I have been riding road-bikes on and off for years, especially during the summer. I often ride before or after work at the College on the back-roads around HSC. Cyndy was planning a "sabbatical" for herself in Santa Fe for the summer of 2012. When she started organizing her stay,the thought occurred to me that I would miss her and maybe I could ride my bike out Santa Fe to see her. When I started looking into it, I found that there is a well-known bike route that not only goes close to Santa Fe, but also crosses the US, so that got me thinking...
As a result in the spring 2012 I decided attempt to ride the Trans-American (Transam) or Bi-Centennial Bike Route over the upcoming summer. This is a route that was established by a group of experienced cyclists to celebrate the Bi-Centennial back in 1976. The route starts in Yorktown, Virginia and continues on to the coast of Oregon through secondary roads and a cross-section of small-town America. The Transam bike route offers one a unique and intimate opportunity to experience our country. Below is an outline of the Transam route and the states it crosses.
When I first started thinking about the ride I envisioned it as an opportunity for fund-raising for Muscular Dystrophy. Never having done anything like this before, I had a lot of concerns about my ability to complete the ride. Even though I have been cycling for years, I had not done an overnight ride nor ridden a loaded touring bike, that is, carrying all my gear for camping along the way. Also, I have a number of health issues that could affect my ability to complete the ride, things like kidney stones and surgeries on my knees and low-back, to name a few.
Still, I knew that I was going to be 62 this summer and that I was not getting any younger, so I was excited to give it a go now. In preparation for the trip I purchased a dedicated touring bike, a Surly LHT (Long Haul Trucker). This is the first touring bike I have ever owned and it's a sweet ride. I set the bike up with mountain-biking components to better be able to handle the rigors of fully-loaded touring. With the bike loaded with tent, sleeping bag, clothing and all the camping gear, the rig weighs 75 lbs.
My first impression trying to lift up the loaded bike was, yikes! Surprisingly, I found that you get used to the weight pretty quickly and after a while an unloaded bike feels squirrely in comparison. Most folks find that you really do not feel the weight much until you start doing some climbing, then you know all about it, and are thankful for the "granny" (easy) gears that the bike has. Traditionally, folks that attempt to ride the Transam route start the ride by dipping their rear wheel in the Atlantic Ocean. Here I am with shiny new bike and gear doing the rear-wheel-dipping in Yorktown, Virginia setting out in early May 2012.
Interestingly, the greatest elevation gain is not when crossing the Rockies in Colorado, but when riding through the Appalachian Mountains and mountains in Virginia and Kentucky. I would be chuckling to myself on many of the climbs, surprised by how steep they were and wondering how other riders were handling the difficult grades. You also get going pretty fast on the downhill sections. It's not unusual for the wheel rims to heat up like crazy sometimes resulting on a blown tire (but not for me) if you do not stop and give rims a chance to cool on the steep downhill sections.
Once out west, the route goes crosses the Continental Divide several times. The highest point of the ride is found at Hoosier Pass in Colorado at 11,532 feet. You could really feel the thin air when climbing up to the pass, and once there it was windy and cold, but way fun. Note, I was not trying to be color-coordinated for photos. I only brought along only two bike jerseys, one long-sleeve and one short-sleeve in addition to a couple pairs of bike shorts in an attempt to keep the weight to a minimum. And yes, even with frequent washing, my bike clothing started to become very aromatic, or so I am told, but after a few weeks on the road I did not notice it.....
I did not see that many touring cyclists throughout the ride, maybe 100-150 or so all together, but of those, two very unusual meetings come to mind. The first was seeing a young Dr. French (Ridge Animal Hospital) from Farmville heading east toward me on a small country road somewhere in western Kansas. It turned out that he was doing half of the Transam route. He had started the ride in Colorado and was planning on long days (90 miles/day or so) staying in hotels along his way back to Yorktown, Virginia. We had a nice visit and he headed east and I continued my ride westward.
Another unusual meeting occurred one evening while I was staying at a small ranch in Colorado. The owner of the ranch allows touring cyclists sleep in an old trailer she has on the property. I got there earlier in the day and toward evening another Transam cyclist who came riding from the west came rolling up to the trailer. It turned out that he was a recently retired naval officer that knew General Sam Wilson! We had a great time telling Sam Wilson stories that night...... small world or what!
My Summer Home
One of the great things about the trip was that I could, or at least did, eat anything, and as much of anything as I wanted to, just don't tell my cardiologist. I probably ate 2-3 times my regular caloric intake to help fuel the 8 hours or so of daily riding I did on the trip. Even though I was camping out on the trip, I did not cook my own food, rather I ate at places found along the way. With the small towns and remote locations that the Transam route follows, finding food was often a problem. At other times there were places to eat with meals available with touring cyclists in mind. At those times I felt like I was on the "Man Verses Food" show, and I was the man for the job. There's a huge double cheeseburger somewhere under that mountain of fries below, and I think I had a large milkshake or two for dessert.....
I finished the Transam route in Florence, Oregon, where again, according to tradition you dip your front wheel in the Pacific Ocean, over 4,000 miles from the start of the ride in Yorktown, Virginia. Cool beans.... As it turned out, it was a real pain to get to the beach at Florence, lots of hiking over sand dunes. It was my introduction to the weather along the Pacific coast, very cool, hazy and windy. Not my notion of summer at the beach.
I was making good time on the ride and I made it out to the Pacific Coast sooner than I expected. So, still feeling a bit spunky, I looked at my maps and thought it would be fun to continue to ride down the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) from Central Oregon to Southern California (another 1,000 miles or so). That way I would end the ride in Los Angles and I would have the change to spend a few days with our son, Patrick, who is living in Woodland Hills.
The ride along the Pacific coast was pretty spectacular, but challenging. I was surprised by how much climbing there was on the PCH. For example on one 60-mile stretch you have to climb 8,500 feet (up and down, and up and down). The views along the coastline and and of giant redwoods were truly amazing. Unfortunately the roads along the route were often narrow, winding, had poor visibility with high-speed traffic and had little or no shoulders, yikes....
I finished up the trip in a bit over 70 days on the road and completed 5,267 miles. It was for me, a truly amazing trip. As I sit in my office in Gilmer Hall and reflect back on the ride, I realize that it's good to be back to my friends and our community at HSC. Still, I find that there are aspects of my time on the road that I miss: the irrelevance of clock-time, the freedom to go where the wind carries you, the sight of a long stretch of road with the Rockies peaking up in the distance, the sense of one's life stretching out before you full of possibilities, the opportunity to live in the moment without being distracted by the demands of our complex, modern life. I found that the ability to propel oneself with one's own power over a continent while living in a simple and sustainable way, experiencing the landscape, climate and people of our great country was a powerful experience, I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it.....
Ed in sunny Southern California waiting to meet Patrick