Brian’s Cross-USA Bicycle Tour
Brian's 2001 Cross USA Bicycle Tour - Summary
summer of 2001 I completed a 4000 mile bicycle tour across the United States. This was a solo tour without a support vehicle, carrying all of my gear
on the bicycle. The tour began in Seattle and ended in Boston, using a route
I pieced together from various sources: bicycle maps from Adventure Cycling’s
cross country routes, web sites from commercial bicycle touring companies, state
department of transportation bicycle maps, and conventional road maps.
In late June
I flew from California to Seattle for the tour start. I met with some folks from the bicycle touring e-mail list to do a short
warm-up ride, after which we did the rear wheel dipping ceremony to officially
kick off the tour start.
originally planned to use mostly US 2 to get through Washington, but others
convinced me that detouring north to Highway 20 as recommended by Adventure
Cycling was the better choice. It
was certainly much more scenic than my original plan, with forests instead of
deserts, but a much more challenging ride with five mountain passes, each
topping out at about 4000 to 5000 feet. Instead
of setting a goal of “X” miles per day, the daily destinations were set
based on climbing only one pass per day. Camping
opportunities were plentiful – in state parks, or even county fairgrounds or
city parks, where camping was allowed and even encouraged. I was blessed with good weather, although it did rain on me during the
last day in the state.
This was a
very popular section for self-contained touring cyclists. Tom and Dave from California are teachers who ride across a
different state every summer. They
got up too early for me to ride with them, but we still shared some campsites
for a couple of days. There was
also a couple from Vermont that was touring on their tandem bicycle. Although I never saw them, there were two guys rumored to be riding to
New Jersey – later I got an e-mail from one of them confirming their existence. Finally, Keith would
ride his road bike without any gear, while his wife Sharon had the car – she
would explore the towns and take the gear to the hotel room.
went across the across the panhandle of Idaho.
There was a really nasty seven mile stretch of US 2 that was torn up and
muddy from the construction – I was able to ride through it only because there
was an RV in front of me that wouldn’t go faster than 12 mph. (At the end of my tour, I spoke with a bike tourist that ended up getting
a ride from a pickup truck to get around this section.) Later I found that the Adventure Cycling maps use the other side of the
river, avoiding this stretch – if I only had the maps for this part!
I took a
rest day in Sandpoint to do a bunch of things. I went to the bike shop to get a new set of pedals to replace the one
that I had super glued together on the road after it had split. The bike shop also cleaned up my bike for me, which had
looked like it went through a muddy mountain bike race. I also shipped eight pounds of extra gear back home that I
decided that I didn’t need.
Sandpoint, the Adventure Cycling route continues to Glacier National Park in
Montana. I instead headed southeast
towards Missoula to eventually rejoin my original planned route thorough
Yellowstone National Park. I saw no
other touring cyclists on this section, although I did bump into a couple of
local cyclists that were able to give me directions for the more scenic
alternatives to the main road. At
one of the campgrounds I also met Jerry, a professional photographer who was
driving his van around the west to photograph old ghost towns. I would end up seeing him a couple other times while in Montana.
the headquarters of the Adventure Cycling
Association, the organization that
researches and provides detailed maps for long distance bicycle touring routes. Therefore, it was no surprise that I saw many other cyclists at the local
campground. Dave had taken my
original planned route through Washington and Idaho, riding at a really fast
pace of 90-100 miles per day. Geoff
and Phyllis had met up from a magazine advertisement and were planning on
heading east together. I took some
time to visit the Adventure Cycling offices – I got to use their free internet
connection, and they got a picture of me which they might put in a future issue
of the monthly magazine.
heading south through the Bitterroot Valley, the route once again went into the
mountains. The passes in the Rocky
Mountains are a lot higher than the ones in Washington, with the Lost Trail and
Chief Joseph Passes topping out at around 7000 feet. On the other side of those passes (near the Big Hole
battlefield) is a section of high plains.
breakfast in Wisdom one morning, I met John and Nancy from Cleveland, Ohio. They had crossed the USA by bicycle before and were in the middle of
another crossing, this time from Oregon to Virginia. Although they would not be home by the time I made it through Cleveland,
they gave me their daughter’s number and said I could call her if I needed a
place to stay when I was passing through.
arrival at the campground in Alder meant that I got to experience the
hospitality of a Montana barbecue. There
were a lot of friendly “regulars” there, including a couple that drives up
from Salmon, Idaho about every other weekend. The campground folks also cooked up a nice breakfast the next morning.
loosening and occasional breakage of rear wheel spokes had become quite
annoying. I had the rear wheel
trued up in the town of West Yellowstone, just outside of Yellowstone National
Park. The youth hostel in West
Yellowstone seemed to attract cyclists who wanted a break from camping - I spoke
with a German lady who had just spent ten days in Yellowstone and had been on
the road since November. Earlier
that day I spoke with a few people from a group of eight graduate students from
Philadelphia who were doing an east to west crossing.
National Park offered some of the best natural scenery on the tour. I took a few really low mileage days through the park so I
could stop and see all of the sights.
I had an
interesting conversation with a lady who was on a group tour. Although she got along well with everyone in the group,
apparently the committee approach to every decision tends to get a little
exhausting. After talking with her,
I wasn't regretting my decision to do this tour alone.
to have weather of its own. One day
I had to wait out driving rain for two hours before setting up camp. Luckily there was a tarp hanging up over the picnic table, which I had
shared a guy who had cycled from New Jersey with his two children, ages 10 and
I ran into John
and Nancy again at Old Faithful. We
rode together for a couple of days until our routes parted ways.
I was still about
a week behind my original schedule, partly due to my longer route through
Washington and also because my daily mileage had been less than originally
predicted. To make up some of the
time I had decided to exit the park through the east, instead of continuing
south through the Tetons.
There was a pass
to crest at about 8500 feet when leaving Yellowstone through the east entrance,
although it wasn't as difficult as it sounds, with most of Yellowstone being at
around 7000 feet. This was followed
by a gradual, but beautiful, descent down to a plateau at 4000 feet elevation. Being off the beaten path, I did not see many other cyclists, but I did
meet someone riding from Denver to Jackson via Yellowstone.
The Big Horn
mountains were the last, but toughest major climb of the whole trip, starting at
4000 feet and peaking around 9000 feet. Had I known that beforehand, I might have continued southeast with John
and Nancy through Dubois, then heading east to avoid the Big Horns. While I was stopped to take a break on the uphill, a couple
from Southern Illinois who had driven out for vacation had stopped to talk to me
- they were rather impressed at my trip!
When I reached
Sheridan, I made another shipment home, this time it was all of the cold weather
gear that I didn't need for the rest of the trip. East of Sheridan was a lonely 120 mile stretch to Gillette with few
services. It was lonely because it
was bypassed by an interstate highway of the same length along a different
route. Although it only took two
days to ride this stretch, those two days felt like forever.
After ten days in
Wyoming it was a welcome relief to cross another state line! Trees had finally appeared again as I neared the Black Hills.
One night I took a bus tour to see Mount Rushmore. The Black Hills were a popular biking area - for motorcycles, that is -
but I think it's good for bicycling also. I
stopped to talk to two westbound cyclists just outside of Hot Springs.
had made up a few days by my Wyoming routing, I was still a little behind. Therefore I decided to head down to Nebraska instead of going northeast
through Pierre, South Dakota.
gave way to the open prairie as I left the Black Hills and entered Nebraska. This coincided with a heat wave, with temperatures around 100 degrees.
Luckily I was in the half of Nebraska where it was still a dry heat.
I was now in the
part of the country where I would have to watch out for thunderstorms. Getting wet from the rain is not an issue, but getting hit by lightning
is! Luckily the storms came in
either early morning or late afternoon, making it easy to adjust my riding
popular belief, Nebraska is not entirely flat – at least on the route I took.I passed through the desolate sand hills in the north central part of the
state. The only services were
spaced 30 miles apart – as a result I had my longest day of the trip – 95
miles – through this area.
There are lots of
friendly people in the state who will talk with you forever if you let them. When I stopped for a drink in one town a lady came over from across the
street and asked if I could talk to the kids at the vacation bible school across
the street. I did, and there was an
article in the local newspaper about it.
As the route
flattened out in the eastern half of the state the cornfields began appearing. There weren't a lot of cornfields here, since irrigation is necessary to
maintain them here.
Based on total mileage I was about halfway done with the tour - I had a "care
package" waiting for me at the post office, with a new tire and other
I crossed the
Missouri River, entering Iowa at Sioux City, where this year's RAGBRAI bike ride
across Iowa began. The local bike
shop was very responsive with helping out with the mid-ride adjustments,
including the rear wheel adjustments. Although I was in town a week too late to join the RAGBRAI ride, I
downloaded the route for the first day's ride from Sioux City to Storm Lake off
The RAGBRAI route
highlighted the large network of county roads, which are well marked on most
maps, including AAA road maps. These
"country blacktops" are mostly only used by farmers and locals, and
the condition of the roads in the state is excellent for cycling. Since there are an almost infinite number of possible routes for crossing
the state, I did not expect to see any other touring cyclists.
People were also
friendly in Iowa. At the Storm Lake
campground I spent most of my time talking with two couple that were campground
regulars. There was even an Iowa
potluck dinner for the campground host. Gary
even cooked breakfast for me the next morning. Great food and great company! In
one of the other towns I was asking around for a place to camp, and someone said
I could go to their house and stay in their spare bedroom. Again, nice people.
Most of the riding
through Iowa was past farms that had either corn or soybeans, or a combination
of the two. Never have I seen so
much of both in my lifetime!
A heat wave with
temperatures in the high 90s came through – or was it always that hot and
humid during the summer? I found
the exposure to the sun to be worse than the heat, requiring me to put on
sunscreen at least twice a day. There
was shelter from the sun one day, however, when most of the day's ride was on
the tree-shaded bike path from Waterloo to Cedar Rapids.
crossing – this time the Mississippi – and I was in Illinois. The farm roads weren't as well marked as Iowa's, so often
times I had to use more of the main roads instead.
I took a couple of
rest days off in the Chicago area to visit my wife and her family. After six broken spokes in the first half of the trip, I decided to get a
whole new rear wheel rebuilt while I was there.
My Illinois bike
maps seemed to work better for the part of the ride between Chicago and the
Indiana border, in part because the rural roads in that part of the state were
Once I crossed the
state line into Indiana, I felt like I had instantly entered the land of Hoosier
hospitality. Just as I was leaving
a restaurant near the state line, the owner drove up and we were talking. Not knowing that I was on my way out, she offered to buy me lunch, but
she was too late. Also, one evening
at a campsite I camped near three guys who had come down from South Bend to work
a construction job – plenty of food and conversation there.
I rejoined the
Adventure Cycling route soon thereafter. I
had mixed feelings about using a “standard” route – the up side would be
that it was an excellent route through the area, the down side would be that
I’d be just another one of those bikes passing through. My suspicions were confirmed when the first words from one of
the campground hosts were "west or east?" Although no ill will was intended, comments like that made my
journey sound fairly trivial.
Adventure Cycling maps provided an excellent way through all of the
little-traveled farm roads. Trying
to explore them on my own would have been fruitless, since I wouldn’t know
which ones would turn to dirt or even suddenly end. The route even went through a state forest and dam – hills and trees in
Indiana, who would have thought it?
hospitality was had in Monroeville, not too far from the Ohio state line. They offered free overnight use of their recreation hall in the city
park, complete with a kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and an air-conditioned place
to lay my sleeping bag. Later I had found out that another cross country cyclist had
ended her tour early about 20 miles away in Fort Wayne, within a day or so of my
half of the route through Ohio followed rivers and creeks, which along with the
accompanying trees made the cycling more interesting. >There were still cornfields on the way, although not as many
as in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. But
you know you’re getting closer to the east when you start hearing less country
music and more of other types of music in bars and restaurants.
I was quite
fortunate to be reach northern Ohio on a weekend, so that Dan and Debbie
(college friends) could make the drive down from southeast Michigan for a visit. Soon thereafter the route made it to the shore of Lake Erie.
The sight of a large body of water made me feel as if I had made it to
the Lake Erie shoreline meant that the route took me straight through Cleveland,
the only major city I passed through on the tour. The shoreline riding through Cleveland actually wasn’t too bad, as most
of the through traffic uses Interstate 90 instead. I stopped at NASA to visit Fred for lunch – I got a
few looks from security when jumping through the hoops to get on the site! That night I stayed with John and Nancy, who I had met earlier in
Montana. They live in the eastern
suburbs of Cleveland about 250 feet from the Adventure Cycling route – much
better than having to hunt for a hotel!
went through the forty miles of Pennsylvania along the Lake Erie shoreline
before entering New York. Surprisingly,
the moderating effect of the lake provided a good growing climate for vineyards
in this area.
Just on the
other side of the New York state line was a private campground. At that point I called it quits for the day since it had
started raining – the first rain I had seen in days. I was able to set up camp in the covered pavilion, using some of the
picnic tables to prop up my tent (which isn’t freestanding). I didn’t know at that time that this would be the last night of camping
on the tour. Being in the pavilion
meant that I was automatically invited to the leftovers from the potluck dinner
that some of the regulars put together – good hospitality on tour once again.
continued along the shore of Lake Erie until I got to the outer suburbs of
Buffalo. At that point I had to
make a decision: either stay on the Adventure Cycling route through Niagara
Falls and through the Adirondacks, or take a more direct route to the end of my
tour in Massachusetts. Choosing the
former option would have been more scenic, but I would have had to cut it too
close to my flight home. So I
instead opted for the more direct, albeit less scenic, option.
changed once I headed away from Lake Erie, with steep climbs followed by
all-too-short descents before having to climb yet another hill. Things flattened out a little bit when I got to the Finger
Lakes region. Then the hardest rain
that I had seen in weeks came through the area. Luckily, there was a good mini-mart with picnic tables outside to wait
out the rain. While waiting a
couple of hours for the rain to stop, I was talking with Miki from London who
had started riding from Boston and was headed to Minneapolis.
Finger Lakes the route pretty much followed NY Highway 5, which was the flattest
and most direct east-west route across upstate New York. Skirting the outer suburbs of Syracuse, I stopped to a talk
with a couple from Middlebury, Vermont who were riding in the other direction
for a bike tour of the Finger Lakes.
bracket had developed a crack in the cup where it attaches to the frame. To get the bottom bracket replaced I had to navigate my way through the
city of Utica and find the only bike shop in town. Although they dealt with mostly used bikes and had very little in the way
of new parts, they were able to MacGyver a replacement (although somewhat heavy)
by cannibalizing parts from other bikes for sale in the shop.
entire tour I had never reserved any hotel rooms in advance – I would just
look for a place to stay upon arriving in town. This did not work in Little Falls, as all of the hotels in town were
booked for a retreat. Luckily, one
of the hotels was able to find a bed and breakfast for me in Dolgeville, about
eight miles away – but up a big hill! It’s
a good thing I save a little extra energy at the end of the day for situations
The next day
as I was stopped to read my maps, two touring cyclists about my age caught up to
me. Steve and Dwayne had just met
each other earlier that day and had been riding together for a few hours before
running into me. It seemed strange
that all three of us had started our tours from Seattle and had taken completely
different routes to all end up in the same place at the same time. They were headed to Maine and New Hampshire, respectively, while I was
headed to Massachusetts. So we would end up riding together as far as we could.
local knowledge of the area far north of Albany helped out quite a bit, as he
knew it would be tough to find affordable accommodations with the race track
season at Saratoga Springs well under way. Luckily, being able to split hotel rooms three ways helped out quite a
into Vermont brought on a feeling of excitement that I was about to finish the
trip, yet also a feeling of sadness that the trip would be over. That feeling partly resulted in one really short 40 mile day, postponing
the climb over the Green Mountains. After
a few days of riding with Steve and Dwayne, I split off on my own after Keene,
Most of the
ride through Massachusetts was through familiar suburbia, even retracing some
steps from a previous tour. I was
planning to stay at the youth hostel in Littleton, but Jeff had flagged me down
back in Acton to let me know I could stay at his place – an unexpected,
welcome surprise near the end of the tour.
me for the ride for the last few miles to some decent ocean north of Boston in
Beverly, where we did the ceremonial front wheel dipping. 3959 miles in 70 days! I
wanted to reflect on a few items concerning my tour that seem to come up from
time to time.
asked why I chose to do my trip alone, instead of with a group. In short, I wanted the freedom to go at my own pace or stop
anywhere that only traveling alone could provide – I have no regrets about the
way I did it. Also, a solo traveler
is more approachable by the locals compared to a group of cyclists.
the tour I had spoken with someone who was part of a twelve person group that
carried their own gear and traded off chores every night – I got the
impression that she felt like she was “chained” to the group. In my opinion, that would be the worst case scenario for group touring
– if I were to tour with a group I would prefer a really large group which had
a support truck for carrying gear and offered more people to interact with. I think the best situation would be to tour with only one other person
– this provides many of the advantages of traveling with others, while
avoiding the group dynamic that would come about if there were any additional
I also got a
lot of questions about the physical demands of the tour: how much training did I
do beforehand, whether or not my butt hurt, etc. Actually, the tour was less physically demanding than most people would
expect, although some days were tougher than others. I was not in the best of cycling shape before the tour
(although still in pretty good shape), so I started off with shorter days in the
beginning and worked my way up to higher mileage days. I think that almost anyone can do a trip like this, although a certain
baseline level of cycling fitness is required so that you don’t get injured in
the first couple of days.
surprise for me was that I was more mentally than physically tired near the end
of the tour. Perhaps this was
because I was somewhat pressed for time near the end – not so much that I
needed to put in long days, but enough to preventing me from taking any days
off. If I were on a longer tour I
would have gone for a lower average daily mileage, taking more occasional days
also questions about safety concerns. There
were two different concerns: safety while cycling on the roads, and more general
concerns about traveling alone in strange places. These fears are generally overrated, although no activity is 100% safe.
Bicycle riding on the roads is perceived to be much more dangerous than
driving – in fact, the danger levels of those two activities are not that much
different, even with varying levels of traffic. Also, the risk of crime in rural areas is fairly low.
not least, is the age old question, “so why did you do this tour?” If you have to ask that question, then no amount of explaining will
convince you of the answer…