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Things To Consider - Planning Your Bike Across America Route

Details On How I Chose My Route Across America

Bike Route

Above: A sketch with a marker of my route across the southern tier of America, February-March 2008.

Choosing a route across America was a relatively easy chore. I wanted a short route partly because finances were a factor and finishing sooner would minimize costs. I also desired to ride during the winter months (beginning on February 1) and preferred to ride across the southern portion of America. These two aspects worked in cooperation very well. Avoiding interstate highways as much as possible was another priority; although in retrospect, local roads and highways with little to no shoulder were more troublesome.

Southern and Shortest Route

An entire map of the USA shows I made the shortest possible ride across America. California's coast in San Diego turns way in and cuts off a few hundred miles compared to if I had started in northern California. On the other end of the country, the Georgia coastline acts as the westernmost point where the Atlantic Ocean touches land. In fact, if one examines the beginning and ending coordinates of San Diego, California and Jekyll Island, Georgia, one will notice my ride was equivalent to starting in the middle of Nevada and finishing near the Ohio/Pennsylvania border. I have no regrets, but a miniscule part of me would love to bike across America again, next time riding across the middle or northern parts of the country.

My original and planned route included: San Diego CA, Brawley CA, Blythe CA, Wickenburg AZ, Phoenix AZ, Globe AZ, Show Low AZ, Quemado NM and Socorro NM. From Socorro, I planned to ride on Highway 60 across central New Mexico to Clovis before arriving in Lubbock, Texas. From Lubbock, Highway 82 would take me all the way across Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and to the Georgia coast.

Considering I was driving with my bike from Colorado to San Diego, I had a great idea: I would travel my entire route backwards by car beginning in Socorro. The goal was to scout the route for lodging, services and other important factors. This generally made good sense, but this actually worked against me psychologically because I saw what I was about to get into.

On January 30, two days before I rode from the Pacific, I drove among snow flurries a few miles west of Socorro. A little snow did not bother me - and this snow was nothing like the intense amounts of snowfall in Colorado's mountains - but it was disturbing nonetheless and unpleasant cycling weather for sure.

I continued on Highway 60 near Magdalena, New Mexico with poor visibility, and the nervous part of my mind shouted a litany of diatribes: This highway is too isolated! Am I going to be hit with snow like this? Did you just notice this massive hill you went down? You will be miserable riding up this next week! Was I leaving too soon in the year? You made a huge mistake and should have waited until March 1 instead of February 1 to begin the ride! Like a wild pig on a loose rampage and doing damage everywhere, on and on these doubting thoughts ran through my mind.

West of Quemado, New Mexico and approaching the border between New Mexico and Arizona, the snow fell increasingly harder. The snowfall in the White Mountain region between Springerville and Show Low was so intense that cars were only going about 20-25 miles per hour on the busy two-lane highway. I stayed the night in Show Low, a town with ski resorts that looked more like a high altitude mountain town in Colorado. It was only ten degrees that night and 8-10 inches of snow blanketed the area. Bicycling through Show Low, as originally planned on my route, was not going to work.

Seeing firsthand the snowy and wintery White Mountains of east Arizona was very helpful. Yet after experiencing so many negative runaway thoughts, I intentionally avoided the planned remainder of my cycling route on two-lane highways through Wickenburg AZ, Salome AZ, Blythe CA, Brawley CA and Julian CA. I did not want to induce any more turmoil for myself, and instead drove in a beeline on Interstate 8 directly to San Diego. I resolved that I would just have to deal with whatever was on the route as I approached it. This was a good call! :)

Changes In The Route

Show Low was scratched off the route, and if I needed more supporting evidence for my decision, the road between Show Low and Globe was the clincher. Highway 60 rides through hilly and mountainous country with a steep descent and subsequent ascent into a slot canyon of the Salt River. There is also another major canyon with a similar "down and up" near Carrizo, Arizona. If I focused on this portion being just a day ride, I probably would have easily handled it, but the uncertainties from yesterday's drive through snowfall had already pushed me over. There had to be a better way to reach Socorro from Globe!

So this was my first major change: At Globe (Day 12), I continued east across the San Carlos Indian Reservation to Safford. Then I climbed northeast in mountainous terrain through Three Way AZ, Glenwood NM, Reserve NM and met back with the route in Datil, NM. (My original route went through Globe AZ, Show Low AZ, Springerville AZ, Quemado NM and Datil NM.)

I also considered a more common southern route among "across America" cyclists, which travels east from Safford on Highway 70 to Lorsburg NM, followed by some zig-zagging on state roads to Silver City NM, Hatch NM, Las Cruces NM and Alamogordo NM. The circuitous route was a turn-off and I did not want to entirely avoid the mountains, although I will admit my body writhed in pain as I toiled up the unnamed pass northeast of Three Way, Arizona near the New Mexico state line.

Right Photo: The very steep pass between Three Way, Arizona and Mule Creek, New Mexico on "Day 13."

The other major change happened in Socorro because of my uneasiness about riding on Interstate 25 enroute to Mountainair. (Read "Day 17" for the story and details.) This was a significant detour. I would not arrive back to the planned route until Gainesville, Texas, about 785 miles away. In this instance, I opted to ride to San Antonio (9 miles south of Socorro), then east on Highway 380 all the way to the edge of suburban Dallas. Looking back, this newer route was a more southern route, even if it was just 50-60 miles at times, and that extra southern exposure probably helped with warmer temperatures.

I made two changes, but in retrospect, should have made three! Highway 82 is pretty much hell all the way through Mississippi, Alabama and southwest Georgia. I do not recommend it and you can read about the warning I disregarded from Glenn, a friendly local I met on the side of the road in west Alabama.

Beginning at the bridge over the Mississippi River (border between Arkansas and Mississippi), many segments of road had poor to little shoulder, numerous areas of flat tire-causing debris and an inordinate amount of trailer truck traffic. If I did this all over again and had the capabilities, I would return to the South by car and inspect other possible routes. Even the shoulder on the bridge crossing the Mississippi River between Lake Village, Arkansas and Greenville, Mississippi was questionable, although there is currently a new bridge under construction.

The Weather

Mt. Princeton The winter, especially after the holidays, was personally the best time for me to bicycle across America. Winters become extremely long and drawn out in central Colorado, usually beginning in November and finishing well into April. Getting away for awhile seemed like a good idea.

In fact, on my first full day back home in Buena Vista, Colorado, on March 23, it was a chilly nine degrees and the snowy conditions remained largely unhospitable for outdoor cycling. In contrast, most high temperatures along my route usually reached high's in the 60's through 80's!

Right Photo: A photo of my car, a large snowdrift and Mt. Princeton on the first morning I was back home in Colorado. It was nine degrees at 8 a.m.

The largest disadvantage was when mother nature made a winter appearance in the southern states. It snowed in western New Mexico on February 15-16. An aberrational cold and windy day in Graham, TX halted me from riding on February 26, but even then, it reached a wonderful 82 the day before. Lastly, on March 7, I encountered unseasonably chilly temperatures in the 30's with the threat of snow flurries in central Mississippi, but I managed to ride anyway.

The days were fairly short during early February. I began too late on the morning of my first ride in San Diego and arrived in Julian practically at dusk; I learned quite experientially it was unwise to waste precious daylight. Most early mornings (6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.) were very chilly and my odometer's temperature gauge often read in the 30's and 40's. Arid desert areas generally do not hold heat like they do in more humid areas, but usually, after an hour or so of enduring chilly fingers and toes, the sun and blue skies reliably warmed the day and made for excellent bicycling conditions.

Other Factors

Parts of my route planning were influenced by sentimental and interpersonal factors, too.

I already had established friends and acquaintences in San Diego and liked the city on a previous visit. I have quite a heart and love for the southwestern states of Arizona and New Mexico - two neighboring states I have traveled in with some familiarity. Once I reached Texas, however, I pedaled on roads I had never been on before. My visits to Texas and the Deep South could be counted with the fingers of one hand. I also hoped to meet numerous friends and acquaintences in Georgia and Florida. Unfortunately, most were not particularly close to my route and those meetings did not happen.

I learned helpful but pricey maps produced by bicycling companies mark where lodging, bicycle shops and other services are located, but I did most of my planning on my own. Common sense told me large towns had lodging options and some small towns, especially those that serve as a county seat, offered lodging as well. Bicycle shops existed in all large cities, as well as some small cities and towns with a college or university. If I had uncertainty about what was down the road, Jennifer in Oklahoma was my very reliable researcher who helped greatly from time to time.

Generally speaking, I concluded I was better off avoiding cities, especially after my bike was stolen in Phoenix. The stress of riding in cities, as I experienced in metro San Diego and Phoenix, was simply not worth it. There were way too many cars on roads and the shoulders were usually minimal to none on six lane avenues replete with suburban neighborhoods and shopping areas. I was originally frightened by the prospect of riding on empty desert roads because of the isolation, but typically those roads have a generous car's length shoulder. The lack of traffic made riding quiet and relaxing too. Furthermore, motorists in a rural area are more likely to pull over and help cyclists who appear in need. Forget about anyone stopping for you as hoards of vehicles speed down a roadway during rush hour traffic!

I had other whimsical temptations to deviate from the route. I briefly considered riding up the Georgia coast to South Carolina to stay in riding shape during the three days before my flight back to San Diego. After visiting the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, while in Brent, Alabama, I was tempted to travel south to Selma to ride over the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of "Bloody Sunday" in 1965. I also thought about detouring southeast from Highway 82 in Waycross, Georgia to ride into Florida. I thought I might finish at a beach near Jacksonville just for the sake of adding another state to my statistics.

-Steve
(Written June 30, 2008)

-This article was written by Steve Garufi who bicycled across the southern tier of America in February-March 2008. You can read his trip reports of all 45 days of his journey here: 2008 Bike Across America.

Personal website: www.ColoradoGuy.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/stevegarufi.

Video - Choosing Your Route

June 2010 - I created a video discussing some factors about how to pick your bike across America route. Remember this is your trip and I encourage you to go where your heart desires! :)

Watch more of my related videos here: youtube.com/bikeacrossusa.

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