Most important Lesson of all:
Don't overdo it! As will be explained in mental and physical aspects below, we have a finite amount of mental and physical energy (some say these come out of the same reservoir) and if you don’t leave a cushion, you’re going to pay a price.
We found that we had a full plate of mental activity with route planning, daily logistics and maintaining the blog. Plenty of days only one of us felt like doing the blog, and the other one sacked out early.
After the first week Roy gave up trying to get any work done. He just didn't have the bandwidth to focus on client issues. It's a full day's work to pedal a loaded bike 60 miles.
Blogging adds so much to the experience. Experiences are so much richer when shared with another person. We had each other to share with, of course, but blogging allowed us to also share with our families and friends. Reader comments and emails gave us an unexpected amount of support. I think the closest analogy would be mail call for deployed Soldiers. Laurie (the librarian) said she quit blogging because it felt too much like homework, and she didn't have the energy. She was riding too far and camping, so naturally she was pretty exhausted. If you don't have the energy to blog, that’s a sign you need to cut back your mileage.
Everybody goes up, and down, hills at their own speed. No point in trying to stay together in either case. On the flat, take advantage of the draft, but don't bother on hills.
We never felt bored. Roy thought he would want listen to music while riding, but he never even took the headphones out of the front bag. Maybe it would be different if one of us were alone. There were times when we each considered James Weber's mantra (from Life is a Wheel), "never wish you were anywhere but where you are".
Our biggest mental challenge was North Dakota and Montana headwinds. You just have to adjust for those, you can't ignore them. They could provoke a dark night of the soul, as Marie put it. One of the lousy aspects of riding into a headwind, besides the fact that you get less movement for more effort, is that you can't hear your partner and you can't hear traffic behind you.
After rest days we had renewed enthusiasm to be on the road again.
The biggest health challenge is probably heat and hydration. We were very lucky with weather, and heat was only a severe risk in Montana and eastern Oregon. When we arrived in Halfway, Oregon, it was 108 degrees. We were super-careful those days, rising early, drinking Gatorade, eating ice cream, finding air-conditioned places to cool down, etc. We only had 2 days when it went over 100, and very few that it exceeded 90. The northern route really worked for us.
To avoid injury and burnout, we conclude that you must take one rest day each week. This was our original plan but we violated it several times. Each time we started running low on either mental or physical energy. There is such a temptation is to press on! Roy ended up injuring his back on the last day, probably due to cumulative effects of riding without enough rest days. He will take back brace with him in the future to use when lower back soreness comes on. Marie carried wrist and knee braces, but she only used the knee brace on a couple of occasions.
Shorter daily distances also immensely improve the experience. We averaged 50 miles per day including rest days. On 3 days we did the maximum of 79 miles. Sometimes you can't avoid this. Less is better. Again, fight the temptation, the momentum, the urge. After 50 miles the thrill is gone and we were running on reserves mentally and physically. Every day when we clicked over 50, we felt like we were on overtime after that.
Generally all the exercise improved overall health. Exercise is a natural anti-inflammatory so Roy did not need to take ibuprofen other than first thing in the morning. We didn't get so much as a runny nose. Marie did get sore knees but rest fixed them.
Saddle soreness remains the Achilles heel of cycling. Only at the very end did Roy's butt not hurt. He wore 2 padded pants at once after a while. Also despite all efforts we would both get pimples in that area. Using pimple medicine would make them go away but it would be a day or two of discomfort. Riding only 40-50 miles per day would help this. Those long days, it would get uncomfortable. Roy was very surprised since saddle soreness is not normally a problem for him. It's tempting to blame the saddle but he doesn't think that's really the problem. Marie thinks it is possible to find more comfortable saddles.
Roy rode a Trek 520 touring bike, and Marie rode a Lemond Zurich that Roy retrofitted with a rear rack. Roy used front panniers, a handlebar bag, and a rear rack top bag. Marie had rear panniers, a handlebar bag and rear top back.
Roy used (and loved) his Arkel front panniers, mainly for how easily they snapped on and off. Arkel is a lesser-known Canadian manufacturer of high-end touring gear. That was a huge luxury, appreciated twice a day. Marie used their super light rear panniers (essentially dry bags), Roy used the durable ones. Marie's did not have a quick release feature. The fasteners were essentially Velcro. The bright yellow Arkel rain covers are worth using all the time, merely for the visibility. We both used the Arkel quick release handlebar bag and we loved them for the organization and volume. They come with a shoulder strap, which Roy dispensed with and Marie kept. She used the bag as an (unattractive) purse when off the bag. The shoulder strap also came in handy on the few occasions when we had to take the luggage off the bike to make the bikes light enough to carry to an upper floor or because the bikes were being stored separately. We also both had a snap-in Bontrager Exchange rear rack top bag and those were also totally awesome. They expanded to hold a huge amount and have a tethered yellow rain cover which we used every day just for visibility.
Neither of us used fenders. It was a good decision for us. We didn’t need them in the dry, and we got wet in the rain with or without fenders.
Marie rode Bontrager AW3 tires and had no flat tires the entire trip. The rear tire was getting bald by Missoula, and it was replaced with a Panasonic Panaracer. Roy started out on Bontrager tires, but he had two flats early in the trip. Once he switched to Continental Gatorskins he had no more flats. Buy the most puncture resistant tires you can find. Carry a patch kit plus spare tubes. Leave spare tubes in their boxes—at first we were taking them out to save space, but a couple abraded and were useless when the need arose
We sent the corkscrew, spare camera, and the camera tripod home. We didn't need them.
We also sent home a tire pressure gauge. We should have kept the tire pressure gauge. With it, and an adapter, you can get air at gas stations. Instead we stopped at bike stores every 3-5 days and pumped up the tires. Bike stores are scarce in the West.
Our tiny lithium headlights were sufficient. Even though we never rode after dark, we needed them in tunnels. I probably did not need to bring the rear flashers, but we did use them a couple of gray days. Lights are like tools--you need to have them but hope you don't end up using them.
Full rain suits (including booties) are heavy, bulky and definitely needed. These also can provide warmth and protection from hail. Marie had walkable, waterproof winter booties and her feet stayed dry; Roy's were lightweight and difficult to walk in, and he was dissatisfied with them.
Light cable locks were sufficient and needed for peace of mind. We never had any security issues, however, we tried to keep the bikes locked and in sight.
Day glow colors and bright panniers covers needed. If you wear day glow colors, and only ride in the daytime, I think flashing lights are not useful.
Loctite® on bike screws worked. No mechanical issues, just a few spokes and one headset loosening up. Roy changed out the chains @ 2500 miles. Roy used chain lube on Marie's shift levers as well as the chains.
Weight probably isn't so crucial. It only really matters going uphill or if you have to carry the bike up stairs. You can saw the handle off the toothbrush to save 3 grams and then carry 6-8 lbs. of water and 3 lbs. of food. I would say, take only what you need, and it weighs what it weighs. Marie's bike weighed 53 lbs. and Roy's 70 lbs., both with a full load of water and food. Our camping compatriots were riding 100 lb. loads.
To save weight, we happily shared toothpaste and dental floss and scissors but it was more convenient if each of us had our own sunscreen. Speaking of sun, Marie was very happy with Da Brim unless there were big winds especially side winds, for which she would remove Da Brim. If the sun was bright and it was hot, Roy would often store his helmet and just wear the ACA brim cap with the neck protection. While a fan of helmets, he believed that in Montana, for example, the sun is a bigger danger than the traffic. While he could see himself wearing Da Brim if he is ever in a hot, shade-less area for days on end, he hope he never has to.
iPhone works for just about everything, especially as a camera. Our iPads were a great luxury and we were able to read books, look at maps, plan routes, etc.
In Missoula we bought rear-view mirrors that mounted on the handlebar. It was easier to keep track of each other with these. We could hear approaching traffic before we could see it in the mirrors. The mirrors stuck out on the left side of the bike so they made laying the bike down impossible, which was inconvenient.
There are places where you may need to carry water for the next 50 miles. Laurie used collapsible bladders that could be folded when not in use; we used old Gatorade bottles.
We both used walkable SPD mountain bike shoes with recessed cleats and were very satisfied with them. We would bring a better pair of walking/running shoes, not merely the lightest Cushee we could find. It would have been nice to do a real hike now and then. The Cushees were like slippers. Marie enjoyed having a pair of flip flops for trips to the pool and when the necessary was down the hall.
We did not need any more clothes than we brought: 3 bike outfits and 1 street outfit. Roy ended up wearing the orange nylon t shirt whenever in traffic, and the long sleeve in the sun.
We took full-fingered gloves and leggings but only used them a couple of times, however you still need to be prepared for all weather. Like bike tools—we ended up not needing them but that was sheer luck.
As previously mentioned, taking a northern route to avoid heat worked for us.
We ended up improvising some parts of the route to find hotels; ACA assumes you are camping.
We mined Connie and Bob's blog for places to stay, since they were going the opposite direction on a very similar route to ours.
All things considered, east to west proved best for us. It was great to have the morning sun at our backs instead of in our eyes. The headwind price was paid only in ND and MT. The Rockies and the Cascades were not a serious physical challenge by the time we got to them. East to west also better for the mountains, the west side is usually steeper.
Roy put the phone in airplane mode to prolong battery life whenever he wasn't using Google for navigation. Marie ran RideWithGPS app when the entire day's route needed mapping. That app allows you to turn cellular data off so it doesn’t drain the battery too much. (Taking picture uses up more battery than you might expect.) Since RideWithGPS does not recalculate if you go off route, we used Google maps to get us back on track. We also got use out of AAA road maps and ACA maps. It’s important to avoid gravel roads which Google’s bicycle route mapping and RideWithGPS will put you on. The only fault we had with the ACA maps is that the ACA assumes that you can camp. Their routes are more oriented to quiet roads and nice scenery than to finding motels and cities.
ACA never put us on a gravel or unpaved road (although some had been recently chip sealed).
Most cities had excellent bike path networks, so it was actually more fun riding through Chicago, for example, than riding through farm country.
We carry power bars and pb&j at all times. You get hungry often.
The foods we used to keep us going and rejuvenate ourselves:
Thoughts on camping
We intentionally did not bring any camping gear. In the eastern half of the country, we just selected a motel when it was quitting time by searching on Google and Trip Advisor. Once we hit North Dakota, we planned a week at a time to reserve motels, b&bs, and ideally, center city hotels. That did create some schedule rigidity and some long days. We didn’t like “having” to do 65 or 79 miles regardless of heat, terrain and wind. Sometimes we longed for the flexibility to be able to just stop and camp, and they say that you meet a lot more people camping. However, in order to truly rest, you need air conditioning, a dark room, a comfy bed, toilet nearby, security, wi-fi, ability to wash out clothes, etc. and you can’t get any of that in a tent. So even though it seems like it would be fun and flexible to camp along the way, we had absolutely no desire to camp after a long day in the saddle. Cycle camping may sound romantic but it’s not practical for us. The people we met who were camping were suffering both on and off the bike, whereas, we only suffered on the bike.
Observations about Hotels/Motels/B&B’s
We learned that what we want in a hotel as cycle tourists is not the same as what we want for a romantic getaway weekend. Our ideal lodging: first floor room or elevator that we could walk the bikes into; excellent mattress with all cotton sheets; guest laundry; blackout curtains; strong wi-fi signal; and an extensive free buffet breakfast that opens at 6 am. Having breakfast in the hotel saved a lot of time.
You really only get all of this at one of the chains, our favorites being:
Holiday Inn Express
The smaller local motels were hit-and-miss, and you never really knew how good the mattress was going to be. It was never as good as the Holiday Inn Express. To our amazement, not all small places have wifi nor do they provide shampoo.
B&B’s were infinitely more interesting but often fussy. Plus, when the hosts were determined to make us what they considered the ideal breakfast on their schedule, it meant we got a late start. Those days when you knew the temperature was going to rise 40 degrees, you really did not want to sit around being sociable while a leisurely gourmet breakfast was served.
Hotel pricing is all over the map.
We were told in North Dakota that every county seat will have at least one motel or hotel, because they have a courthouse and there has to be a way to put up sequestered juries. That seemed to be true in our experience.
Minding the Home Front
While a lot of things can be done via email, it's incredibly helpful to have someone minding your mail, paying random bills that come in the mail, checking on the house, etc. Although we automated all our recurring bills, we received a few bills we weren’t expecting and couldn’t pay in advance (for example, part of doctor bills not paid by insurance). It was nice not to worry about the house. We were a bit surprised to receive a thank-you note from Roy’s brother in mid-July. It seems we hosted his family’s vacation to Washington, DC in our absence. Well, we did issue a standing invitation!
We didn’t take any checks, and we probably could have used one or two. Some motels wanted cash. Fortunately, they usually charged under $100, and we didn’t have any real problems getting cash from ATM’s.
We each had two different credit cards with us and we each had one compromised, and one replaced before its expiration date because of the new chip technology. Fortunately, we were able to get extensions to use the old non-chip cards until we got home, and VISA expressed mailed a temporary replacement card to a motel where we knew we’d be staying on a rest day. Still, we each spent a couple evenings on the phone with customer service. Maybe we’d bring 2 more and keep them in an alternate location, as an additional backup.
On average, we spent about $6,000 per month on food and lodging and miscellaneous, all in, and it was worth every penny.
Our webmistress says there are better sites that Weebly for blogging. While Weebly is excellent for e-commerce, using it for blogging can be frustrating. In retrospect, we probably should have added our blog to the Crazy Guy on a Bike site, so that others interested in this type of long-distance tour could benefit. https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/