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: Highlights

Even before I finished my ride this summer, people were asking me, “What was the best part?” It may seem strange to say this but until I reviewed my blog posts last week, I had forgotten much of the ride! I suppose this was because I was so focused on the present that the past was of little importance.

And now that I have reviewed the posts, I still don’t have an answer. There were plenty of highlights.

  • Lincoln’s tomb (and the comic graves nearby) in Springfield, Illinois.
  • The Burma Shave signs on the Route 66 bike path in Illinois.
  • The many trail angels that showed me kindness, especially Jesse, the retired chef in a white pickup truck in Saint Louis. I am not exaggerating when I say that he saved my life. (I’ll never forget how he vacillated between saying “I love you” and cussing like Samuel L. Jackson.)
  • The Buddhist monk in the cowboy hat walking on the side of the road in Missouri. I am still kicking myself that I didn’t take his picture but he seemed completely at peace, gliding down the shoulder of the road with a serene smile across his face.
  • Taking a dive in the pool at the city park in Ash Grove, Missouri at the end of a hot and frustrating day. Fifteen minutes of bliss.
  • Meeting and riding with Mark and Corey from Ash Grove to Pueblo, Colorado.
  • The Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas. I could have spent hours and hours in that place.
  • The epic flooding in eastern Kansas.
  • The medicinal effects of marijuana edibles, an order of magnitude more effective and long lasting than ibuprofen for the pain in my left knee and hip.
  • Mo at the Courtyard Country Inn in Westcliffe, Colorado for getting me a room after one of my most exhausting days on a bike.
  • Making it to the top of Monarch Pass. And flying down the other side for ten miles.
  • San Miguel Canyon in Colorado. I went off route to avoid Lizard Head Pass and rode through a breathtaking canyon. Pure serendipity.
  • The Hogback in Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument.
  • All the bike tourists I met on the side of the road. The French sisters and Dan Hurwitz are still riding. The sisters are on Instagram and Dan has a blog.
  • Bryce Canyon. Egads, it’s amazing.
  • Red Canyon, the little known canyon to the west of Bryce.
  • The ride from Cedar Breaks National Monument to Cedar City, Utah, a loss of 5,000 feet in 20 miles.
  • My Warmshowers hosts in Hutchinson, Carson City, and Sacramento. And Jesse and Mike in San Francisco.
  • Mushroom Swiss burgers in Nevada. Everybody I met was raving about them for good reason.
  • The sign guys who helped me find a place (and drove me to dinner) after I climbed Carson Pass in California.
  • The bike mechanics in Pueblo, Salida, Ridgeway, and Carson City who dropped everything to help me.
  • Most of my days seemed to be in survival mode on this tour. Still I had hours and hours of meditative solitude.

No Name Tour: Aftermath In SF

Friday night Jessie and Mike took me to the neighborhood Puerto Rican restaurant In Haight Ashbury and we stuffed ourselves. How do you say gut bomb in Spanish?

Yesterday we took The Mule to Bespoke, a bike shop across town. The owner used to work at my local bike shop in Mt. Vernon. He’ll ship my baby home later this week.

I rode a Jump bike back from the bike shop. It was my first time on an electric assist bike. It’s two-wheeled crack.

We had breakfast al fresco at a restaurant on the Wiggle, a bike route that weaves through the streets of this section of the city, avoiding big hills. It’s painted green and includes a counterflow section.

I bought a massive duffle bag Friday. It had straps on it so I can wear it like a backpack. I could wipe out every passenger on a BART train with this baby. Bwa ha ha.

Last night we had phenomenal tacos at a Mexican place before imbibing a huge bowl of punch at a bar. Not much of an improvement on my bike touring diet I must say but it felt considerably less painful.

I’m staying with Jessie and Mike until Monday morning when the duffle and I will relocate to a hotel near the Oakland airport for Tuesday’s flight home. I’ve already scheduled two happy hours for next week. Unfortunately they are for the same evening.

I looked up some descriptive statistics on the Western Express yesterday. Between Pueblo CO and San Francisco I did more than 98,000 feet of climbing.

And today to prove that this tour has traumatized me, I signed up for my 11th 50 States Ride on Sept 7. Nigel Tufnel would be pleased.

Team Rootchopper assemble!

No Name Tour: Day 51 – You Have to Earn It

I hand washed my clothes in the hotel last night. It must not be as dry here because it was all slightly damp this morning.

After breakfast I improvised a route back to the Western Express at Rockville. The wind was howling in my face. The American flags still flying from Independence Day we’re flying horizontally. Don’t go back to Rockville and waste another gear.

Then it got seriously hilly. I couldn’t believe I was using my granny gear. The map said I had a bike trail ahead. When I got there I saw that it had an 8% grade.

It’s a good thing I threw some stuff out at the hotel.

I arrived at the ferry terminal just as the 10:30 boat was leaving for San Francisco. Killing time I had Friday Coffee Club solo with a pretty awesome chocolate chip cookie.

I sat in the sun with my back to the pier. When I turned around after 20 minutes I saw that a line had formed with well over 100 people in it. No worries; it’s a big boat. The Mule went in a bike rack in the rear and I took a seat inside. The ride was as smooth as a bus until we approached San Francisco. Thankfully the swells were short lived.

Jessie and Mike were waiting for me. After a short chat we followed a trolley bus up Market Street, dodged a dozen misbehaving pedestrians, rode the Wiggle to The Panhandle, and ended at their place in the Haight.

After Mike moved The Mule and all my stuff upstairs to the apartment, we walked around the block so I could buy a duffle bag for the trip home.

Later they treated me to dinner at a Puerto Rican restaurant, beers at home, and ice cream at a shop up the street.

Tomorrow I’ll ship The Mule home.

Miles today: 28

Tour miles: 2,976

No Name Tour: Day 50 – Gems in the Breakdown Lane

Way back in Missouri I met Rob and Fay on their way from Santa Monica to Chicago on Route 66z we hit it off and they invited me to stay at their place if I’d decided to finish my ride in Sacramento or San Francisco.

As things worked out, I ended up riding through Sacramento. Despite the fact that I arrived a day early and that they had plans for the night, they opened their home to me. Before they left for a night out at the football (soccer) pitch, they left me with a warm pasta casserole, instructions to eat or drink anything else to my liking, a huge TV, and a swimming pool.

I never made it to the pool because one of their comfy chairs knocked me out. I woke up 90 minutes later totally disoriented. Before and after my slumber I drank about six pints of cold, cold water from the fridge. (94 miles of riding makes for a powerful thirst.

We chatted a bit after they came home and again over the breakfast they made me. Then thru gave me a rolling escort back up to the Western Express Route. We then rode the fantastic bike trail along the American River into Old Town Sacramento, and ultimately over the Tower Bridge into West Sacramento. It was about 27 miles in all. What terrific hosts!

I continued heading west on the causeway over farm fields along I-80.

Then after a few miles of suburban roads I entered Davis. I remember coming to Davis in 1979 and marveling at how the community embraced cycling. Today, as I was taking a left turn a white SUV pulled up along my right hand side. I had missed the fact that the left turn had two lanes. The driver Roth window open started yammering at me to learn the rules of the road. She could have said something constructive like “You need to be in the right lane”, but she chose to be an asshole.

So I chose to tell her to fuck off.

This happened as we were moving in traffic.

After she passed me, I signaled and moved over. Oddly the driver behind Miss Bossypants had no trouble comprehending my maneuver.

There was a criterium going on in town. I saw it as an impediment between me and lunch.

A couple of passers by chatted with me, apologized for the driver’s rudeness, and explained how to get to a good restaurant along the race course. This being a holiday the placed was packed. Many of the tables had whiny kids. The line go order food was out the door. I left.

After another five miles I spotted a Subway and hoovered a foot long.

The trail west of Davis was designed for me; it was riddled with bumps from tree roots. Where’s my axe when I need it?

Soon I was back on two lane country roads they actually went up and down a bit. Show me what you got, Yolo County.

Not much.

I rolled through orchards if fruit trees, past farm fields, and along a Putah Creek.

Near Winters the creek was filled with families having fun with tubes and other water toys.

I stopped in Winters for GatorAde and an Its It, which is the closest food you can get to Meth.

From Winters I did more easy climbing and rode past Vacaville, known mostly for its hospital for the criminally insane. I didn’t have to deal with any loonies running loose but I did see a wild turkey run across the road in front of me.

Could it be that the turkey was a human escapee and that something in god water is making me go mad?

From Vacaville it was a short spin to Fairfield. The afternoon heat and 75 miles of riding convinced me to find a motel. And do I did.

I pulled a Joe Walsh and washed everything I own except my shoes in the bathroom sink. Tomorrow’s 2-hour ride to the ferry terminal in Vallejo could be a tad moist.

Total miles: 75.5

Tour miles: 2,948

Top speed: 26.1 mph

More pix on Instagram

No Name Tour: Day 49 – 8,000 Feet, 94 Miles, 40 MPH, and a Ton of Hemoglobin

Last night’s improvised lodging worked out great. Dan, Spencer, and I went our for burgers and beers then I hit the hay. I awoke at 1:30 and looked out the window. Not a cloud in the sky just so many stars that Carl Sagan would be pleased.

The early morning view of the lake was nearly as amazing.

The lodge unexpectedly provided motel breakfast. The lodge owner told me to expect a few more climbs before the road tips toward California’s Central Valley.

He was right, of course. The first hill was rudely a mile into the ride. How dare they?

A few miles later was a 1,000 foot climb back up to 7,900 feet. Sleeping at 8,000 feet seemed to help me get over this hump. There was a third climb of a few hundred feet after they then The Mule could take off.

I stopped a few times to admire the view.

At Hams Station I considered eating second breakfast. The restaurant has both open and closed signs displayed. If they couldn’t decide I wasn’t going to give them my business. I rode past Cooks Station a few miles later but by then I was looking to break 60 miles by noon, so no dice.

After about ten miles of descending the route at 25 to 40 mph, I turned off the main highway. No more rumble strips. No more direct sunlight. The narrow, two-lane, shaded country road now had patches and small potholes all over the place. The shade made it hard to tell where they were. I had to slow my roll down into the teens. So not fair!

Every so often I’d get rambunctious and let The Mule loose… until I hit a rough section. My back took the worst of the bumps.

At Omo Ranch I started seeing farms. Soon thereafter I saw miles and miles of vineyards, each with a tasting room. I didn’t give into temptation.

At Ono Ranch an elevation sign said I was at 3,612 feet. This was the first time since Kansas that I’d been below 4,000 feet.

In Mt Aukum I stopped for lunch at noon at a cafe. It was just shy of 50 miles for the day. Still not a bad morning’s work.

Back on the bike I was passed through a few gigantic vineyards then found myself passing fields of tall, golden grass. The occasional field had some cattle in it but they wanted nothing to do with entertaining me. Instead they looked up, momentarily stopped chewing, then returned to their mastication.

I stopped again at tony Rancho Murieta where I saw a text from my Warmshowers hosts. It suggested a route to their house that completely bypassed Folsom to the north, saving me at least 15 miles.

They were leaving the house at four do I decided to see if I could get there before they left. It was then that I realized that i was now about 60 feet above sea level and my legs seemed supercharged. Hemoglobin is a wonderful thing.

I arrived at Fay and Robs place just as they were leaving. They left me food, beer, and a swimming pool. So far I’ve taken what was behind door number 1.

Tomorrow will be my approach to San Francisco. I plan on riding through Sacramento, Davis, Vacaville, and Fairfield. If my legs will agree I’ll ride all the way to Vallejo, the point of departure for the ferry to the City. Then, on Friday morning I’ll set sail for the Ferry Terminal and a reunion with my bikeDC friends Jessie and Mike.

Today’s miles: 94.5

Tour miles: 2,875.3

Top speed: 40.1 mph

No Name Tour: Day 48 – Over the Top

My stay with Warmshowers hosts Joan and Greg could not have been more relaxing or not enjoyable.

Greg, Joan,and Ellie

They both assured me that the big climb from Carson City to Lake Tahoe was something I could handle easily. Thx fully they were right.

I kept plugging along, thinking this climb is going to get tougher but it never did. I came over the top and, at Greg’s suggestion, stopped before getting to close to the lake for an amazing view. Seeing the snow covered mountains reflected in the deep blue water was a Wow moment.

Once I arrived at the lakeshore things got much busier. Car traffic was terrible and a real shock to me. Also the road undulated up and down so much that I had a hard time finding a pedaling rhythm.

There was no sign indicating I had left Nevada and entered California. I could tell by the fact that the big casino hotels were replaced by casual eateries.

I had second breakfast at IHOP, a mediocre meal but necessary to gurl my engine over the mountain.

After leaving the lake the route followed the Upper Truckee River. It left the highway and followed a windy, bumpy parallel road that became very steep. I walked the steepest bits then got on the bike and powered my way back to the highway. Climbing over my second summit was hard but I got it done.

A fun descent took me to an intersection where I had considered camping but I was feeling strong so I decided to tackle 8,500+ foot Carson Pass.

This went fine for about six miles then the shoulder of the road disappeared. It was about this time that I started feeling lightheaded. It was unsafe to wobble all over the road so I walked the last half mile.

At the summit I talked with a woman who had passed me on the way up in her Trek Domane. Then a father and son came walking out of the woods carrying skiing gear. They confirmed for me that people ski year round on this mountain. At the summit, the road crossed the Pacific Coast Trail. A through hiker was lying on a bench. His tales of hiking the trail blew me away. I thought my trip was hard but his included using an ice axe to get over Mt. Whitney!

After chatting I rolled down the western side of the pass thinking of food and lodging. I passed up a lodge at Caples Lake and continued down hill to Kirkwood. There I met Dan and Spencer, two guys who install road signs all over California. The lodge was closed so Spencer called a number on the front door. They wanted $180 for a room in a town that was practically deserted. No thanks.

In short order we found out that Caples Lake was the only place around at a moderate price. Dan and Spencer hoisted The Mule into the bed of their big pick up truck and gave me a lift back up to Caples.

After getting cleaned up we headed out for dinner and beers at the Kirkwood Inn. Everything seemed overpriced but the portions turned out to be huge.

We ate and drank until sated then headed back to the lodge where Spenser started a fire in a pit next to the lake. I went to bed tired but satisfied with having completed the last big climbs of the trip.

Lots more pix on Instagram

Miles today: 64.5

Tour miles: 2,779

Top speed: 35.1 mph

No Name Tour: Day 47 – A Capital Day

After a late motel breakfast I was back on US 50 heading west. Where have I heard that before?

From Fallon to Carson City the road has increasing traffic. For the first third of the day it had paved shoulders that were entirely consumed by rather deep rumble strips. I’d me riding along and hear or see in my mirror a large vehicle about to turn me into road kill. I’d bail onto the rumble strips hoping not to dislodge and dental work. I suppose if you had kidney stones this kind of road sledding could be useful but for me it was literally a headache.

During this portion of the ride the headwind gods were still asleep. And the road trended slightly downhill. I missed a blatantly obvious turn and had to backtrack a mile. But I didn’t care.

I had emptied my two water bladders so The Mule was just cruising along. It was noticeably easier to handle too.

Another wonderful feature of the day was the existence of gas station convenience stores and restaurants along the way. I stopped at 28 miles for Gatorade and a Klondike bar. And to use the rest room. Gas station convenience stores make America great.

Sadly, my late morning snack must have woken the headwind gods and the rest of day featured an invisible hand on my chest.

A few more miles after the break I met Anna, an eastbound rider bound for Virginia. She’s from New Zealand. She’s going about 40 miles per day and didn’t seem the least bit fazed by the first tenth of her journey. We agreed on one thing: Nevada has mastered the mushroom cheeseburger.

I had to climb three hills, all gradual and well under 5,000 feet. No worries.

A casino had a deal on a cheeseburger basket. This made for a convenient lunch stop, my first lunch not on the shoulder of the road in ages. Be thankful for the little things, people!

Into busy Carson City, the state capital. Excitement! Thrills! Not! Just more commercial sprawl.

Anna told me where to find a bike shop. The Bike Smith folks replaced my brake pads and only charged me for parts. It’s their way of supporting bike tourists. Sadly the brake pads cost $95 per pair.

Just kidding.

Now that my bike can stop like a champ, I went to the grocery store where I didn’t hit a single parked car or shopping cart. I did manage to buy food for tomorrow and wine for my Warmshowers hosts tonight.

I am staying with Joan and Greg in their guest cottage. Their house and cottage are cute beyond compare. They love hosting bike tourists.

I am off to help with dinner. Help meaning I drink some wine while Joan cooks.

Tomorrow I climb over a rather intimidating 7,000 foot mountain to South Lake Tahoe. How far I go depends on my legs and the availability of camping. It’s also my last day in Nevada.

And before I forget, there’s big news. Last night I decided not to continue to Portland. I am climbed out. Instead I will go over Carson Pass to Sacramento and finish this crazy tour in San Francisco. Many thanks to Jessie and Mike for offering to put me up in The City and to Marie who suggested flying home out of Oakland next week.

Miles today: 66.5

Tour miles: 2,714.5

Top speed: 25.1 mph