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TransAmerica Trail: “The Best 8 Weeks of My Life”

By in TransAm 2018 Comments Off on TransAmerica Trail: “The Best 8 Weeks of My Life”

In 2009, Steve Wesson, one of Bike Adventures‘ senior leaders, rode across the United States; it was, he states, ‘the best 8 weeks of my life’. Over the last few years he has discussed this trip with many Bike Adventures regulars and a number have expressed an interest in such a trip should we ever organise one. Well, guess what? On July 19th, Steve, 11 of our most intrepid customers and a support driver head to Florence, Oregon to start a ‘TransAmerica’. We asked Steve to tell us more about the trip.

BIKE ADVENTURES: With such a big country and so many options how did you decide on which route to take?

STEVE: Our trip is based on the best known and most commonly used route, the ‘TransAmerica Bicycle Trail’, which began as the route for a mass bicycle tour across the country to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial. The route was developed and mapped by the organisation Bikecentennial, which later changed its name to Adventure Cycling Association. 2000 cyclists completed the ride 1976!
Not only is this route thoroughly tried and tested but it goes through some stunning countryside and misses all major population centres. I have tweaked the route, especially in the east, to find overnight accommodation but more than 75% remains the TransAmerica Trail.

transam 2018 route

BIKE ADVENTURES: Presumably the riding is very varied.  Can you paint a picture of what the group can expect?

STEVE: We start among the sand dunes of Florence, located on the Oregon Coast at the mouth of the Siuslaw River. The lush, green western side of the Cascade Mountains is in stark contrast to the dry terrain beyond McKenzie Pass, where the road cuts through a lava field and offers spectacular views of the snow-capped peaks of the Cascades. Central and eastern Oregon is made up of dry, mountainous terrain.

Idaho offers a wonderful ride along the Salmon River with some interesting Native American historic sites. The route then follows the scenic Lochsa River for the longest gradual ascent of the trip (around 70 miles) as we climb up and over Lolo Pass and enter Montana, where wide valleys and mountain passes await us.  The views in Yellowstone National Park and of the Grand Teton Range in Wyoming are incomparable, and towns such as Dubois and Lander will remind us that we are in the ‘wild west’.  The scenery quickly changes from dry, high desert to alpine as we reach Colorado and begin a long climb to crest the Continental Divide at Hoosier Pass (11,542 feet).

Things start to dry out as we get into eastern Colorado and cross into Kansas. The flat-as-a-billiard-table terrain of the Great Plains turns quickly into roller-coaster riding as we enter Missouri and traverse the Ozarks.  We cross the Mississippi River to clip Illinois, then cross the Ohio River into Kentucky and rolling white-fenced farms and woodlands before reaching Berea, gateway to the Appalachians. The mountains eventually give way to rolling hills and then flat riding through the lush plantations and farmlands of Virginia. The last stretch of the route is rich in the history of the American Revolution, with Colonial Williamsburg as the highlight before our journey’s end in Yorktown, on the Chesapeake Bay.

BIKE ADVENTURES: Wow!  What is the pace like?  Is this only a trip for athletes?

STEVE: Not at all.  We have almost 4200 miles to cover but this is spread over 60 riding days so average daily mileage is about 70 – comparable to our standard Land’s End to John O’Groats trip.  Average climb is less than 3000 ft/day, though obviously there are some hilly days and some long climbs.  We also get a rest day every 10 days.

I feel sure that most would not describe themselves as ‘athletes’.  Several of the group have only taken up cycling within the last few years, most are in their 60’s and a couple are even in their 70’s!

The important thing is to come into a ride like this with the right attitude.  This is very much an adventure rather than a ‘holiday’,

BIKE ADVENTURES: So, does that imply camping?

STEVE:  No. Virtually all unsupported, and most commercial, TransAmerica rides do involve some camping but I have managed to create a route that allows us all to sleep in a proper bed each night.  In a small number of places we are staying in the only accommodation in town but, where we have a choice, we have selected accommodation of the standard that Bike Adventures regulars will have become accustomed to.  More than half the hotels offer a pool or hot tub which will be very welcome after a long hot day in the saddle!

BIKE ADVENTURES: Talking of long hot days, what weather can you expect?

STEVE: Potentially just about anything.  There will certainly be some hot days, particularly in the west, and when necessary we will adjust our riding to start at first light.  The mountain passes can be cool or even cold and some heavy rain is a possibility, though this is likely to be short sharp thunderstorms which can often be sheltered from.  When I rode a TransAm in 2009 I had less than half a day in the rain and I hope I didn’t use up all my luck in one go!

BIKE ADVENTURES: Tell us a bit about the support arrangements.

STEVE: Really no different to our ‘regular’ trips.  We have a support driver and will collect a rental van on arrival.  We will haul most of standard support kit out from the UK but will then buy locally anything that is wasn’t practical to fly with.  We have asked each customer to bring their own spare chain since everyone will need a chain replacement at some point, but otherwise we will carry all the usual spares.  In fact, because we will be riding in some very remote areas, we are carry MORE spares and tools than usual. 

BIKE ADVENTURES: Thanks Steve, wish we were going with you! Good luck.

We will be following this epic journey and will post a weekly update so do re-visit this blog from time to time. If this trip has captured your imagination we are in the early stages of planning a repeat for 2020 – click the link below.

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