Particularly in the northwest, and especially after July 4, make sure you have reservations if you want to stay in a motel on a Friday or Saturday night. This is peak vacation season, and the hotels and motels in small towns are full on weekends. RV parks are too, sometimes, or so we heard. It’s pretty hard to predict a week in advance where you’ll be, but it’s easier in the sparsely populated northwest (parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington) because there aren’t many choices. We avoided special events because of concerns with lodging, for better or worse. Paralleling the dozen extra in the ACA group was sometimes tough, because they sucked up the available rooms a couple of times.
One FAQ I haven’t answered is how much I was carrying. I didn’t really know until I started unpacking. My best guess is 52 pounds, plus the bike and racks, not counting water or extra food (I often carried a couple of apples, oranges, or some cookies, and sometimes a can or two with supper fixings.) Did I need all that STUFF? Well, Virginia seemed rather happy when I put a spare tire on her bike. And she was always ready for me to finish post-processing the pictures so she could get on and blog. I didn’t really need the extra mini-tool, or all those extra brake blocks, or the cone wrenches. And while I didn’t have to have a camera, I did use it. The GPS would be the first thing I’d cut. The maps were good enough.
On the GPS question, I can see that one could come in handy in the east. The Garmin model with the add-on for motels and restaurants might be handy where there’s going to be some close by. Further west, where everything is in town, and it’s too far to ride to the next town, I can’t see GPS being worthwhile. ACA has GPS routes (that don’t, unfortunately, match up with their map panels), but they’re not needed. We missed one critical turn, and there was another that was practically unmarked, but had no other significant problems following the maps’ directions. (I wasn’t looking too hard for some other ‘missed’ turns, and missing them didn’t really cause big problems.) The only two functions I used GPS for was to calculate how many feet we climbed (and that could be done with DeLorme Topo without the GPS) and figuring out how much further I had to climb. Those aren’t really worth the weight and hassle of the GPS, batteries, and charger.
The bar bag with map attachment was great, except that the map attachment had a tendency to flap in the wind at 20 mph. I tried tacking down the front with duck tape, which solved half the problem, and eventually had to cinch the back down by rotating my headlight to hold the back down. Still, it was worth it to have the map easily visible and always available.
Was it worth the trouble to use the Adventure Cycling maps? Yes, absolutely. They were the best source of sensible routing information and services we had. It’d be possible, but much more difficult, to do this trip without the maps. After a while on the road, though, the cyclist can decide whether it’s worthwhile to follow the route when it’s on a backroad more or less parallel to a large road, particularly after he’s had personal experience riding various roads.
I came to the conclusion that you want to stop at a town of 1,000 or more when possible. There are some exceptions, but good grocery stores and a choice of motels and restaurants are more likely where the population is over 1,000. Below that, you may have to settle for what the gas station in town carries for food. If the population is listed at 500, it may be down to 120 by now, and there’s no stores left in town.
Once I found a state map at an information center (in Breckenridge, what can I say, I’m a slow learner), I always wanted to have one. It gives you an overview of where you are, and you can use it to look for alternate routes. Probably won’t find viable alternates out west, but you can always look! Also, if you hear there’s a severe weather warning, you probably won’t have any idea if you should be worried or take cover unless you have a state map. Won’t help in the day when you’re on the road, but could be useful in the evening.
Do stop and talk to as many cyclists as you can, they’re some of the most interesting people out there. If you meet on the road, try to find a driveway or wide spot to pull off. Make sure you ask about the road behind them, they just rode it! Talk to the locals when possible – a morning coffee liars’ club at the local diner, restaurant, or gas station is always instant conversation. Most people were fascinated with what we were doing, and would probe us for more information. The coffee club, though, is where you’ll find out how and what the locals think.
The people out west, at least on the Trans-Am, are pretty well accustomed to touring cyclists. I suspect that’s because of the limited number of places to stop. There’s only one cafe within 40 miles of Jeffrey City, WY, so the waitress there sees every cyclist that goes through. When you’re further east, there’s more diffuse traffic in the restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and gas stations, so they’re generally more surprised to see someone trying to cycle across the country. It always surprised me when a waitress would ask, “Would you like me to fill those bottles up for you?” To make up for it, you might be asked to sign a cyclist log in the east, but we never were (except in motels or hostels) in the west.
Internet access is pretty easy nowadays. Most motels have it, and I think every library in the country has it. You may have to jump through some hoops or pay a token fee at the library. The librarians always seem to want to talk – aren’t they supposed to be quiet in the library?, and were the most reliable source of local information we found. Post offices and gas station attendants are more hit or miss – they may be a new person in town, or desperate enough to take the job.
You’ll see water bladders on my unpacking list. I got these at the last minute, thanks to some guidance from Pete Staehling, to cover some of the long days without closely spaced services. I didn’t understand at the time that this would start in eastern Kansas and get more frequent as we got further west, so I was surprised the first time there was nowhere to fill up a water bottle. East of Kansas, you may have problems, but there’s usually a farmhouse where you can ask for water. West of Kansas, there isn’t. There’s a lot of open space out there. Check your maps before you leave in the morning to make sure you can get fluids down the road!
I really appreciated the bridges, from about mid-Kansas onward, hosting colonies of swallows instead of pigeons. Depending on the location, it might be barn swallows, cave swallows, or violet-green swallows. It always gave me a good feeling watching these birds swooping and diving, keeping the area somewhat clear of the mosquitoes that were always around a creek or river.
A few days after I got home, I got “the other bike” out and went for a ride around town. What a shock! It may be over 25 pounds, but it’s lively, responsive, and twitchy as all get out without any panniers on it. Gusts of wind want to send it all over the road. The real shock, though, is all the stop signs and traffic lights. It’s not hard to get used to 50 miles between traffic control devices. It’s going to take a while to get used to 50 yards between traffic lights and stop signs.
Best buy for equipment? It’d have to be a large plastic bag. We got it in eastern Kansas, probably in Pittsburgh, when we bought large padded envelop to mail Virginia’s book home. The cashier gave us an oversize bag to carry it back to the hotel so it wouldn’t get rained on. Well, the envelope was bigger than it needed to be, but we used that bag for laundry for almost two months. It started to wear out in Montana, but survived until we tossed it while re-packing to come home in Washington. Highly useful, zero cost.