The 5 Rules of Bicycle Touring Across America
My original ride across the United States in 2006 furnished me with most of my fondest memories and experiences so it’s truly hard to pick just one to relate here. Instead I think I’ll highlight some of my favorite experiences with a list for potential trans-continental cyclists some advice as to what expect, (and what not to).
Meet as many people as possible. When you cycle a significant distance you occupy a strange thread in the social fabric. You are at once homeless and hardworking, impressive yet nonthreatening, extremely cool but very approachable. Take advantage of this rare social karma that you will only ever possess while touring. Nearly all of the best experiences of the trip involved strangers that we met along the way. The owner of a cowboy bar in Missouri let us stay in a seedy apartment behind his establishment. Farmhands in Nevada let us sleep in their hotel room while they baled hay at night. Stoners in Utah let us watch Return of the Jedi on their television. A wonderful couple in Virginia made us burritos and sang songs with us. A couple of Harley riders stopped us at the top of Monarch pass in Colorado. The senior rider (distinguished by his mighty grey beard) walked up to me, handed me a couple of Budweisers and said, “you guys need these more than we do.” Harley riders will sort of look on you like their crazy little cousins. All kinds of people will want to help you in exchange for your story. Oblige them. Talk to everyone and keep those karmic bicycle wheels turning by doing a turn of kindness for the people who do help you. Be sure to help out cyclists later when you come home too. It might be me, after all.
Sometimes it just sucks. Accept it. The worst parts usually make the best stories later. If you remember that when you’re 150 miles from civilization in the Utah desert and you’ve run out of food, it’ll help. Not much, but it’s worth remembering. (Ancillary rule: expect the unexpected, like torrential rain in places that annually receive 2 inches of precipitation, for example the Utah desert 150 miles from civilization.) (Corollary ancillary rule: water proof tarps are only actually water-resistant).
You don’t need that much crap. I promise you will bring more than you need. Less clothes. Less gadgets. A short and by no means comprehensive list of things we left behind/mailed home/gave away/lost: Tent, books, ultra-mega tool, gloves, 2nd pump, harmonica, dynamo, 2 big flashlights, the mildly-water resistant tarp, crocs, kickstands, and assorted extra clothes. If you are headed West from Virginia and you have occasion to visit June Curry aka The Cookie lady might I recommend adding your unwanted gear to her collection. Our kickstands and fingerless gloves are in there somewhere.
The wind in the great plains blows predominately West to East. Just pointing that out.
Take time to enjoy the breathtaking majesty of it all. Don’t be afraid to leave your route to check out some local natural wonders. You are talking to strangers and learning about their local natural wonders aren’t you? It’s not a race. Budget the time to smell the roses. One of my biggest regrets on our trip was the ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles: we made the most haste on one of the most beautiful sections of our trip in order to make a self-imposed deadline for our arrival in Los Angeles. Don’t make the same mistake! We did however make the quality choice of staying in the Pidgeon Point Lighthouse Hostel in Pescadero, CA. We hitched a ride into town for dinner with a bunch of marine biology students from Duke University. If you do the same, I recommend the boysenberry pie.
Well that’s it. There’s so much more to say, but it’s really up to you to have your own trip. Go out there and don’t be afraid to get into some trouble. This is the adventure of a lifetime after all. Good travels and if you ever come my way, you’ve got a place to crash.