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I started at the Atlantic Ocean in Bethany Beach, Delaware, on April 13, 1997. From there I rode west, through my home in Washington, D.C., and then southwest to Charlottesville, Virginia. In Charlottesville I connected up with the Transamerica Trail, a coast-to-coast bicycle route established by the folks at Adventure Cycling Association (formerly Bikecentennial) in 1976. The Trail follows secondary roads, away from cities (Charlottesville, Virginia, and Pueblo, Colorado were the largest places I visited on the Trail) and it is probably the single most popular route for biking across the country. I stayed on the TA Trail for the better part of the trip, riding down the Shenandoahs to southwest Virginia, west across the Appalachians into Kentucky and then through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and into Colorado. In Colorado just past Pueblo the route and I turned north, up into the Rocky Mountains behind Denver and into Wyoming. The TA Trail turned west again in Wyoming and I stayed on it until Jackson. There, I rented a car for a couple of days and drove around Yellowstone Park. At Jackson I left the Transamerica Trail (which continues up into Montana) and headed through Idaho along the Snake River Valley, across Oregon to Portland on U.S. 26 and then up to the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, where I finished on June 18.
It was a good route. The Transamerica Trail is well suited to cyclists, and Adventure Cycling's maps are convenient, chock full of useful information and easy to interpret -- it's hard to get lost. I had been a little apprehensive about improvising the non-Trail segments, but that turned out to be a lot easier than I had supposed. (Asking the right people for help makes a big difference; see the FAQs.) I enjoyed the mix of established and invented routing -- folks on the TA Trail have been seeing long-distance cyclists for a couple of decades, and they've become kind of blasé. Indeed it was rather deflating, early on when I was still a little awed by my own ambition, to be greeted by convenience store clerks with a simple "you goin' across?", as though I were riding (downhill) to the post office. I was relieved to get off on my own and start meeting people who were more suitably impressed -- although by then, I had discovered a hidden benefit to the Trail: Sure, thousands of cyclists have preceded you, wearing the wonder off the locals, but because the riders were so well-behaved and engaging, residents along the Trail treat you like an old friend back for a visit. It was interesting to feel like part of a community of people whom I'd never even met!
Townspeople and clerks weren't my only company. DC friends rode with me on the very first day and a for a while as I was riding out of Washington. In Pippa Passes, Kentucky, I met fellow cross-country cyclist Rob, and we rode together on and off (mostly on) for about three weeks, until Wyoming. In eastern Oregon I met an English couple, John and Gloria, who had been riding their tandem in the Europe, North Africa and the U.S. for a year. The three of us stayed together for a few days until our routes diverged.
Other touring cyclists were a rare sight during the first 4-5 weeks. Rob and I were in fact a little early -- most people heading westbound through the middle of the country set out a couple of weeks later than we did. And indeed the first 10 days of the trip were a little chillier and damper than I would have liked. The early departure had its plus sides, though -- Rob and I had heard a lot about hot, horrible riding in Missouri and Kansas but we encountered none of it. (We had one 94 degree day in Kansas but it was pretty dry and not uncomfortable.) Mosquitoes never really arrived, and the roads were still clear of summer traffic. All the routes through the Rockies were open by the time we got there and apart from one day of snow and cold rain, the weather in the mountains was fine.
For more detailed route information (showing overnight towns and daily
mileages), have a look at my Trip Log.
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