondering: what would you recommend if you could choose an ideal departure date for this route in the spring?  How about the fall?  I know it's a balancing act between risking some very hot days and catching some blizzards in the high country.  What's your best guess?



Offline John Nelson

Re: West to East, Western Express & Trans Am -- Dates?
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2012, 10:35:12 pm »
The ACA says that the Western Express can be ridden from mid-May through October, and the TransAm can be ridden from May through September. So the combo route can be ridden from mid-May through September. Adjusting as necessary based on how fast you are, you can start the Western Express in San Franscisco from mid-May through late July. To avoid the worst heat, start towards the beginning of that interval, but monitor the passes early in the WE route before you start. So far this year, snowpack is fairly low (although there's enough winter left to reverse that), so an early start will probably work.

Offline nlsteve

Re: West to East, Western Express & Trans Am -- Dates?
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2012, 05:04:47 pm »
Thanks, John.


Offline VeloVeg

Re: West to East, Western Express & Trans Am -- Dates?
« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2012, 07:11:40 pm »
Hi Steve,

This might be a bit of a long post, but I wanted to share a few things from my experiences along the Western Express route.

The Western Express is my favorite ACA route, having travelled it twice and toured quite extensively in Northern California, Nevada, Utah, and CO. Like John said, leave SF mid-May. You will experience temperature variations right from the start. SF will be quite cool--usually in the 60s F, but the California central valley can have mid 90s F in mid to late May. The good news here is that the humidity is very low, so it isn't nearly as bad as 85F in the mid-west and eastern part of the country.

The elevation at Sacramento is 50 feet. You will begin climbing the Sierra Mts. just east of there, and you will be mostly climbing until you reach Carson Pass (8574'). This is the easiest pass over the Sierra Mts. Needless to say, the temperature will be quite cool in the mountains, and you can possibly experience some light snow squalls. It's a beautiful journey through the Sierra Mts. with a 20+ mile decent into Nevada.

The ride through Nevada in late May and early June is beautiful! With snow on the many mountains, wild flowers everywhere, and the snow melt creating temporary lakes and streams--it's the best time to enjoy Nevada and Utah. However, these two states heat up quickly in June and the distances between available water sources can be extreme. Hydrate often and carry plenty of water.

There are 13 mountain passes across Nevada, with great, flat basins in between. (Some days you might climb four of these passes). The joke is, that there are only three trees east of Fallon. Not quite true, but there aren't any trees across the vast basins, with a few on some of the passes. Once you leave Fallon there are three towns and two former Pony Express stops (turned into restaurant/bar) the entire way east across Hwy. 50--the "Loneliest Road in America". It is 60 to 85 miles between these services. Be smart and use common sense and you will enjoy this region tremendously.

East of Middlegate (free camping, "motel", restaurant/bar--and very friendly folks) there is the "Carroll Summit option". It is a lovely 12-mile climb over the summit, but it will afford you some of the most beautiful scenery on your trip across NV. You can also choose to camp at the top. Just remember, when you leave Middlegate there are NO services/water and no houses until you get to Austin. I've ridden both options, and Carroll Summit is the prettiest.

If you escape Nevada with temperatures only in the 80s, then count yourself lucky. It WILL be hot in Utah. You WILL experience 100+ degree days. Ride in the morning hours, hydrate often, carry plenty of water, and don't be a hero. Take your time through Utah. It is my favorite U.S. state for cycling. If you have the time and inclination, I would highly recommend that you get off the ACA map a little and visit Zion National Park (excellent!) and even the north rim of the Grand Canyon (a 2-day ride from Zion NP). Take time to explore each of these exceptional parks. You can easily get back on route after experiencing the Grand Canyon.

The scenery in Utah is other-worldly, with magnificent red and pink rock formations, pine forests, excellent roads, and beautiful mountains. Some of the climbs can be challenging, with 14% grades that can go on for several miles. (I met a physical education teacher from New Jersey at the top of one such brutal climb. He was gazing over the edge of the summit and decided that he was going to end his cross-country journey at the next town. Myself and a couple from the Netherlands offered him a pep talk and convinced him to continue on. He was fine after that and never regretted his decision to continue. We rode together for the next 9 days into the middle of Colorado, when we headed in different directions.)

Boulder Mountain is a steady 13 mile climb to a beautiful 9600 ft. pass with a breath-taking view to the east. There are many places to camp on Boulder Mt. On the other side of the mountain is beautiful Capital Reef National Park (good camping).

Another option from Hanksville, UT is to turn north toward Green River (camping/motels/food) and then head east toward Moab and enjoy Arches National Park and Canyonlands NP. These two parks are also awesome and are not along the standard ACA route. Moab is a great town, but lots of summer traffic. From Moab you can continue south to Monticello and get back on the ACA route into Colorado.

The mountain passes in Colorado aren't nearly as difficult as the Sierra Mts, some of the Nevada mountains, or Utah. Usually just a steady 6% grade. Expect temperature extremes in Colorado, due to elevation. You can ship your cold weather clothes home or to a friend when you arrive in Pueblo, CO. Hot and humid going east, but a great adventure across small-town rural America.

I hope this gives you a few ideas.

Have a great and safe journey,


Offline John Nelson

Re: West to East, Western Express & Trans Am -- Dates?
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2012, 07:30:33 pm »
Hey Ted, I'm not even planning to take the WE but I enjoyed your descriptions nevertheless.

Offline VeloVeg

Re: West to East, Western Express & Trans Am -- Dates?
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2012, 07:44:10 pm »
Thanks John. The WE is a magnificent route!

Offline nlsteve

Re: West to East, Western Express & Trans Am -- Dates?
« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2012, 10:38:53 pm »
Thanks, Ted, for the great travelogue.


Offline Tim

Re: West to East, Western Express & Trans Am -- Dates?
« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2012, 11:23:08 am »
I'm leaving from Hwy 108 (Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center) on April 15th and heading south on the 395 to the 120 east.  Check out my route and keep my site as a favorite as I'll be updating on a daily basis. 

Start to Tonopah NV

Tonopah NV to Cedar City UT

Cedar City UT to Dolores CO

Dolores CO to Pueblo CO

My recent ride from SF to Mono Lake CA

Great year to hit the WE early.
A Ride Dedicated
The Unconditional Sacrifices Made Every Day.

Offline jamawani

Re: West to East, Western Express & Trans Am -- Dates?
« Reply #8 on: February 11, 2012, 02:27:00 pm »
I have ridden nearly every possible paved mile (except Interstates) in Nevada and a few unpaved ones, too.
I absolutely love Nevada - but it is not for the uninitiated.  Sames goes for Utah.

When to start heading east and when to end up in the west on the WE can be highly variable.
One basic parameter - spring comes earlier and winter comes later in the East.
A fall strip should almost certainly start in the West - no later than Sept 1.
A mid-spring trip should start in the East - anything before May 15 - no earlier than April 15.
Can you go outside these bounds?  Yes, but the days are shorter.
Plus there's more chance of bad weather - especially snow in the West.

Speaking of snow - when you can easily get across the Sierras is variable.
Some years the snow is gone by mid-May - other years it last to late June.
Hwy 88 is kept open year-round - but can be really rough.
Few services open before late May - even in mild years.
Same goes for the Rockies.  Many facilities do not open until mid or late June.
Remember - it takes 10 feet of snow a while to melt.
So even if it's warm and sunny, there will still be a lot of snow on the ground in spring.

Offline nlsteve

Re: West to East, Western Express & Trans Am -- Dates?
« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2012, 11:34:14 pm »
Thanks, Jamawani -- good advice.  I appreciate all the well-thought out comments to my question.


Offline ElectricHamster

Re: West to East, Western Express & Trans Am -- Dates?
« Reply #10 on: May 09, 2012, 10:13:15 am »
Wow, just found this post and I am setting off on this exact trip tomorrow, even taking in the Grand Canyon as suggested!  Thanks

Offline nlsteve

Re: West to East, Western Express & Trans Am -- Dates?
« Reply #11 on: May 11, 2012, 04:09:58 pm »
Note to Electric Hamster (above):

So you started your trip yesterday, huh?

Today (Friday, May 11) I happened to be standing on the route in West Sacramento at about 12:30 p.m., maybe a mile before the Tower Bridge across the river into Sacramento. I watched enviously as a lone cyclist went by on a fully loaded bike with a safety triangle on the back. 

I thought the timing might fit well with your schedule.

Was that indeed you? 

In either case, bon voyage!

(I also sent a PM)