My First Recon Meeting

November 19, 2012

I have a goal: bike across the US next summer (2013). Truth be told, this has been a goal of mine since senior year of high school. Though I wouldn’t call it a goal until now. Before now it was just a dream because it didn’t have a deadline connected to the action. Now it is a goal: it has an action and a deadline.

Along with starting to train regularly I figured I should start meeting with people who have already done this so that I can learn what mistakes to avoid, what I should be aware of, what best practices to follow etc. My first such meeting was with Mr. Fidler today. Mr. Fidler was my computer science teacher senior year of high school and has biked across the US once and down the west coast once. He kindly agreed to have lunch with me while I was back in Boston for break and below is the synthesis of our conversation.

##East to West or West to East? My first inclination was to bike East to West. To me, this seems like the natural way to go. It was the direction of exploration in America’s history and the Golden Gate Bridge is the iconic Bike Across America finish line in my mind.

However, Mr. Fidler offered several compelling reasons for going West to East that have me reconsidering my approach:

  1. Home >If I bike West to East I will finish at home with my family and friends. If I finish on the West Coast I have to crash with friends, take apart my bike, pack up my gear, and take a flight home. Scheduling the flight also creates an end data that you are waiting around for if you finish early or stressing to meet if you have complications and fall behind schedule.
  2. Winds >East to West apparently faces an almost 2:1 ratio of headwind to tailwind, which, of course, is the opposite ratio going West to East. Battling 40mph headwinds in the flats out west can suck the life out of you and be brutally unpleasant and mentally exhausting. Is it worth it?
  3. Company >More riders go West to East. As a likely solo rider, how much would I like to join up with different strangers throughout the trip. Going West to East will increase the odds of finding company and the camaraderie can be fantastic. Mr. Fidler told me stories of people he met along the way and with whom he would cycle for 1-3 weeks. He is still in touch with some of them and he even wrote a graduate school recommendation for someone he met along the way and rode with for 3 weeks!

##Northern Tier vs TransAmerica Adventure Cycling is the premier map provider for bicycle touring and I intend to use their maps for the majority of my trip. As such, in choosing to bike across the country, one tends to pick either the Northern Tier route across the top of the country or the TransAmerica route across the middle.

Adventure Cycling Route Network

I definitely want to bookend my trip with Boston (my home) and San Francisco. The natural route given those two ends is to take the Western Express route from San Francisco to Pueblo, CO where it connects to the TransAmerica trail that runs all the way to the East Coast. Somewhere in Virginia I would branch off and head up the NorthEast corridor through DC, NYC and onto Boston.

Mr. Fidler raised a few points in favor of the Northern Tier instead. Specifically he noted that the Northern Tier is more remote - less tourists, less traffic, more remote natural beauty vs classically beautiful nature - very different culturally, has lots of free camping out west, and is also cooler in the summer months (he noted that on the TransAmerican route I should expect 90-100℉). He said the TransAmerica route has more history and national parks though.

##Bike Knowledge

I should, at a minimum, know how to:

  1. Fix a flat
  2. Fix a broken chain
  3. Fix a broken cable
  4. Replace a broken spoke

##Basic Gear

I would definitely need to invest in a touring bike. These are slightly heavier bikes (the frame is typically made of steel) but the weight isn’t noticeable once one adds on 2 months of gear. The 3 main categories of gear are:

  1. Bike equipment
  2. Clothes
  3. Food & cooking equipment

I asked him whether he would recommend a solo rider use a BOB trailer or panniers. He said he would marginally go for the trailer because it lowers the center of gravity for the bike, gets weight off the rear tire which decreases the likelihood of punctures, offers increased packing flexibility, and the extra drag on uphills is marginal.

##Misc

  • Bring electrical tape
  • Invest in puncture resistant ties
  • Liberally apply Chamois cream
  • Bring a stove and cook food (one can only eat so many sandwiches etc but cooked food can be fun.)
  • Bright bike lights
  • Only logging trucks didn’t yield any space on the road so watch out!

I will continue to document my reconnaissance and planning over the coming months!

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