Monday, January 6, 2014

Need Advice for a Bicycle Ride across the USA?

If you stumble upon this blog you may be thinking about bicycling across the United States. You may also be thinking about raising money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

I've done the ride twice. Both times I rode solo and carried all my own gear. (I’d do it again if I thought my wife wouldn’t freak out.)

I was 58 the first time I pedaled from New Jersey to Oregon. I was 62 when I pedaled from Maine to California. Two of my friends did it at an even more advanced age not long ago. Joe Ossman turned 64 during the ride. Rich Fowler was 67.

I think plenty of people could do this. I don’t think it’s that hard. So, I offer anyone advice if they would like.

You can contact me via email:

You can check out my Facebook page and see plenty of pictures from my rides. Or:  give me a call if you prefer: 513-479-4988.

Or you can read the previous post on the subject. I recommend plenty of patches for tires, for example, since I had four flats in one day. I also recommend stealth camping. Anyway, tha post is:

I thought biking across America was one of the great adventures of my life and I raised money for a great cause. My daughter Emily is a type-1 diabetic, by the way, so I pedaled for her, too.

Recently, a young lady I had given a few tips sent me this kind email:

Dear John,

My most sincere apologies—I completely forgot to follow up with you after my bike trip and thank you for all your advice. Things got hectic right after our correspondence—my summer job as a conservation corps member began. I forwarded your email with all of your advice to my fellow traveling companions, and we all really appreciated the insights you had to offer.

The trip was a success! Our itinerary pretty much consisted of one long-distance leg from Burlington, Vermont to Buffalo, New York (mostly following Bike Route 5 and occasionally the Erie Canalway Heritage Corridor bike path), with Amtrak stops in Chicago, Glacier National Park, Montana, and finally to Seattle. While biking through Vermont, we just picked a random Google maps route that would take us through all the scenic and pastoral valleys. Within three hours of setting out, we came upon a bridge that was currently under construction—so we forded the small river, panniers and all! A great story for our first day. Traveling through the Erie Canalway area of New York was quite interesting and rather maddening at times. The canal bike path was in poor condition and very spotty (would disappear/reappear randomly). It was fascinating to be able to contemplate the question—what does it mean to be human in New York? As an aspiring urban planner, nothing was more exciting to me than exploring a new place and observing how its inhabitants relate to their surroundings. Aaargh, post-industrial cities of upstate NY.

Perhaps the scariest thing about safety was knowing that we were not 100% in control. We took every available measure (helmets, reflective gear, knowing and following traffic rules, lights, etc.) but there is always that element of chance if someone in a car just isn't paying attention. My two friends each had 4 panniers, and I only had two. In the future I would also have four in order to balance the weight better and make the physics of movement a bit easier. We were able to weigh all our equipment on a large scale in the basement of Chicago's Amtrak station and we each carried 35 to 50 pounds. I did have one of those hilarious helmet-mirrors, which was indeed quite helpful.

I am very much in "pay it forward" mode, thanks to the overwhelming kindness bestowed upon us by random folks at all points in our journey. We met so many wonderful, interesting, and unforgettable people. We stealth camped only a few times—mostly stayed with Warmshowers folks and our friends. I respect systems like Warmshowers that are grounded in reciprocity and trust, and exchanging stories. We all can't wait to have our own places in the future and be Warmshowers hosts! In places that we judged unsafe for stealth camping but had no lodging plans, we would typically find a nice-looking dwelling with plenty of potted plants and politely ask if we could set up camp in their backyard. This always worked out and once we stayed in a family's RV (they even let us use their bathroom and swimming pool!) and an attic (in Niagara).

Somehow, we had the crazy luck of never getting a flat tire over the entire 500-600 miles. I believe that was due to us carrying tons of repair tools and materials. The second we stopped carrying two spare tubes, I'm sure we would have gotten a ton of flats! Ha, ha.

A bad/good luck story—my cable was cut in Portland, Oregon by a thief in broad daylight. Kept checking Craigslist relentlessly and calling/emailing local bike shops for the next 6 weeks…finally, I spot its posting on Craigslist and am able to buy it back with the assistance of a friend. My beloved travel companion is now safely in my friend's garage in Portland just waiting for me to come fetch her! Obviously, from now on, ALWAYS using a Kryptonite lock and recording the serial #.

Hope all is well with you, and you had a great holiday.


(If she gives me permission, I will add a few pictures from her trip.)


Parts of Wyoming are kind of dry and barren to pedal across.
North of Rawlins.

You have to figure a history teacher will stop to see battlefields: Chancellorsville, Virginia.

Tenting beside the Missouri River. You sleep well when you bike.

I offered a few travel and fund-raising tips to Navid Attayan.
He rode coast to coast in 2013.
Did a fantastic job raising money for kids with cancer, too!

A trip that didn't work for some. Chuck Boehm, left pedaled from San Francisco to Yellowstone at age 65.
Red poncho, me.
Middle:  Joe Ossman went all the way to the Atlantic and turned 64 during the ride.
Yellow:  Rich Fowler made it all the way at 67 (and lost 85 pounds to get ready for the trip).
Right:  my brother Tim crashed the third day; so he and I had to withdraw from the ride.

I visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home.

I'm cheating a little here:  this is a picture I took on a car trip in 1978.
But you can pedal through sequioya forests if you want.
P. S. That's a tree branch.

Cheating a little here, too. I have pedaled across Nevada.
This shoe tree I photographed on a drive.
Some vandal cut it down a few years ago, though.

I've seen the Badlands on my bicycle.

Stealth camping in Indiana.
No joke:  I was temporarily handcuffed here as a bank robbery suspect.

Met David Rothschild in Yellowstone Park.
He was pedaling for the Atlantic and I was going the other way.
The National Park Service holds spots for bicycle riders in the park.

Well, riding across Indiana is easy. It's kind of flat.

Riding down the Gallatin River Valley near Yellowstone Park.

Lupine flowers in Maine.

Mt. Rushmore, of course, The climb up to the monument out of Rapid City is pretty steep.

I met Rick Arnett on the Loneliest Highway in Nevada. He was in his 50s and riding from Virginia to parts unknown.

Stealth camping behind a row of heavy bushes. Home away from home. Nevada.

I always meet nice people when I'm pedaling. O-H-I-O.

I took a break in Salt Lake City to see the Mormon Tabernacle.

Somewhere in South Dakota.
This guy was working on his seventeenth cross-country trip.

My older brother Tim often rides with me part of the way and helps me reach my destination in one piece.

This is Tioga Pass, leading up into Yosemite National Park.
Heck of a climb. There's a white speck on the road just above my handlebars.
That's a big RV camper to give you some scale.

Lake near the top of Tioga Pass.

When I pedal all day I can eat all I want and still lose weight.
Raspberry shake in Utah.

Okay, not all of America is pretty.
Sevier Desert in Utah.

One mile of elevation gained! Thirty-miles uphill to reach the top.
Outside of Buffalo, Wyoming.

On both trips across the U. S. I pedaled through Yellowstone.
I highly recommend that.

I don't recommend crashing in the dark, though.
(I got messed up looking for a campground that didn't exist and had to keep pedaling to find a motel where I could stay.)

Gliding alone the Yellowstone River on a bicycle. Not a bad way to spend a day.

Camping in Yosemite Park.

Yosemite Valley. A great place to pedal; but the climb out is rough.

If you want to get a good idea of what the terrain in Nevada is like, along Route 50, The Loneliest Highway in America, the video below is good.

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