It’s now 4 weeks after we returned from the bike trip and I’ve been urged to write a post reflecting on the trip now that some time has passed. I find myself occasionally (actually often) looking at a map of the US and finding it incredible what we accomplished, self supported, in such a short time. But if I had to do it again, what changes would I make?
1 – The start. Choosing Seattle as a starting point made it impossible to avoid 90 for a significant stretch. It was here that we ran into a number of problems which could have been avoided by moving the starting point north to Anacortes or south to Astoria, Oregon. Either one would have meant flying in earlier that Friday like Justin did and getting to the starting point that night.
2 – The distances should have reflected the difficulty of the riding. When we made our route and the potential stopping points, we of course were limited to where the campsites were but we had decides on roughly 120 miles a day regardless of terrain. We should have shortened this to 100 or less when the riding was tough (i.e. Rockies) and lengthened it to 130 or more when the terrain was flat (i.e western Iowa).
3 – The timeline – If anyone wants to do a cross country bike ride, I would suggest at least 6 weeks instead of the 4 weeks that we blocked off. At times I felt we were racing and we rarely reached our destination early enough to do local sightseeing. For example the Winnebago Factory Visitor’s Center in Forest City, Iowa closed at 4:30 –we missed it by 5 minutes. With a little more time, we would have had flexibility in our schedule and a chance to stop more often, but then again, both Dave and I only had a month of available time and with that restriction, we did very well.
What did we do right?
1 – The gear. Our gear was light, efficient and sturdy. We used everything we took, needed nothing else and all of it was less than 13 pounds. Once I got used to the idea that I would have a one set of biking clothes and one set of camp clothes, everything else fell into place. I think Dave may give a good review of the gear, but the items that impressed me the most on this trip were the Montbell plasma 100 – super warm and only 4.8 ounces, Montbell tachyon anorak – great layer for the morning ride and only 2 ounces, the Katabatic sleeping bag and our Easton 3man tent. Most cross country bike riders seem to have enough gear for a month survival after an apocalypse. We really cut our load by not carrying cooking gear with the correct assumption was that we would find enough places to eat along the way – grocery stores, convenience stores, diners and restaurants.
2- Aerodynamics – We had only one bag, a dry sack, attached to the rear of our bikes to maintain the most aerodynamic configuration possible. We each also had a small bento box and a hydration pack, which still maintained a very clean line. This gave us the ability to cover the number of miles we needed to do each day, averaging in the high teens for MPH. I can’t imagine riding that same pace with a handlebar bag and two saddle bags. We also used our road/racing bikes for this trip instead of a touring bike. Our only modification was 25mm tires. This probably was the right compromise between speed and stability but not using the traditional 28mm touring tires may have had something to do with our 8 flats tires.
3 – The group – Although the three of us had ridden only once together before we left, we were roughly the same ability and got along very well. I had only recently met Justin but had been friends with Dave for over a decade. In the past when we’ve traveled together he and I have fought, but not at all this trip. I think the focus of the mission and the realization that we were all tightly interlocked (we couldn’t leave anyone behind) made this crucial. We all annoyed each other at times, but we were very good at letting it roll of our shoulders and continuing on. Our personalities, interests, sense of humor were all well matched and made for a great time.
4 – Command Central – Even though I wrote that the ride was self supported, it was virtually supported probably more than any other ride to date. We relied heavily on the daily briefings from my sisters with the suggested stops, options for eating a place to stay for the next night. One thing that I learned when I got back was that when my sisters couldn’t find a place to stop for the night, they would take the little yellow google man and walk the route looking from side to side for a sign for a campsite or a collection of buildings that might be a motel. For example, this is how they found Steelman’s Brite Spot in Hiland Wyoming (the place with the stuffed rattlesnakes) the only place for miles. When we returned my sisters unanimously said that they felt like they had been on the ride also.