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.
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
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.)
Most unused piece of gear (not sent home).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Computer cord – I had a longer cord that I quickly realized I didn’t need.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jet Boil – It turned out to be faulty gas canister, but REI replaced it anyways since my regulator wasn’t working great.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Shifter cable – I had one finally go in Idaho. I used that rear derailleur plenty.
- Chain – I swapped mine out in Minnesota to keep a healthy drivetrain.
Gear I’d like to replace.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
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
I figured I’d close this post with some of my favorite scenic pictures from the trip. Lots to choose from.
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.