Sunday, July 18, 2010

My Bicycle Trip

I rode my bike 770 miles or so from Salt Lake City, UT to Sacramento, CA. I started Sunday morning at 8:30 and finished Friday night a little after 11:00 PM.

As usual, all during the trip, I imagine the wonderful, informative blog posts that I will write when I get back, full of helpful gear lists and vivid descriptions. Now that I'm back, however, I'm already bored, suffering from post-adventure let-down, wishing I were still biking, and thinking the Internet is stupid, so I don't really want to write about it. However, I'll force myself to do it now, otherwise it will never happen.

So, what do I think of bicycle touring? I like it. I certainly still plan to do a longer trip someday (preferably with Marcus, since marriage is no excuse, buddy.) But do I like it as much as backpacking? It's different, that's for sure. It's more like hiking the Appalachian Trail than the CDT--it's a cultural experience, not a wilderness experience. I was on roads the entire time, and with skinny tires, I was on paved roads at that. So I was passing through towns the entire time. Thus it seemed the natural thing to do to chat it up at gas stations, to camp in RV lots or not-intended-for-camping public parks, and sort of soak up the small-town folksy Americana stuff that you don't get in the mountains. I really enjoyed getting breakfast from a deaf Mennonite lady at the Pony Express Deli in Eureka, NV or talking to an overweight biker chick wearing a hockey mask and reading a romance novel at a gas station in Austin, NV. However, I still need adventure. In my mind, the solution to this is to just go f---ing fast. If I ride across the country, I think it would be a great challenge to try and do it in under a month. That's pretty crazy given that scenic bike routes can be about 4,300 miles long, so maybe I'd be happy with doing at least 100 miles every day. Who knows, I've only done one short trip and things might be different on a long trip or one with friends.

RESUPPLY: You're passing through towns multiple times every day. It seems obvious to me that you should experience your locale and carry little food and instead eat at the greasy spoon diner with limited vegetarian options that makes you pine for the amazing cuisine that you take for granted in Berkeley while reading the crazy libertarian posters on the wall and admiring the slutty beer posters in the bathroom. Despite all-day rides, I did not get as hungry on this trip as I did while hiking. It's also more difficult to stop riding to take out food (or to take a picture) than it is while hiking. I think a bounce box or frequent post-office use on a bike trip would be completely superfluous. I think part of the adventure of a long bike trip would be not even having a resupply person at home and taking care of any issues by yourself along the way.

GEAR: Go light and fast. I carried a lot of tools and spare parts and stuff. Weight matters less since you're on wheels, and maybe I was lucky that I had zero flats and zero mechanical problems (well, the chain was getting gunky by the last day so I did have small issues), but I think I could pare this down a lot. For clothing tops I just wore a regular bike jersey and that worked out fine. I had a t-shirt, a long-sleeved jersey (overkill), and a wind-shirt as well. I brought flip-flops so I could get out of my bike shoes (good since you'll probably take hostel/RV showers and don't want to catch fungus). I had two bigger water bottles on my bike with two 2.5-liter platypus bladders in my saddlebags. Even for 80-mile no-services stretches on 100-degree days, filling all these up was overkill.

BUTTS: I assume that butts are to cycling as feet are to hiking. I got no rash whatsoever, thanks to liberal use of Chamois Butt'r. That didn't prevent my butt from getting really sore/bruised. But I was carrying both bib shorts and mountain biking shorts, both with chamois. I started out wearing the bib, and when they got dirty, I switched to the shorts and realized their padding was much better, so I wore the shorts the rest of the way.

MAPS/ROUTE: To the best of google's abilities, this was my route (I was actually on a bike trail for the final 25+ miles). My route was determined by where my friends live and where I live. That happened to coincide somewhat with Adventure Cycling's Western Express route, so I bought two of their maps. I like the idea that there's a company designing routes and selling maps and encouraging bike touring, but I thought the maps had major problems. There were typos in the narratives, the contour lines are only every 1000 feet (although they include a helpful elevation profile), conflicting elevations are listed for the same place on the same map, and there isn't much detail on resupply services. I think the value added of having a popular route predetermined is knowledge of local businesses. Which restaurant owner is cyclist-friendly? Are you allowed to camp in the public park? AC does have something called the Cyclists' Yellow Pages on the website, but long-distance hiker stuff is way better in this department.

Anyway, the next time I do a long bike trip, which would either be fast-as-I-could-go coast-to-coast along the northern part of the US or a mountain biking trip along the continental divide, I'll probably use AC's maps to get a general idea, but get a few regular road maps to figure out my own thing.

Which brings me to: What's next? If I had to predetermine my fate right now, I'd go on the job market this fall, graduate next spring, spend a month paddling the length of the Yukon River (BF, wanna go?), then do a long road-trip through the dirty south (JS, don't get famous too soon) then move to whatever dreamy mountainous liberal arts college I'll be teaching at and see how much adventure it's possible to have while still getting tenure. So it might be a while before I bike Cairo to Capetown. But I'm sure a shorter trip will pop up sometime. We'll see.
start, SLC

nothing

the shoetree



home state


from near Carson Pass



finish, Sacto

7 comments:

  1. glad you enjoyed a taste of small-town america. according to sarah palin, that's the REAL america. if you do enough of this, maybe someday you can tell all us big city elitists what the freak she's talking about.

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  2. ps- i like the pictures with the clouds. i'm into fluffy stuff.

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  3. Hi Garret:
    This is Jenn, a cartographer at Adventure Cycling Association. We are always interested in corrections and feedback on our maps in a quest to improve them with each reprint. Please feel free to email me directly at jhmilykoATadventurecyclingDOTorg with your comments and corrections. I look forward to hearing from you!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I for one am glad you did a write-up. Thanks.

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  5. Thanks for the writeup. Have you checked out the posts at bikepacking.net?? You could definitely go lighter and slimmer by using and frame bag. Cheap cheap ones for sale at nashbar.com. Attaching things to the handlebars like sleeping bag, handlebar bag, etc helps put a bit of weight up front. Mounting water bottles on downtube and on fork with hose clamps works wonders to shift around water weight.

    None of this matters so much since you finished the tour and pretty damn quickly at that. If you ever wanna do a gnarly ride on rough jeep roads, panniers suck though......

    -Hearsay

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  6. I finally typed up comments on the maps. I sent them to the cartographer above, but for anyone else who googles across "Adventure Cycling Western Express Map Comments" on the web, here's my two cents:

    Map 2:
    Is Pinto Summit 7,376 or 7,351 feet?
    Is Pancake 6,521 or 6,517 feet?
    Is Robinson 7,588 or 7,607 feet?

    Map 1:
    The directions for map 6 in Placerville are wrong (and illegal for cyclists).

    On the detailed map, the red line stops, but the black line appears to direct cyclists onto Route 50 briefly starting at Canal St. (Westbound). The written directions just say "Placerville. See
    Detail... Merge onto US 50. Matchline." However, at the intersection of Canal St. and Hwy 50, although there is a 4-way stop light, there's a sign on the shoulder of Hwy 50 saying no pedestrians or cyclists allowed. The legal was it to continue west on Main Street, which becomes Forni Rd, which has a marked bicycle lane and signs directing bicycles this direction. Forni parallels Hwy 50 for one more exit to Ray Lawyer Drive, where you go over Hwy 50. I mapped it here: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=4001541
    This also alters the directions on Map 5, because you don't actually get on Placerville Dr., you just cross it to get on Green Valley.

    Also--is there a reason not to take Bucks Bar Rd. and Cedar Ravine into Placerville from Somerset? It's confusing while cycling because the road signs direct you to take Bucks Bar, your map clearly shows that they go to Placerville, and it's 4.4 miles shorter to go that way. In general this is the type of information that would make me buy more AC maps--I can see what road goes where with any old AAA road map--AC's comparative advantage lies in telling me elevation changes
    and cool stuff along the way. (I'd add operating hours of stores, "cyclist-friendly" hotels/diners, etc.)

    On Map 5 there's another turn missing in Folsom. Westbound, after turning right onto E. Natoma, you have to turn left after 1.1 miles to
    stay on E. Natoma. Going straight takes you on Folsom Lake Crossing. Maybe it's AC map policy that unless specifically stated you make whatever turns necessary to stay on the street with the current name, but that's not standard with google/mapquest directions, which I think
    a lot of people are used to.

    Finally, the whole idea of taking a ferry from San Francisco to Vallejo is anathema to me. Bicycles are allowed on the I-680
    Benicia-Martinez Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, so cyclists can legally and safely ride from Vallejo to Benicia, then Martinez to
    Berkeley and Oakland and take BART or the ferry from Jack London Square to San Francisco, or they could ride through Napa and Sonoma then over the GG bridge, and not have to do any ferrying. Both of these routes would be scenic and safe, as they are commonly used by tourist and recreational cyclists, and they'd entail less "cheating"
    than a ferry to Vallejo.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm responding to the comment above encouraging my comments on the
    maps. Here they are.

    Map 2:
    Is Pinto Summit 7,376 or 7,351 feet?
    Is Pancake 6,521 or 6,517 feet?
    Is Robinson 7,588 or 7,607 feet?

    Map 1:
    The directions for map 6 in Placerville are wrong (and illegal for cyclists).

    On the detailed map, the red line stops, but the black line appears to
    direct cyclists onto Route 50 briefly starting at Canal St.
    (Westbound). The written directions just say "Placerville. See
    Detail... Merge onto US 50. Matchline."
    However, at the intersection of Canal St. and Hwy 50, although there
    is a 4-way stop light, there's a sign on the shoulder of Hwy 50 saying
    no pedestrians or cyclists allowed. The legal was it to continue west
    on Main Street, which becomes Forni Rd, which has a marked bicycle
    lane and signs directing bicycles this direction. Forni parallels Hwy
    50 for one more exit to Ray Lawyer Drive, where you go over Hwy 50. I
    mapped it here: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=4001541
    This also alters the directions on Map 5, because you don't actually
    get on Placerville Dr., you just cross it to get on Green Valley.

    Also--is there a reason not to take Bucks Bar Rd. and Cedar Ravine
    into Placerville from Somerset? It's confusing while cycling because
    the road signs direct you to take Bucks Bar, your map clearly shows
    that they go to Placerville, and it's 4.4 miles shorter to go that
    way. In general this is the type of information that would make me buy
    more AC maps--I can see what road goes where with any old AAA road
    map--AC's comparative advantage lies in telling me elevation changes
    and cool stuff along the way. (I'd add operating hours of stores,
    "cyclist-friendly" hotels/diners, etc.)

    On Map 5 there's another turn missing in Folsom. Westbound, after
    turning right onto E. Natoma, you have to turn left after 1.1 miles to
    stay on E. Natoma. Going straight takes you on Folsom Lake Crossing.
    Maybe it's AC map policy that unless specifically stated you make
    whatever turns necessary to stay on the street with the current name,
    but that's not standard with google/mapquest directions, which I think
    a lot of people are used to.

    Finally, the whole idea of taking a ferry from San Francisco to
    Vallejo is anathema to me. Bicycles are allowed on the I-680
    Benicia-Martinez Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, so cyclists can
    legally and safely ride from Vallejo to Benicia, then Martinez to
    Berkeley and Oakland and take BART or the ferry from Jack London
    Square to San Francisco, or they could ride through Napa and Sonoma
    then over the GG bridge, and not have to do any ferrying. Both of
    these routes would be scenic and safe, as they are commonly used by
    tourist and recreational cyclists, and they'd entail less "cheating"
    than a ferry to Vallejo.

    ReplyDelete