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Frequently asked questions about the ride

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  • How far was it and how long did it take?
  • How many miles did you ride each day?
  • How did you choose your route?
  • Did you take the trip by yourself?
  • What kind of bike do you have, and what did you carry on it?
  • Where did you stay at night?
  • What did you eat?
  • How much did all this cost?
  • What do you do when it rains?
  • What sorts of roads did you ride on?
  • How did motorists treat you?
  • Were the mountains hard?
  • Why did you ride east to west?
  • By riding east to west weren't you riding into the prevailing winds?
  • How did you and the bike get home from the west coast?
  • Did you worry about crime?
  • What was your longest day?
  • And your shortest?
  • What was your average speed?
  • (Don't miss the FAQ II page - Tips for first-time tourers!)


    How far was it and how long did it take?

    4,321 miles in 64 days (59 on the bike). I originally planned to take a rest day every week or 10 days but after the first one at the Virginia/Kentucky border I realized I didn't really need -- or even want -- them. The next time I got off the bike was in Jackson, Wyoming, where I rented a car and drove around Yellowstone National Park for four days.

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    How many miles did you ride each day?

    A hair under 75. (4321/59 = 73+ miles/day.) When I was planning the trip I figured to ride about that much -- it's a respectable distance that's easy to make once you're in decent shape, but which leaves lots of time for visiting, touristing or just wasting time. Of course overnight spots aren't always 75 miles apart, plus on some days you just feel like riding more or riding less, so it was the rare day when I actually rode 75 miles. Generally, I was comfortable between about 65 and 100 miles.

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    How did you choose your route?

    I wanted to ride ocean-to-ocean and decided to start at Bethany Beach, Delaware, because it's about as close as the Atlantic gets to my home in Washington, DC. Originally I intended to ride to San Francisco -- I really liked the idea of finishing in the shadow of the Golden Gate -- but getting to northern California meant crossing hundreds of miles of literally empty land in Nevada and I wasn't sure how much fun that would be. Robert Beckman (who made my panniers) suggested that I would enjoy riding to the ocean near Portland and so that's what I decided to do. The middle part was easy -- I just followed Adventure Cycling's Transamerica Trail, which runs right through the heart of the continent. (Adventure Cycling has also mapped northern and southern routes but the middle route made the most sense given the time of year I'd be riding.) Steven Ciccarelli, an avid cyclist in the DC area and an extremely helpful fellow, suggested routes from Bethany to the Transamerica Trail near Charlottesville, Virginia. (Check out Steve's cycling site at Bob Beckman got me from Jackson, Wyoming, to Portland.

    The Adventure Cycling maps are great but they cover only about 5 miles on either side of the route. As part of some deal with the U.S. Department of Transportation, every state in the U.S. offers free state highway maps; those were useful for helping me figure where I was in the state, as well as for occasional off-route excursions. Tourist centers and Chambers of Commerce usually had them, but stores and hotels sometimes stocked them as well. It paid to ask, because they weren't always on display.

    Although for most of the trip I was following predetermined routes, I did improvise from time to time and was generally successful at it. If (when!) I do this again I might take a more ad hoc approach -- it's not as hard as it seems.

    For a map and more detailed information about the route, see the Route page.

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    Did you take the trip by yourself?

    Yes, due partly to a short lead time and partly to my own temperament. It is common to advertise in cycling magazines or on the internet for long-distance riding companions, but usually several months in advance. I didn't know for sure that I could go on my April trip until February and by the time I got to looking, potential partners either weren't able to clear their schedules or had already made incompatible plans. (My mid-April departure date was unmovable as well as a little early to set out.) As it happens, however, I usually travel by myself and so when no partner emerged I was quite content to go forward. And then -- almost predictably -- 10 or so days into the trip I met up with another cross-country cyclist, Rob, and we rode together for almost three weeks (from Kentucky through Colorado). Finally, toward the end of the trip I rode for a few days with an English couple, John & Gloria, who'd been riding on their tandem for a year. There are advantages to both solo and accompanied riding, and I was lucky to find a good mix.

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    What kind of bike do you have, and what did you carry on it?

    I rode a made-for-touring bike manufactured by Bruce Gordon in Petaluma, California. Broadly, I carried with me a couple changes of on-bike and off-bike clothes, camping equipment (e.g. tent, sleeping bag, stove, toothbrush), some tools and spare parts, and a few non-essentials like a camera and a book. The loaded bike weighed 97 pounds the day I left Washington, DC. I whittled that down a bit over time.

    Take a look at my equipment and packing list for an exhaustive answer and some observations.

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    Where did you stay at night?

    Hotels about 2/3 of the time. The remainder, I slept in campsites, city parks, hostels or on someone's living room floor. Indeed there are dozens, even scores of people along the Transamerica Trail who have made second careers out of feeding and sheltering touring cyclists. Some are listed in cycling books or on the Adventure Cycling maps themselves; you might also learn of them from riders you meet along the way. But you may meet up with them even if you're not looking -- some of these folks are so aggressively generous that more than once I was approached by people who offered to put me up for the night if I didn't already have a place to go.

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    What did you eat?

    I ate in a lot of restaurants, diners mostly. Some days I bought ingredients in the morning and constructed lunch out of them later. Between meals I stopped at convenience or grocery stores.

    It took a week or so to realize that at a tourer's long, steady and low-intensity pace, I didn't need to confine myself to the high-carb, low-fat items that cyclists claim to prefer when riding hard and fast on their road bikes. After that blessed revelation, I ate whatever I wanted and indeed for several days in Kentucky subsisted nicely on milk and moon pies.

    I always had something with me on the bike, if only an emergency Snickers bar wedged between the tent and sleeping bag. Fig Newtons and their spinoffs (Strawberry Newtons, Raspberry Newtons, etc.), bananas and apples were favorite between-town fuels. I always had three or four packages of Ramen noodles or Lipton "Pasta & Noodle" side dishes to boil up on those nights I was camping some distance from a place to eat.

    You eat a lot when you're bike touring and it was not uncommon for Rob & me to go into a restaurant, order something like their "Hungry Mother" dinner and then follow it up with another entrée and then dessert. The need to keep ourselves fueled meant that when we were stocking up on food we would reject certain otherwise appealing items on the ground that they contained too few calories. It was an amusing (and welcome!) inversion of normal dietetic habits.

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    How much did all this cost?

    I kept track! As for lodging -- in 64 days on the road (including four nights in and around Jackson, Wyoming, when I was touring Yellowstone National Park by car), I spent 36 nights in hotels, for a total of $1522. That works out to an average hotel bill of about $42.25. I spent ten nights at paid campsites or in hostels and paid $93 total for those. (Cheaper!) The remaining 18 nights, I slept for free in city parks, folks' basements and in various other places that presented themselves. The total may sound a bit pricey but I wasn't making any serious effort to contain costs, and a person could reduce lodging expenses dramatically from mine. After all, there are very few nights when you really need to stay in a hotel.

    I spent about $1800 on food. You are hungry all of the time, always, and I tried to keep at least two or three things to eat in my pocket or somewhere on the bike. Indeed I spent a lot of time in grocery and convenience stores looking for high-calorie, portable stuff. Occasionally I would buy raw materials and prepare something later, but for the most part actual meals were in restaurants. You could probably do better than $1800 by shading further toward groceries instead of restaurants (and by cutting out two or three pretty fancy meals Rob and I took). It is hard, though, to eliminate restaurants altogether. There's not always a grocery store handy when it's time for lunch, and though you can eat more cheaply by buying materials for two or three meals in advance, that can be a pain. Grocery store food is bulky, and when you're already loaded down with luggage you're not eager, or sometimes really able, to carry a full day's or more worth of food.

    Otherwise. I spent maybe $60 on ferry tolls, laundry, showers and incidental items like chapstick, advil and sunscreen. In the course of the trip I mailed home several packages containing things like exposed film, stuff I found didn't need, or had purchased and didn't want to carry -- that totalled about $90. Other expenses: $150 on bike maintenance and parts, and cold weather clothing I didn't pack but wound up needing. Film, $75. Admission to museums and other tourist attractions, $30. Postcards, gifts, souvenirs were $200 -- which could be zero if you wanted it to be.

    I paid for things with a combination of cash, credit cards and traveller's checks. There were many ATMs along the route and a few times instead of cashing a traveller's check I would replenish my cash from them. They were certainly handy, but there was no telling in advance where they might be, and I would advise against relying on them as your source of spending money.

    Finally. Watch your phone bill! I charged a lot of calls back home and wound up paying about $500 for the privilege. But I didn't have to pay that 'til I got back.

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    What do you do when it rains?

    Well, first -- there were probably only four or five days when it rained hard for more than an hour. But to answer the question, you keep riding. It may sound unpleasant, but riding in the rain isn't bad at all. Oh, it can be a bother, stopping to put on a rain jacket and cover up the panniers, keeping your eyeglasses clear -- but getting and being wet really isn't a problem or even that uncomfortable so long as you're warm. In fact keeping a comfortable temperature is probably the most exasperating part of rain riding. Uphill and working, you get hot and unzip your jacket. But you have to zip it up quick on the downhill or chill in a hurry. It was no problem in flat country, but in rolling terrain zipping and unzipping every couple hundred yards got old pretty fast.

    It snowed for a couple of hours one day in Colorado but Rob and I were dressed quite warmly and I actually preferred it to rain.

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    What sorts of roads did you ride on?

    Secondary roads, i.e., those less traveled by cars. In one or two places in the east the only available or sensible routing involved a few miles on an unpleasant busy divided highway. Those instances were rare, however, and were more an esthetic offense than a safety problem. (They usually had pretty good shoulders.) In the west one's route choices are limited -- there might literally be only three or four ways across a state -- and I spent a lot of time on U.S. highways like Routes 20 and 26 in Idaho and Oregon. I even had to ride about 15 miles on I-80 in Wyoming. But even those roads were not too cluttered with cars and on the occasions when they did get a little congested, there was almost always a decent shoulder to retreat to.

    I think that some of the roads are more crowded toward mid-summer (especially in the east) and so others riding this route may report a bit more concern about traffic.

    Every few days I encountered an uncomfortably bumpy stretch of road but generally road surfaces throughout the U.S. were good, certainly better than what I'm used to cycling around DC.

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    How did motorists treat you?

    Almost unfailingly with patience and respect. I figure I was passed by tens of thousands of cars, and yet I can probably still count the overtly hostile acts on my fingers and toes. (Oddly, most of the unpleasant encounters were concentrated in a 20 mile stretch either side of Farmington, Missouri.) I think drivers regard a loaded touring bike more like a slow vehicle -- a skinny, useless tractor perhaps -- than as a bicycle. The K states, Kentucky and Kansas, were the most pleasant. In Kentucky the drivers would drive behind me at a respectful remove up endless switchbacks, waiting at 4-5 mph until it was unambiguously clear to pass. Kansans overtaking Rob and me on their wide open straightaways would move clear over to the oncoming lane even when we were only 6 inches off the shoulder line on the right.

    If I could see well up the road, I'd let the cars behind me know when it was clear to pass. In any case I tried to acknowledge passing cars with a wave or thumbs-up ("I know I must have held you up and I appreciate your patience"). Drivers in the hurry-up states of Colorado, Wyoming and Oregon passed a lot closer than the Kansans but never dangerously so.

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    Were the mountains hard?

    Yes, but not as bad as you'd expect. You just gear down, slow down and sooner or later you get to the top. The route passed through three ranges -- the Appalachians (about a week), the northern edge of the Ozarks in Missouri (a day -- pfft), and the Rockies (10 days / two weeks). It's hard to draw direct comparisons but the Appalachians really were the hardest, even though their high point on the route -- about 3,700 feet -- was nothing compared to the 7,000 - 11,000 foot elevations of the Rockies. I think it's mostly because of the different way roads are cut through the two ranges. Appalachian roads tend to be twisty, steep, switchbacked things, while the roads in the Rockies are built within certain grade specifications and so present much straighter and more gradual ascents. Indeed you can gain thousands of feet in the Rockies without going near your lowest gears. Also the Appalachians were a lot crueler, in that as soon as you crested a peak you'd often descend back almost to the level at which you'd been an hour earlier. There just wasn't much relief from the climbing.

    The hardest part about the Rocky Mountains was the thin air. Surprisingly, it wasn't hard to keep up a middling pace for hours even at 8,000 - 9,000 feet, but as soon as I asked my legs to do the littlest extra bit -- like get all the way around Rob so a car could pass -- they'd turn straight to rubber, not a bit of strength in them. Of course right about the time I adjusted to the altitude, the mountains ended.

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    Why did you ride east to west?

    I thought it would make a better adventure to be a little deeper into distant territory, a little further from home, every day. By travelling west I would be following history, "discovering" new places in the same order that the early settlers and pioneers did. Also, though I had my destination pretty well decided, I liked the idea of an open endpoint: when you're riding toward home you pretty much know where you have to end up, but until I made my plane reservations out of Portland I could finish wherever I wanted. Then finally, and perhaps most importantly, when I rode from Boston to DC in 1995, I found myself unpleasantly impatient to finish in the last couple of days as I began riding through familiar home territory. I wanted this adventure to continue to the very last minute.

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    By riding east to west weren't you riding into the prevailing winds?

    No. This was a real-life FAQ, although it was usually delivered as an SPOF (Statement of Patently Obvious Fact). In the middle of the country, most of the wind comes from the south and benefits neither the eastbounder nor the westbounder. Toward the coasts the wind does tend to come more from a westerly direction but it seemed silly to change the entire direction of the trip to make easier riding out of three or four windy days I could expect to encounter in the 8-10 days I'd actually be near the coasts. I can now report from experience that the wind was distinctly hostile perhaps 25% of the time, beneficial 15-20% and not much of a factor the rest. (Even then some of the worst days were in Colorado, when I was headed north, not west.) I wouldn't hesitate to ride the route east to west again.

    This prevailing winds perception is so well entrenched that after a while I stopped trying to contradict it and simply told people that riding east to west was the manly way and that anyone who rode eastbound was really sort of cheating.

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    How did you and the bike get home from the west coast?

    I flew, using the front half of a round-trip Portland-to-DC ticket that I'd purchased by telephone somewhere in Wyoming. (I still have the return half lying around somewhere.)

    As for the bike – I didn't feel like boxing it up, schlepping it to the airport, paying a fat supplemental luggage fee, and then having to reverse the entire clumsy process at the other end, so it travelled separately. I'd had a couple of days to kill in Portland, and without much trouble I was able to find a bike shop that, for a small fee, would pack the bike up securely in a standard cardboard bike box and then place a call to FedEx. On the morning of my flight home, I delivered the bike to the store and handed over $25 for the packing plus a FedEx label addressed to me care of my local bike store back home (this by pre-arrangement). Shipping (using FedEx slowest option) was something like $100. I had to get a FedEx account so the bike store could hand off the bike without my being there, but that was trivial. The bike arrived back east a few days later, safe & sound.

    My luggage was a bigger challenge. On a bike, the weight of the four panniers and handlebar bag is nicely distributed, and all they reliably travel in the same direction. Once separated from their racks, however, they're unwieldy and each one tends to take on a mind of its own. Add a tent, sleeping bag and helmet to this already unmanageable pile, and you've got a substantial logistical challenge. I spent the better part of one morning wandering Portland alleys until I found a cardboard box large and strong enough to hold the 60 or 70 pounds of stuff I'd hauled with me to Oregon. Once I had it loaded, I mummified the thing with a roll of packing tape and sent it through as my checked luggage.

    P.S: I'd heard that it was illegal to transport camp stove liquid gas canisters by commercial air once they'd been used, even totally empty and even stowed in checked luggage. Something about mere fumes posing a danger. I "solved" this problem by rinsing my canister repeatedly and then filling it with water -- no room for fumes any more! This defeated whatever mechanism they were using in 1997 for detecting flammable cargo, and my contraband made it home no problem. I am guessing, though, that things would not be so easy in the post-9/11 era, and if confronted with the same dilemma today I would probably just donate the canister to a camping goods store.

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    Did you worry about crime?

    No. I locked my bike during the day fewer than 10 times, those being in larger towns (e.g. Pueblo, Portland) or when I was going to be well away from it for more than half an hour or so (e.g. at Natural Bridge or some other tourist spot). When I was in restaurants or grocery stores I just didn't bother, figuring that a grimy, lived-on touring bike isn't something anyone would want to touch, let alone steal. Also at close to 100 pounds it's not like someone can just hop on it and ride away.

    When I slept outdoors I'd lock it so that if I heard a noise during the middle of the night I wouldn't wonder if someone was trying to walk off with it.

    More generally, I didn't encounter any scary or threatening people other than the occasional grumpy motorist. I did discover late one Saturday night in the Springfield (Ky.) city park that the remote corner in which I'd pitched my tent was next to the parking lot where local kids went in order to drink, smoke and play music on weekends. A couple of times their headlights came to rest on the outside of my tent and I got a little nervous but I later decided that they were just curious about the kind of person who'd spend a chilly and wet night in a tent. In Hartville, Missouri, Rob and I camped on the courthouse lawn; in the morning he reported that teenagers hanging around at the convenience store next door had kept him awake during the wee hours with loud and nasty comments about how much they hated cyclists and what they'd like to do to them, but I slept through it all so I don't count it.

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    What was your longest day?

    120 miles, Rawlins to the outskirts of Lander, Wyoming. Tailwinds, a loss in elevation and moderate temperatures all helped. I felt great at the end of the day and could have ridden more.

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    And your shortest?

    13.9 miles, the outskirts of Lander to Lander, Wyoming. I'd met several nice people at the campsite and got a late start, I was falling ahead of schedule again, and Lander was too charming to blow through. I was not too worn out by the previous day's ride!

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    What was your average speed?

    Eleven or twelve miles per hour (on the bike). Any day with an average speed over 13 was good and meant I'd probably picked up a tailwind. The worst day was 8.7 and the best, 14.9.

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    Got a Q? E-mail it to me, and if it's FA, I'll add it! My e-mail address is

    In the interest of decorum, I am declining to answer certain popular FAQs. These include:
    "Didn't your butt hurt?"
    "Did you, um, meet any women?"
    Also, certain other FAQs have not properly been phrased as questions:
    "You've got to be crazy."


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    FAQs updated January 10, 2006