US tour reflections

US tour reflections

posted in: Bicycle Touring | 18

Well I finally got around to rounding up some stats from the trip.  I tried to go through my notes and blog posts to pick out things that might be interesting or maybe even useful for anyone thinking about a bike tour.

 

 What I learned?

The trip was an incredible time and I learned a lot about the country and the generosity of the people who live here.  I did my best to track daily acts of kindness, which totaled 257!  While news reports about all the bad people and dangerous places, its nice to see that reality contradicts this.  I could count the negative experiences on one hand… maybe even 2 fingers.  Nothing very negative even stands out in my mind.

Some of the things I learned from experiences on the road:

  • Simplicity is bliss.  Living with all my belongings on a bike was a great feeling.  Even in preparing for the trip, it felt great getting rid of all the things I’ve accumulated over the years.  It’s amazing how cluttered our lives can get with ‘stuff’, and how unimportant most of it is.
  • How to camp just about anywhere.  Stealth camping is essential for keeping touring costs down.  It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it.  Soon you’ll start seeing camping spots everywhere you look!
  • Mental sanity in times of solitude.  I’d argue the biggest challenge in solo touring might just be mental factor.  You need to be ok with being on your own for long periods of time… camping by yourself in the woods, riding alone for 8 or so hours a day, eating dinners by yourself, etc.  If you can’t find joy in doing these things alone, I’d consider bringing a friend.  For me, I enjoyed the time alone.  It also made the time with company that much more special.
  • Communication (mostly with strangers).  If you’re touring solo and want to have a chat, you get pretty good at striking up conversations.
  • Patience/adaptability.  Things go wrong whether it’s flat tires (I only had 7 during the entire length of the trip), missed turns, nowhere to camp, grocery stores are closed, bad weather, and on and on.  Often plans change on the fly.  In fact, I prefer to plan as little as my day as possible so that these challenges don’t disrupt a schedule that I needed to follow.  The days I lined up host stays in advance and had to cover big distances usually were the riding days that I found least enjoyable.
  • Long term travel is cheap.  Most people view vacation and travel as expensive… that really only seems to hold true because most people are cramming an action packed vacation into one week.  Given the flexibility that comes with having more time, you’ll find it is easy to find much cheaper alternatives to conventional tourism.

 

How Far?

My trip started in central United States in Virginia and then North Carolina.  I ended up connecting with the Northern Tier in Minnesota and for the most part followed that route to the coast.  In the end I recorded a total of 5480 miles.  Plenty of those miles were spent tooling around different cities, exploring side routes, and sometimes even borrowing a mountain bike to hit up local trails. I definitely did not take the most straight-line route across the US.  If you follow the routes established by the Advenutre Cycling Association you can expect the following mileage:

Northern Tier – 4264 miles – Anacortes, WA to Bar Harbor, ME
Southern Tier – 3070 miles – Sand Diego, CA to St. Augustine, FL
TransAmerica Trail – 4230 miles – Astoria, OR to Yorktown, VA

 

How Long?

Total Duration:  110 days
Riding Days:  78
Rest days/days at family:  32

If you factor in the “How Far” and actual riding days, my riding average was 70 miles/day.

 

Where’d I sleep?

Days sleeping in a tent: 62
Host stays:  45    (23 which were with Parents & Grandparents)

Days I paid for lodging/camping: 21
Days of stealth camping: 11
Days of free camping:  32    (Either people who let me camp for free, town parks with free camping, shutdown/closed campgrounds.  Also includes 6 days where my dad picked up camping fees.)

 

Gear Talk

Most unused piece of gear (not sent home).

  1. Rain pants – It was just too damn hot to be biking and wearing rain pants.  I wore these a couple times around camp when the bugs were bad.
  2. Compression pants – I kept a pair of warmer leggings in case it got cold.  It never did get very cold, and when it was a little chilly I didn’t feel like taking them on and off.  They make leg warmers that you can put on your legs individually which I’d probably consider for next time.
  3. Rain coat – I had a nice biking rain coat that I really like, but I rarely got to use it.  I found it too warm to use this summer.  Even when it did rain, I preferred to get soaked from rain rather than sweat.  There were a handful of times I enjoyed having it, but I bet if I hadn’t packed it I would have faired ok.

Gear sent home.

  1. Shoes/sandals – I had spd shoes and spd sandals, when packing both of these it was on the heavy side.  I ended up sending the shoes home and using the sandals for 2/3 of the trip, switching back to spd shoes out west when my dad visited me.  The sandals were starting to irritate my feet.
  2. Computer cord – I had a longer cord that I quickly realized I didn’t need.
  3. Chair – The chair was cool to have, but a luxury item for sure.  I ended up leaving it at my folks place in Minnesota.  My dad brought it along in the car so I got to enjoy it in Western North Dakota and Montana.
  4. Cooking pan – I enjoyed using this, but didn’t find I needed it much.  I did use it a lot when my dad joined me for a couple weeks.  Maybe I’d consider keeping if I was cooking for more than one.
  5. Tripod – I ended up sending my small Gorillapod (flexible tripod) home in Montana.  I found I rarely used it, and the times I did I could probably improvise something.

Gear I replaced.

  1. Tent – I thought the half dome was a bit big for just me.  A little on the bulky and heavy side for solo touring.  I’d suggest the quarter dome if you were looking at an REI tent.  I do love my Henry Shires Contrail tarptent that I went with.  Super quick to set up, provided you had ground that you could whack stakes into… else your spending a little time getting clever with tie downs.
  2. Jet Boil – It turned out to be faulty gas canister, but REI replaced it anyways since my regulator wasn’t working great.
  3. Sleeping bag – The synthetic bags don’t compress down nearly as well as down bags.  I ended up going to a lighter weight cooler temp sleeping bag.  If you’re touring in the summer I suggest getting nothing warmer than a 45 F down sleeping bag.  The nights it’s cold just sleep in warmer clothes.  Maybe go warmer if you’re a really cold sleeper, but most nights I slept half covered by my bag.
  4. Tires – tread wears… not much you can do about it.  I’d love to try Shwalbe Marathons since I’ve heard good things, but I never did find any.  The Continental Touring Plus tires that I put on for the 2nd leg of the trip are holding up well.
  5. Grip tape – I don’t much like wearing gloves when I do road riding, but found I was loosing feeling in my hands by the time I got to Minnesota.  My handlebar tape was in rough shape so I replaced it and doubled it up for more cushion.  That was pretty much the end of my hand numbness.
  6. Shifter cable – I had one finally go in Idaho.  I used that rear derailleur plenty.
  7. Chain – I swapped mine out in Minnesota to keep a healthy drivetrain.

Gear I’d like to replace.

  1. Jet boil – On the bulky side.  Works great, but I’d like to try a alcohol burner.  Very compact and you can find fuel anywhere.
  2. Towel – I had a full size (large?) REI MultiTowel that is some sort of high absorbancy synthetic material.  It doesn’t feel as nice as a cotton towel but it works pretty good.  Anyways, I’d just get one of the smaller ones.  It’s nice to have a full size towel, but not when you’re trying to reduce bulkiness in your panniers.
  3. Maintenance tools-  I’d like to modify or swap out some tools.  I had a bike multi tool and a Leatherman (for pliers) which had a lot of overlapping tools.  They are pretty heavy too when comparing to the rest of the gear.  Definitely could plan better in this department.
  4. Laptop – I love my 13″ macbook pro, but for touring I’d consider swapping it for an 11″ or maybe even a nice tablet with a keyboard.

Most used gear/Gear I wouldn’t want to be without.

  1. Coffee filter – I’m a coffee fiend.  I feel ready to take on the day after my morning coffee and my Ortlieb filter took up almost no room.  I love how it packs flat.  For a long tour I wouldn’t go without it!
  2. Brooks Saddle – Obviously this got used a lot.  Most people gasp when the feel how hard this seat is to the touch, but it has a comfy form once it breaks in.
  3. Waterproof panniers – I am convinced these were worth paying extra for.  Just the comfort of being able to keep riding without having to mess with them when the rain starts alone is worth it, but you can also leave them on your bike at night without worrying about your things being soaked.

 

Expenses

There’s plenty of expenses I could find regarding accumulating gear and a touring bike, but that’s all up to how much you want to spend.  Touring itself is pretty cheap!  I think I spent a bit more in the first half of my trip because I tended to eat out and pay for camping more often.  I thought I lived on the comfy side too.  I could definitely have lived cheaper…. less eating out, less beer, etc.

Excluding airfare and gear upgrades during the trip:  $3,180
Averaged price per day: $28.91

Favorite Pics

I figured I’d close this post with some of my favorite scenic pictures from the trip.  Lots to choose from.

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Atlantic Ocean… Outer banks of North Carolina.
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Exiting Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge at sunset.

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Frosty morning on Mt. Mitchel
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Lots of stunning views on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Still probably one of the most random acts of kindness I’ve ever had…
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Levee close to the Mississippi River in Illinois.
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Great River Trail north of Lacrosse, Wisconsin.
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Biking the Maah Daah Hey Trail with my dad near Medora, North Dakota.

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Glacier National Park – Biking Logan Pass
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Lake Koocanusa in NW Montana.
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Logan Pass
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Jarle enjoying the down hill section of ‘Going to the Sun Road’.
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Avalanche Lake – Glacier N.P.
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Lake McDonald – Glacier N.P.

 

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Mountain biking the burned forests near Winthrop, Washington.
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Washington Pass – riding through the Cascades.

What’s next?

Well, for now stay tuned for a ride report on a trip to the Pacific Coast with Krista and Dennis.  We’re leaving this Friday (8/5) on a 3-4 day tour to ride the Olympic Peninsula.  I’m currently working on some projects remote and seeing where things go from there.  Enjoying my time with Krista and Dennis.  Eating my fill of blackberries since they grow thicker than oatmeal out here.  Blackberry jam, blackberry cobbler, blackberry syrup… we’re running out of ideas here.

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Blackberry picking results – round 1
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Trying our hand at making jam. Turns out we’re pretty good! We’ve used less than half the sugar the recipe calls for and doesn’t taste like it’s lacking in sweetness.

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Oh how I’ve missed these faces. Fall is near! Bring on the fall foods and drinks!
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Roosters are terrifying.
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Round 2 of blackberry picking.

 

 

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18 Responses

  1. Keith Short

    Thanks for sharing your adventure with us. I hope that what comes next is as unique and special as you are. I have great confidence that it will be.

  2. Gramma & Grampa K

    Great Job Brad……..a wonderful adventure and now a special time with Krista and Dennis. Enjoy!

  3. Nice work Brad! I’m glad I met you and as you said, the American people are a good people. I have no negative memories, well maybe one…..

    • Thanks Claude! It was a pleasure meeting you too. I’ll never forget the Bunkhouse!

  4. Okay, how can you do the wrap-up report without telling us all about your post-finish line face plant?!? 🙂

    I like your blackberries and jam making. I’ve made strawberry, raspberry and blueberry jam, but not blackberry. Save me some, please!

    Congratulations again on your adventure, and thanks for sharing it with all of us. I hope your ears were burning this evening. Tom J. and I were talking about you over dinner at a local East Hartford restaurant. You were right about him and the root beer! LOL

  5. Pretty awesome man. You did a great job with this blog. Sad that the trip is over since I really enjoyed the updates. Cheers to the next one 🙂

  6. brad martin

    Congrats again man, its so incredible what you accomplished. And i still hope to have a coffee table book someday.

  7. Wonderful summary…Inspiring event..
    My round trip from Suffolk, Va. To Miami…took 10 days to get down..at 16 yrs. one can pedal forever. Total time round was a month and spent $100.00…no camping…just YMCAs, and old style motels …from 75 cents to $1.25, and meals about 2 bucks a day.
    That was 1948, June, and there were four of us.
    I intercepted you on Atlantic Ave., Va. beach, the day you started out.
    Best regards..Parker Cross

    • Glad you followed all the way Parker. Still remember our meeting on Day 1 of riding very well. Thanks for sharing some stats on your trip. Wish I could have made do with $3-4 a day!

  8. Dave Hutchison

    Congratulations Brad. It is an awesome accomplishment. You did a great job with the blog. I really enjoyed following your progress.

  9. Thanks for the ride!! It’s been fun reading. My computer crashed& I needed a new one. Couldn’t wait to get back on to check on you.

    • Hi Grandma! Glad you got the computer issues sorted out! I need to give you a call and catch up! I’ll try giving you a ring tomorrow.

  10. How cool. I love this reflection. What an amazing way to spend 1/4 of a year! What you learned about yourself and the sights you saw are priceless, it’s something you’ll take with you everywhere you go. I love how you talked about the solitude being both a good and challenging experience.
    Those photographs are incredible, i really want to visit Glacier National Park now!
    Enjoy the Pacific Coast for me; i’m sending my love through you!
    ps. i’d still like some blackberry jam please 😉

    • Thanks Christy! Glacier National Park is definitely worth a visit. I’m still waiting for that address and I’ll get some jam in the mail! 🙂 Glad you’ve enjoyed the blog. Hopefully it’ll see some more use in future adventures!

  11. Hi Brad! I am glad we met on your way back to the Midwest. Really enjoying reading your blog, loving all the fun details and the good information.

    I have to say, I am formulating plans for my first tour… thanks for the inspiration! 🙂

    When you’re in Washington, let’s ride!

    • Thanks Lyssa! Great meeting you too. Thanks for the beer 🙂

      Keep me posted on that tour! Definitely would be cool to get a ride in together when I get back out to Washington! I think I should start training so I can keep up…

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