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How to Bike Across the U.S. by Kathleen Ventura

Bike Across The U.S.

My husband, Brock, and I knew that when our lease was up we’d sell everything, quit our jobs, and travel the world.

We had a lot of ideas, but ultimately decided to stay in the U.S. before heading abroad.

We had been half kidding about riding our bikes across the country for a while, and one day we decided we should just do it. So we started researching, buying our bikes and gear, and planning like crazy.

And in June of 2012, we kick-started our crazy bike adventure…

Bike Across the U.S.

How did you plan and prepare for the trip?

Admittedly, I didn’t really prepare or train.

We did however do one trial run. We road our bikes 25 miles to my uncle’s house in the middle of nowhere and camped in his yard and then road the 25 miles back the next day. We learned a lot about what we wanted to have with us and what we definitely didn’t want.

I also spent a lot of time trying to figure out where the heck we would sleep. I read a lot of websites to help understand what other bike tourists’ best practices were for everything from bike tools to clothes to pack.

What was your route, how long did it take, how long did you ride each day?

The trip followed the designated TransAmerica Trail. We started in Yorktown, Virginia and ended in Astoria, Oregon. The trail passes through ten states including Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Oregon.

There weren’t many big towns that the trail passed through. I think the biggest city we came to was Missoula, Montana. I suppose that Eugene and Corvallis, Oregon were also relatively large towns.

Bike Across The U.S.

The route is officially 4,232 miles, but according to my bike computer we cycled closer to 4,700.

The average time it takes to complete the TransAmerica on bike is usually 90 days. We took five months. We were so fortunate to have the luxury of time, so we weren’t in a hurry. If loved a place, we’d stick around for a few days. If the weather was awful or we were tired, we didn’t have to push ourselves.

On average we probably cycled 50 miles a day. There were definitely 12-mile days, and our longest day was 88 miles.

What time of year did you ride? Any problems with weather?

We road for five months from June to November.

Because we took five months to complete the trail we had the opportunity to meet every kind of weather imaginable. 2012 was a year of record high temperatures. There were several days in a row with temps over 100 degrees and humidity that made it seem like there was no oxygen. This kind of weather was the hardest for me because it was in the beginning when I was just getting my trail legs, and I don’t do well in the heat.

The heat followed us to Colorado, but then temperatures started dropping. By the time we were in Wyoming and Montana we had nights with frost and temps in the teens. Then we started dealing with snow and hail. Not many days like that, but no fun just the same.

Bike Across The U.S.

It all came full circle that the last full week of the trip up the Oregon coast it rained nonstop. No exaggeration here, ladies. It never stopped raining and we were miserable and cold and we could barely enjoy the beauty of the area.

What bike did you ride?  How did you carry all your gear?

My bike was a Novara Safari. It is a touring bike made by REI and I loved her. She took great care of me. The frame of the bike is made of steal, like all touring bikes, which meant it was about 27 pounds without any gear on it.

All of my gear was carried in two waterproof panniers on my rear wheel.

What additional gear did you bring for the journey?

Gear for the trip included clothes, bike tools, extra parts, camping stuff, cooking utensils, food, toiletries, and electronics.

The trip started with a lot of stuff we ended up sending home. We had started out with jackets and sleeping bags and quickly realized there was no use for them considering it was always about 90 degrees.

One item that I definitely didn’t need was a camelback backpack.  Bad idea. Way too hot for a backpack.

Any tips on making the trip more comfortable?

Invest in a great saddle (e.g. Brooks saddle). This will literally make the trip more comfortable. Because they are made of real leather, over time it forms to your booty and feels great.

Also, invest in good tires. There is nothing like getting lots of flat tires in the middle of nowhere or in bad weather. Once I upgraded both of my tires, I didn’t have one flat for the rest of the trip.

Bike Across The U.S.

Oh! And, get sun sleeves. My sun sleeves helped keep my body temperature down because my arms weren’t cooking in the sun. Surprising little things!

Where did you sleep?

Oh goodness. I could write a whole novel on this question. We slept anywhere and everywhere.  To keep costs down, our goal was to primarily camp, but our camping was almost never in an actual campground.

Places we slept that you wouldn’t normally think of:

  • Fire departments -Think about it, there is always someone there 24/7 and it is safe, and they almost always have land you could put a tent on. We even slept inside a few fire houses.
  • City Parks – When I say “city”’ I really mean “super small town”’. In Kansas and Idaho it is legal and permitted to sleep in city parks so we did just that. There were almost always bathrooms, electricity and water.
  • A bomb shelter – We called the officials in one town to let them know we were going to sleep in the park and they told us bad weather was coming so they would unlock the air-conditioned bomb shelter for us.
  • Churches -This was our go-to. So many church communities of all faiths welcomed cyclists to sleep on their property. Even the ones that didn’t openly do this, when we would ask if it was okay they would often not only allow us to sleep there, but make us dinner or breakfast! Once we slept in a church’s garage because there was a storm.
  • YMCA’s – We only did this once, but it worked out well. We just asked if we could set up our tent on their property and they offered to let us shower and use their wifi.
  • Cyclist-only lodging – Because the TransAm is an established route there are lots of cyclist-only lodging opportunities that allowed us to stay either for free or a small donation.
  • People’s houses -Yep sounds crazy, but there is a network for traveling cyclists called WarmShowers.org. Pure trail magic when this worked out.
  • Teepee -One night we stayed in a teepee. It was a cyclist-only lodging in Wyoming set up by this adorable woman every year. So much fun.

We also slept in motels, B &Bs, and campgrounds.

How did you get water and food along the journey?

Food came from normal grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants.

Water was only an issue for us a few times. But, we carried lots of water with us, and had a great water purifying system that used an iodine crystal solution (not straight iodine so it didn’t taste awful).

Bike Across The U.S.

How much did the entire trip cost?

I am going to be totally honest: I have no idea how much it cost and it was probably a lot.

Originally we budgeted for around $50/day for the two of us over three months. But it became apparent very quickly that we would be taking longer than three months.

I will tell you that a trip like this can cost as little as you want or as much as you want. For example, if you are sharing the cost of accommodations with several people, a $20 campsite could be just a few dollars for you. Also if you don’t mind eating junk, prepping your own food, and avoiding restaurants you could keep the cost way down.

But, we also met people on the trail that weren’t even carrying a tent because they stayed in a hotel every single night.

What was your favorite day?

I have so many favorite days, but one particular story comes to mind.

Something I had been dreading since the beginning of the trip was riding over Hoosier Pass (Colorado). It was the highest point on the trail and I was worried about the elevation affecting me while trying to haul a 60 pound bike up a mountain. Well, it wasn’t as hard as I had thought and Breckenridge was just on the other side of the pass.

I really wanted to spend time in Breckenridge, but there is no budget accommodations or campgrounds in this posh ski town. We decided to hang out for a little while and get some food. On our way to a restaurant we stopped in an awesome local outfitter. For us, an outfitter is like a toy store, so I got to chit chatting with an employee at the store. Turns out he was the owner of the outfitter. I told him about our trip across the country and how beautiful it was coming over the continental divide that morning.

He asked me if we were in a hurry and I told him we weren’t.

Then he looks at me and says:

“Well, I have a rental condo that’s empty for the next 10 days if you guys want to stay there?”

It was the most insane, awesome thing ever. He had this gorgeous rental condo and he just handed us the keys and told us to call him when we left.

We hadn’t seen a fully equipped kitchen in months. We had wifi, cable, a hot tub, and cooked non stop for three days!

Can you share a funny, shocking, or embarrassing story?

There are so many, but I’ll tell a simple story…

One afternoon in Virginia it was so hot we decided to take the afternoon off and finish our ride after the sun started to go down. We found a perfect, covered picnic area at the little park and started to set up our stove.

Then some people started showing up with coolers. They let us know they were getting ready to have a family reunion. We immediately offered to get out of the way. They were so nice and told us to take our time, no one would start showing up for an hour.

And, show up they did! There must have been 100 people at this reunion. We kept trying to get out of their way and leave, but they were all so nice and kept talking to us about the bike tour.

Finally, it was decided that we should stay and eat with them! We spent the entire day hanging out at this huge family reunion and eating everything in sight.

And, we still keep in contact with some of them today.

What was your overall experience biking across the U.S.?

Overall, the experience was amazing. It opened my eyes to so much. I loved getting so up close and personal with different parts of the country.

Would I do it again?

I would go on a bike tour again, but probably a shorter one. We are thinking about touring down the West coast from Oregon to California.

Bike Across The U.S.

How did cycling across the U.S. change you?

It changed my beliefs about what I was capable of. I learned that I could physically do anything I set my mind to.

My faith in humanity was completely restored after experiencing the type of kindness we encountered on the trip. The generosity and helpfulness of complete strangers completely blew me away.

I learned about trying not to control everything, because on a bike tour (and in life) there is very little you can control.

It helped me to recognize the importance of slowing down and truly being present.

What advice or tips can you give women who want to bike across the U.S.?

I would say to definitely do it!

You can do it alone and expect to make friends along the trail, or plan to do it with friends from the start. Either way it will be a life-changing journey.

Do your homework before setting out to do it. Make sure you have a good idea of what to expect and don’t assume anything.

Train with the bike fully packed before setting out.

Oh, always carry some kind of spray for the dogs that like to eat cyclists, especially in Kentucky and Missouri.

What is the most common misconception U.S.?

I think the most common misconception is that life is the same across the U.S.. And, that simply is not true.  Every single state, town, region, has a culture all its own; a way of life, traditions, climates, priorities, etc. It was beautiful to experience that.

Another misconception is that you have to go abroad to find beautiful, “exotic” destinations while we have some of the most epic beauty right here at home.

I can’t really speak for what non-Americans think of the United States, but I will say that New York City and Los Angeles are not the only places worth visiting in this country.

Any other thoughts or advice for our women readers?

It might sound totally crazy to consider riding your bike 5,000 miles, but there are women in their 70s doing it. (We actually met a woman doing the trail for her 70th birthday.) There are people who do this kind of thing with kids, even!

It is outrageously rewarding to be so close to nature, and revert back to being a hunter/gatherer. Traveling by bicycle is a very cool way to see a place, and I believe everyone should do it at least once, even if it is just a weekend trip.

What did you think about this interview?

Join the discussion and leave your comments, tips, and personal experiences in the comments below.

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Bike Across The U.S.

Kathleen Ventura is a life coach and nomadic traveler. She and her husband have been traveling the world slowly for the past two years starting with the TransAmerica bike tour in 2012. Kathleen has taught English in Costa Rica, house sat in New Zealand and Australia, and thru hiked the 211-mile John Muir Trail. Right now she is focused on maintaining a nomadic lifestyle by devoting her energy to her life coaching business helping women who want to have outstanding lives. You can read about her travels on Our Favorite Adventure, and learn more about her life coaching practice at KathleenVentura.com

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