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.