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I just spent five and a half months bicycling 7600 miles across the United States -- AMA!

Oct 20th 2014 by geoffreybeene • 26 Questions • 329 Points

I started bicycling from Bar Harbor, ME on April 23 and just got to San Francisco, CA this last Tuesday. I rode 7600 miles over 24 states, met all sorts of people, learned a ton about life/myself, and had a generally great time.

I started out to see what I was capable of--I had spent the last couple years losing 80lbs, overcoming depression and alcoholism, and generally pulling myself out of a pretty bad place. If I can do it, you can do it.

My Proof: Here's my travel blog, though I'm still working on the last few entries up to and including the "finish line": www.whereswinslow.com

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If you're interested in doing something like this yourself, check out:

www.adventurecycling.org -- A great organization that sells amazing maps and route information. The TransAmerica Trail route they have is kind of the Appalachian Trail of cross country bicycling.

www.crazyguyonabike.org -- Tons of travel blogs from people all over the place. Penny farthing rides around the world...Trips that are still going on after 5 years...Or just a nice journal from someone riding in your area. It inspired me every day while I worked a cubicle farm job to save money.

Q:

How many tubes did you go through?

A:

Must've been something like 4 tubes and 3 tires, got a total of 15 or so flats. Patch kits work wonders to keep your tube up and running.

That being said, I have friends who rode these really great tires called Schwalbe Marathons and didn't have a single flat the entire way across the country. I got myself a pair and haven't had an issue since.


Q:

What kind of tires did you use?

A:

Started out with stock Continental Touring Pros. Burnt through one by Virginia. Then another Continental TourRIDE, which was the only available one, and some other Continental something or other at a bike shop in Omaha. They all gave me flat tires and burnt out fairly quickly. Schwalbes from now on.


Q:

Never skip leg day

A:

Every day is leg day


Q:

What was the most dangerous situation you encountered?

A:

Traffic. Traffic all day every day. Semi trucks, RV's, camper vans, pissed off people, impatient assholes, farm equipment, animals, bad terrain.

I guess the most dangerous traffic-specific area would've been Highway 1, because of a 500 foot drop to the ocean on one side, and weekend vacation traffic on the other.


Q:

Yup, and sadly, it is mostly due to the design of the road and the (lack of) regulations traffic is dangerous for bikes in the US.

Biking on highways is very illegal in the Netherlands.

A:

I daydream about having bike infrastructure like that someday. Helping develop it is actually what I want to do with my life.


Q:

Have you already visited the Netherlands?

A:

No, just seen youtube videos of the bicycle commuters getting around! It looks incredible.


Q:

Oh man, we did a slightly shorter version of this trip this past summer (Virginia to Oregon). The Ozark mountains were tough, but the Missouri drivers made it that much tougher. Kind of scary having someone in an RV barreling up your asshole on a steep uphill. I wound up off the road and walking a bit after that.

A:

TransAmerica Trail?


Q:

Amazing! sometime I've always wanted to do. Maybe when I feel financially stable I will one day.

What is the most amazing place you've bikes to and why?

A:

Crater Lake was incredible, and a lot of work to get to. It's something like 5700 feet of climbing to the base of it from the Oregon Coast, and then another 2k to the rim of the lake. To go around it was another 4k of climbing. Doing that much work makes you appreciate the hell out of every viewpoint you reach.


Q:

Sincere question: were you ever scared?

As a female, I would never, ever do this alone. It wouldn't even cross my mind as a possibility. I'm not complaining; I just think it's interesting when I notice how different the world can look to different people.

You are awesome for such an accomplishment and I'm envious!

A:

I was scared my first few times stealth camping. One night was along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachians and it was so absolutely silent that night that every leaf falling, twig shifting, or bug hopping made me think a bear was bearing down on me.

As far as being a female goes, I thought the same thing. It seems really dangerous for a woman, but you know what? I met at least 5 women who were doing it solo, and had been doing it solo, with wonderful experiences. If anything, people out there are MORE willing to be kind and supportive of a woman out there on her own. Of course, I'd still keep the mace handy.


Q:

What was your "jam"/theme song/music you were listening to during the trip?

A:

Oh I love this question.

Little Dragon - Test is the first song that came to mind. The bassline made me bounce around like a goofy idiot all across the Midwest.

Otherwise, Bela Fleck's Bluegrass Sessions #2 is probably the album I listened to the most. It's so appropriate for so much American scenery.


Q:

Well you've inspired me. Since I found your AMA and read your blog, I've spent most of the night researching bike trails to travel.

A:

Also check out www.adventurecycling.org

They're the biggest organization setting up amazing rides all across the United States, and I used their maps to piece together a general idea of where I'm going.


Q:

I'm from Alabama and intend to do this in a little over a year. Where did you usually stay/eat and how did you manage to do laundry/take showers? As of right now, these are my only two concerns with actually following through with my plan.

A:

Neither of these concerns should... concern you. I admit that the biggest question of my day was usually "Where am I going to sleep?" but between a combination of campgrounds, www.warmshowers.org hosts, random strangers inviting me to stay in their house, and the odd motel, you can always find a place to sleep. Plus, the longer you're out, the more comfortable you get with stealth camping. Near the end of my trip I stopped planning places to sleep because I knew I'd find something eventually.

Food is similarly easy. This is America. We have food. There are gas stations and grocery stores all over the place--the biggest question is your budget. Are you bringing a stove, or eating out a lot? Do you feel OK just eating cold food?

Laundry usually came with Warmshowers hosts or friends that put me up. I got OK with smelling bad for long periods of time... the end of my trip was no laundry from Seattle to San Francisco, save the occasional soak/rinse of my riding clothes in a sink.

Showers are oddly plentiful too.. either find a host for the night, stay in a campground with showers, go swimming in a river, or just learn to love the smell of your own body. Chances are, no one's around to smell you anyways.


Q:

Thanks for doing this! You already answered the "What was your favorite place?" question, but which was your favorite state to ride through?

A:

The scenery of Montana was incredible (Steinbeck writes, "I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love." and he's right) and the Oregon coastline was stunning.

But you know what? I loved riding through Kansas. I expected it to be flat, miserable, headwindy hell, but it was really charming. Huge expanses of space, and you a tiny speck in the middle. Friendly locals.

Plus, it's pretty. Beautiful sunsets every single night.

Pics 1 Pics 2 Pics 3


Q:

I agree that Montana is a mountain man's wet dream. Only been there once and I wish I had appreciated it more when I was 10 (but you know how 10 year olds are on long road trips). I'm from Oregon and count myself very fortunate that I can just pop over to the most beautiful coast in the US whenever I want and it only takes about an hour to get there. Heck, those highway pictures from Kansas look almost identical to several stretches of I-5 around Linn County. I'll have to include Kansas on my road trip plans.

A:

Get off the Interstate in Kansas and take the northern highway across the state. it's much prettier up there than the middle/south part of the state.


Q:

Bike, /u/geoffreybeene, bike!

A:

I'm the one in the family who keeps the beard trimmed.


Q:

Obligatory where was your favorite place?

A:

Do I have to pick just one?

On the Eastern side it was probably the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike.

South of that, it was Skyline Drive in Virginia

Then there was the crossing of the Rockies through Poudre Canyon

and then Glacier National Park which is probably my #1 favorite, if I had to choose one over anything. It doesn't look real, not even when you're standing in the middle of it.


Q:

wow, those are all awesome places to see along a journey like yours. That abandoned turnpike is fascinating.. Where was that exactly? Somewhere outside Philly or Pittsburgh I presume..

A:

It's a little east of Pittsburgh. I think if you Google Map "abandoned PA turnpike" it'll show up, or there's www.pike2bike.com/


Q:

Wow. This seems like it would be so much fun to do with a small group of friends. This story is truly intruiging to me and thank you for doing this AmA!!!

My question is: What inspired you to do this journey? Was it something you wanted to do to get more fit and for health reasons, or was it something you've always dreamed of doing and seeked it as a way to help you get out of your depression?

A:

It'd be good to do with one or two friends, but I think it depends what you want out of it! When you're going solo, you talk to way more strangers, get lots of invitations for help and food, and have a much different experience than with a group.

I rode with a few groups along the way, and had a ton of fun but it changes. You lose some freedom when you're making compromises and having to deal with the logistics of feeding an army/finding places to sleep. I'd recommend going alone, personally, but it's nice to be able to high-five someone when you get past a tough part or reach something amazing.

As for my motivations, I kind of talk about them here. I was out of my depression before the trip, at least the worst of it. I think I still have fits of melancholy and certainly did while on this trip, but I've learned that almost everything is temporary. Moods, thoughts, bodily discomfort... you forget about how hard it is to ride up the mountain when you're coasting down the other side.


Q:

1 question: Would you do it all again?

A:

In a heartbeat. I wish I didn't have to stop.


Q:

You mention East St. Louis. Did you bike thru other black towns and cities? Were there rural areas you passed thru which had majority black populations? Are there any reason for safety concerns biking thru any parts of the US?

A:

If I did, I didn't know them especially as black towns.

I think there are as many safety concerns biking across the US as there are for people to stay in their own hometowns. The way I saw it was, people die slipping in their bathtubs. They get in car accidents. They get random illnesses unexpectedly. The world is a dangerous place to live in no matter where you are--I may as well be doing something fun.


Q:

What kinda stuff did you pack for your trip? Like how much clothes, water, snacks etc?

A:

Here's my pre-trip list of gear. I have to do the post-trip gear review writeup still, but it didn't change too much from that list.


Q:

Heeey I've always wanted to do this and will some day... just curious as to how much you forked out for your bike and panniers... and any other equipment/cadgets you deemed necessary...? congratulations on overcoming your depression. i've been making some ground on mine. you're a bit of an inspiration there champ.

A:

I'll preface this by saying my mantra while shopping for gear was "People have ridden across the country on unicycles and penny farthings." Gear is gear, and while it's helpful, you can probably make do with a lot less than you think.

The bike was brand new a month before I started, a 2014 Novara Randonee. I think it was like $1200 with tax, after REI discount. I asked for panniers, tent, sleeping stuff, and other "big" items for Christmases and Birthdays the 3 years before my trip, so I didn't fork anything out for those :)

I did a lot of photoblogging on the road, so a good camera and laptop were important to me and weren't cheap. I got a Sony NEX3N for $300? I think? and started out with a $60 used Chromebook but finished with a Surface Pro 3, which was about $1k if I remember correctly. But either of those are (really) necessary, though I'd argue that a camera definitely is.


Q:

This is something that I have wanted to do since getting a bike. I will have all the equipment soon and my bike is ready to go. http://i.imgur.com/VKKcx0s.jpg . My question is looking at my bike is there anything you recommend? what was the gear ratio you were working with on this trip? How many spokes do you think are necessary to support weight? I'm assuming i could increase tire size.

I think it is amazing what you did and even better that you righted yourself

A:

YESSS! This makes me so happy!

Your bike looks friggin awesome, just a couple questions--

Can you get a third water bottle cage on there? You may consider that. Water is important, and the summer is hot.

Is that a double chainring? Unless you're a super strong rider you may want to consider a triple up front. I never used the big ring, and was happy to have granny gears if I needed them.

Spokes--as many as possible, especially if you're loading the front and the back. I had 36 spoke wheels and they were perfect.

This was my bike, I didn't change any of the drivetrain components from it: http://www.rei.com/product/816068/novara-randonee-bike-2014

Thanks, and be sure to let me/us know about when and where you're going! I'd love to read about your adventure.


Q:

Thanks for the amazing response and input! No third brazon unfortunately but I suppose I could do seat mounted or like a velcro cage.

Just two chain rings up front. I suppose I'm strong (I don't use a car just ride everywhere) but I was considering a granny gear when hitting the road. I will look into purchasing a new crankset. I think I might be at 34 spokes . I'm. Ok sure of my loaf on the bike but it stated 360 pounds. What was your final load weight. I think not having enough spokes is what worries me the most. I'll look into wheel options. Was thinking if anything fatter tires might make up for it but then I'd potentially lose speed.

I will definitely shout out to you when I take a trip. Thanks so much and safe travels

A:

What sort of tour are you looking to do? Cross country? Scenic or speed?

You'll appreciate the granny gear, trust me. I "ride everywhere" too but there's a difference between riding around town and spending 7 hours climbing a mountain pass.

34 spokes is pretty strong, if you don't overload it you should be OK. I wouldn't worry too much about it, tbh. I met people touring on old 10 speeds, brand new bikes, road bikes, and everything in between. You'll be OK :)

My bike and gear weighed about 100 lbs exactly when I had it weighed in Missoula. Otherwise I never thought about weight.

I know you're in the pre-trip mindset so there are a million questions, but trust me, a lot of these little questions stop mattering when you're actually out there doing it :)


Q:

What is the longest stretch you went either distance or time without seeing another person and where were you?

A:

I did a 71 mile rail trail through the Idaho Panhandle where I didn't see another person, and spent a day in the cornfields of southern Illinois all by myself. Otherwise, I almost always saw people, or at least cars, eventually.


Q:

[deleted]

A:

The USA is 3.79 million square miles. There's a lot I didn't see.