A quick followup: I’ve just exported the GPS data from my trusty eTrex 20, and after cleaning up the bigger “knots” of data (clusters of points from when I was sitting still, which sometimes added as much as 0.2 miles of distance) the final total of what I’ll call the official mileage is 5065 miles!
The map below is the route I took.
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with it. I designed it to take in a lot of parts of the country I wanted to see, while avoiding the worst of the steep and/or constant climbs I might encounter elsewhere, and I think I made pretty good decisions.
The Appalachians are notoriously difficult on bikes, as my time living in the Shenandoah Valley reminded me. I skipped right through the Ridge and Valley by following the Lehigh River, and then stuck to the flats of Ohio and Michigan for the rest of the first segment of the trip.
I avoided what sounded like some really unpleasant parts of the TransAmerica Trail, which due to its history and popularity is considered the classic cross-country route. Its eastern section spends quite a while climbing up and down endless steep hills through Kentucky and Missouri, and this year the westbound TransAmers all reported it was extremely hot and muggy there when they rode through. Of course, I did experience some of that in Iowa, but the hills there were nowhere near as bad as I’ve heard the Ozarks are.
I also skipped Kansas, whose completely monotonous flatlands and powerful crosswinds are also somewhat legendary. Instead, Nebraska and South Dakota offered a surprising amount of scenic value and, in the case of the former, even tree cover.
My route did sadly miss out on the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Montana, but I did get a healthy dose of Rocky Mountain scenery, ecosystems and climbing in the Bighorns, Wind Rivers, and passing the Tetons and through Yellowstone.
Southern Idaho was one section I knew I was only visiting because I had family there, and I would advise other bike tourists to do likewise. The desert in the northeastern part of the Snake River Plain is actually really beautiful (at least, I thought so), but the majority of the time I spent there was through often-smelly farmland, and the wind was against me the entire time to boot – as it would be for anyone riding in that direction, since it apparently blow more or less upstream in the valley at all times. Crossing the Idaho Rockies would have meant much more hard climbing, but probably less in the way of headwinds, and much better views and cooler temperatures.
I enjoyed eastern Oregon a lot, and got some more of the TransAm experience, riding with other cyclists and staying in churches that know lots of cyclists are riding through and offer free or donation-based places to sleep. The state was scenic almost the whole way through, and I even got a little taste of riding southward with a coastal tailwind – though I didn’t actually get any views of the ocean without detouring. People say the Oregon coast is beautiful to ride along, but I guess I was in the wrong part of the state for that. Still a great ride though.
It’s hard to imagine doing a ride like this again. Perhaps when I’m retired and have lots of time, and hopefully am still as physically fit as the many older folks I crossed paths with along the way. I wouldn’t do it alone, certainly. And I’d take a different route, even though mine was, in some places, probably the optimal route. I still haven’t seen the mountains of Colorado or the Northern Rockies, or much of Utah, or the Sierras. On the other hand, plenty of other parts of the country don’t appeal to me in terms of a bike trip, and I think I did a pretty decent job piecing together some of the best while keeping the zigzagging to a relative minimum.
That’s with one big exception, of course, which was northern Michigan. I could have cut a week and a half off the trip by heading straight from Ohio to Chicago, and if I were doing this route again, I would. Michigan was pleasant enough to ride in, with cool weather and lots of state forest campsites accessible to cyclists (and all next to lakes or streams) but northern Michigan was horrifically mosquito-infested, and actually not all that interesting to ride in – the roads, for the most part, don’t pass the scenic views, and to really enjoy that area, you’ve got to go off into the woods. And not in summer, either. I do want to return someday, but only in fall when the bugs aren’t out in such force.
Crossing the country isn’t a Herculean achievement, at all. Post-trip, when my aunt near Seattle drove me to drop off the bike for shipping at a nearby shop, she was amused by how low-key the discussion was between myself and the staff. “Yeah, I just finished riding across the country.” “Oh, nice.” “Yeah, it was a good trip.” Non-bike-people tend to be a lot more impressed, more, I think, than is reasonable. When I hear about someone finishing a cross-country ride, I’m impressed, but not awed. It’s just a matter of stubbornness for the most part, and doing your research beforehand to avert most problems before they ever occur. You can do it too!
Whether you’d want to is another matter. I don’t think I really want to again (which isn’t to say I regret it or wouldn’t do it for the first time, if I were traveling back in time to decide). I mostly rode alone, with a small taste of riding with others, but I would certainly not do another trip of this length without a partner or group. And I’m sure I’ll start to daydream about future trips after a little while, but for now I’m just ready to be sleeping in the same bed for many months.
I’ve still got to look through all my photos and do a little post-processing, the results of which will be uploaded…someday. Till then, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!