Author Topic: Tips for Cross Country Ride 2019  (Read 1481 times)

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Offline JonathanW

Tips for Cross Country Ride 2019
« on: January 29, 2018, 10:47:55 am »
Hi Guys,

Jonathan from Frankfurt, Germany here. I plan on doing a Cross Country ride in 2019 and I am just now slowly starting with preparations. Together with preparations are many questions. I hope you can shed some light and I would be grateful for some help from you guys until the start of my trip next year.
First, I'd like to tell you something about myself and my trip, so you have a little context.

Myself:
I am 34 years old and live in Frankfurt, Germany. I'm a pretty unexperienced bicycle rider. But the first spark about doing a cross country trip in the US was lighted a year ago and I couldn't forget about since. I realized I want to do it and I am dead serious about it.
So far, the longest trip I did were 8 days through the beautiful Rhine valley with 570km (ca. 356miles) total. I had slim to none training before that and no major pains during the trip or afterwards. I would certainly do some more training before the actual cross country ride.

The trip:
I want to do a self-supported/camping ride, start of somewhere on the East Coast and end up somewhere around the San Francisco area. So it will definitely be more of a Northern Tier route. I already had some discussions and great tips about finding a route here.
I plan on taking the full 90days which are possible without a VISA.  I have the luck on working for a big firm which offers a Sabbatical program, so I'd guess I am fairly flexible on when to start. Right now, I'm planning of starting around April.


There are a couple of fields that I have questions about. But of course I am thankful for every tips/hints you can give me!!!

Navigation
How did you navigate and ensure you are on track? Using some sort GPS Navigation. I see 2 main problems (besides the high price). 1 - I don’t know which systems would completely work in the US and have detailed maps on their drive. 2 - You need power all day to run this. I would think that this is hard to ensure.
How did you navigate and would you recommend doing this solely by maps? I read great stuff about them, so I ordered some ACA maps that would make the start of the route to check them out. But I am not sure in general if it is feasible to navigate by maps only?


Food/Drinks
Were there any situations where you did not have access to buy new stuff for more than 1-2 days? I was wondering of you ensured to have enough supplies (food and water) with you on the bike for those situations.
I have not done a very detailed Route planning so far, so I don't know how big the chances are that I would not hit a store for 1-2 days. But I would think that I need some back up supplies for emergencies. But water alone for 1-2 days takes up so much space/weight. How did you manage that?

Mental and physical strength
Although I am not a trained biker, I am not worrying so much about my physical strength to be honest. Having 12 weeks leaves me with 375 miles a week, if the route would be 4,500 miles. Even if the route is longer, there should be enough reserve to pull this off in 90 days.
What I am worrying about is my mental strength. Generally I am a guy that finishes what he started. But this is obviously something totally different. I am just afraid of myself a little and that I cheat myself into this. I really want to do it and I am so excited that I'd like to start sooner than later. But I am just afraid that 4 weeks into the trip, I lose self-confidence and the mental power to pull this off. What are your experiences here?

Laundry
Might sound silly... but how often and in what way did you wash your clothes? I know it sounds silly, but if the network of laundry shops in the US is big enough, or if you also just washed your stuff in the river from time to time.
I also read about warmshowers.org, so I think this would be an opportunity as well.


I know this has gotten a little long, please excuse me   But like I mentioned above: I am so excited for this trips that I have tons of questions... Again, I am grateful and thankful for any kind of hints you can give me!

Cheers,

Jonathan
« Last Edit: January 29, 2018, 10:50:42 am by JonathanW »

Offline John Nelson

Re: Tips for Cross Country Ride 2019
« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2018, 12:05:10 pm »
How did you navigate and ensure you are on track? Using some sort GPS Navigation. I see 2 main problems (besides the high price). 1 - I don’t know which systems would completely work in the US and have detailed maps on their drive. 2 - You need power all day to run this. I would think that this is hard to ensure.
How did you navigate and would you recommend doing this solely by maps? I read great stuff about them, so I ordered some ACA maps that would make the start of the route to check them out. But I am not sure in general if it is feasible to navigate by maps only?

Yes, it is very feasible to navigate by ACA maps only. If you follow an ACA map, there is no need for GPS and the route planners at the ACA will keep you on generally safe roads (but they won't necessarily give you the shortest route nor the flattest route). The ACA maps are perfect for people who will be doing mostly camping as they identify good places to do that. With the 90 days you have available, you have plenty of time to get across the country without using the shortest route.

Powering GPS may be an issue for people camping, but GPS will work very well all the way across the U.S. But I would only bother with GPS if you choose to create your own route, or if you are in love with GPS navigation.

Were there any situations where you did not have access to buy new stuff for more than 1-2 days? I was wondering of you ensured to have enough supplies (food and water) with you on the bike for those situations.

There are situations where you might have to plan you food/water for up to 12 to 24 hours in advance, but those situations are very few and are well identified by the ACA maps. But you should carry at least one meal's worth of emergency food/water at all times, just in case the next restaurant or store just closed the day before you get there, or it closed early that day. Your emergency doesn't need to be delicious--it just needs to get you down the road.

I have not done a very detailed Route planning so far

The ACA maps will save you a ton of route planning.

What I am worrying about is my mental strength. Generally I am a guy that finishes what he started. But this is obviously something totally different. I am just afraid of myself a little and that I cheat myself into this. I really want to do it and I am so excited that I'd like to start sooner than later. But I am just afraid that 4 weeks into the trip, I lose self-confidence and the mental power to pull this off. What are your experiences here?

Mental perseverance is likely the most important attribute you need to complete this. Not every day will be great, but with the right optimistic, can-do attitude, the low points will be short lived. Since you're a guy that finishes what you start, you'll be fine.

Might sound silly... but how often and in what way did you wash your clothes? I know it sounds silly, but if the network of laundry shops in the US is big enough, or if you also just washed your stuff in the river from time to time.

Everybody does this differently, but I prefer to do all my laundry in showers and sinks, hanging my clothes up on a clothes line every evening. My clothes are almost always dry by morning. This means that I can do laundry every day, which greatly reduces the amount of clothes I need to take and reduces the time I spend sitting around Laundromats.

I also read about warmshowers.org, so I think this would be an opportunity as well.

Yes, Warm Showers is great, but there are areas with no hosts available, so you may only be able to use them 10 to 15 nights across the country. And sometimes you just don't feel like company.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Tips for Cross Country Ride 2019
« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2018, 01:03:31 pm »
John's already given you some great information, so I'll just chip in with a few things:

First, check out https://www.adventurecycling.org/routes-and-maps/adventure-cycling-route-network/interactive-network-map/ for routes where AC will provide maps.  You don't need a GPS with the ACS maps, although state maps (available free at visitor centers) are nice to have.  The TransAm is the oldest route, and still a good one; you could pair it with Western Express to go to San Francisco.  You could also cobble together (a) New York to Chicago, (b) Route 66, (c) TransAm (possibly the least interesting part), and (d) Western Express.

Second, I generally like to stop once or twice a week at a motel (or you could substitute a Warmshowers host) for a good shower, air conditioning, and to use their laundry facilities.  With the advent of laundry detergent in pods, you could buy a small pouch and carry it with you, saving a fair bit of change over buying detergent on site.

Last, though you didn't ask, most people riding east-west start in late April to May.  You may run into a few weeks of hot weather in Kansas with this schedule, but it minimizes weather problems the rest of the way.  Leaving at dawn will let you get a good day's ride in before the wind and heat kick up.  (Usually!)

Offline Pavel

Re: Tips for Cross Country Ride 2019
« Reply #3 on: January 29, 2018, 05:24:10 pm »
I had trouble posting this.  Hope it's doesn't wind up as a duplicate post.

I'm from Europe originally, and I mention that because of the differences in weather in the summer.  I live in North Carolina, which is a great place to start if you were to be tempted to do more than the Trans America route, rather than the northern tier.  The thing to anticipate is the hot, but especially muggy weather.  It really helps to have a tent with good flow-through ventilation.  The other thing I've experienced personally, as someone who likes to stealth camp or camp at sites (so I don't have to impose a schedule on myself every day) is that the further to the east, especially the North East the more the traffic and the more difficult it is to find good free spots.  Camping prices have shot through the roof over the last 10 years or so. I've stoped touring through Virginia because they have a out of state fee and one can pay up to $40 per night to camp.  That adds up quickly if you're on a budget.

I normally like to find my own way around, but would strongly advise the use of the Adventure cycling maps and paths.  In 2012 my twelve year old daughter and I cycled along the trans America up to where it met the Great Rivers South and then we took the Souther Tier portion down to finish in Austin.  I was given one map and liked the design but arrogantly though I can save the money and gain more flexibility as well.  What a disaster.  We discovered that American lives and dies by the major highways.  Out away from services all we saw on those nice less congested roads was gas station that had been closed for decades.  Getting water was terrible and we found that away from where people are used to seeing cyclists, that while still mostly nice, that they were very much more suspicious of us and reserved.  Once we changed plans and met up with the Trans American portion we found cyclists, services for cyclists and people along the route actually stopped the car a few times and got out to give us cold drinks and invite us to their home.  I've learned my lesson there. ACA maps are really well thought out and I really enjoy meeting the cyclists one is bound to bump into.

On the topic of showers and washing, we found that we adapted and slowly did less and less of each.  We also got rid of some clothing and I ordered wool.  On me it made a large difference.  By the end of the day my non-wool clothes reeked, where as the wool clothing took days instead.  We would wash our clothes not according to a set schedule but more where we found it convenient.  Sinks and campgrounds worked well and I like to use a bar of coal tar soap.  It seems to help a bit with the odors and served to wash us as well as the laudry.  One bar lasted the 54 days.  We only used one laundro-mat and one marvelous Cycling hostel where the host did every cyclists laundry included with the lodgings and food price.  That was a highlight.

We navigated with a garmin on each bike, powered by our dynamos, which ran through a reserve battery.  It's great to not need to plug in often, but we often wanted to have a nice late lunch and chose a restaurant on most days even though I brought our Trangia cooking kits and food good for several days.  Next time if I travel in the same conditions I will not pack food, though I will still probably bring a small alcohol shove to boiling water.  We had temperatures that did not dip below 31 Celcius for about three weeks ( that was the night time low) and most often it was in the 36 to 42C temps in North Carolina and Kentucky. We completely lost our appetite at those temps unless we were inside enjoying mankinds greatest inventions.  Air conditioning and ice-cubes. :)  We both experienced frustrating breakdowns with both garmins and next time I will use my phone instead.  We also brought an iPad for my daughter's blogging, which when we had service (spotty in the mountains) was great for google maps in satellite mode, to find stealth camping stops up ahead.  Most other cyclists used Warm Showers frequently, but we found that it went against our slow rambling style of travel.  We didn't like to have to rush. 

The other strong surprise for me was how generous the churches in the South East are, and how numerous.  We were never turned down, often fed, and met wonderful people, by using the generous spirit of the church members. 

As has been mentioned, not every day is wonderful, but we did not experience a single day where we had quitting even cross our mind.  There is such beauty that the suffering in the hills, the sudden afternoon lightning storms, flat tires and heat - simply made it an adventure which we now treasure more FOR the fact that it was tough.  You will find your own rhythm over the first two weeks or so.  That first bit can be the toughest.  Be kind to yourself with rest days or half days - and the adventure, the beauty, the freedom - it will keep you going.  As will the constant comment from people you meet saying - wow, I which I can do what you are doing one day.

A last detail to mention is - buy good strong wheels and bring a few extra spokes.  The only person we met along the way who had to quit was one who's wheels broke several spokes on the freewheel side, turned the wheel too wobbly to ride and there was nobody with a chain whip to get his bike back in shape for several days ride. 

I think planning is half the fun.  The interactive route map here sure serves to get my cycling appetite up.  Good luck.

Offline jamawani

Re: Tips for Cross Country Ride 2019
« Reply #4 on: January 29, 2018, 08:29:46 pm »
JW -

Myself - I did my first X-USA when I was 31. I had week-long trips in France the two summers before. But that was pension-to-pension just a single pack strapped on the back rack. Prior to my X-USA, I did two or three long weekend rides with all my gear. When I first got on the loaded bike, I wobbled insanely, but I soon learned how to ride under weight.

The Trip - You will be fine with 90 days. And having some leeway with make for a more laid-back ride. Unless you are planning on starting in the Carolinas, I still think April may be early. That would mean April in the East, May in the Plains, June in the West. If you are planning on starting in the Northeast and riding the Northern Tier, it will be chilly and wet. Have you seen "The Wizard of Oz"? May is the stormiest month in the Great Plains - BIG storms - and Dorothy barely made it back to Kansas, you know. (Not to mention that I did grad work in Kansas and have raced many a storm.) And the Rockies in June are still melting out from winter. In 30 years in Wyoming, I have X-C skied on fresh June snow dozens of times - almost every year. I would suggest May 1.

Navigation - I have no idea how I was able to ride across the U.S. a half dozen times in the late 1980s and early 1990s without GPS or a Garmin. It must have been my powerful clairvoyant mind - - that or old-fashioned paper maps. Remember - - GoogleMaps is NOT your friend. Or, at least, not always - - especially in the West. Apps are only as good as their algorithms and their info - - and their info on remote roads in the West had many errors. Roads that don't exist, private roads, roads to nowhere. RidewithGPS has various layer choices - included USGS mapping. (Sometimes dated) If using a back road, always verify on USGS. Town libraries across the U.S. all have internet access - almost always free for an hour or two. (Plus the libraries are usually air-conditioned.)

Food & Drink - Really not a big worry. Especially if you do not have any major dietary restrictions. I am a historian of rural communities. The sad fact is that many small towns are, increasingly, in a "food desert" - i.e. there is no longer a grocery store, just a Quick Mart. (Quick Marts mostly have Coca-Cola, potato chips, hot dogs, beer, & cigarettes.) Towns with more than 1000 will usually have a small grocery - towns under 500, most likely not.  Selection will be limited and prices higher, but please do not complain - they barely survive as it is. I you follow a more northerly tack, you will never be more than 30 or 40 miles between supplies - esp. water. I have consistently made the mistake of carrying too much food. Never came close to starving - even in the Yukon. There are a couple of places in eastern Idaho and eastern Oregon where you might carry a little extra water - but still, 40 miles max.

Mental Health - You will be fine. Actually at 4 weeks you will probably be a pro cyclist and seriously into the trip. The Great Plains can be challenging with day after day of similar scenery and possible headwinds. In fact, wind will probably be your greatest concern. Westbound, you should always start as early as possible - since wind tend to be westerly and are strongest in the afternoon. YOU CAN NEVER BEAT THE WIND. The wind will always beat you. If it is a crazy headwind day - just take the day or afternoon off. Even if that means sitting under a tree in a nearly abandoned town and reading a book. (I always have one paperback.) Physical and mental exhaustion are dangerous - if you are hungry, cold, angry, worn-down - stop. Rest, eat something, visit the Corn Palace.

Laundry - Most small towns have coin-operated laundrymats - quarters - about $2.50 each for wash and dry. I always carry extra quarters. Warmshowers is an excellent resource, almost always nice folks - but you may get a late start the next day. If I stay in a motel, I always wash out clothes first thing, squeeze, then hang to dry. Then again - people never get very close to me after I have been on the road for a few weeks.

Offline Westinghouse

Re: Tips for Cross Country Ride 2019
« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2018, 04:37:34 pm »
maps - showers -  food and drink at stores and restaurants -strength is your concern. Warm showers.

Offline RyeToast

Re: Tips for Cross Country Ride 2019
« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2018, 05:28:19 pm »
I have often wondered how people handle money and its security. With ATM's widespread, just carry enough cash as necessary? Stash a few twenties and a credit card in a deep recess of a pannier?
In a time long ago, I stashed a wad of traveler's checks and cashed just what I thought I'd need. I recall always having it in the back of my mind the possibility of theft or loss.
What are current strategies?

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Tips for Cross Country Ride 2019
« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2018, 05:40:51 pm »
Interesting question.  I like to have enough money that if I run into a typically priced B&B, hostel, campground, etc. that doesn't take credit cards, I can pay for that.  On the upper side, I try to limit the cash I carry to an amount that I can lose with no more than an hour or two of blaming, grumbling, etc.

I prefer to pay an ATM access fee at a bank rather than risk a skimmer at another location.  (Yes, I know, I saw the new article this week that the crooks are putting skimmers on bank ATMs.  It's still news, though, and it isn't on gas stations, etc.)  That said, I'll usually take out enough that the fee is a small percentage of what I get.  Savings and loans have lower fees than commercial banks, IME.

I've found it's useful to carry a few checks, too.

Offline Pavel

Re: Tips for Cross Country Ride 2019
« Reply #8 on: February 01, 2018, 06:40:00 am »
I have often wondered how people handle money and its security. With ATM's widespread, just carry enough cash as necessary? Stash a few twenties and a credit card in a deep recess of a pannier?
In a time long ago, I stashed a wad of traveler's checks and cashed just what I thought I'd need. I recall always having it in the back of my mind the possibility of theft or loss.
What are current strategies?

The way I look and smell a few days into a long tour - I think people are more inclined to throw my spare change than rob me.  :D

But seriously I've only had one day ever where I was thinking "maybe this is one of those places where smarter people than I wouldn't stay".  It was on what would be called the wrong side of town somewhere in Louisiana where due to extreme thunderstorm activity I stayed in a small park right in the projects.  Nothing happened so I don't know if nervousness was a stereotype and not really justifiable or if luck was involved. 

I like to carry cash just in case of that ATM or credit card won't work.  I carry about sixty bucks in the wallet that hangs around my neck and two twenties a few fives and ones (for vending machines esp) in two spots in my bags.

The thing I worry about is drunks on the road, especially in rural parts of the country near smaller out of the way towns.  I'm generally kind of a non worrier.  If it happens it happens but I don't want to ruin my adventures by worry, seeing things that probably aren't there.  But after being offered beer ( much appreciated) and other booze by friendly but badly drunk guys, who I saw driving up to where I was, so many times - I've decided that when practical I will try to make Fridays and maybe Saturdays, early days off the bike. 

Offline jamawani

Re: Tips for Cross Country Ride 2019
« Reply #9 on: February 01, 2018, 08:34:41 am »
I've toured for 30 years.
While drunk driving used to be -  and still is - a serious problem,
Texting/talking while driving has now eclipsed it.

Merritt Levitan was killed by a young man texting in rural Arkansas.
http://www.merrittsway.org/our-mission/merritt/

Of course, anyone driving anywhere can be texting or talking.
So, it boils down to how much traffic there is and how likely people will be texting.
Shoulders are great if drivers are paying attention, but offer little help against texters.

I have not been able to completely process my thoughts on this issue - -
but it makes bicycle touring inherently more dangerous than it was 25 years ago.
I have toured thru Yosemite many times. There's a big climb out of El Portal.
I realized the change a few years ago with my ears.
25 years ago people drove more slowly and seemed unruffled about encountering a cyclist.
Now, they are pushing their motors and gun the engine in aggravation to get around me.

Of course, there are certain times that are riskier with drunk/impaired drivers.
Although I love summer evening driving, I avoid Friday and Saturday evenings.
Also, beach/lake/reservoir recreation tends to encourage drinking,
so I avoid these areas when possible - esp. on holiday weekends.

There is a risk in cycle touring - it can be reduced -
but it will never be zero.

Offline John Nelson

Re: Tips for Cross Country Ride 2019
« Reply #10 on: February 01, 2018, 11:09:05 am »
I try to use credit cards as often as possible to reduce my need for cash. Nevertheless, there are several reasons you need cash:
  • Depending on where you tour, it may be either easy or hard to find ATMs. If you spend all your time on small roads through tiny towns, it may be many days before you see an ATM. Even if ATMs are available, you may not want to use your time finding them.
  • Not every business takes credit cards. Even some places that take them impose a surcharge for using them for small purchases.
  • Many campgrounds operate off a cash-in-the-envelop system.
So I try to carry as much cash as I need. It may not be as much as you think.

Most people you meet assume that you are poor, so they won't think you have much cash. This is not true, however, in third-world countries where every foreigner looks rich.


Offline hikerjer

Re: Tips for Cross Country Ride 2019
« Reply #11 on: February 07, 2018, 08:16:28 pm »
Just a word of caution. Beware when crossing the deserts of Utah and especially Nevada in the summer.  It is hot, dry and a long distance between resting spots with virtually no shade.  Start riding early in the morning, before dawn and find a place to wait out the midday heat (not always easy to do) and then when it cools down, ride into the night. And realize that you'll have to carry a significant amount of water, way more than normal, which adds a lot to the weight of your gear. Also, Nevada and Utah are not flat by any stretch of the imagination. There is a tremendous amount of elevation loss and gain. It's constant up and down.  Usually not particularly steep, but relentless. It can be done, but unless you plan well, it can be very difficult, even dangerous, due to the heat.  On the up side, I love camping in the desert.