Biking Across the US for the First Time and I've Got Questions!



mwparenteau

New Member
Feb 20, 2005
12
0
0
I'm able to get this summer off from work and I've been playing around with the idea of biking the Northern Tier. I've never made a long cycling trip before so I have a lot of questions!

1) In regards to training:

The farthest I've ever biked is to the top of Mount Tamalpais (almost 800 meters ) and the round trip was about 40 miles. Of course, I was tired and stopped a lot, but the trip didn't kill me and I woke up fine the next day and relatively pain/sore free! I bike 5 miles to and from work every day in San Francisco (read: hills!) I bike more on the weekends and I'd say the minimum I bike is 40-50 miles a week. How much training should I do in addition to this?

2) In regards to going alone:

Just how bored might I be? Is it common to bump into other cyclists at camps and such? I'm a talkative person and my biggest worry is being bored out of my mind!

3) In regards to my bike:

All I use is a mountain bike and every time I've ridden a bike with dropped handlebars it's been a really odd experience. Is it wise to ride across the country with a mountain bike or is that a cyclist faux pas? Must I spend hundreds buying a new bike for this trip or can I fit my current one to these needs?

4) In regards to bike gear:

I have little money to spend for this trip and I doubt I can afford to buy a whole new cyclist wardrobe. What's absolutely necessary?

5) Has anyone bought any maps from Adventure Cycling before? Are they worth dropping $100 on? They look really nice and I am a map person.

Thanks in advance for any replies! I'll most likely have questions in the future. :)
 

Trekker2017

New Member
Apr 23, 2004
236
0
0
73
mwparenteau said:
I'm able to get this summer off from work and I've been playing around with the idea of biking the Northern Tier. I've never made a long cycling trip before so I have a lot of questions!

1) In regards to training:

The farthest I've ever biked is to the top of Mount Tamalpais (almost 800 meters ) and the round trip was about 40 miles. Of course, I was tired and stopped a lot, but the trip didn't kill me and I woke up fine the next day and relatively pain/sore free! I bike 5 miles to and from work every day in San Francisco (read: hills!) I bike more on the weekends and I'd say the minimum I bike is 40-50 miles a week. How much training should I do in addition to this?

2) In regards to going alone:

Just how bored might I be? Is it common to bump into other cyclists at camps and such? I'm a talkative person and my biggest worry is being bored out of my mind!

3) In regards to my bike:

All I use is a mountain bike and every time I've ridden a bike with dropped handlebars it's been a really odd experience. Is it wise to ride across the country with a mountain bike or is that a cyclist faux pas? Must I spend hundreds buying a new bike for this trip or can I fit my current one to these needs?

4) In regards to bike gear:

I have little money to spend for this trip and I doubt I can afford to buy a whole new cyclist wardrobe. What's absolutely necessary?

5) Has anyone bought any maps from Adventure Cycling before? Are they worth dropping $100 on? They look really nice and I am a map person.

Thanks in advance for any replies! I'll most likely have questions in the future. :)

I've cycled from Connecticut to California (Southern Tier) and from Connecticut to Key West, Fl. So based on my experience here are some answers:

1. Training... never worried about it. If you don't try to over do it in the first week or two, the trip trains you. Prior to the start, I was comfortable doing 20-40 mile rides around my home turf. Also remember, cycling around your home routes is different than cycling with a full bike load of gear. (I rode alone and carried panniers front and back for camping and camera gear.)

2. I cycled alone. I'm a loner at heart... loved it. There were so many things to see. Then every now and again, another ride would slide up with me and stay with me for 10-20 miles.

3. I used a mountain bike with smooth tires. I've never done a long trip with drop handlebars.

4. As far as gear went, I used cycling shorts, t-shirts (some of which I bought along the way like on Rt. 66), one wool sweater for cold nights in the mountains, rain gear. I ended up packing my helmet and wearing a wide brimmed safari style hat. I found that I needed more protection from the sun than I did drivers along the way. I practiced staying out of their way and they stayed out of mine.

5. Adventure cycling has some really nice maps. However, they will take you over the higest climb they can find on your route. So I carried the standard Rand McNally to be able to work out an alternative route should the terrain bars get too close together.

I had a great time on my trips. Have fun on yours.
 

mwparenteau

New Member
Feb 20, 2005
12
0
0
Thanks for the reply Trekker! That was great advice. :)

So, you just fitted your mountain bike with racks and panniers? What type of tent did you use?
 

Trekker2017

New Member
Apr 23, 2004
236
0
0
73
mwparenteau said:
Thanks for the reply Trekker! That was great advice. :)

So, you just fitted your mountain bike with racks and panniers? What type of tent did you use?

I used a tent called "The Walrus". It was the two man verision of the company's one man tent. I chose the larger version for two reason: 1. I'm a big man... the one man tent felt a little too confining; and 2. the Walrus allowed me to keep my panniers and gear either in the tent with me or in the fly just outside the front screen.

If you head over to my website: www.ericruark.com and look under the Civil War Battlefields pictures, photo CW-131 has a shot of my Trek with the front panniers removed leaning up against one of the monuments at Gettysburg. I chose to hang my front panniers high because that gave me a platform on which to secure my camera bag. That way I had access to my cameras by just reaching over my headlamp.
 

mwparenteau

New Member
Feb 20, 2005
12
0
0
Awesome! You've gotten my excited because I was thinking I'd have to go buy a new bike. I should bring it down to some bikeshops and get their advice and see what racks they have and such.:cool:
 

Trekker2017

New Member
Apr 23, 2004
236
0
0
73
mwparenteau said:
Awesome! You've gotten my excited because I was thinking I'd have to go buy a new bike. I should bring it down to some bikeshops and get their advice and see what racks they have and such.:cool:

In your first post you mentioned Mt. Tam. (I used to live in Marin County.) So I'm guessing that you're going to make the crossing west to east. That will put you in the mountains early in your trip. I crossed east to west so I had several weeks of work before I hit any big hills. There were some steep climbs in the east, but they were relatively short in duration compared to the western climbs.

With my Trek 830 I had the bottom bracked sealed and switched to a Ritchie road tire. Currently there are several brands that make excellent road tires for mountain bikes that cut the friction really well. Then I added the racks. Those were the only three things I did to the bike to make it road ready for the cross country hop. Along the way, I needed to buy a new tire (which I did in Oklahoma) and replace two spokes (one in Oklahoma and Lake Havasau City, AZ). Oh, and I had four flats.

A couple of pointers especially if you are out there alone without a follow car. Figure out your route and research the weather that occurs along the way. Plan your clothing so that it does double duty. Roll the clothes and put them in quart plastic bags then squeeze the air out of the bag before you seal it. It takes up less room in the pannier and won't get wet no matter what the weather. Plan your riding to keep you out of rush hour traffic. Drivers in a hurry to get to work or home are real nasty people. I like to eat during those times. Cycle from just after daylight to morning rush. Have breakfast during rush. Cycle after rush to evening rush and either get to a campground/motel before the rush or dinner during the rush and get to the campsite after the evening rush but before sunset. Although I cycle in the dark near to where I live, I did not do it while cycling cross country. Becareful of east/west roads at just after sunrise. Cars riding into the sun will not be able to see you. Same at sunset if you ride late in the afternoon.
 

valygrl

New Member
Jan 5, 2004
7
0
0
Hey there...

Re: bike - I rode a mountain bike w/panniers on my first tour. I had problems with my hands going numb (stayed that way for the whole tour, and for weeks after). For my next ride I bought a real tour bike (Trek 520), which I much prefer. But it can be done.

I would suggest adding bar ends for more hand positions, slick tires and a rigid fork (or shock w/lockout). I actually have a set of lowrider racks for a suspension fork and new slick tires that I would be happy to sell you, I'm in the bay area too. Email me if you are interested, or want to pick my brain more.

Re: Helmet - I'm a member of the my-helmet-saved-my-life club - wear one!

Re: clothes - gloves, bike shorts and comfy cycling shoes (or sandals) are necessary. You don't really need jerseys (no pockets needed when you have panniers :D) - just make sure your cycling clothes dry fast, so you can wash them every day and dry them on the rack. Everything else is just common sense based on the weather you expect - rain gear, warm clothes, off-bike clothes, etc. can likely be found already in your closet. Also, you can always buy stuff that you need along the way, and/or send stuff home. I sent a bunch of stuff home after the first week.

Re: loneliness - EVERYONE will want to talk to you about what you are doing. I was worried about loneliness too, but in my 2 1/2 month tour across the US, I was probably lonely in camp only a few times, and a couple times on rest days. I had as much socializing as I wanted. I don't really get lonely riding, though, so YMMV.

Re: A.C. Maps - they are nice, but not required. You might get the ones for the first few weeks of your journey, that will help you ease into it, and then just use regular maps after that. A Triple-A membership is much more cost effective - and you will want other maps anyway - if you only have the A.C. maps, you get kind of stuck on that one little strip of the world they describe, and you miss out on all kinds of exploration. I found that some of the best experiences were the totally random, unplanned ones, off the map, so to speak. AAA is great - just pay attention to which town on your route has the next office, and get maps until there. Throw them away as you ride off them.

Re: Tent - i used a single wall tent (Eureka Exo2) which was light and fast to set up, but which sucks if it rains more than one day in a row - if the outside is wet when you pack it up, the inside is wet when you unpack. Yuck. Next time, I'm going double wall.

Have a great trip!
Anna
 

Trekker2017

New Member
Apr 23, 2004
236
0
0
73
valygrl said:
Re: Tent - i used a single wall tent (Eureka Exo2) which was light and fast to set up, but which sucks if it rains more than one day in a row - if the outside is wet when you pack it up, the inside is wet when you unpack. Yuck. Next time, I'm going double wall.

Have a great trip!
Anna

Good point about the tent. On my trip I carried two space blankets; one that I used under the tent as a tarp and the other that I used in side the tent as a liner. I also picked up a "trail" towel from LL Bean, a very absorbent piece of material that I used to get the moisture out of the tent before rolling it up.
 

mwparenteau

New Member
Feb 20, 2005
12
0
0
Anna, thanks for your post!
valygrl said:
Re: bike - I rode a mountain bike w/panniers on my first tour. I had problems with my hands going numb (stayed that way for the whole tour, and for weeks after).
Did your hands go numb too, Trekker?
 

Trekker2017

New Member
Apr 23, 2004
236
0
0
73
mwparenteau said:
Anna, thanks for your post!
Did your hands go numb too, Trekker?

Yes, my hands went numb, but I solved the problem by double wrapping my handlebars with cork padding. Widening my grip made the numbness dissappear.
 

athoma00

New Member
May 14, 2004
28
0
0
I too had the numb hands problem on my daily commute and would recommend the bar ends. I put mine inboard of the brake/shift levers. They seem way more natural there (In fact about 1 minute after starting using them I couldn't go back to the 'proper' grips). Then I also wrapped them up in cork tape. Then I got some of those 'Specialized' Body geometry cycling gloves which seemed the best I could see in my local shop. I went from waking in the middle of the night with tingling hands to not worrying about this at all. It's worth doing if you're going a long way or doing long rides every day. Damaged Nerves are not good.
 

analogkid333

New Member
Mar 15, 2005
12
0
0
Congratulations! You have an enviable experience ahead of you. I did the NT in 2002 and can try to answer your questions.

Training: No matter how much you do, you will go through some aches and pains early on. There's simply no way to prepare perfectly for sitting eight hours a day on a bike. I would suggest just getting in some back-to-back weekend day rides in the weeks leading up to your departure. That and a "practice" weekend tour to check equipment. If you're busy during the week, at least use your weekends.

Loneliness: Good question. I rode with two strangers I sort of got along with, which, in retrospect, was probably better than going solo. But you will run into plenty of fellow NT cyclists, and being alone you're bound to be invited into people's homes. Maybe a radio strapped to your handlebars can help pass the time, too.

A mountain bike shouldn't be a problem, but get rid of the knobby tires in favor of a 1.5" road-style tire. Bar ends for your handlebars is probably the cheapest way to increasing comfort (you WILL need to change hand positions). However you equip your bike, always think in terms of comfort and utility. Use what works, not necessarily what's fashionable.

Bike gear: At least have padded shorts, gloves, and a helmet. You can get by without special jerseys or GoreTex. Baggy cotton t-shirts are perfect for hot days, an old wool top for cool ones. Get some cheap rainwear -- expensive "breathable" waterproof garments seem to always lose their repellency eventually. I've even used a garbage bag in a pinch.

The AC maps are wonderful; I used them most of the way. There is something comforting about being near the end of a long, tiring day and knowing what services lie just up the road. If you're spontaneous and like adventure, you can use just any old road map, but you might miss some of the most scenic roads.

Well, I hope I didn't confuse you too much. Good luck with your preparation!
 

meanderthal

New Member
Mar 17, 2005
8
0
0
I’m lazy, so will just reprint something I posted on another forum. I’m 66 now, crossed in 1993, and these are some thoughts that have come out of that. Though I’ve not addressed your questions directly, you may find answers to some you didn’t ask.


First of all, remember this important thing: There can be only one "first time". You'll never forget it, so make it the best adventure you can possibly manage. Ride your dream, not someone else’s tried-and-true route. Pore over the maps and choose a path that speaks to you. Extend yourself--don't plan all the "surprise" out of it. Don't, for example, make reservations ahead, or promise to visit people who live along the way. Live in the unknown. The object, I think, should be to immerse yourself in the unfamiliar to the point of feeling vaguely lost--a bit vulnerable and dependent on your own common sense and resources more than you may ever have been. If you can possibly carry camping and cooking gear, do it. It may feel scary at first, but not knowing, when you rise each morning, where you'll sleep that night is exhilarating in itself. When you want “civilized”, seek out the small-town restaurants that the locals frequent; stay at the mom-and-pop, “neon” motels. Do everything you can to force those pores open and sharpen your five senses. Do that and you'll be surprised by how you'll remember the smallest detail years hence, still feel a sense of ownership of that narrow ribbon of asphalt whose last mile will have separated you forever from that rider who pedaled the first one. Make it “your” road, not someone else’s fast-food, chain-lodging road. But never forget that as you clock off each mile you travel as a guest, not an owner. “Please” and “thank you” are magic to the ears of the tourist-weary shopkeeper. You’ll remember many a person who made your day out there, so make theirs, too, and may all your memories be good ones.

Some details I might mention:


CARGO. I like panniers. There are many who prefer trailers (Google “bike trailers”), but I keep thinking of loss of maneuverability, difficulty parking, less stability on steep descents, wider footprint (in traffic)--things like that. I use both front and rear panniers plus a handlebar bag. Roomy with good weight distribution. Feels like the natural state after a few days out.


Don’t take too much stuff, especially food. Grocery stores are everywhere except in the longest lonely stretches where you can stock up just before.


WATER. It’s nice to have 3 bottle cages. In most areas, I don’t fill the 3rd one; it’s there when supply is iffy and at the last water stop of the day before searching for a campsite. Carry extra web straps for general purposes, including lashing store-bought gallons of water before entering the desert.


EATING OUT: breakfast is my favorite, because more locals show up--especially those who aren’t in a hurry and can “sit a spell”. Lots of conversations start with the morning coffee klatch. Even if I cook breakfast in camp, I always seem to end up having another one, just for the human contact.


FENDERS: have them. Ditto, rain gear. BIG ditto: REARVIEW MIRROR (I like the helmet-mounted ones.)


ROUTE PLANNING. It’s ok to map out your route meticulously. As long as it’s along roads you’ve never traveled, you lose no sense of adventure by writing down road names. The advantage is that when you’re on the road, pre-drawn route frees you from too-frequent map reading and allows you to look at what you’re passing through instead.


PRIVACY. Traveling with others: try to have a lot of “alone” time on the road--where you can’t see your companions. Try to mimic solo riding on some days, agreeing to meet at the day’s destination or at some rendezvous point along the way.


NOTE TAKING. I like hanging a lightweight mini-tape recorder around my neck so I can make notes while I ride.


PHOTOS. I took a lot of scenic shots, but I regret not taking pics of people met casually--shopkeepers, etc. As I mentioned earlier, you will remember more than you might expect, so it would be nice to have photos to bring back the faces.

Use web straps, not bungee cords, to tie down stuff on back rack. Bungees have too much give; you'll waste energy in overcoming bounce and side-to-side thrashing.


TRIAL RUN. Before you leave, consider a trial run. A short, one-night shakedown trip, followed later by a 3-night, 150-mile mini tour, camping in a different place each night, will allow you to discover and correct most of the bugs you'd have encountered on the real trip.


RAIN. Loaded with gear, ride for a day in the rain beforehand. The sooner the better to find what needs waterproofing.


EQUIPMENT MAINTENANCE. Learn to dismantle, clean and reassemble your camp stove. BIG DITTO: learn to fix your own flats. If you’ve never done it, use an ice pick on your tire if you must, but go through the process once to make sure you’re able. ALSO....get a chain tool and learn to use it by opening a link and then reclosing it. Then carry a spare link on the road. A guy in a pickup can maybe fix a flat for you, but if your chain breaks, you’re helpless without a tool. FINALLY...the same goes for cables. Learn to replace both brake and shifter cables. Carry spares.


TENTS. I think one-person tents are preferable to larger ones. The privacy is good, everyone sleeps better, and if your partner drops out mid-trip, you’re not left lugging a house.


DRY TENT. Buy a good tent, capable of remaining dry in a prolonged downpour. You'll be toasty warm in the always-DRY SLEEPING BAG that you unpack and repack inside the dry tent. A dry tent allows you to choose a down bag if you want (pounds saved.) OVERHANG or VESTIBULE is important so rain doesn't fall through the front door. If it's raining when you want to leave, pack everything while inside tent. Get into rain clothes. Then strike the tent & stuff into its bag quickly. Try to keep fly deployed. Stuff the mostly-dry tent under the fly, then shake & stuff the wet fly.

CAMPSITES: State campgrounds are generally great, and you'll often avoid much of the leviathan-RV crowd. National forest campsites are good, too, though often quite primitive. The latter are often unmanned, so be sure to have lots of ones and fives to make exact change when you stuff your fee into the box at the gate. (Nat'l forest sites do take personal checks.) And yes, church and school yards and even town parks are fair game if you ask first. Try to return the favor, though, by patronizing a local restaurant or making a small donation. It's also fun to bivouac. I avoid private property but have pitched many times in non-posted, wooded areas of public property--thickly-treed road medians and the like. It's part of the adventure, and when you really don't know where you'll end up at the end of the day, bivouacking is a common necessity.

Carry your own TIRE PUMP and PATCH KIT. I prefer a full-size pump to the compact models, as it's easier to use. Since you'll be topping off each morning, the extra weight is worth it.

TOOLS. Make sure you have a tool for every adjustment you may need to make. I draw the line at the heavier tools, though--crescent wrench, crank extractor, freewheel remover--and plan instead to just sit by the roadside and cry, waiting for the inevitable pickup to come along.

FOOD. Carry a bit of emergency ration, but don't carry too much food. Shop daily. It's fun to patronize a lonely little mom-and-pop grocery, and they can use the business. They are often as hungry for a chance to chat as you are for the food, and you may easily be their day's high point, what with your incredible story of a cross-country ride. They're one-of-a-kind, and that's what you're after, isn't it? Me? I dine down-and-dirty when I camp. Food preparation is low on my list of fun things, so I often just get a can of good stew or chili and boil it unopened for 10 minutes, immersed in a 1 qt aluminum pot of water. I turn the stove off and let the whole thing rest 15 minutes before opening, and then eat right out of the can so there's only a spoon to wash. A can of fruit and a slice of bread--that's my dinner. I get my nutritional balance back at breakfast or lunch, when I'm not tired from the day's ride. Don't overworry about food. Do what Mark Twain advised: "Eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside."

CLOTHING. I carry an extra jersey and cycling shorts. One polypropylene long-john pants and one lycra tights. One polypro turtleneck. One rain jacket, pants and lightweight overshoe. One balaclava. Two sock and two glove liners, all polypro. Two pair wool socks, one cotton. One lightweight sleeping shorts and t-shirt. Two cycling gloves plus one warm, fingered pair cycling gloves. I live in the cycling clothes.

LAUNDRY. At a coin laundry, just get into your rain suit and wash everything else. Go easy on the dryer temperature; check often. In camp with running water, I just hand-wash things in the sink or shower using bar soap, and dry them the next day in a lightweight net on my back rack.

WILD ANIMALS. I tend not to camp alone in bear country, and especially not in mountain lion country. Go with your own preference, though, but be sure not to contaminate your bike bags, clothing or tent with food odors. Wash all bags before embarking, and don't carry anything that might ooze or spill or otherwise smell up your bags. I carry fig bars, for example, in a tightly-capped Rubbermaid bottle. Same with raisins and nuts. Never have food in your tent. Once in there, it may leave residual odors which can attract animals long afterward. At night, suspend food from a tree branch (see literature for pointers).

Bottom line: be less concerned about what might happen than about what might NOT happen. In other words, make it the best adventure ever. Have fun, and the best of luck to you.....Lew
 

analogkid333

New Member
Mar 15, 2005
12
0
0
Dear meanderthal: Your post, and all its attendant details, is worth any book I've read on touring. Even though I praised the ACA maps in my previous post, I second what you say about choosing your own path. These are important decisions. When I did my XC, I had a custom-planned route all set, but ended up sacrificing most of it so I could have riding partners (who wanted to do the Northern Tier). The tour turned out fine, the mapped route was fantastic, but I have to say that 1/3 of our trip was improvised (off the NT) and this was often the most exciting (for better and worse!).

When you go off the guided routes, you encounter people who are not as used to seeing touring cyclists. I think every home we got invited into happened along our improvised route. Having done a trip that mixed both the tried-and-true routes and some perhaps never-tried, there are definitely virtues to both. It all depends on one's threshold for adventure.
 

steevo

New Member
Dec 14, 2003
30
0
0
I did this ac route in 2001

2) In regards to going alone:
Its a hard thing to do. I went with 5 others who were my best friends so of
course it made it all the more awesome. Not everybody has this option. We
met TONS of friendly people in every town, and met about 8 or so cyclist
that we played tortise and the hair with. We crossed paths with many
cyclists as well.



3) In regards to my bike:
We rode with a guy who did it on a MTB with a BOB trailer. He had some
clip on aero bars for a good positiion and some slick tires, he had no trouble
keeeping up with us.


4) In regards to bike gear:
If you skimp out on stuff you will regret it when you have a sore ass and are soaking wet.

2 pairs of shorts
2 moisture wicking t shirts
a pair of zip off pants
GOOD RAIN GEAR TOPS AND BOTTOMS
I bought rain booties made by I believe bellweather (through adv cycling)...
these booties were the best investment EVER.
how much is all this if you buy bargin stuff ? 200 bucks? well worth it.


5) Has anyone bought any maps from Adventure Cycling before? Are they worth dropping $100 on? They look really nice and I am a map person.

100 bucks for AC maps = free camping for 2 months.
The ac maps list every "city park" where you can camp. they are mostly
small picnic areas where somebody said it is ok to pitch a tent and most
have bathrooms and water. FREE. I paid a total of 16 bucks for lodging for
65 days. you cant beat that. Also lists bike shops and food.

food. yeah there were days when we would roll into a town and all there was
was a bar selling french fries. for reals. we cooked 90% of the time, but still.

If you have any Norther Tier specific questions, email me .
steevo(shiftf2)pacihl.com

oh yeah. you should do this for sure