Previous Bikeabouts: USA Coast to Coast (North) 2001 | USA West Coast 2010 | Germany-Austria Tour 2011 | USA East Coast 2012
So I turned 50 this year, the first week in February, and to celebrate I wanted to do something BIG! Having already biked across the country once (over 10 years ago, along the northern border), and then along both coasts, the logical next step was to cross the country again, this time in the south - thus completely "circling" the USA. At least, that's how I liked to think about it. In reality, of course, the southern route I'm taking stays well away from the border, but you get the idea. I went into Canada for a few days on the northern trip anyway, if you want to get picky about it. Anyhow, the point is, now that I've turned 50, I really just want to see if I still have another cross-country ride in me. If I do, well, I'll try again in 10 more years and see if I can pull it off when I'm 60!
Going through the southern states means I had to plan the ride for sometime other than summer (I learned on the east coast just how awful cycling in super-hot conditions can be) and setting it close to my birthday meant it has to be early in the year. The timing worked out that I had nothing going on in March, although I do have an event to attend midway through April, so that suggested a start date somewhere in the last week of February. The 25th worked out to be the best choice for a flight into LAX the night before. This gives me roughly 40 days to ride about 2800-3000 miles, an average of just over 70 miles per day. Both the last two tours I've done have been short of 70 mpd, so this will be something of a challenge, but if I can get some favorable tailwinds in the flats it shouldn't be outside the realm of possibility. Unlike the previous rides, which all featured lots of hills throughout, this one has all the main climbs early (basically up into New Mexico) and then after that it's relatively flat all the way to the coast. Assuming I survive the first couple of weeks, which will feature some really tough climbs (topping out at about 8000 feet above sea level), then the rest of it is easy terrain. At that point it'll be up to the wind to decide how fast I can finish.
I'm also throwing something new into the mix this time: geocaching. If you don't know what this is, it's basically a hide and seek game played with a GPS. People hide containers all over the place, and post their GPS coordinates (longitude and latitude positions, that is) on the geocaching.com website, after which players like me come along, download the coordinates and go hunting. The containers can be anything (magnetic key holders, lock-and-lock boxes, ammo cans, fake rocks, you name it) and are often cleverly hidden so that even though you can get within a few feet of it using your GPS, it's still tough to find. In addition to being a great way to spice up any bike ride or hike, geocaching also really alleviates the boring tedium of mile after mile after mile of riding...and even better, it'll often divert me a few hundred yards off the route to some hidden scenic view or interesting historical spot I might otherwise miss. So you'll hear me talk about geocaching (or just "caching" for short) quite a bit, I'm sure. One thing about it that I've discovered, though, is that caching can really soak up a lot of time if I'm not careful, so you can bet I'll be trying my best to keep it under control. I mostly intend to use it just as a way to entertain myself when I take breaks, and in fact it'll help me take more of them, which is something I often fail to do on these tours.
One final thing before I get on with the details of planning. I'm dedicating this ride to the memory of my mom, Martha Graw, who passed away last October. She was never a huge fan of these bike trips of mine, but I always made sure to call every night on the road to let her know how everything was going, and I know she understood this was something I loved to do, so despite her reservations she always did her best to support me whenever possible. I always made a show of making fun of the "nightly check-in with mom" but in fact those calls always lifted my spirits and I'm going to miss them quite a bit. Of course that means the rest of my family is going to have to suffer with those check-in calls instead...fair warning!
Although I've been talking about this trip for a long time (since the middle of last year, approximately) it wasn't really official until I bought the plane ticket. Before I could do that, I had to determine the approximate route to take, so I knew exactly where to start. I spent a good part of today poring over maps and figuring out where I should try to ride the bike through the American Southwest. Part of the problem, of course, is there aren't a lot of places to stay and since I don't intend to camp this time at all, I need to make sure there are hotels along the way at every step. I quickly discovered that the original starting location choice, San Diego, put me on a road right along the Mexican border that at one point has no hotels for about 200 miles. Even if I had camping gear, you can bet I wouldn't be pitching a tent along the border the way things are down there these days! So that pretty much ruled out San Diego as a starting point.
The next logical choice was the southern LA area heading east to Phoenix, which works out much better. There is one spot where there's going to be a 100 mile day, but it's almost all level or downhill, so I think I can pull that off. (Probably won't do much geocaching that day!) The route there is preceded by a climb to about 4000 feet above sea level, so if I'm really tired I've allocated a day off before going for my first century in about 3 years. We'll see what the winds are going to be like, too. But that's 4 days into the ride, so I'm getting ahead of myself. In any case, the route then goes from Phoenix to Albuquerque, which is where the really tough climbs are, and then to Amarillo, Dallas, Shreveport, and on east to hit the coast around Savannah, Georgia, followed by a day or two of leisurely coast riding on up to Charleston where my dad will pick me up for the victory drive home. If all goes well, that will happen around April 5. We'll see how close I can hit that target date!
Anyway, now with the route figured out (at least, the basics of it), it's time to commit by buying the plane ticket. I found what I wanted, and then let my hand hover on the "confirm" button for quite a while. Did I really want to go through this again? Did I really want to leave everything behind for 6 weeks? Of course I already knew the answer, so I bought the ticket...and off I go! Well, in a couple of weeks, anyway.
The last couple of weeks have kept me quite busy as I got everything ready for the trip...the usual mundane stuff like making sure bills are paid, laundry is done, and so on, plus business interests are taken care of. On top of that there's been the usual worrying and general nervousness and anticipation, which I'm used to now after several previous long bike tours. One thing I did that really helped was carry around a couple of sheets of note paper to write down things I need to remember to bring or do before leaving, so nothing (hopefully) gets forgotten. For example, about a week ago I bought a spare tire to bring along, then left it in the garage, and I'm pretty sure if I hadn't written that down it would've been left behind. Plus you'd be surprised how easy it is to forget seemingly obvious things simply because they're so obvious you don't think about them...like my bike helmet, or GPS, or cell phone charger. On the east coast road trip I forgot to bring a razor, for example, so I had to buy one in Florida.
Another thing that had to be done was outfit the bike for long-distance travel, which means putting on the racks and panniers and bags and such that I'll be using to lug all my stuff. I'd intended to take a photo with everything assembled, but because it's been so cold I never quite got around to getting everything in place. This is the best photo I could come up with for now. I'll try to get a better one as soon as I get started on the actual ride. In any case, the rear bags and trunk are exactly the same as those used in the last two Bikeabouts, and I'll be adding the same front rack and panniers later. In fact, most of the gear in the photo is exactly the same as the last time (even the bottle cages)...only the bike has changed.
Speaking of weather, it's been ridiculously cold here in Ohio the last few weeks...sub-freezing temperatures almost every day, and snow that might melt off for a day or two only to return with the next winter storm. Getting out and riding for more than a couple of hours has been difficult or impossible (I can stand the cold just about that long and no longer) so I haven't had a chance to get ready for long rides like I wanted to. How this will impact me during the first week or two of riding, well....let's just say I expect to be taking at least one day off (in Phoenix) and it may be more than that. In addition, I've decided that on the first day of riding, when I leave the LA airport hotel where I'm staying Tuesday night, I'll be taking an easy beach cruise to make an easy start of it, instead of a harder ride, which will cost me a day...but I think it's important to not overstress myself right away, given the lack of long riding practice I've had lately. So with that in mind I'll be officially leaving the coast from the Huntington Beach area on Thursday morning, February 26. Here's a map of the planned ride including waypoints in various places I want to visit.
Of course, this is all subject to change. The route shows me skirting Dallas, for example, but I might dip down into the city instead, depending on what's going on when I get closer. Aother option is to head straight across Mississippi, Alabama, etc. after leaving Shreveport, which saves a few miles but is a bit hillier. That all depends on how the winds are blowing. Actually, I'll pretty much be at the mercy of the winds after leaving Albuquerque, as it gets flat and open after that. First I have to get through the mountains, though...and some of those will be pretty tough.
Time to head out! Got the bike packed up last night, which is always fun, especially with a new bike since you're never really sure just exactly how to fit it entirely in the carrying case. The panniers didn't fit, naturally, so I wound up having to bring a much larger suitcase than expected, all because I was trying not to have to ship anything to LA ahead of time (it's just another thing that can go wrong). As it turns out the bike case got on the plane for only the standard $75 oversized bag fee, without doubling up because it was also over 50 pounds...it weighed in at 67, actually. The suitcase also wound up being 57 lbs., but I remembered from past experiences to always have a small gym bag handy to use as a second carryon. With 7 pounds of clothes moved into the spare bag, I got on the plane without having to pay for a second overweight bag (and I was on Southwest so there was no extra charge for it at all) and with 2 carryons that went through security with no trouble. Everything went smoothly at the other side, too, although of course there was a bit of a wait while the oversized bag made its way up to baggage claim via the scenic route, but I expected that.
There was a bit of a snag as the hotel I was using didn't operate their free shuttle after 9pm and I didn't arrive until 10:30, but since they didn't post hours for the shuttle on their website, I complained about it and they agreed to pay for my cab ride. Just FYI, it's $19 minimum for a cab at LAX, even if you're staying just a couple of blocks away (which I was). Since I got out of paying for it, I didn't mind, but it's worth noting. I did tip the driver and no, I didn't get reimbursed for that, so it did cost me a little bit. I was more concerned about the hassle than anything else.
Once at the hotel I put the bike together, including all the panniers and everything, which took a couple of hours. Everything seemed to arrive safely except the brakes were a bit out of alignment, probably having been smashed up against something else during shipping. They took a bit of wrangling to fix, but now the wheels spin smoothly once more. Oh and I should also note that I found a TSA inspection notice in the bike box...I bet they had a fun time getting it closed after inspecting it, because it sure was a pain back at the house.
Anyway...finally drifted off to sleep sometime around 1:30 in the morning local time, and now, it's time to get this started!
If you enjoyed the blog please send me an email and let me know! I may write a book about these experiences someday...any feedback would be greatly appreciated!