Video Tutorial on Riding across the USA

I am often asked about how I go about planning my bike tours. I do my best on this blog or in person over brews of various kinds with friends but it’s hard to convey what planning and riding a bike tour is like.

I came across this video today by Ryan van Duzer. The video goes well beyond planning a tour. Ryan, who has no shortage of enthusiasm for bike tours, can’t help but share his joy of touring.

As you will see, Ryan makes liberal use of drone shots. They make for amazing panoramic vistas but, sad to say, most of the time bike tourists don’t get such amazing perspectives. And exception is when you are in the mountains and can look out over the landscape. Northern Cascades and the GAP Trail east of the Eastern Continental Divide are notable exceptions.

This is a quibble. Good on Ryan to lug all that electronic stuff with him so you don’t have to. Here’s the video.

My only disagreements with Ryan have to do with riding direction and riding yourself into shape. I agree with Ryan that you’ll encounter headwinds regardless of which direction you go. As the famous bike tourist Milton Friedman once said, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” I disagree with the concept of riding yourself into shape. You’ll have a much better time if you get your body ready before you leave, especially if you are riding west to east. The reason is that the first few days heading east involve beaucoup climbing. I heard from a Warmshowers host in eastern Washington that it was not uncommon for eastbound riders to quit after only a few days. The Northern Tier route that they use goes from sea level to over 4,000 feet in a matter of 100 or so miles. Then there are four climbs over 5,000 feet in the days that follow. I had over 3,000 miles under my belt before I hit this climbfest. So eastbounders, bring your A game. folks. (Not to belabor the point but the climb from Sacramento to Carson Pass on the Western Express route goes from near sea level to over 8,000 feet in 90 miles. Good thing it’s pretty, because I didn’t see any cardiac care units on my ride west out of the Sierras.)

Fair warning: Ryan’s videos are addictive.

While I am on the subject, another source of great bike touring info are the videos of Bike Touring Mike. He’s a bit droll but he knows his stuff.

Don’t Let the Western Distress Get You Down

When I did my 2019 bike tour, I decided to ride from Indiana to Pueblo Colorado where I would pick up the Adventure Cycling Route’s Western Express Route across Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. I knew this route would be challenging.

Up to Pueblo, there had been minimal climbing on my route. Missouri was a series of rollers that I handled without much difficulty. Kansas was a false flat, a gradual climb of 1 or 2 percent. After Pueblo things got interesting.

The first 20 miles to the town of Wetmore involved about 1,500 feet of climbing that I handled without difficulty. The next ten miles involved a climb of over 3,000 feet. I had never ridden above 7,000 feet and it showed. I couldn’t catch my breath. I stopped and leaned over my bike wheezing. Albuterol (which I take for asthma attacks) did nothing. I pushed my bike for miles unable to maintain power while pedaling to go more than 3 miles per hour. At the top of the climb was Hardscrabble Pass. There was no sign denoting this landmark. I had only my fatigue and broken spirit as a reward.

Somehow I didn’t notice this climb during my tour planning or even during my stop over in Pueblo the day before. It was the beginning of a relentless series of climbs that, while mostly beautiful, broke my body.

Hardscrabble Pass was just the beginning. This and each ensuing summit was followed by a descent of a thousand or more feet. My trek across southern Colorado included six more climbs including a 4,000-foot climb over Monarch Pass and the Continental Divide at 11,312 feet of elevation.

Utah involved more of the same, six climbs culminating in a another 4,000 foot ascent to Cedar Breaks National Monument at over 10,000 feet. After an amazing 25-mile, 4,500-foot descent to Cedar City I faced a brutal roller coaster that would last more than a week. Four more climbs in Utah to a maximum elevation of 6,723 feet at Wah Wah Summit.

Then came Nevada. 13 climbs including back to back 7,000+ footers. And wind. And heat. And I had to carry extra food and water because there is no there there in Nevada. Once out of the basin and range country, I had four more climbs to get across the Sierras maxing out at Carson’s Pass at 8,573.

So depending on how your keeping score I did about 35 climbs during my tour. In an odd way, the pandemic has been a godsend. It allowed me to fully recover from the toll this took on my body.

What did I get for my troubles. Rocks, as Frances McDormand’s character in Nomadland says. So many rocks. The scenery is truly amazing. And there is so much more to see. I bypassed Natural Bridges in Utah. Canyonlands, Monument Valley, Moab, and Zion National Park were off my route. By the time I got to western Nevada I was so sick of rocks! The blue water of Lake Tahoe blew me away. And the trees in the Sierras seemed to be pumping me full of oxygen.

All of this is to say, that I have enormous respect for anyone who rides from San Francisco to the East Coast. I met several people going West to East including Sandra and Elise, two sisters from France who were going from San Francisco to New York City.

Sandra and Elise at a cafe in Boulder Utah

They rented a car to see some of the stuff I missed in Utah but their self-designed route also took then through Yosemite, Zion, and Great Sand Dunes National Park. They put together a video of their trip and posted it to You Tube today. I highly recommend it.

And I Thought It Was Me

One of the worst, most depressing experiences I have ever had on a bike, or for that matter off a bike, was hitting the wall on my first day climbing in the Colorado Rockies. The day started with 30 miles from Pueblo to Wetmore. In the process I climbed about 1,400 feet. It was a bit challenging but not too bad.

Between Wetmore and Westcliffe, however, was a 3,000 foot climb over what I learned today is something called Hardscrabble Pass. The Google says the distance is 15 miles but other accounts have it at 12 miles. Either way it is a relentless grade of between 6 and 8 percent for most of the way up.

Today I read an account of a bike tourist who did this ride in 2009. He describes having to stop every 1/10 of a mile to avoid going anaerobic. His legs kept tying up as he rode. With no experience at this sort of thing, I didn’t stop until I was completely unable to get a breath. At around 7,500 feet, I leaned over my bike gasping. (My asthma didn’t help a whole lot.)

Another rider broke the Pueblo to Westcliffe ride into two days. He referred to the pass as “the wall.” He took five hours to ride 15 miles over the top. And he walked three times.

After starting and stopping several times, I ended up walking the steepest part about half way between Wetmore and the pass. I felt humiliated, but these two journals assure me that my failure to ride nonstop over the pass had nothing to do with my fitness or age.

My ego feels better now.

No Name Tour: Day 15 – Pacelining to the Moon

Today we left the Warmshowers house and headed into Newton to partake of a breakfast buffet. Our hosts met us there and I ate lots of fruit on top of pancakes and other goodies.

We, Corey, Mark, and me, bid farewell to our hosts and headed west into an unexpectedly strong headwind. After 5 miles we turned north and had little relief.

After waving at the town of Hesston we headed due west for 23 miles to Medora. Corey stopped to photograph all the things, Mark jetted out into the distance, I held the middle.

When Corey didn’t catch up to me, I texted him to make sure he was okay. (He was.)

When he was done with his artistic pursuits, he rode his ass off to catch up to me. Exhausted, he caught my wheel and I pulled him along for a few miles.

We then traded leads until we caught up to Mark who was standing on the side of the road admiring his awesomeness.

Actually he was still suffering from SBS and was determined to get to Hutchinson to buy a new saddle and new shorts.

Our original destination was Nickerson, Kansas, but the entire town is literally under water.

The three of us pacelined into the wind going much faster than we would have individually.

We pulled into the town of Buhler where Danke Schoen was blaring from loudspeakers. (I made that up.)

We had lunch at a cafe. It was a relief to get out of the wind. There I met Sweet T, a TransAm rider who works at an REI in Fairfax, Virginia.

Another 10 miles of windy pacelining brought us to Hutchinson. We went to Harley’s Bike Shop where I, also suffering from SBS, bought new bike shorts. We picked up the key to a free bike hostel in a nearby church. Then Mark and I returned to the bike shop. Mark bought a new saddle (his third saddle of the trip) and new bike shorts. I bought a pair of socks because the Warmshowers laundry ate one of my socks last night.

Later Corey, Mark, and I went to the Cosmosphere, a local museum about the space age. We checked out an Atlas (Gemini) and a Redstone (Mercury) rockets and a Saturn 5 thruster outside. Inside we toured the fascinating exhibit about the Nazi’s V1 and V2 rockets. (Made doubly interesting for me having visited the Churchill War Rooms in London in January). There was also a full size replica of the Space Shuttle Endeavor and an SR-71 Blackbird (a super fast, high flying spy plane).

Then we all watched the movie Apollo 11 on a screen on the inside of a dome. It’s an excellent recap of the mission for all you kiddies who weren’t alive when it happened.

After going to the moon we went out for beer and pizza at Salt City Brewery. We ended the night at the grocery store for more snacks and provisions for tomorrow’s ride.

Tomorrow we will be improvising a route because sections of the TransAm are under water. We are headed to Larned, about 60 miles to the west.

Earlier today I searched the weather for Nevada. My concern has been for sweltering heat. It’s actually cold there.

Another concern is that getting across the Rockies may be undoable because of unusually high spring snowfalls.

Time will tell.

Miles today: 46.5

Total miles: 949.5

No Name Tour: Day 13 – Second Eureka

After dinner of peanut butter on flour tortillas and an apple, I read some of Corey’s journal. The sandman whacked me in the head at 9:30 and I didn’t move a muscle for eight hours.

After a mediocre motel breakfast, The Mule and I hit the road, west bound for Benedict with a strong cross wind.

I spotted what I thought were statues of three horses near the road. Then I realized they were real. What beautiful creatures. They posed for a picture but wouldn’t say hello.

Corey and Mark caught up to me. I think they are on PEDs. Or maybe I’m just old, fat, and slow.

At one point I passed a baby snapper turtle in the road and pointed it out to Mark who nobly stopped and saved to grow and wreak havoc.

Once we turned north and had a tailwind we made like bakery trucks (and hauled buns).

After 40 miles we stopped at Lizzard Lips Cafe for lunch. We were each given little plastic lizards to attach to our bikes. I took the pink one to match my WABA socks. Now my tour has a mascot. It needs a name. Suggestion welcome.

After lunch we headed west to Eureka, my second Eureka of the trip. The road was s busy highway. We had 19 miles to go and we’re racing the predicted arrival of thunderstorms. Along the way we met Ian Graves who was heading east on the TransAm. He gave us the forecast.

We pushed the pace. Well, Mark and Corey did. I kept them in view and hoped my left knee would survive the trauma.

I did stop to take a selfie with a sign.

Thankfully it did and the motel that Ian recommended was adequate and walking distance to a beer store.

Tonight we dine at Pizza Hut. (It’s nearby what can I say.) We will be joined by Sweet T, another TransAm rider who we’ve been an hour behind for the last few days.

One thing has been very clear: had we come this way a day earlier we’d have been sitting for days waiting for the flood waters to recede. So despite our inconvenience yesterday, all has worked out surprisingly well under the circumstances.

Miles today: 62

Total miles: 827.5

Evidence of flooding was all around us but the flooding near the Verdigris River was astonishing. The highway passing through some farm fields was raised above the fields like a causeway. The fields were filled with flood water for as far as you could see on either side of the road. About two feet from the road was debris from the peak of the flood. The water must have been at least a foot higher. That’s a mind boggling amount of rain.

The road had no shoulders and a drop off on either side. Strong crosswinds and passing cars and trucks made for a hairy mile of riding.

No Name Tour: Day 12 – It’s Supposed to Be an Adventure, Right?

Another monster storm hit today. Fortunately I was in a nice comfy hotel room when it did. It was rainy so hard st one point that it sounded like someone was blasting my room’s window with a hose.

I waited it out then hit the road knowing that some of the roads to Chanute, today’s planned destination, were closed because of flooding.

Instead of taking the Adventure Cycling route which left the southern part of Pittsburg, I opted to head north then take a two lane highway west all the way to Chanute. Or so I thought.

A quarter mile into the ride I had to detour to avoid downed power lines. The neighborhood I rode through had standing water all over the place.

Back on the highway I enjoyed a huge tailwind. 20 mph was not a problem. I stopped after a couple of miles to admire some descendants of the plains that white settlers nearly wiped out in the 1800s.

It wasn’t much of a herd.

Back on the road I flew north for a few more miles then turned left. For six miles I dealt with a side wind. It probably slowed me a couple of mph. Not a big deal.

In Girard I stopped at a gas station convenience store where I learned the road into Chanute was closed. When I looked at the google it seemed to indicate that Chanute could only be entered from the west. All the access roads were flooded.

I was about to throw in the towel on the day and ride north 24 miles to Fort Scott when Corey rode by. I yelled to him and he pulled into station. It turns out Mark was at the station across the street. (Two gas station convenience stores constitutes a central business district in Kansas.)

We assembled for snacks and Corey got the google to map out a route to Chanute. I thought it was bogus and wouldn’t work, Corey said “So what. This is supposed to be an adventure. If the road is closed we can ride in the railroad tracks.”

Clearly the heat was getting to him.

But he had a point. Except about the railroad tracks. I ain’t riding no trestles. The Mule would not abide.

Off they went and I followed. The next six miles were due north. The tailwind blasted us past one farm after another. The gently rolling terrain felt level.

We then turned west and that tailwind was now buffeting is from the side. The other two pulled far ahead. I wanted to leave something in my legs in case this backfired.

About 15 miles from Girard Corey and Mark were hanging out in a roadside convenience store. Sadly, they had learned that Corey’s google route was blocked by flooding.

As we were pondering our alternatives a local man walked in and announced that a road to Chanute was now open.

Were saved!

Just go west to the stop sign turn north then go left on highway 39.

He made it sound like the stop sign was just up the street.

It was nine miles away.

Corey and Mark took off and I followed from a distance. When I finally got to the stop sign the turn to the north gave me that amazing tailwind again. Ahhh…

Then the turn to the west turned it into a side wind for 11 miles.

There was water everywhere. In the fields, in the drainage ditches on the side of the road, and in swollen creeks that were far over their banks.

This was nothing compared to the flooding in Chanute. The Neosho River was nowhere to be seen. In its place was a massive flood plain.

These pictures don’t come close to doing it justice.

One thing’s for sure, I’m getting out of here before more rain hits.

I grabbed a hotel room south of town. I cleaned and lubed my chain. Then I spent 30 minutes setting up my new tent for the first time in my hotel room. It’s incredibly complicated. Good thing I did a trial run in the comfort of my motel room,. Had I bought the footprint it would have been easier.

Many thanks to Corey and Mark for convincing/shaming me to take a risk that worked out very well.

Miles today: 62

Trip miles: 765.5

No Name Tour: Day 11 – Church, Pie, Tornados, and Flooding

I miss central Montana where nothing happened for days and days. Biking in Missouri is surreal by comparison.

Corey and Mark left the Ash Grove bike house early in the hopes of beating bad weather to our west. Maybe if the storm tracked to the north we’d be okay.

Such fools we are.

I left about a half hour later with a tummy full of peanut butter tortillas and whole wheat bread and butter. Nutrition is my middle name.

The terrain seemed gentler for a few miles before the road crossed a series of creaks. Down to the creek then right back up.

At one point I went by a farm with some cattle. With very little urging I had them running beside me on their die of a wire fence. Stampede!

The weather seemed to be off in the distance until it wasn’t. Thunder. Lightning. Rain, growing heavier by the minute. I was grinding up a long hill when I stopped to put on my rain jacket. Minutes after the clouds opened. A car pulled up along side me. The passenger window rolled down and the woman told me “There’s a church at the next cross roads. You’re welcome to come in…if you make it.”

I said “Thanks. I will.”

Then I thought “if I make it?”

I made it. Mark and Corey were hanging out under the covered entry to the little white church. Soon the congregation arrived and we all went in for services.

Religion and I don’t get along so I watched the service with bemused and confused detachment.

The service starts with three pledges of allegiance: to the US flag, to the Christian flag (I never knew there was such a thing), and to the Bible. I resisted the urge to start humming “Imagine”.

While the service was going on the storm was raging. The windows of the church were frosted so all you could see were flashes of lightning. I went outside for a moment and it was raining about as hard as physics would allow.

After over an hour and a let up to the rain, the three guests on six wheels headed west.

Lest I sound ungrateful, thanks to the good folks at the Pennsboro church for taking us in.

The terrain leveled and we made good time to Golden City. Actually Mark and Corey did; I lagged behind. We learned during church that three people died in Golden City last week when a tornado touched down. I didn’t see any evidence of it as I went into town to eat lunch with the two amigos.

The restaurant was crowded so it took a long time for lunch. Corey was certain that they gave bike tourists a free piece of pie but they turned out to no longer be the case. The pie was good anyway.

We headed due west with los dos dudes way in front of me. I noticed a pile of corrugated steel in a farmer’s field to my right. Then I saw Mark and Corey stopped up ahead and looking to the left side.

There was a house with a couple of outbuildings utterly devastated. Nearby trees were torn up. You could see exactly where the tornado touched down. It was stupefying. With all these wide open spaces, how unlucky these people were.

The other two headed west again well above The Mule’s top speed. We knew the road were taking was closed up ahead because of flooding.

A driver stopped me and advised me about detours. As I researched possibilities on my phone, Corey texted me. They took off their shoes and walked through the flooded section of road without a problem. So I did too.

After a brief chat with a couple in a VW bug who decided not to test the waters, I continued west. The wind was now in my face and the road began to roll again.

It took a frustratingly long time to get to the Kansas state line.

After that I pushed on another five miles to Pittsburg. With all the flooding I saw today, I didn’t even bother to ask about camping in the city park. The first hotel I checked had flood damage on the below grade first floor. I went up the street to a Comfort Inn. A nice bed, laundry, and pizza. Soon I’ll be saving logs. My apologies to the other guests.

Miles today:72

Miles total: 703.5

No Name Tour: Day 10 – Put Away Wet

I came back to the town park after dinner only to learn that much of it had flooded. And a big picnic was going on right next to my tent.

So I moved everything to higher ground next to a gazebo and nearly fell asleep sitting in a park bench. By ten I was in my tent too tired to change out of my street clothes.

I was too tired to sleep well but I was kept comfortable by a cool breeze. Around 10, I checked the radar on my phone. A storm was coming so I got up and put the rain fly in my tent.

Around 2 am I woke up feeling wet. It was raining inside my tent, much harder than last summer in Winnett, Montana. After that episode I sealed the seams of the rainfly, or so I thought.

I moved everything under the gazebo and negotiated a couple of hours of sleep from the sandman.

Using the google I learned that there were stores that carried tents in Springfield. After breakfast I rejoined Route 66 and headed for Ozark Adventures, a store catering to outdoorsy types.

Driving in Missouri is scary. I was passed or cut off dozens of times. The ride to Springfield wasn’t particularly hard, much easier than the previous three days. In Springfield itself, the drivers went from obnoxious to scary. I was stressed out by the time I arrived at the store.

As I was leaning my bike against the store front, my back wheel started coming off. Apparently I had caught the quick release lever with the hardware on my pannier. Scary!

Inside I was nearly talked into buying a one-person Big Agnes tent when a customer who was about my size told me how he hiked the Grand Canyon with a two-person Big Agnes tent. He said the very slight increase in weight was well worth the trade off in comfort.

The new two-person tent weighs less than half of my old one. I’m gonna be a happy camper.

After spending an appalling amount of money, I turned on the google for directions and headed to Ash Grove where there was supposed to be camping at the town park. I tried calling the police to get permission but no one answered.

I escaped Springfield using bike paths. After some time on a busy highway I picked up the 8-mile Frisco Highline rail trail to Willard. Bliss. And I had a tailwind.

Unfortunately, my phone was running out of juice. If something went amiss how would I find a campground?

I stopped at a cafe and plugged in my phone while eating some ice cream. The place was about to close but it was in the same building as the town library.

I went inside an catnapped while my phone charged during this hottest part of the day.

After two more miles on the rail trail, I turned west for eight miles of rollers. Something was different. I was going much, much faster than anytime during the trip. I hill hopped several of the rollers, speeding down one hill and flying up the next.

As I pulled into Ash Grove, I saw a man in a sedan parked on a side street. He was waving me off the main road. I pulled over. He then proceeded to lead me to bike touring paradise. The town park has a house with a kitchen, shower, bathroom, and indoor bike parking. Outside was a swimming pool.

I took off my shoes and socks and waded into cool, wet awesomeness. I had 15 minutes to cool down before the pool closed for the day. It was more than enough time.

Later I met Corey and Mark who were staying at the house while taking a rest day on their east to west ride on the TransAmerica Trail.

Tomorrow I (actually all three of us) hope to escape the Ozarks. I celebrated with a dinner of an apple and three peanut butter flour tortillas. And one of Mark’s IPAs.

Miles today: 62

Total so far: 631.5

No Name Tour: Day 9 – Ozark Roadkill

The hotel had nearly real food for breakfast. Eggs. Biscuits and gravy. Coffee. OJ. Yoghurt.

Stuffed, I hit the road and screamed down the hill I had to climb back up yesterday.

And so began a day of climbing and descending and climbing and descending. On net, I climbed 350 feet, but it felt like 3,500.

Before the Ozarks, roadkill was mostly opossums. Beginning yesterday armadillos started outnumbering opossums. There was also a disturbing number of squashed turtles. I stopped and helped three get off the road.

Riding the frontage road of the interstate I came upon this strange sign combination.

It turned out to be two businesses but for about a mile I was puzzled.

An old bridge on 66 is closed but you can get through on a bike by lifting it over the barrier. This requires unloading/loading/unloading/loading as there were two barriers. One on either end.

As I was about to get underway two local cyclists, Roy Phillips and Al Trumbo, pulled up and we had a long talk. They were great and funny, full of stories. I knew I’d pay for the conversation later though. The time spent talking to them meant more time riding in the afternoon heat.

I stopped at every opportunity to guzzle water and sorts drinks. My belly was sloshing but still I was suffering. A headwind slowed me but felt great in the heat of the afternoon.

I called the town of Marshfield to secure permission to camp in the city park. Of course the access road into the park required one last climb.

I had to ride 1.5 more miles to get to a diner. The green beans that came with dinner were exactly what my body wanted. So was the cherry pie I had for dessert.

This was a really hard day. Hopefully it will pay off down the road. I need to get acclimated to hot weather.

Today was my last day on Route 66. No more refrigerated motels like this.

Tomorrow I switch to the TransAmerica Trail. Hopefully it will be my last hilly day for a while.

Miles today: 68

Mikes total: 569.5

No Name Tour: Day 8 – One of Those Days in the Ozarks

Last night a tornado touched down in Jefferson City, 55 miles away. All we had was a thunderstorm.

The storm extended from Oklahoma to DC. Locally it was tracking right along Route 66.

Oh joy.

The weatherman said the storm was as dying out so I left the hotel around 9 a.m. I wasn’t on the road more than two minutes before it started raining hard.

It only lasted a few miles. Then it calmed and I could enjoy more Route 66 roadside nonsense like this enormous rocker.

The road was running right next to the interstate. About ten miles in I could see a big electric sign on the highway: Severe Thunderstorm Warning in Effect.

I began scanning for shelters. Just outside St. James in spotted a pole barn next to a VFW post. I checked the weather radar and decided to make a run for St. James about 3 miles away. As I pulled into town a lightning bolt flashed. I counted for the thunder. 5. It looked much closer than 5 miles away so I looked for a place to eat second breakfast.

Not one restaurant in town. The storm intensified so I put The Mule under the large wave of the Town Hall and went inside to wait it out.

The radar looked nasty.

After an hour my tummy started rumbling. The storm cooperated enough for me to ride 1/2 mile to a Burger King. They were having trouble with their cooking gear so it was a Burgerless King.

I ate lunch with a local man named Bill Clark. He told me about mountain biking with his kids near Branson, Missouri. He said he’d ride a bike across country but only if it had a 900cc engine. He was an entertaining guy. I’m glad I didn’t sit alone with my cellphone.

The clouds cleared and I was back on the road. As I progressed, the temperature and humidity increased. The hilly terrain made for some sweaty climbs but my bike and my body were up to the task.

I couldn’t complain after seeing this road sign for the Trail of Tears.

And whenever I started feeling worn out something silly would appear and improve my mood, like this sign:

Then there was this not so little guy along the shoulder:

The route moved away from the interstate for some hilly but very pretty riding. I especially liked the rocky cliffs along this creek.

Note how swollen the creek is.

Every so often I get off route, but this intersection has my name all over it:

About four miles shy of my destination, I took a break at the top of a long hill. I drank 28 ounces of Gatorade and ate an ice cream bar.

Two miles later was an intersection with several hotels but I really wanted to camp two miles further in the town park of Waynesville.

Waynesville is at the bottom of a long hill. I had a blast flying down it.

Then I saw the park. Next to a creek. The park was closed

The nearest hotels were back up the hill so I turned The Mule around and rode right back up.

I ordered a large pizza after checking into my hotel. It was cheaper than a medium.

It was that kind of day.

Miles ridden today: 61.5

Tour total: 501.5

Tomorrow should be my last day on Route 66.