I'm graduating this summer, and would very much like to celebrate by riding the TransAm trail from Virginia to my home in Colorado. But I have some concerns. My general fitness level is good, but I have no experience with touring. Nor do I have any good friends who are interested/able to come with me. I know this means I'll get off to a very slow start, and I have no desire to hold back people in a group, or a partner with a much better fitness level. To be honest, biking alone also sounds meditative and nice. It's great to go at your own schedule, stop when you want, and be left alone with your thoughts.
But I'm a little concerned with doing the trail on my own as I'm not great with directions, and some of the accounts I've read seem to suggest that the trail may not be that well-marked. Do enough people know about the trail, I'd be able to ask directions easily? Would having a cell phone with GPS suffice? I'm also a fairly small woman in my mid-twenties, and was planning to camp the majority of time (Camped tons of times before and am very comfortable with it, just not necessarily alone, in a campground I'm not familiar with.) Assuming I have the requisite fitness level, take safety precautions, research and bring all the necessary equipment, am I still insane to try this alone?
And if so, what options would be feasible for someone in my position? Would it be common say, to go with a group, and agree where to meet for the night, but then be free to go at my own pace during the day? Should I just cross my fingers I find another beginner to ride with, and then cross my fingers we go at one another's pace?
I've mentioned this in one other forum and was strongly dissuaded from doing it for reasons of fitness. I'd ask that you please just help me figure out how to do it safely. I fully expect it to be grueling and painful in the beginning. That's one of the things that actually attracts me to it. In any sport where you're underprepared, the challenge and the rapid improvement curve are intoxicating.
But I'm not stupid. I just need a realistic assessment of the risks, and then the ability to take safeguards and make my own decisions.
Hey chryanna, you sound like you have your head screwed on tight, I don't think you are even a little bit insane, you should just go ahead and do it!
RE: directions, there is not really a Transamerica Trail "in real life" - meaning, it's generally not marked on road signs. I hear there are a few places where there are some signs, but you do need a map. You need paper maps or a gps (I recommend paper maps see below, plus regular state road maps for an overview). A GPS enabled cell phone is only going to work where there is cell service, which mostly you probably won't have when you are lost. And map reading is a skill, which can be improved with practice - you'll get better at it.
Here's where to get the official map: www.adventurecycling.org
become a member for a map discount and to support a great organization. This map has locations of services (camping, food, bike shops), turn by turn directions, elevation profiles, a few points of interest. It's very useful.
Also, you could post a companions-wanted ad on Adventure Cycling's web site, but it doesn't really sound like you want one, which is just fine. I hear it's pretty common on the TA to encounter other riders and ride for a few hours or days or weeks with them, if you find yourselves compatible. I did have this happen to me a few times on other Adv.Cycl. routes. (I haven't done the TA)
RE: camping and riding alone - I'm a (much older) small woman, and have done a bunch of this stuff solo. It's fine, just be aware of your surroundings, and if something "feels wrong" it probably is, so take action. Just be smart - don't tell people where you are going to be staying if they are even a little creepy, introduce yourself to the camp host if there is one, and they'll look out for you, don't camp in town parks if the town seems poverty stricken or you get panhandled, that sort of thing. It's useful to have enough extra money to be able to take a motel room if things are seeming funky.
You can read a lot of touring journals, which often include packing lists, on www.crazyguyonabike.com. You can search here if you have specific questions, and if you can't fiind the answer, post a question.
I've followed ACA maps on two tours. I like them because they find the smaller roads that parallel the highways. In other words, they get you off the highway and take you down back roads that locals know but that you'd never find on your own. Unfortunately, I've missed a couple of their turnoffs and ended up staying on the highway - once a busy, curvy road with no shoulder and chewed-up pavement on the stripe. I've thought about getting a gps and entering ACA's waypoints, though a just-as-good and cheaper solution would be to keep better track of the mileages for the turns and paying better attention. I think if I synced my starting point in the morning to the map, and figured the mileage on my computer to the turnoffs, there would be no problem. That's my plan for this year if I don't buy a gps.
I agree with others about security. It would be easy for me to say "no worries; go for it" but I have a beautiful, 20-year-old daughter, and I worry about her. I'd really worry if she were riding her bicycle alone across the country. She carries pepper spray when she jogs. That might not be a bad idea. You might need it for dogs anyway.
Riding companions are problematic. I've never taken a tour with a partner, but I've met people a few times and ended up in an impromptu "partnership." The first thing is you have to find someone who is easygoing. I met a guy on tour once who was very judgemental about everything. He seemed to think he had everything figured out, and those who disagreed with him were inferior. Needless to say, I never struck up a bond with him. Of course, you have to be easygoing yourself. Your partner may be in a completely different mood on any given day. Compromise will be essential. But most of the bike tourers I've met have been similar in temperment to myself. I think it takes certain characteristics to decide that bike touring is fun, and to embark on a long tour. Most tourists I've met have been wonderful people who would make great friends.
The biggest problem for me in finding partners is riding speed. I don't want to always have to wait for a slower rider, and I certainly don't want to slow someone else down. When I've ridden with people, I've always left open the option of riding separately and meeting up with them down the road. Sometimes we meet for meals, sometimes we don't see each other until we arrive at the campsite. Other times I've chosen to ride with someone slower because I wanted the company. As long as it's my choice there's no resentment.
That would probably be a safer option than riding alone. I think people are more likely to be hassled when they're stopped than when they're on the bike. Someone might hoot at you and honk as they drive by, but they're unlikely to stop and bother you on a public road. Perhaps you could find a riding partner who would agree to meet you for meals, shopping, and camping, but reserve the right to ride separately.
The other big factor is miles per day. If you want to ride 30 miles on average, you probably aren't going to be a very good partner for a 90-miles-a-day person. Do you have any idea how many miles per day you might want to ride? I tend to average about 50 miles a day. That's on the low end for serious riders who are riding all the way across the country, but I like to enjoy the experience, not just hammer out the miles. I like sitting around the campground, reading, napping, walking, etc. I also tend to get a late start in the morning. I'm not up at the crack of dawn and gone in 20 minutes. I sleep until I'm done, wake up, have a couple cups of coffee, make some oatmeal, and eventually get packed up. I often don't start riding until 10:00 am! What kind of tourer are you?
Advertising for partners on this forum might be an option. There's also a place at Adventure Cycling's website (and in their magazine.) CrazyGuy might also have one. If you go on a well-traveled route there's a good chance you'll meet someone to ride with, at least for awhile. (On the Oregon coast you'd probably end up meeting a dozen or more people with whom you might ride.)
If you're in good shape, you'll do fine. Ride as much as you can prior to the trip, but be prepared for some grueling days at first. I usually find my legs on about the 3rd day, so I now schedule really easy days for the first 2 or 3 - like 20-25 miles.
Read all you can - this forum, CrazyGuy journals, etc. Read others' suggestions on what to pack. Packing lists are very personal - what works for one experienced tourer won't work at all for me. But be aware that every ounce counts. The more stuff you can do without, the easier your bike will be to pedal up hills. But if you deprive yourself too much you won't enjoy the experience as much. I strongly recommend that anyone contemplating a long, first tour should take some weekend practice tours. Take what you think you'll take on the long tour and see how hard it is to ride uphill. Take notes on what you use and what you don't. Pare down your list as much as possible. On two different tours I've stopped at a post office and sent home stuff I had decided I didn't need and didn't want to lug anymore. Many others seem to have done the same thing. I've also had to stop and buy something that I had at home, because I had decided not to bring it, then decided I needed it.
My list is a work in progress and I think it always will be.
I am more into encouraging people to take such a tour than discouraging them and I would encourage you to keep exploring it as a possibility.
Having no experience bike touring is one concern but one that is easily remedied. Can you do a practice weekend? Some shops may be able to rent panniers or someone might loan you equipment if you don't have anything. I carry just about the same amount on a 3 day weekend of bike camping as I do on a 1 month trip. This will give you an idea of what you'll spend 2 months doing.
As far as physical preparedness. The more physically fit you are the more enjoyable the ride will be. And at this early point in the year if you have good general fitness you can easily train and get into good shape by the summer- no need for it to be any more grueling and painful than it will occasionally be. Ride as much and as far as you can in the months before you leave. Ride, ride, ride. Two things usually affect new long distance tourists- their seat and their knees. Make sure you like the seat of your bike- you can search these forums for suggestions and get good padded shorts. And spin, spin, spin don't grind your gears at slow RPM's. You want your legs to be spinning at about 90 RPM's most of the time. Don't muscle your way up the mountains on tour- spin in a low enough gear that it's not blowing out your knees. And make sure your seat height and overall bike fit is perfect- go to a good shop for a fit of your bike- and if using cleated shoes (recommended) make sure they are a good fit as well.
Safety. I'm male and have always been warned by some people about how dangerous my tours will be. I would imagine as a female even more people will tell you how "insane" you are. Fortunately, in my case, they were wrong about the dangers- the "insane" part, hmmmm, I don't know. But you do have to be practical and realistic and I think you should seek out other women who have taken solo trips like this and get their advice and hear of their experiences. Certainly if you are a bike rider and take solo bike rides you are exposed to roughly the same level of danger on your daily rides in your own locale as you would be far from home on tour. Camping out in remote areas has it's own set of dangers. I sometimes pulled into campgrounds and was the only one there and gave my money not to a ranger or attendant but in an "honor box". With good pre-planning you may be able to choose campgrounds that provide some higher level of security if you feel the need.
And learn some basic bike maintenance and repairing if you are not already fairly accomplished in that area. Checking your bike daily for safety is a necessity IMO and spotting problems before they turn into major repairs or catastrophes will save you a ton of grief.