Back in a bit

Tags: , , , , — Jeff @ 05:00
Woman with an anxious look on her face, sitting in a seat on an airplane -- from that great classic, Airplane!
I’ve gotta get out of here

I tend to take either relatively brief vacations (a day or two at a time) or very long ones. Brief vacations serve specific purposes, so they only mentally recharge me a little. Only long vacations let me set my head straight. Recent long vacations have been:

I haven’t taken any long trips to unwind since 2014. Injuries (a persistent high ankle sprain ultimately requiring arthroscopic surgery, a stress fracture to the same foot) are partly to blame. Regardless, I haven’t fully decompressed in a very long time.

During the last weeks of the A.T. thru-hike, I stayed at a hostel with a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker guidebook. When I finished reading it, I knew I would hike the PCT. I wasn’t sure when, but I knew it would happen.

This year’s the year.

Conventional wisdom holds that if you can hike the ~2175mi A.T. in N months, the ~2650mi PCT will take N – 1 months. (The A.T. is a rugged trail of rocks and roots; the PCT is a well-graded horse trail.) Obviously this breaks down eventually, and I suspect a relatively-fast 137-day A.T. pace passes that point. I’m guessing I’ll need four months: 240 hours of PTO (Nᴇᴡ Hɪɢʜ Sᴄᴏʀᴇ!), then three months’ unpaid leave, including a cushion. I’m guessing I’ll be done by mid-September.

The A.T. is generally non-technical. No special equipment is required (except during snow extremes at the north end). Civilization is almost always nearby. The PCT is more technical, with a trail unmarked by omnipresent white blazes or signs regularly identifying the PCT. Lingering snow may completely obscure the trail. Swollen, icy creek crossings present dangers I only approached a single day on the A.T. Resupply locations are less frequent and comprehensive. It’s necessary to mail food to oneself at certain points, to resupply at all at them.

New equipment I've had to pick up for the PCT: crampons; wraparound, UV-blocking, polarized sunglasses; crampons
With trekking pole/ice pick in hand, I’m ready for my next political assassination

The learning curve for the PCT is steeper than for the A.T. Some people might worry about this, but I won’t be one of them. Worrying isn’t helpful: why allow it take root?

Caution and preparedness are different matters. For example, I know ~zero about safely hiking through alpine snow. And this year was a roughly every-six-year snow year, maybe worse in localized areas. But I can address that with training. There should be room to learn other PCT peculiarities in the first few hundred miles.

A graph of California north/central/south snowpack over each season, for various winter seasons; 1982-1983 establishes a high mark, 2016-2017/2010-2011/2005-2006 are high but not historically so, and 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 are around the recorded minimums

My only uncontrollable concern is that foot stress fracture. It happened two and a half years ago; the fracture has healed; and I’ve walked, run, and hiked on it for a year. A sports medicine doctor cleared me to walk to Canada on it.  (I was very specific about doing exactly that.) But my right big toe still isn’t 100% flexible, its ligaments semi-regularly ache during or after exercise, and it sometimes bruises. I’ll do what I can about this through cushioned socks, ongoing flexibility exercises, and moderating pace if needed. But I can’t eliminate the risk that it might significantly slow me down or even stop me.

If all goes well, I’ll return in September, mentally refreshed, with a peculiarly developed endurance for walking and very few fast-twitch muscle fibers. 🙂 I’ve turned off Bugzilla request capabilities, so don’t try asking me to review patches. If you must contact me, email might work. I’ll rely heavily on server-side filters to keep the firehoses hidden, but that doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily see an email. If possible send reviews and questions to the usual suspects. Moreover, the PCT is much more remote than the A.T., so I’ll likely go longer between email access than I did on the A.T. In places, a two-week delay in responding would not be unusual. (But I’ll try to keep people updated on where I am whenever possible, specifically to reduce the risks and dangers in a moronically-avoidable 127 Hours-style rescue snafu. I put the best odds on Twitter updates because they’re quickest. But I’ll post some pictures here as well to one-up roc. “My country’s scenery beat up your country’s scenery”)

I’m currently on my way to San Diego. Some helpful souls who love the trail (“trail angels”, in the vernacular) offer aspiring thru-hikers a place to stay just before, and a ride to the start the day of, their thru-hikes. I’ll stay tonight with them. Tomorrow the rubber hits the trail. It should be good.


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.


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.

Older »