Author Topic: Desert travel  (Read 8078 times)

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Offline Midwest-kid

Desert travel
« on: December 20, 2007, 10:17:47 am »
A friend and I are planning and east-west and back again bike trip and
are considering making the western express trail a part of our rout. Does
anybody have any tips for us. When is the best time to travel as deserts
are hot in the day and cold at night. Is there anything especial we should
do? Extra gear to take? other things to watch out for aside from

any tips are welcomed

Thanks a lot

This message was edited by Midwest-kid on 12-20-07 @ 6:18 AM

Offline roadrunner

Desert travel
« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2007, 12:40:03 am »
Here are some things I've learned from riding in Arizona desert areas:
Take more water than you think you'll need.  Hauling a little more weight beats running out too soon.
Using a Camelback for water is highly recommended -- they hold a lot, make frequent sipping easy, and keep water much cooler longer than any bottle.
Use high SPF sunscreen and re-apply after a few hours.
Take a wide brim hat for off-bike breaks.
Colored synthetic fabrics provide much more sun protection than cotton, especially white cotton which equals about SPF5.
Take some high energy food I take Fig Newtons or peanut butter & bagels, others use energy bars.
Start riding about sunrise (which is early in the summer) to beat the hottest part of the day.  I don't ride at night, except on rare roads with virtually no traffic.
Headsweats or other do-rags keep sweat from running into one's eyes.
Have the tools, parts, and knowledge to fix problems llikely to occur (flats, lost bolts, etc.).
Riding in deserts isn't something to be dreaded; most provide beautiful scenery and relative isolation.  Just be prepared for the conditions

Offline tsteven4

Desert travel
« Reply #2 on: December 22, 2007, 09:14:25 am »
The western express is a great route!  We did it in July a few years ago.  It was hottest in Utah, peaking in Hite at 115 degrees.  Most cyclist we ran into had experienced difficulty with water, despite their previous considerable experience.  I agree with most of roadrunner's suggestions, but we definitely found it advantageous to ride at night.  We would start riding between 3am and 5am when we had a long day and heat was expected, with head and tail lights.  With this strategy we could finish around 11am to 1pm.  Even so, it could be getting quite hot by then.  The traffic in Utah and Nevada is very low before sunrise.  I remember about 1 truck per hour on highway 50, and no cars.  Unfortunately this condition generally does not last after sunrise.  However, on the Milford to Baker section that was about the peak traffic in the morning.  I would also reiterate rr's recommendation to be self sufficient.  Other cyclist told us of needing help and  not being able to get any motorist to stop.  If you can hit a full moon as we did there is a lot of natural light.  On long days when heat was expected we carried between 1.5 to 2.0 GALLONS of water EACH, we never ran out.  This amount of water might not have been sufficient if we didn't get so much of our riding done in the early am.  While we prefer to camp, in Nevada we mostly got rooms.  We found zero water between towns most of the way from Milford, UT across most of Nevada.  So you are pretty much forced to stay in town, rooms are often quite cheap, and AC is nice!  Of course if you are not constrained to ride in July or August you should have an easier time with the heat.  One last warning, rattlesnakes!  We saw a few on the road in Utah, some alive. One buzzed at my wife as she rode by.  Keep your eyes open.  Certainly be careful when you step off the road if there is brush obscuring your view of the ground, or wait for a lonely moment and stay on the road.  We saw one scorpion on the road, dead.
Despite all that, for those that are prepared, this is a beautiful and enjoyable route.  It is one of my favorites.

Offline Midwest-kid

Desert travel
« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2008, 04:15:48 pm »
Thanks bunches

Offline tytrike

Desert travel
« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2008, 05:48:30 am »
The Basin and Range High Desert is awesome.  Going East to West, the slopes up from the basins to the summits of the ranges is somewhat gentler than going down to the next basin WHERAS those descents are why I cycle ... zoom zoom.  Some distances between summits are say 5 miles to 50 miles.  Ascents from say 500 to 3500 feet.  Slopes are like rising out of bathroom basins - gentle to start, steep (maybe 10%) at summit.
     The area is the home of the "Wayward Wind".  It is of a particular factor starting in the afternoon.
I imagine air circulating in large cells so the direction and speed constantly change.  Tailwinds are how things are supposed to be so are not noticed.  The rest of the wind is either a headwind or from the side trying to blow cyclists off the shoulder or into the semi.  Or is it I just ride too long in the sun?
     The wind is dry and very dehydrating.
For 3 reasons I carry up to 20 qts of water 2 and 1/2 or more days supply.
     1. Some legs are over 100 miles between water taps and I travel not more than 50 mi per day.
     2. Its my preference to camp at the top of summits sometimes with a layover and walkabout there.
     3. A water squirt on skin is like a refrigerator.

Perhaps one lower gear, one pace slower.
Desert light weight water wicking clothing and hat.
Summit temperatures get cold at night.
Checkout "Mormon Crickets", Scorpions under tents.
June was great.

Rides West Deserts, Mountains

This message was edited by tytrike on 2-4-08 @ 8:00 AM
Rides West Deserts, Mountains

Offline raybo

Desert travel
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2008, 01:37:36 pm »
This page from provides 2 links to information on the Western Express route.

This page provides 6 links to information about water and bike touring.  Several deal with water in the desert.

I rode the Western Express from San Francisco to Carson City.  I kept a journal of that ride and you can read it here.


Visit the on-line bike touring archive at
Visit the on-line bike touring archive at

Offline njdaniel

Desert travel
« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2008, 09:26:39 pm »
Be ON the road as soon as it is light enough to be safe, get a lot of miles in by about 1pm, then take either take a nice long break or take it easy from the hottest hours of 1-4 or 5pm.  Then go a little more and start all over the next day!

Offline nicholu

Desert travel
« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2008, 09:23:22 pm »
in addition to the excellent advice already given:
*cover the back of your neck with a white bandanna, there are some sensitive nerves here and you don't want them damaged from sun burn.
*i wear a wide brim straw hat while i ride. occasional gusts knock it off but i keep it on with some string looped through each side and around my neck (you know, like a cowboy).
*research the area you are traveling through for monsoon season. for example: new mexico's peaks in july and august. this means flash floods. i experienced one bad dust storm my first night in the arizona desert and it freaked me out because it was unexpected.
*i haven't traveled through the high desert, but that is where the most dramatic temperature extremes are (40-110). in low land deserts it doesn't get as cool at night, maybe 60-70 degrees (for example: pheonix, az)
*i felt like i had more flats because of the heat, but maybe it was just bad luck. if it was the heat, then be prepared: it sucks to change a flat when its 110 degrees and no shade.