In which I demonstrate Supreme Court fitness in property law comparable to that of Justice Breyer

I said previously that I had two law posts to make. Here’s the non-Mozilla-related post.


I’ve blogged about visiting the Supreme Court for oral arguments before. I had the opportunity to do so again for the extremely interesting week of January 13 earlier this year. I attended oral arguments concerning the Appointments Clause, assembly restrictions in Massachusetts, bankruptcy shenanigans, and railroad property law. A month ago, the first decision, in the property law case, Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States, was announced. I’m going to blog about it a little, because I think it’s cool and because of its impact on rail trails.

Before I do that, I’d like to note that the Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States article on Wikipedia is entirely my work (and my mistakes :-) ). (At present. Release the vandals in 3, 2, 1….) It’s the first article I’ve written start to finish. I’m more than a bit proud of that. And I’m particularly excited to have done it in such a cool area of law. :-)


Back in the 1800s as the United States expanded toward the Pacific Ocean, it needed to be able to efficiently transport goods and people across that distance. At the time, the solution was railroads. So Congress passed acts incenting railroad creation by granting rights of way across federal land. After initially granting rights of way to specific, named railroads in separate bills, Congress streamlined the process in the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875. Under this act, any railroad meeting certain conditions could get a right of way, til those provisions’ repeal in 1976.

The facts

Fast-foward to (coincidentally) 1976. The United States granted a land patent (that is, a document making clear — “patent” — title to land) to Melvin Brandt for 83 acres in Wyoming, as part of a land swap. One limitation on the grant was that it was subject to a railroad right-of-way originally granted to the Laramie Hahn’s Peak & Pacific Railway Company under the 1875 Act. The grant mentioned no other limitations on the right-of-way.

LHP&P never really worked as a railroad, and it passed through several hands. In 2004 the ultimate owners legally abandoned it. What happened to the right-of-way? This is where things got complicated.

The United States wanted the right-of-way land, so it filed suit to quiet title in its favor to clear up ownership. The United States resolved claims with everyone along the way — except for Marvin Brandt, Melvin’s son.

Brandt’s position

Brandt argued that the right of way was an easement. An easement is a restriction on your ownership of land, that says some other person can enter into and (perhaps) use it for some particular purpose. So your house’s land may have an easement across it for a sidewalk, that allows people to go on the sidewalk, walk through, and briefly stop on it, and you have to accept that. You still own the land; you just don’t quite have free rein over it. (This is why you’re usually responsible for clearing snow off your sidewalk. It’s your land, your fault if someone slips and twists an ankle and it was reasonably foreseeable.) When an easement terminates, the land is unburdened by the easement. No physical property changes hands, the easement just doesn’t exist, and the land owner can again prevent entry and use of his land.

Brandt buttressed this argument by pointing to Great Northern Railway Company v. United States. In this 1942 case, the Supreme Court decided whether Great Northern could drill for oil and gas on an 1875 Act right-of-way. The United States said no, it couldn’t — the right-of-way was in the nature of an easement, only an easement had been granted, all signs (language, legislative history, early interpretation, Congress’s construction of it in subsequent acts) said it was an easement. The 1942 Court agreed. Open and shut case for Brandt, right? Yes and no.

The United States’s position

The United States argued that 1875 Act rights of way were a “limited fee made on implied condition of reverter”. Let’s unpack this gibberish. “fee” is roughly “ownership”, and “reverter” refers to what happens to the property after some condition (here, abandonment) holds. The United States thought railroad rights of way were an unusual sort of easement. Easements don’t typically let you come in and tear things up, but it’s necessary for railroads to dig, bore, build up, lay track, and so on. So these “railroad easements” were a fee in those regards. And in regard to reversion after abandonment, ownership reverted to the United States.

In light of Great Northern, this may sound ridiculous. But the United States found language in earlier cases, and to an extent in Great Northern, saying that railroad easements had “attributes of the fee”. And two cases predating Great Northern had treated 1875 Act rights of way as limited fees. The problem was, in those cases the Supreme Court had conflated 1875 Act rights-of-way with rights-of-way under acts before 1871. In 1871, Congress changed policy from basically giving railroads land, to only letting them lay tracks on it. Congress wanted to encourage settlement, not just the arbitrary enrichment of railroads (who had become incredibly huge land owners in the West). The Court conflated the two because, in at least one of the cases, neither side had filed briefs, and the Court made a legal mistake.

The United States argued that Great Northern didn’t really say 1875 Act rights of way were easements.

Oral argument

Oral argument was pretty interesting. I read half a dozen briefs and the lower court opinion in the case, so I was moderately prepared to follow argument. In some ways I was almost on par with the justices. Justice Breyer candidly admitted to fumbling with his recollections of A. James Casner‘s property law class, about which he briefly rambled (as is his wont — he’s known for rambling :-) ).

Oral argument generally trended against the United States. Sparks flew when the United States attorney began argument. Justice Alito bluntly told him the United States should receive a “prize for understatement” for “acknowledg[ing in its brief] that there is language in [] Great Northern and in the government’s brief in that case that lends some support to [Brandt’s] argument.” Alito recited the brief’s subject headings, all forcefully arguing that the right-of-way was an easement and only an easement.

The argument didn’t go much better from there on for the United States. Various justices wanted to know how much land would be affected by a judgment that these rights-of-way were easements — permitting takings claims for just compensation, especially when the land had already been taken by the United States. No answer was forthcoming, because the records had been taken so long ago and were so geographically distributed. Breyer in particular repeatedly asked if there were any other easement-but-not-always constructs in the common law of property.


The Court announced an opinion on March 10, just under two months after oral argument. Fast turnarounds typically indicate uncomplicated cases, and this was such a case. The justices divided 8-1 for Brandt, uncritically adopting his position. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion, which began with a half-dozen pages of history of the West and particularly of LHP&P. (Definitely give it a read if you like Western history.) Roberts emphasized that the United States lost because it had won in Great Northern and faulted it for its “stark change in position”. He also asserted that 1875 Act railroad rights of way must be analyzed as common law easements — not a strange amalgam as the United States had argued.

Justice Sotomayor dissented alone. She argued that Great Northern had decided only one aspect of the property interest in railroad rights of way, and it hadn’t decided how reversion should play out. She also thought that railroad rights of way shouldn’t be analyzed under the common law, because of the extent to which they went beyond what normal easements allowed.

In the end the United States was roundly rebuked and defeated. Sometimes 8-1 decisions are a matter of some recognized, fundamental disagreement; see for example many of Justice Thomas’s solo dissents. But when a decision goes this way, in a case barely implicating deep jurisprudential disputes, you have to second-guess yourself a bit when you’re on the losing side. It’s one thing to lose with others agreeing with you. But when no one else sees it as you do, perhaps you’re the one who’s wrong.

Why did the United States pursue the case to a resounding loss? This particular case arose a bit weirdly. It was pushed by various property-rights groups, at the start. And for where it was raised, in the Tenth Circuit, existing circuit precedent said Brandt’s argument would lose, which it did. Brandt appealed to the Supreme Court, citing the circuit split: a good way to get your case heard, but no guarantee. What possibly tipped the balance was that the United States, despite winning, agreed the Court should hear the case. Why?

It looks to me like the United States got greedy. It saw an opportunity to wipe out the other circuits’ bad precedents, and it blinded itself to the weakness of its argument.


What happens to Brandt specifically? The case returns to the Tenth Circuit to respond to the decision, but it’s unclear to me what’s supposed to happen there. I’d think they’d just quiet title in Brandt and be done, but the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy says it’ll keep working in the Tenth Circuit to “narrow the ultimate impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling”. How they can work against a predetermined quiet title action, I don’t know. (It’s possible this is just a face-saving claim on their part.) And it’s possible the United States might just acquire the right of way using eminent domain. (Why not do that and avoid suit? Money, of course. If it owns the land, no just compensation to pay. If not, that’s money out of the government’s pocket.) So Brandt’s not quite out of the woods yet, pun probably intended.

But Brandt’s particular plight isn’t the important thing here. It’s all the other places where suddenly takings claims can go forward. No one knows how many of these there are. Statutes of limitations and estoppel will preclude many claims, but not all of them. It’s still an unresolved mess.


This touches a deeper concern. The United States acted here because it wanted to create rail trails, converting useless railroad corridors into bike trails. I like bikes. I like bike trails. But the law authorizing rail trails was enacted with flagrant disregard for the actual ownership of railroads in disuse. The CBO estimated the law wouldn’t cost a penny, but it now could cost $500 million, maybe more after this decision. We should demand a higher standard of Congress in the laws it passes.

Iterating a number sequence for lulz and jail time

Hello, readers! Today I bring you two posts about law: one Mozilla-related, one not. This is the Mozilla-related post. Mozillians may already know this background, but I’ll review for those who don’t.

The “hack”

In 2010 Goatse Security (don’t look them up) discovered a flaw in AT&T’s website. AT&T’s site detected accesses from iPads, extracted a unique account number sent by the iPad, then replied with a private account email address. Account numbers were guessable, so if someone “spoofed” their UA to look like the iPad browser, they could harvest private email addresses using their guesses.

The lulz

Andrew Auernheimer ("weev") wearing an old-school AT&T baseball cap
Andrew Auernheimer, i.e. weev, CC-BY-SA

The people who figured this out were classic Internet trolls interested (to a degree) in minor mayhem (“lulz”) because they could, and they scraped 114000+ email addresses. Eventually Andrew Auernheimer (known online as “weev”) sent the list to Gawker for an exclusive.

The sky is falling!

AT&T, Apple, the people whose addresses had been scraped, and/or the government panicked and freaked out. The government argued that Auernheimer violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, “exceeding authorized access” by UA-spoofing and loading pages using guessed account numbers.

This is a broad interpretation of “authorized access”. Auernheimer evaded no security measures, only accessed public, non-login-protected pages using common techniques. Anyone who could guess the address could view those pages using common browser addons. People guess at the existence of web addresses all the time. This site’s addresses appear of the form “/year/month/day/post-title/”. The monthly archive links to the side on my site have the form “/year/month/”. It’s a good guess that changing these components does what you expect: no dastardly hacking skills required, just logical guesses and experimentation. And automation’s hardly nefarious.

So what’s Mozilla’s brief with this?

Developers UA-spoof all the time for a variety of innocuous reasons. Newspapers have UA-spoofed during online price discrimination investigations. If UA spoofing is a crime, many people not out for lulz are in trouble, subject to a federal attorney’s whims.

The same is true for constructing addresses by modifying embedded numbers. I’ve provided one example. Jesse once wrote a generic implementation of the technique. Wikipedia uses these tactics internally, for example in the Supreme Court infobox template to linkify docket numbers.

Mozilla thus signed onto an amicus brief in the case. The brief laid out the reasons why the actions the government considered criminal, were “commonplace, legitimate techniques”.

The cool part of the brief

I read the brief last summer through one of Auernheimer’s attorneys at the inestimable Volokh Conspiracy. I’ve been lightly meaning to blog about this discussion of number-changing ever since:

Changing the value of X in the AT&T webpage address is trivial to do. For example, to visit this Court’s homepage, one might type the address “http://www.ca3.uscourts.gov/” into the address bar of the browser window. The browser sends an HTTP request to the Court website, which will respond with this Court’s homepage. Changing the “3” to “4” by typing in the browser window address bar returns the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s homepage. Changing the “3” to a “12” returns an error message.

Illustrating the number-guessing technique (and implying its limitations in the “12” part) via the circuit courts’ own websites? Brilliant.

Back to Auernheimer

The court recently threw out Auernheimer’s conviction. Not on CFAA grounds — on more esoteric matters of filing the case in the wrong court. But the opinion contains dicta implying that breaching a password gate or code-based barrier may be necessary to achieve a conviction. The government could bring the case in the right court, but with the implied warning here, it seems risky.


Auernheimer isn’t necessarily a sympathetic defendant. It’s arguably impolite and discourteous to publicly disclose a site vulnerability without giving the site notice and time to fix the issue. It may be “hard to feel sorry for them being handed federal criminal charges” as Ars Technica suggested.

But that doesn’t mean he committed a crime or shouldn’t be defended for doing things web developers often do. Justice means defending people who have broken no laws, when they are threatened with prosecution. It doesn’t mean failing to defend someone just because you don’t like his (legal) actions. Prosecution here was wrong.

One final note

I heard about the AT&T issue and the brief outside Mozilla. I’m unsure what Mozilla channel I should have followed, to observe or discuss the decision to sign onto this brief. Mozilla was right to sign on here. But our input processes for that decision could be better.


37 days and one year later: part 14: conclusion

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.

What next?

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.


37 days and one year later: part 13: random observations

This is part thirteen 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. This post is a catch-all for other random observations I haven’t made yet.

Maximum speed

I hit my maximum speed in a place you probably wouldn’t expect: not amidst the Rockies or similar, but on a gradual descent from Carson City to Dayton in Nevada. I’d leaned my bike up too close to an electronic sensor earlier in the day, so my “maximum speed” read as 100+ mi/h, so I don’t know my actual maximum. But in glancing down at my speedometer very briefly (and thinking I probably shouldn’t be looking at it too much :-) ), the highest number I observed was 48.0 mi/h. None too shabby! The big thing that road had going for it (presumably besides a tail wind) was its straightness. Most mountain descents had too many curves in them for me to reach those speeds.

Oh deer

One mildly exciting moment was that time I came kind of close to hitting a deer. I was descending from Lizard Head Pass in Colorado, probably in the mid-thirties speedwise. A few hundred feet off I saw several deer (mother and fawns) on left and right sides of the road, clearly looking to cross to the right. So I slowed down a bit, and they kept standing and waiting for me.

Now, the smart thing to do here is to remember that deer are dumb. Just because they see you coming, they’re not going to necessarily wait for you to pass. So you want to keep that same slow speed, and remain capable of stopping if necessary.

I, on the other hand, promptly assumed moderate intelligence, or at least intelligence commensurate with self-preservation, and assumed the deer were giving (or at least allowing) me an opening to go through. So I stopped braking and sped up again. At which point a fawn on the left side decided to run in front of me across the road. It realized its mistake too late, its hooves scrabbling on the pavement as it tried to run downhill away from me, rather than in front of me. Meanwhile, I swerved slightly to avoid it, avoiding it by a few feet or so. Closer than desirable, but good enough, and good for a story. :-) Next time I’ll remember that 1) deer are stupid, and 2) fawns are even more stupid.

Towns and size

My route took me through a large number of fairly small towns, with populations well under 1000. I don’t really understand how these towns survive. Sure, they might be nice places for the right kind of person to retire. But for anyone who needs to make a living (at least, outside of industries where telecommuting is possible), it’s hard to see that there’s enough work needing to be done to support all those people.

The smallest, most out-of-the-way town I visited was probably Seward, KS, to which the 2010 census ascribed a population of 64. Seward was 18 miles from the previous town, a mile off a county road (so if you’re there, you had to have chosen to go there), and 33 miles from the next town (itself off the county road, albeit on a slightly larger north-south road). Yet somehow it managed to support an entire restaurant in Mom’s Bar and Grill. (With its own website!) Truly surreal. (Although they had a sense of humor about it: one of the staff wore a T-shirt that said, “Where in the hell is Seward, Kansas?” :-) Too true!)

And with that, at least going from a last skim of the route, I might be out of particular things to note. :-) Next time, retrospective and wrapup.


37 days and one year later: part 12: cost

This is part twelve 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. This post discusses the cost of the trip.

General approach

Some people have no trouble spending what they make, month after month, never accumulating wealth. I am not, and will never be, that person. My wants are few, and those wants I have (pickup ultimate frisbee, reading) are pretty cheap. I am not susceptible to impulse spending. And I live a pretty unusual life in a number of ways that lower my expenses: not owning a car, not having a phone, and splitting an apartment and utilities (this is less unusual, to be sure). The result is that, for lack of any better ideas, I direct a lot of my paycheck straight to investments. So when I have a good idea — like a vacation — I’ll pounce. :-) So I spent money on this trip far differently from how I spend in day-to-day life.


Breaking down the numbers for this is an inexact science. I tracked everything in Mint, but there were a few complicating factors. I manually recorded cash transactions, but as I had so many of them I probably lost or mis-recorded some. Also, the automatically-assigned transaction names on statements (for non-cash purchases) are…not very precise. So it’s hard to say exactly what one expense or another correlates with. Finally, it’s unclear how I’d break down a gas station purchase where I bought 1) a sandwich for dinner, 2) a pastry for breakfast, and 3) a few candy bars for snacks. It could be considered meals, or it could be considered “snacks”. So in the end, this is going to have to be vague.

Travel costs

I flew home after leaving Yorktown by taxi, I had to take a ferry across the San Francisco Bay to get to Vallejo to start biking in earnest, and I took Caltrain north to San Francisco to start. That was $13.00 for the ferry, $85.31 for the taxi, $538.60 for the plane ticket (purchased four days in advance, note :-) ), $50 for an oversize luggage fee for the boxed bike, and $7.00 for Caltrain: $693.91 total


Sometimes when I camped, I stayed in city parks for free, but not always. Campground fees came to $108.12.


This could be further divided into how the food was used — candy bars and on-the-road snacks, spontaneous ice cream, meals, celebratory dinners, and so on. But my records don’t distinguish this nearly well enough to do it. So the lump sum will have to do: $1455.78 if I haven’t miscounted anything, which I probably have, but this can’t be off by too much. (Yes, you have to eat a lot on these trips.) A lot of this eating was in restaurants, because I was on vacation and I was going to enjoy myself, dangit. :-) It would be easy to substantially cut this number if one wanted to spend less.

Hostels and hotels/motels

My records indicate that I stayed in hostels, hotels/motels, or cabins just over half the time. Sometimes I could have camped but just didn’t feel like it, sometimes I was taking the only option for where I was. The total bill for them was $1114.53. Hotel/motel costs ranged from a low of $43.96 at The Inn at Afton, VA to a high of $117.82 at a Hampton Inn in Ashland, VA. Eyeballing the column of numbers, the median is around $66 or so. Half of them included continental breakfasts of some sort, quite often with make-your-own-waffles and scrambled eggs and bacon or similar. One, in Montrose, CO, happened on that particular night of the week to include an all-you-can-eat barbecue (I stuffed myself with four burgers to justify a slightly-higher cost [which also compensated for no restaurant dinner that night]). Nothing interesting sticks out about the distribution of the costs, or how costs correlated to location.


Most people have phone plans and wouldn’t count that cost here. I don’t, so I paid $104.19 for two months of geographically-spotty T-Mobile coverage. (I’d gotten the phone through work [and dogfooded nightlies as I went], so I only needed a plan.)


Bounce-enveloping my route maps meant I had to pay postage to send unused maps along, four times: $20.60.

Pre-trip bike tuneup, misc. purchases

Besides a tuneup (…to a bike I didn’t end up taking), I got new pedals, a second water bladder, cycling gloves, cycling shorts, a sleeping pad, and a few other things I don’t remember now before leaving. These totaled $471.68. (Minus a 10% store rebate on $300 of it, or thereabouts. And minus the REI discount on $162 of it, and minus more for using an REI credit card, but really, you get the idea.)

Bike shops

Along the way I got a few repairs, replaced a few components and a helmet (no spill — left the helmet on a picnic table overnight, wind blew it off, helmet shot: rookie mistake), had the bike packed up at the end, bought leg warmers, and picked up a spare tire and a several tubes. All total this came to $367.17.

Miscellaneous components

Four pairs of sunglasses (I kept breaking them without trying :-( ), some zip ties, plastic covering for the bike on the ferry to Vallejo, and minor sundries added up to $80.13.


If I’m reading my accounts right, maps for the entire trip were $109.00 (including an Adventure Cycling member discount), and a membership to get the discount was $40.00. (The membership didn’t quite pay for itself on just the maps. It did if you counted part of the membership fee as tax-deductible, as Adventure Cycling said you could, to a specific dollar amount. I then promptly forgot about this when filing taxes this year, so my grand scheme to save a few bucks failed. Our tax system is stupid, yo.)

The bike

The bike I purchased for the trip was $929.37 total. Given it’ll work perfectly well for years to come in many other situations, it’s a little weird to call it (at least, the full amount) an expense of the trip. But the number’s handy, so I might as well provide it. (Note: around 10% of this returns to me as store credit for future use.)


Assuming all these records are accurate, the cost minus the bike was $4565.11 ($120ish/day), and the cost with the bike was $5494.38. If I’d had to guess in advance, I suspect I’d have predicted lower numbers. But I had no real expectations in advance, and I made no effort to conform these numbers to the expectations I didn’t have. :-) I can save money and spend less in regular life. (Or even on other trips of different natures. For comparison: ~140 days traveling to, hiking, and returning from the Appalachian Trail came to around $2600. Two weeks and change doing the Coast to Coast Walk in England came to $2500 for two people, plus a bunch of frequent-flyer miles. And I’ve already noted the John Muir Trail was two weeks and change for under $600.)

I have no doubt these numbers could be cut substantially with little effort. Particularly, camping more often, and buying food in grocery stores, would save a lot very easily. Planning a trip with more flexibility, to permit buying a plane ticket earlier, would save a few hundred. A bit further could be cut by someone willing to spend time to do his own maintenance, to an extent. (Tuneup maintenance, that is. I did deal with my own flats and slight tweaks when riding.) I’m not sure what the true lower bound is for someone looking to travel as fast as I had to; my 37-day lens caused me to view many choices very differently than I would have, if I’d had more time. I’m sure I came nowhere close to challenging that lower bound.

Next time, random other observations I haven’t made yet.

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