37 days and one year later: part 11: gear

This is part eleven 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. This post lists all the gear and equipment I took with me.

General thoughts

One of the big surprises of my trip was that I carried visibly, significantly less than anyone else I met. I expected to be on the light side. I didn’t expect to be the lightest person I saw. Subsequent reading suggests my load was at, or nearly at, the ultralight touring level. This still surprises me, because aside from sets of clothing and maybe the rain coat, I don’t feel like I made particular sacrifices to carry so little.

Of course, none of this is to say that touring cyclists should carry this gear, this little gear, or that they necessarily shouldn’t carry anything not mentioned. Take or don’t take whatever you want on your own trips, as long as you don’t complain to me about the consequences of your packing choices. :-)

The bike

My bike was a 57cm Scattante R-570 road bike: aluminum frame, carbon fiber fork, 700×23 aluminum wheels with non-blade spokes, ten-speed with a triple crank up front. All parts save for the seat were exactly as sold with the bike. (I used my racing bike’s seat because I figured using a seat I’d already used was prudent to avoid a potential bike-fit issue.) Truth be told, it’s more a low-end racing bike than a touring bike. The wheels are quite narrow for touring, the wheelbase is shorter (bringing my feet very close to hitting the panniers when pedaling), it doesn’t really have mount points for racks, and the geometry isn’t designed for longer-term comfort. But as long as I travel as light as I did this time (seatpost rack, rear panniers lightly loaded, any other little things in a hydration pack), on generally non-gravel roads, it works fine. The recommendations I saw for cross-country travel before leaving were 1.25-1.5″ tires; I’d say those widths aren’t necessary, as long as you can deal with gravel roads and roads under construction taking more effort.

Cycling gear

I carried a few bike accessories going beyond what was needed to simply ride the bike. Some of it I carry regularly:

  • Blackburn Delphi 4.0 wireless cyclocomputer (speed/distance measurement)
  • Kryptonite U-lock
  • 350-lumen Cygolite Pace 350 headlight with external rechargeable battery
  • Tail light with integrated reflector
  • Spare batteries for the tail light

The rest was gear I’d need only for a longer trip:

  • Minimal AAA-powered bike headlight (backup, also a flashlight in camp), and spare batteries for it
  • Headlight charger
  • TransIt seatpost-mounted aluminum rack (25lb. capacity)
  • Nashbar ATB panniers
  • Plastic food-storage scrunchie (for covering bike seat overnight)
  • Platypus Roadrunner backpack
  • Two 100-ounce Camelbak water bladders

I will somewhat sheepishly note (but that’s hardly stopped me so far :-) ) that I carried some non-backup equipment that I never used:

I purchased new pedals shortly before I left, and they came with cleats that I didn’t have time to install before departing. I planned to remove my old cleats and install the new ones at some point. But by end of day I was either not in the mood to install them, or I lacked the time to do so. I ended up carrying them the entire way for nothing. (I still haven’t taken the time to install them yet!)

The bike, being new, came with the original heavy plastic wheel reflectors. I intended to replace them with the Lightweights at some point. But technically you’re supposed to clean the spokes with rubbing alcohol before installing the reflectors. It was always inconvenient to get some and install them, and I never got to it.

Repair tools

My repair tools were pretty standard fare:

  • Two tire wrenches (for levering a tire off the rim, to replace the tube or tire itself)
  • Multitool (variety of Allen head and screwdriver bits)
  • SKS Airchecker electronic tire-pressure gauge and carrying sack
  • Tire pump
  • Spoke wrench
  • Spare tubes (2)
  • Continental Grand Prix 4000s spare tire

Two tubes would suffice for getting unlucky twice between bike shops, just as it suffices for Bay Area travel. I don’t regularly carry a spare tire, but for this distance and isolation, having one made sense.

I didn’t carry a patch kit because I couldn’t find non-preglued patches to carry. My experience is that preglued patches such as these die very quickly. The most I’ve ever gotten out of such a patch is about eighty miles: about useless, particularly on a trip like this. The old-school rubber plus separate cement patches hold up significantly better, and longer, but it’s hard to find them in stores any more. :-( So I banked on two spare tubes being adequate, and they were. Also I figured patching flats (rather than just swapping tubes) would be more trouble than it was worth, especially given time constraints.

I don’t know why I carried the sack for the tire-pressure reader — probably just not thinking.

The only tool I’d add to this set on future trips would be a cassette removal tool. But it’s possible to get away without one, as I did — it’s just a gamble that you’ll never absolutely need it and won’t be able to find and get to a local bike shop.


The entire route ran to ten maps and a few pages of printed-out errata. But obviously I’d only use one or two in a day. So I resorted to a thru-hiking trick: a bounce envelope (normally a bounce box) I’d send to an upcoming post office, then retrieve it and send further along. Before I left, I sent most of my maps somewhat over a week ahead of me:

Jeff Walden
c/o General Delivery
Escalante, Utah 84726

Please Hold For Western Express Cyclist
ETA July 27, 2012

I left with only the first three maps and errata. When I arrived in Escalante, I pulled the next maps/errata out of the envelope, put in the ones I’d completed, and sent them to the Newton, KS post office (guessing at timing, aiming for a post office I’d pass closer to mid-week to not worry about weekend closures). After Newton came Marion, KY, where I retrieved the final maps and sent the remainder back to Mountain View. In this way I only ever carried three or four maps for a 7-10 days of riding at a time. (I could have carried fewer — just a matter of taste how much coordinating with post office schedules I wanted to do.)


On long backpacking trips I carry two sets of clothes: one for hiking, one for towns. I swap them when I hit towns and can get a shower and do laundry. That doesn’t work for cycling, because cycling clothes aren’t interchangeable with town clothes. (Or at least my road cycling clothes weren’t — mountain biking-oriented clothes might be swappable.) As I didn’t care much about comfort, I decided to carry a set of cycling clothes and a set of town clothes, and I’d aim to wash them both in showers when I stopped at motels along the way. This basically worked, but I’d have enjoyed having a second set of cycling clothes if I didn’t have to carry them. ;-) As I would have to carry them, I don’t especially regret not having any.

  • Cycling
    • Short-sleeve Firefox cycling jersey
    • Canari cycling shorts
    • One pair Pearl Izumi cycling socks
    • Pearl Izumi “sun sleeve” white arm warmers (mostly as sun protection, also claimed to aid efficient perspiration)
    • Leg warmers (an on-the-road thought, purchased the second day out in Davis, CA)
    • Pearl Izumi finger-length gloves (finger-length for long mountain descents)
    • Shimano mountain biking shoes with recessed SPD cleats
  • Non-cycling
    • Long-sleeve polyester REI hiking shirt
    • Columbia Aruba III nylon convertible pants/shorts with built-in liner
    • A second pair of Pearl Izumi cycling socks (these were swappable, but I never did)

The shorts worked great, but an internal seam in the seat ripped in them, and I ended up throwing them out when I got home. :-\ The sun sleeves were an inspired idea and were totally worth it. The leg warmers were only occasionally useful, but descents made me glad to have them. The gloves worked fine, except that the inside of the left index finger ripped on the third day out — just past the REI where I’d have exchanged them, had I noticed. (Perhaps I could have on return, but 37 days’ use is way too much to return something after, I think.) The mountain biking shoes are similar enough to normal shoes that I never wanted something else at the end of the day. (They’re actually day-to-day shoes back home as I bike so regularly.)

I could have taken a rain coat, but my experience with them is that I’m always sweating inside them, and I still get wet anyway. I did without a rain coat and barely missed it. I was probably helped by doing well with weather; I sat out one fifteen-minute downpour, and I biked a bit in intermittent rain, but otherwise I didn’t hit anything serious, or that lasted more than half an hour or so.


My goal was to bike across the country, not to do it by camping, or staying in motels, or whatever. I determined shelter on a day-by-day basis, depending where I might end: campgrounds, motels, a bed and breakfast, hostels, even a few city parks when allowed. In one city a woman chose to open up her house to passing cyclists; this was the only time the whole trip that I washed all my laundry, not in a hotel shower. I did meet some people planning to stay inside every night the entire way. A little comfort and a breakfast was nice to have, but every night would have been too much for me.

  • Mountain Hard Wear Ultralamina 45 with compression sack
  • Silk sleeping bag liner (easier to wash, keeps sleeping bag clean longer)
  • Inflatable 48″ REI sleeping pad
  • One-man Eureka Solitaire tent and groundcloth

I considered a bivy sack, but I decided for this trip I’d prefer a one-man tent’s extra space and increased comfort in rain. I think that was the right choice, even though I was inside as often as not at night and maybe could have worked around rainy nights.


  • Canon PowerShot SX230 HS camera and battery charger
  • Kindle with case, USB cord and power adapter
  • Samsung Galaxy S II phone, headphones (double-use with Kindle), charger

It was a mistake to bring the camera. I only used it three times. The cell phone camera was far more convenient for posting pictures to Twitter as I’d planned to do, and it wasn’t worth the trouble to dig out the camera the rest of the time.


Usually I have a Costanza wallet, but I carried only the essentials on this trip.

  • Driver’s license
  • Medical insurance card
  • REI Visa card (primary credit card)
  • Citibank Mastercard (backup)
  • ATM card
  • HI-USA card
  • Rubber bands to hold it all together

Only the insurance card and the HI-USA card went unused. The HI-USA card I thought might be useful along the way, or near the end if I had time to bike to a better airport at the end (Washington, for example), but neither possibility panned out.


Given I’d be outside all day for a month, sunscreen was a must. Even with comfortable cycling shorts, I contended with chafing, so Gold Bond also became a must. The rest is minimal but standard fare.

  • Sunscreen
  • Gold Bond powder
  • Contact lens fluid, lens case
  • Spare contacts for the trip (plus an extra pair just in case)
  • Travel toothbrush
  • Toothpaste

At various times I carried nail clippers, but I made a deliberate decision to buy them as I needed them to save weight, so I didn’t carry any most of the time. Those would have been good to bounce-envelope, but I didn’t think of it.


  • Lexan spoon
  • Bike lock key and apartment key on a ring (as far down in my bag as practical, to avoid their getting lost)
  • 6 or so zip-ties for securing things on the bike
  • A few extra gallon-sized ziplocs
  • Small ziplocs for the camera, Kindle, phone, toiletries
  • Small roll of reflectorized tape
  • Polarized sunglasses

I picked up the zip ties the first day from a Lowe’s on the route and used them to tightly attach my cyclocomputer to my front fork. I’d had to switch things late due to the bike switch, and this fell through the cracks.

Ziplocs are randomly invaluable while backpacking, and I expected the same would be true here. It wasn’t, and I shouldn’t have carried them.

The reflectorized tape was handier than I’d have expected, but only as tape, and only for my sunglasses. I don’t usually wear sunglasses, so I picked up a polarized pair from Wal-Mart before I left. They made it about seven days before one temple/temple tip broke, and I used the tape to hold it together til I could get new sunglasses. This happened several times; I was on my fourth pair of sunglasses by the end of the trip. :-| Moral of the story: cycling sunglasses, likely designed to fit around a head with helmet straps, would almost certainly have been money well spent.

Thoughts on gear

Obviously I carried a very minimal set of gear. I probably missed another set of clothes (whether cycling or not, I’m not entirely sure) the most of anything I didn’t take, but I didn’t really miss anything. Only a very few, mostly very small things I carried, did I not need to carry. And those were perhaps a dozen ounces, so I didn’t take too much either. I think I basically hit the sweet spot as far as gear went.

Next time, overall cost.

mozilla/IntegerPrintfMacros.h now provides PRId32 and friends macros, for printfing uint32_t and so on

Tags: , , , , , — Jeff @ 09:37

Printing numbers using printf

The printf family of functions take a format string, containing both regular text and special formatting specifiers, and at least as many additional arguments as there are formatting specifiers in the format string. Each formatting specifier is supposed to indicate the type of the corresponding argument. Then, via compiler-specific magic, that argument value is accessed and formatted as directed.

C originally only had char, short, int, and long integer types (in signed and unsigned versions). So the original set of format specifiers only supported interpreting arguments as one of those types.

Fixed-size integers

With the rise of <stdint.h>, it’s common to want to print a uint32_t, or an int64_t, or similar. But if you don’t know what type uint32_t is, how do you know what format specifier to use? C99 defines macros in <inttypes.h> that expand to suitable format specifiers. For example, if uint32_t is actually unsigned long, then the PRIu32 macro might be defined as "lu".

uint32_t u = 3141592654;
printf("u: %" PRIu32 "\n", u);

Unfortunately <inttypes.h> isn’t available everywhere. So for now, we have to reimplement it ourselves. The new mfbt header mfbt/IntegerPrintfMacros.h, available via #include "mozilla/IntegerPrintfMacros.h", provides all the PRI* macros exposed by <inttypes.h>: by delegating to that header when present, and by reimplementing it when not. Go use it. (Note that all Mozilla code has __STDC_LIMIT_MACROS, __STDC_FORMAT_MACROS, and __STDC_CONST_MACROS defined, so you don’t need to do anything special to get the macros — just #include "mozilla/IntegerPrintfMacros.h".)


The implementations of <inttypes.h> in all the various standard libraries/compilers we care about don’t always provide definitions of these macros that are free of format string warnings. This is, of course, inconceivable. We can reimplement the header as needed to fix these problems, but it seemed best to avoid that til someone really, really cared.

<inttypes.h> also defines format specifiers for fixed-width integers, for use with the scanf family of functions that read a number from a string. IntegerPrintfMacros.h does not provide these macros. (At least, not everywhere. You are not granted any license to use them if they happen to be incidentally provided.) First, it’s actually impossible to implement the entire interface for the Microsoft C runtime library. (For example: no specifier will write a number into an unsigned char*; this is necessary to implement SCNu8.) Second, sscanf is a dangerous function, because if the number in the input string doesn’t fit in the target location, anything (undefined behavior, that is) can happen.

uint8_t u;
sscanf("256", "%" SCNu8, &u); // I just ate ALL YOUR COOKIES

IntegerPrintfMacros.h does implement imaxabs, imaxdiv, strtoimax, strtoumax, wcstoimax, and wcstoumax. I mention this only for completeness: I doubt any Mozilla code needs these.


37 days and one year later: part 10: getting home

This is part ten 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. This post discusses how I managed to get home afterward.

Arranging the flight

I put off buying a plane ticket home for approximately as long as I could, to afford myself the most flexibility in returning. I had a firm deadline of August 23 (or maybe the morning of August 24, but that would really be pushing it) to finish, because some friends were getting married in Golden Gate Park on August 25, and I didn’t intend to miss it. (This would cut it close timing-wise, but as long as I knew sufficiently far in advance, it seemed doable.) If by some chance I finished early, it might be worth biking to some particular airport to fly from there. If by some even less likelier chance I didn’t finish, I would need to fly from whichever airport happened to be closest.

On Monday, August 20, I found myself by a library, before lunchtime (so with considerable time left in the day to bike) with ~420mi to go in 3.5 days. With the end comfortably in sight, it seemed safe to book a flight. Yorktown’s poorly situated for getting to any major airport, so I’d have some fun leaving it. But unlike excess distance between me and Yorktown, this problem could be relatively simply solved with a large infusion of cash. :-) So I didn’t sweat arranging a return flight before then, and I booked a flight from Norfolk to San Jose (with only a single stop along the way) on Southwest, leaving mid-afternoon August 24. The cheap tickets were all gone by then, of course, but my fare did get me a drink coupon on each leg as a consolation bonus. :-)

Travel-day frenetics

I arrived in Yorktown just before 19:00 on August 23, giving plenty of time to get a bite to eat and clean up to head out the next day. I called one bike shop in town to ask about packing up my bike the next day for travel (justifiably oversized luggage, but a bargain at ~$50 with Southwest). They didn’t know if they had any boxes of the right size in stock, so I decided next morning to head to the other nearby bike shop instead.

Sandy beach and swimming area on the water of Chesapeake Bay
The Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean (at least, in terms of open-water connectivity)

The next morning I packed up my stuff and hopped on my bike one last time to head to the Yorktown park headquarters, as an easily-found location for a taxi. (I could have biked to Norfolk, but not easily in time for a flight. Plus I’d still need to get my bike packed up and I’d need a shower.) Yorktown’s way at the edge of the Norfolk taxi coverage — it took just under half an hour for the taxi to even get to me. The next stop would be the other local bike shop. On the way I mentioned my plans — to wait for the bike to be packed up, then to head to Norfolk and the airport. This worked out pretty well, because the driver noted that I was still pretty far away from taxis, so it’d be fastest to just call her again. I pocketed a business card to make the call when the bike was packed up.

On talking to the bike shop folks, I realized I had a slight problem. The bike shop would be perfectly happy to box up my bike for me, but they couldn’t do it today: they were already booked as far as work went. Hmm. They did have a spare box and tools, if I wanted to pack up the bike myself. But I was slightly pressed for time, on vacation, and not particularly interested in packing my bike myself. As it happened, however, the bike shop I’d called the previous day (that wasn’t sure if it had any boxes of the right size in stock) didn’t have a box but did have time to pack a bike. By our powers combined, I could take the bike box here to the other bike shop, and I could get my bike packed up there. Win!

So I called the taxi again, we took the box to the other bike shop, I had them pack it up, then I headed to the airport and my flight. The timing was close but not razor-thin, and I had something like half an hour’s wait at the airport before my flight was scheduled to board. (It’s a good thing I booked the last flight of the day heading west! But it seemed foolish booking any of the earlier ones, given that I’d have to travel forty miles from Yorktown to Norfolk and deal with the bike along the way.) I got a few funny looks at airport security when I sent my shoes through the scanner: metal cleats in the soles will do that. :-) A couple flights and a bunch of reading later, I was in San Jose, only a short ride (not on the bike, from a friend :-) ) from home.

Hindsight is 20/20

Looking back it’s obvious what I should have done for that last day: I should have called a couple weeks or so in advance, told them my plans, and had them clear a spot to pack a bike when I arrived. Some part of me unconsciously resisted doing this because of the uncertainty of my travel plans, I’m sure. But it seems unlikely it would have been a problem to call, make that uncertainty clear, and then give a call a couple days out with the go/no-go signal as needed. But in the end, it all basically worked out. And even if it hadn’t, these were problems that — again — could be solved, if absolutely necessary, with a large infusion of cash. As a true last resort, I’m sure I could have found someone to pack and ship the bike for me, while I flew back home separately. It would have been more than a bit inconvenient and more than a bit expensive (I’d guess at least $100 more, but that’s just a guess), so I’m glad I didn’t have to do it. But it would have been doable, if I had to.

Naming and faming

It took a fair bit of composed scrambling (I was reasonably composed, tho I’m sure others would have freaked out ;-) ) to make all the connections that last day. BikeBeat was the bike shop that couldn’t box my bike up but could provide a bike box; a different BikeBeat happened to be the ones that suggested the previous day that I could probably bike to Yorktown with two broken spokes (and that gave me a number to call if I broke a third en route). Back Alley Bikes was the bike shop that could box my bike while I waited but couldn’t provide a bike box. And last but not least, Karen (1-757-503-0657) shuttled me around to the different bike shops and then to the airport, going out of her way (literally, to Yorktown ;-) ) to do so. (And when it came time to swipe a card and pay with Square — she informed me she was one of, if not the, first drivers at the cab company to accept credit cards, that way — I didn’t even hesitate to pick the 35% tip option. Totally justified, totally worth it.)

Next time, the gear I used on the trip.


37 days and one year later: part 9: health

This is part nine 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. This post discusses health issues I had along the way.

A marathon

It’s one thing to bike a hundred miles in a day, once. It’s another to do it several days in a row, as I’ve done several times on the DALMAC ride in Michigan (80-100mi/day for four or five days, on the routes I’ve taken). In a certain sense, it really isn’t that different to bike a hundred miles a day (average) for over a month. It is a bit different, however, when that month includes no true, complete rest days. Without rest days, you give your body almost no time to heal before it’s back on again for another day of beating. :-)

I could feel, as I traveled, that I was always slightly on the edge of exhaustion. I didn’t get a cold, but I could tell I was always on the very edge of one: slightly out of breath all the time, with a slight cough that never really went away, slightly weary every morning as I woke up to prepare for yet another long day of riding. I’m actually somewhat surprised I didn’t get one, from the constant strain I was putting on my immune system.

Beyond simple exhaustion, my pace and timing forced certain health sacrifices on me, that being able to truly rest might have healed quicker.

Pulled muscles

At some point on the first day, I pedaled slightly too aggressively, quickly, or eagerly with my right leg, and I slightly pulled a back lower-leg (ankle?) muscle. This didn’t prevent me from cycling, but it did make it slightly painful to push hard while pedaling with that leg: I cycled for about a week with my right toes pointed downward further than I might ordinarily do, so that I wouldn’t stress it. Interestingly, as soon as it healed, I experienced the same slight injury to my left leg, and it too was slightly out of sorts for a week. Neither injury materially interfered with cycling, and both were only barely noticeable while walking. But a day off might have healed these injuries, rather than having to live with them for a week each of cycling, if I’d been able to take one. (Or it might have taken several days regardless, for all I know.)

Left knee pain

The other pain I experienced, that I’m still at somewhat of a loss to explain, was in the muscle just above my knee, on the front inside. It first arose on the third day as I climbed from Folsom Lake into the Sierras, subsided overnight, then returned again the next day up and over Carson Pass. The pain was much of the reason my third day was comparatively short and slow. The other side of the Sierras, I stopped at a bike shop to ask if they had any ideas what might be causing the pain. (I, er, carefully didn’t mention the bike was only four days old, figuring if there was a problem, it should be visible and observable regardless. Not that I was afraid of looking stupid or anything, of course.) Their only thought was my left cleat was misaligned, but I hadn’t touched that cleat in over a year, so it seemed pretty unlikely. But the pain appeared to correlate with ascending, and Nevada promised to be flatter, so they suggested continuing on and seeing what happened. And indeed, the pain disappeared — all the way til Virginia. Then I felt it almost returning, at lesser intensity, by the latter phases of each day.

My initial thought was that the pain was some early-trip lack of strength which subsided after some toughening up. But that wouldn’t explain its reappearance at the end of the trip. (I dealt with it at end by trying to bike slightly easier and by wearing my slightly-compressing leg warmers. A doctor would of course have recommended rest, but that Wasn’t Going To Happen, so I did the best I could in its absence.) Even now I’m still not sure what might have caused it. Perhaps, even given a year at that position, the cleat still needed adjustment when subjected to particularly harsh climbing? *shrug*

Next time, the logistics of getting home.


37 days and one year later: part 8: mechanical problems and other surprises

(Hmm, seems I forgot August 31 was a day when scheduling these posts. :-) Subsequent posts will return to the one-a-day schedule.)

This is part eight 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. This post discusses mechanical issues and other surprises.

Mechanical problems

Tires and tubes

I replaced five bike inner tubes over the entire trip, and I replaced one tire about 750mi in after a catastrophic flat. After I returned I talked to someone who’d done a different cross-country route who’d had closer to a dozen flats. I’d have expected closer to a dozen flats than five for the trip, and no catastrophic flat (although I wouldn’t have been surprised to wear out a tire). As I carried two spare tubs and one spare tire, none of these mishaps presented any real issue. (Although after the catastrophic flat, I did just barely make it into the bike shop in the next town for a new backup tire and spare tube, before it closed for the day.)


I anticipated possibly having to deal with broken spokes at some point or another, so I carried a round of replacements: one front, one back. Properly truing spokes is a black art, but I could probably fake it til I made it to a bike shop. The first time I broke a spoke, I heard a metallic snap but didn’t recognize it as a broken spoke. I only learned about it a couple hours later when the bike shop in Pueblo asked if I wanted it fixed. (Good timing on my part!)

The second broken spoke happened about twenty-five miles from the end of the trip — and it was actually two rear spokes. I didn’t have that many replacements, and I also, er, discovered I didn’t have the tools to remove the rear cassette to replace even one of them. (*whistles innocently* There aren’t many road-ready tools for doing this, actually, as cassette removal on the go is a very uncommon thing to have to do. These suggestions are about what I’m aware of now, but with no big trips planned, I’m not in a huge rush to pick one.) Beyond that, tho, I’d been told at a shop in Kansas that I really needed a new rear wheel. (They didn’t have any, but they said their jury-rigged fix might last til the end of the trip.) So ideally I didn’t want to install new spokes for only twenty-five miles. I removed the broken spokes and gingerly biked to a bike shop in Williamsburg, where I asked about just finishing the trip without them. The bike shop thought it could work if no more spokes broke, handed me a business card with phone number just in case, and advised me to avoid bumps and potholes. :-) This was a slightly frazzled way to end the trip, a couple hours later than expected, but it worked out.

Miscellaneous surprises

Traveling light

I knew, entering the trip, that I would be traveling very light. I would be (heh) on a non-touring bike; my seatpost rack limited me to 25 pounds in panniers; and I wouldn’t carry much on my back except water, repair tools, and sundries. I could do this because I’m comfortable traveling light as a backpacker. Doubtless many cyclists are backpackers, but I expected to be at the lighter end of the crowd. I did not expect to be the lightest. Every other long-distance cyclist I saw was on an apparently heavier bike with both front and rear panniers. I expected to see a cyclist or two touring with rear panniers (possibly even less in more-populated areas). I saw none. I don’t know how to explain this.

Me striking the flexing-arm-muscles pose in front of a statue of Popeye, with my bike behind; the bike has two rear panniers, and I'm wearing a mostly-hidden Platypus backpack, and that's all the gear I took
Striking the reportedly-traditional pose by Popeye on entering Illinois; those two panniers and water bladder backpack were all I carried

Locking up the bike

In normal life I carry a bike U-lock with me everywhere I go, locking up my bike whenever I have to leave it. I did the same on this trip, expecting I’d often leave it unattended while in stores and the like. In practice I did this, but as my route traveled through mostly lightly-populated areas, I only used it once, during a ninety-minute stop at a library in Kansas. (I didn’t lock it while in campgrounds, and in hotels I kept it with me in my room.) I’ve read stories of others biking across the country who’ve had bikes stolen, so it is a danger. Yet given what I saw and experienced, I’d consider leaving it behind were I to do this ride again.

Staying off-net

I despise phones in general and cell phones in particular. But for this trip, it seemed important to have one to be able to call ahead to arrange lodging as I traveled. So I set up a one-month prepaid plan with T-Mobile, to renew at the end of the month. This was actually a huge mistake, as I quickly learned that T-Mobile’s coverage outside metro areas is very sparse. (Data especially, but even call service was often light to non-existent.) In the west I was told by various people that Verizon or AT&T would work well in different places, and in the east apparently both worked equally well. It happens that T-Mobile’s being primarily an urban network is common knowledge to anyone in Silicon Valley with a cell phone. But that doesn’t include me, so I got to learn something. :-)

As my data plan frequently didn’t work, or worked poorly, I used numerous apps with little data access. I was surprised how poorly many apps worked. Navigating through screens that downloaded data often didn’t cache that data: going forward and backward might require reloading just-viewed data. Goodreads was the biggest offender in this regard. Mobile developers: offline performance matters! Don’t sell it short just because you live in a San Francisco world of ubiquitous, high-quality, high-speed data. Vast swaths of the country are entirely unlike San Francisco in this regard.

Next time, health.

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