I just completed a big project of riding a bicycle across the USA with my friend Jeremy LaTrasse. We started on April 20th in San Diego, California and completed the project May 26th in Jacksonville, Florida. What a ride indeed.
Before the ride I’d never really been a huge biker. I’d never ridden a bike on two consecutive days and had only done one ‘century’ or over 100 mile ride. I was going to ride more miles on this trip than I had ever, combined. This isn’t a story of a pro cyclist going for a big trip by any means. There was a love of bikes and a few friends that stepped up to make it happen.
On December I posted a message online saying:
Jeremy replied and we were both cautiously talking dates and ‘in’. Jeremy and I had met via a friend for coffee, twice. We had never ridden a bicycle together, even for a mile. Looking back it is quite a trust first decision to go with Jeremy, but that is the theme of the trip looking back. Four months after posting online about the project we met up in San Diego to start.
I have to list the great friends who have introduced bike touring to me. Ryan Van Duzer, Zack Hale and Dan Pierson.
What Went Right
We chose our route based on time of year and weather. Starting in late April we were just on the bubble of ‘it might get too hot here’ going through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and the south. We lucked out and only had two days where we had to sag based on the weather conditions being too extreme (105 and up we decided it was just not worth it to ride).
Neen was our sag wagon support vehicle. Nothing short of a heroic effort to have support on a long ride and I can’t thank her enough. She had a knack of showing up with perfect timing. Because of Neen, we didn’t have to carry our full gear on our bikes and were able to focus on the road. Here is Neen at White Sand Dunes.
Jeremy was an amazing rider and I learned a ton throughout the trip from him. He also has one of the most interesting professional careers out there and was super interesting to chat with.
We were flexible and took great riding opportunities over strict project definitions resulting in a few stunning rides that I’ll never forget. Jeremy was a huge aviation nerd and I happened to know someone that gave us an amazing tour of an Air Force base (thanks Pete and Carrie).
One of the best happy mistakes was made when looking for a better route across Texas. We didn’t have a first few days and kept on running into dangerous miles and went online to check and see if there were any routes to know about. We didn’t find that but did find a charity ride taking off from Houston to New Orleans that turned out to be a huge highlight of the trip. We went from two guys riding near each other to being in 6 person pacelines with police escorts. It was a fun way to celebrate the halfway mark and we got to support an amazing charity.
I absolutely loved Skratch Labs for nutrition. I was sweat tested during training for this trip and I found that I need 600mg of sodium per bottle of loss throughout the ride. Skratch Labs Lime was our favorite and I was on top of drinking a bottle an hour and with two loaded bottles of Skratch I could get though the majority of the day with just one loading. I’d finish the day with their Chocolate Recovery Mix and found that to be the key to a good next day. I’d do two scoops or 400 calories to help with the glycogen reload.
What I Wish I Knew
Most of what I wish I knew came from just getting miles and experience under my belt.
- The traffic was actually quite nice and predictable. Commercial trucks were, well, professionals about it. They gave us plenty of room and didn’t pass in dangerous situations. Trucks are odd characters as we only saw them on the highway. Highway trucks are weird. “Tough guy” was our response to an aggressive driver showing off the vehicle they paid a few years of salary for. It was quite odd doing something quite hardcore (riding a bike 3000 miles) VS someone who was pressing their foot down to make an engine roar, on the highway.
- You have an hour after your ride to get protein and carbs in you to help your body recover and set up for the next day. Plan out your post ride meal or drink (see above with Skratch).
- When you stop riding, take off your bib and get dry immediately.
- Wear a clean jersey and bib everyday. I washed mine in the shower and hung it up to dry after ringing it out and rolling it up in a towel.
- Hydration. Super important.
- My bike turned out to be perfect for this trip. I had a 2016 Specialized Rouboiux and put on a pair of Specialized Armadillo tires. I started the trip with a pair of Continentals but felt much better with lighter tire.
- Nutrition and Seat Performance are 80% of the challenge. I lucked out and didn’t get sick the entire trip but Jeremy had his share of problems in Louisiana. We settled into eating early, then trying to have a meal at 10am and 1pm, and finish riding at 4pm. This was a classic “2nd Breakfast”
- Part of me wishes we did this project strictly and didn’t skip a mile but damn I’m happy to have completed it safely. Make sure to be on the same page with your group about when you should sag and when you should ride it out.
- Sometimes google maps is great, and sometimes it puts you on 10 miles of unpaved road towards the middle of nowhere.
Practical Tips for Riders Looking to Do a Big Ride
- You are going to have some days that just are not fun. This picture is me not enjoying a mile somewhere in Texas. That is a part of it.
- If you have not done a project like this I’d suggest going on a 5 day ride first. If you can do 5, you can do a bigger project with not really much more of a challenge.
- If you are planning our trip like this you can budget 10 MPH if you are fully loaded, 15 MPH if you are a strong rider and loaded, and 20 MPH if you are a strong rider with some support or are ‘credit carding’ your lodging. Do the math: 10 MPH x 10 hours = 100 miles. 20 MPH x 5 hours = 100 miles. 80-100 was our average day so we were able to end our rides about 1pm a few days.
- If you are looking to go cross country, Jeremy recommends doing a coast first. 3000 miles vs. 1500 miles and generally more interesting riding.
- The ACA routes are both amazing and maddening. When they are good they are super good but when the roads are shoulder-less and full of traffic they are where you take your anger out. They advocate for safe routes and I really should thank them for that (they don’t make the roads after all, just provide the best ish way through the long routes you want to go).
Five+ weeks later, we made it to the Atlantic. I said a few words to remember some great people that really pushed me to do big things like this.
Now, what is next?