Transam/Western Express (E to W)
Basically I was wondering what time of the year would be the ideal time to embark on the Transam/Western Express route across the US (traveling East to West). I don't want to burn in the desert or freeze in the mountains.
I graduated from college in November and although I could wait for more pleasant weather, I'm ready for an adventure. I'm an Eagle Scout and have quite bit of camping/backpacking experience but little long distance touring experience. I am planning on riding an older Raleigh M-600 mountain bike that fits well but has a suspension fork.
My interest in a cross-country ride got sparked a while ago by reading about the American Discovery Trail. I have been doing quite a bit of research and I'm interested in sort of a modified Transam/Western Express. The route would be as follows:
1. Delaware to Washington DC
2. The C&O trail towards Cumberland, Maryland
3. Athens, Ohio (My former college town)
4. Southern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois
5. The Katy Trail to the Santa Fe Trail towards Pueblo, CO
6. The Western Express trail to San Fran.
(I have been thinking of the possibility of heading from Pueblo to Grand Junction, CO and
then to Moab, UT)
Finally, I have two concerns that maybe you could help me out with:
One is that I can't scrounge up a riding partner. I don't mind traveling alone (I even look forward to the independence) but I know I'm bound to get into some sticky situations where it would be nice to have another person around.
The other concern is riding on streets with cars. A few weeks ago I took a ride from Cincinnati to Columbus, OH. Most of it was on a bike trail but as I approached C-bus and had to ride roads through farmland. It was unsettling with scattered traffic flying by at high speed.
Any help about the route, gear, etc. would be greatly appreciated. Feel free to send me e-mail or PM.
Well, Pitz -
You're a bit late to start the trip east to west this year if you want to avoid the heat.
The fundamental problem with the Western Express - which is basic to the geography of the Intermountain West - is that there are vastly different climate regions that run north south like stripes on a fabric.
E to W you have:
Rockies - cool to cold - late (i.e. June) snowmelt - early fall snows
Green/Colorado River - warm to hot - nice spring and fall - very hot summers
Wasatch Front - not as cold as the Rockies but still cool and snowy late with early fall
Basin & Range - Nevada - remote - 3 or 4 ranges per day - warm to hot summers - late snows
Carson Valley - hot summer - pleasant spring and fall
Sierra Nevada - snows until late spring - pleasant summer - snows start again in October
Central Valley - brutally hot in summer - pleasant spring and fall
The very best time to ride the Western Express - east to west - would be in the late summer/early fall.
Get thru the Rockies by mid September - thru the Sierras by mid October.
Late spring is tougher because of all the snow accumulated over the winter.
The roads may be open in the high country - but there are few places to hike or to camp.
(PS - rotten snow is VERY dangerous!)
Best - J
So are you saying that it would be best to hold off on my trip until I hit the western express sometime around August/September? Would it be too brutal to leave sometime soon and reach the mountains/desert around late-June/mid-July? I guess I'd like this to be an enjoyable trip and not a test of desert endurance.
Do you have experience in the Intermountain West?
It's 80+ miles between Milford and Baker -
80 miles between Ely and Eureka, 70 miles between Eureka and Austin -
With NOTHING in between.
There are a few trees at the top of some - not all - of the passes.
Sure you can do it - but you will be out there during the hottest period.
Utah and Nevada weather data:
Click on the town name.
You can expect 90 to 100 degrees most days.
With NO shade.
Best - J
I don't have any experience with the Inter-mountain West. Thanks for the data. I'll look over it and decide if I should leave sometime soonish or postpone it a few more months.
Do you HAVE to do the Western Express??
There are two much better mid-summer crossings of the interior West -
From Yellowstone National Park thru central Idaho and central Oregon -
(Oregon section is the TransAm)
Or from Glacier National Park along the Northern Tier Route.
Both of these would be cooler and have more services.
For me - remote Nevada is no big deal -
I'm from Wyoming and I've biked across Nevada seven times.
But I think it will be very difficult for you - temp-wise and mentally.
If you don't absolutely have to end up in San Fran - then a more northerly route would be better.
Not sure if you've planned everything out completely and really are set on the Western Express.
E-mail me directly if you wish - I've got experience will all three routes.
Best - J
Aww...don't shatter my dreams, J. I actually have done quite a bit of thinking about this for several months and have gathered numerous maps and other information about the route. Only now am I trying to get some sort of time-schedule down for a departure date. I'm fully aware that there will be stretches along the route that are without services and I know it won't be a walk-in-the-park.
I've noticed that a number of people have done the western express over at crazyguyonabike and it seems much more appealing to me due to the fact that I have already traveled to the northwest and have never been to Utah, Nevada, and San Fran.
Like I said, this trip doesn't need to be a midsummer trip. It could be a late summer or early fall trip if you think it would be more enjoyable, less dangerous, or have more chance to meet fellow cyclists.
PS - I tried e-mailing you but the system wouldn't allow me.
My first response is to your concern about riding on streets with cars. In my experience, you can't avoid it on a long tour. I try to pick routes where the roads at least have a wide enough shoulder for me to feel comfortable, if not an actual bike lane, but there are always sections with no shoulders at all, with no room to bail out, lots of blind corners, and lots of logging trucks. (Okay, they're not always logging trucks, but there are trucks, motorhomes, etc. to deal with.) One simple strategy is to get a rearview mirror. When I'm in a dangerous stretch of road, it's a little reassuring to be able to watch what's coming up behind me, and get ready to bail if I need to. If you don't have a mirror, I suggest you get one.
Originally Posted by BigPitz
Another technique, which I've referred to, is "bailing out". On one tour I was on a section of narrow road with no shoulder and lots of truck traffic (logging trucks, of course.) When a truck came up behind me and couldn't pass (which was pretty much always, because the road was so curvy), I'd find the next wide spot on the right, pull over, and let the truck by. One time I was waiting for a good spot with a truck behind me. After a few seconds, the trucker got impatient and pulled out to pass. He was about halfway by when a car came around a corner from the other direction. To avoid hitting the car head-on, the truck veered back into the lane where I was. I guess he figured it would be better to wipe out a bike tourer (which wouldn't hurt his truck at all) than to get in a head-on with a car (which could dent his truck, and be more likely to spoil his day). I had no choice but to bail into the ditch. (Luckily, there was a ditch; on many sections of that road there was nothing but a high bank or rock wall on the right.) I bounced along, and managed to come to a stop without injury to myself, although I broke two spokes, but it scared the beeJeezus out of me! After that, when I would hear a truck approaching in a bad spot, I'd instantly get off the road and wait for it to pass. It really slowed my progress, but I wanted to stay alive! Now I'm always willing to stop and assess the situation, rather than continue riding and look for a place to pull over.
My other response has to do with traveling alone. It can be a hazard if you're injured, or get sick, and there's no one to help. However, there's almost always someone around, or someone driving past who you can flag down. The other hazard has to do with loneliness. I've been an avid camper all my life, but I went camping for the first time when I was about 22. I had plans to stay for a week, but after about 2 days I went home because it was too weird to be myself and have no one to talk to for that long. And I had 2 dogs with me! Since then I've done lots of solo travelling - backpacking, car camping, and bike touring - and it doesn't bother me so much anymore, although I still have bouts of loneliness.
If you go on a popular route, you'll end up meeting so many people you won't have to be alone. I've ridden the Pacific coast route twice. Both times I started alone, and both times I ended up with traveling companions after a couple of days.
I'm not sure how popular some of the other routes are, and whether that would happen. I'm riding the Northern Tier this summer. I wrote a post asking if anyone else was going to be on it around the same time, so I could look for them. I haven't received any responses.