This is part fourteen of a series of posts discussing various aspects of a bike trip I did across the United States in 2012. Part one discussed the start of the trip and choosing a route. Part two discussed my daily routine and nightly shelter. Part three discussed general mileage, elevation encountered, and state-by-state scenery. Part four discussed mileage extremes and water. Part five discussed food. Part six discussed elevation extremes, particularly crossing the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass. Part seven discussed how I used down time and how I kept electronics charged. Part eight discussed mechanical problems and other surprises. Part nine discussed health on an aggressively-paced cross-country bike trip. Part ten discussed how I managed to get home afterward. Part eleven lists all the gear and equipment I took with me. Part twelve discussed the cost of the trip. Part thirteen was a catch-all for other random observations not already made yet. This post concludes the series and gives my thoughts on the trip as a whole.
37 days of fun, or 37 days of pain?
The single biggest factor in how I did this trip was the deadline at the end. Those 37 days of riding time (one organized group heading the other direction was doing the same route in 60 days) influenced pretty much everything: the bike I took, the amount of gear I carried, my goal each day, how far I decided was acceptable if I didn’t reach that goal, when I put in a stretch day, when I took rest days, the time I stopped each day, when I took side jaunts, and so on. It made the trip a physical challenge more than anything else.
Part of why I do long trips is for the physical challenge. I took a good deal fewer zero days on the Appalachian Trail than most thru-hikers do, and (once I got up to speed) I traveled further each day than most. I enjoyed myself along the way — but I still hiked closer to dark than most people did. This trip, then, was sort of a caffeinated version of that trip, in those regards.
For me, that’s not all bad. It’s not as if I didn’t have time to enjoy myself along the way. I still saw and enjoyed a lot of scenery. I had some down time at the end of each day, although I sometimes was cutting into hours I should have been sleeping to read a bit. At various points I had time to eat solid meals, if not every day. This wasn’t solely a race to the ocean.
Had I done this trip without time constraints, I still likely would have pushed myself close to as much as I did. I would have probably enjoyed good meals a little more often. I definitely would have taken a day to tour Jefferson’s Monticello, rather than regretfully bike past it in the closing days. (This was the only thing I truly wish I’d been able to do, that I didn’t do, the entire way.) I might have tried to visit a friend or two roughly along the way. But it wouldn’t have taken that much more than several days longer, I expect.
Would I do it again?
My trip more or less had to be the way it was, due to time constraints. Within those confines, the options were to do the trip, or not do the trip. If those were the rules, I would do the trip every time. I’d suffer a little, to be sure. But it’s hard to get too down when, any time I stopped to think, I remembered I was on a trip many would like to do but few will ever do, in the midst of a ridiculous task, and enjoying every little challenge for what it was.
But if I didn’t have those constraints, I would definitely have done the trip differently. Not too differently — I would still have pushed to bike further each day, and many of my days wouldn’t look too different. But I would have been able to take a day or two off. I’d have toured Monticello. My best guess is that the ideal time for me to do this trip would be around 45 days: a few more days for rest days, a few more days to accommodate a slower pace, and — I suspect — a day or two of cushion at the end. But you never know.
Would I recommend doing it that way?
The trip was enjoyable for me. This is partly because I enjoy the physical-challenge aspect of trips like these, and this trip emphasized the physical challenge. But it’s also a matter of mental attitude. Usually these sorts of trips are not so much about the physical challenge, as about the mental challenge. I’m convinced that pretty much anyone can backpack the Appalachian Trail, physically. Far fewer could start out, intentionally, and choose to hike its entirety, despite the reasons that might arise to quit. I’ve done enough long-distance trips at this point, that I’ve come to realize the mental challenge of a trip like this, simply isn’t a challenge for me. I don’t know why this is so. But it means that I think I could tackle pretty much any long-distance hike, bike trip, and so on and be successful, if it’s physically possible to succeed. Convincing myself to keep moving, to finish such a trip, just isn’t a big deal for me. I can think of other things, that many people would find far easier, that I’d consider more difficult than completing a long-distance trip like any of these.
If you are a person like this, if your mind is warped in this way, I think you could do a trip with this sort of aggressive pace. I’m not sure you’d want to, absent a compelling reason. But you could do it, and enjoy yourself.
Most people, however, are not like this. Nothing wrong with that — we’re all good at different things. If you’re one of these people, I’d pretty strongly recommend doing such a trip over a longer period of time. How much longer, would depend on you.
I don’t know. This trip exhausted my vacation stores, so I’ve been saving up again for the next thing, whatever it might be. It’s likelier that the next trip will be a backpacking trip, than that it’ll be a bike trip like this. It’s hard to distinguish my opinion of solo touring, from my opinion of it colored by a trip taken at this pace. But I think it’s the case that backpacking is a more easy-going activity (even if I’m hiking a 20-30mi/day pace), and it comes with more solitude. Judging by my enjoying Nevada so much, despite/because of it having nothing in it (except scenery), I think I prefer long backpacking trips to long bike trips. That doesn’t mean I’d turn down either given an opportunity, tho. And I have vague thoughts of maybe biking south somewhere this winter, to see what it’s like biking at not-high-summer, so maybe biking is next regardless. But we’ll see. I’m happy to take what comes, as it comes.