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Old 01-08-14, 09:07 AM   #1
suburbanbeat
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Is it possible to pass through the American SW in July without becoming buzzard food?

Hi all. So, along with two friends, I am preparing to embark on a tour from the Philadelphia area to the west coast this summer. I generically say "west coast" because we are at some disagreement as to how we want to cross through the last 1/3 of the country, and thus where we want to end. Up to that point, we will be using the Transamerica Trail that I'm sure everyone here knows about (essentially cuts through the midwest).

So up until around the Colorado Springs area, we are in agreement. From there, I personally would like to end in San Diego, but my two partners are concerned about the safety issues that might come with riding through southern Utah, southern NV, and northern AZ in July. I have heard of people starting their rides at, like, 4:00am and ending them at 11:00am to avoid the scorching heat. Is this common practice?

This is roughly the kind of route I'm thinking:


Here is a potential alternate route that is perhaps less direct, but much prettier?


Please advise! Thank you!
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Old 01-08-14, 10:26 AM   #2
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It all depends on you. Many people ride in high temperature areas all the time. For 15 years I worked outside everyday at a facility just a couple of valleys away from Death Valley. We once had a hot spell where it got over 100 degrees for over 100 days straight, sometimes as high as 110 or higher. It's good to know what you're doing if you're going to be out in that sort of heat.

The southwest US is a big place. Elevation will dictate how hot it is going to be. Some parts of either one of those routes will be hot, other parts you might freeze your noogies off at night.

In the hotter areas I would definitely recommend getting an early start. You'll likely have 4-5 hours of daylight before it really heats up. Obviously make sure you have plenty of fluids, however, don't think you can just pound along in the heat as long as you drink more. Your body can only process just so much fluid, beyond that you just have to take it easy and try not to sweat so much. Take frequent breaks when it gets really hot. Let your body acclimate. The better shape you are in physically, the better you'll tolerate the heat. High SPF sunblock.

Just use your head. People have been physically active in hot weather since forever and some actually survive.

Personally, I'd take the route that cuts through mid Cali and run down the coast, but that's me.
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Old 01-08-14, 10:52 AM   #3
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Like Espania .. Siesta.. get off the road by Noon, ride a bit more at dusk and into the Night.
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Old 01-08-14, 11:14 AM   #4
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Don't know if any of these links will help but there are 12 links to information about water and bike touring.

Some are about other places, but several are about riding in waterless areas.

Riding in hot temperatures is one thing. Riding in hot temperatures through a monotonous landscape is a different kind of torture entirely.
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Old 01-08-14, 04:18 PM   #5
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Why not stay north, end up in the PNW, and take a plane, train or rent a car to SD? In July, much cooler, usually.
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Old 01-08-14, 04:34 PM   #6
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Northern Arizona is not as bad as Nevada. It's typically higher in elevation and as a result the temperatures are not as extreme.

Your southern route takes you through the Death Valley area and as somebody commented in another post here "It's not called "Death" Valley for nothing".

But Rt 50 is possibly only marginally better and there's a long ride between water stops.

If it was me, I'd head due west and slightly north from PA,. then head down and wander thru and around Wyoming and Colorado, thru parts of NM, then to Flagstaff and bus/train the rest to SD.
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Old 01-08-14, 04:36 PM   #7
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as long as you are going west to east
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Old 01-08-14, 05:10 PM   #8
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this trip will take you 2 months or less. If thats the case why not start in SD in June? Prevailing winds...Prevailing winds...
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Old 01-08-14, 05:20 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by suburbanbeat View Post
Hi all. So, along with two friends, I am preparing to embark on a tour from the Philadelphia area to the west coast this summer. I generically say "west coast" because we are at some disagreement as to how we want to cross through the last 1/3 of the country, and thus where we want to end. Up to that point, we will be using the Transamerica Trail that I'm sure everyone here knows about (essentially cuts through the midwest).

So up until around the Colorado Springs area, we are in agreement. From there, I personally would like to end in San Diego, but my two partners are concerned about the safety issues that might come with riding through southern Utah, southern NV, and northern AZ in July. I have heard of people starting their rides at, like, 4:00am and ending them at 11:00am to avoid the scorching heat. Is this common practice?

This is roughly the kind of route I'm thinking:


Here is a potential alternate route that is perhaps less direct, but much prettier?


Please advise! Thank you!
I am familiar with the summer heat you're looking at for the southern route. I've ridden in day temps as high as 121F and I'm used to heat in TX and it was torture. You will definately run into those type of temps in July for that southern route. Not unusual to see temps of 110F plus at 9-10 PM in Vegas in July. Starting really early like you mention is possible and rain is very unlikely, so low humidity will prevail. I would look into prevailing wind and temperature history via the weather underground web site. It's there; just got to do a little digging, the site is a great resource.

http://www.wunderground.com/

Oh yeah, it is possible to over hydrate in very hot conditions. You can drink too much water, liquids....speaking from experience.

Good luck but the southern route is guaranteed to be toasty in July.
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Old 01-08-14, 06:47 PM   #10
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I have heard of people starting their rides at, like, 4:00am and ending them at 11:00am to avoid the scorching heat. Is this common practice?
Yep. That's the 'common sense' way. There is a certain enchantment about riding before dawn that some find magical. The challenge in the west is to end the ride day within the bounds of civilization so you'll have access to shade, or better, AC.


You can safely do either route with proper fluid and electrolyte management and the aforementioned common sense. I'm a west-to-east guy re prevailing winds, but when I pedaled thru DV, west-to-east, the winds were 35 mph out of the SE. I overnighted twice in DV because of the head winds. It was fun and memorable. Just go with the flow. If you do DV, be aware that the climb out is LONG, so a before dawn start is advised. Your reward will be a steep and long downhill.
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Old 01-09-14, 11:27 AM   #11
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<< I have heard of people starting their rides at, like, 4:00am and ending them at 11:00am to avoid the scorching heat. Is this common practice? >>

As a resident of the hottest part of AZ, yes it's possible to ride summers that way. What you might be forgetting is that you won't be able to pull in from your ride and camp in 100+ degree daytime heat. It doesn't cool off that much when the sun goes down either (that's why early morning is best for riding), can stay at 100+ til midnite. Plan on motels. Pre-check routes & distances carefully before you go. Call ahead & make sure that the motels / restaurants you're counting on will be open. Lots of these businesses in AZ are seasonal - open winters when hundreds of thousands of snowbirds (retirees from cold climates) are here, closed summers. Motels that remain open will most likely be verry slow & happy for the business and let you check in early.
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Old 01-09-14, 12:42 PM   #12
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Why not stay north, end up in the PNW, and take a plane, train or rent a car to SD? In July, much cooler, usually.

+1. If you have the time, you could even follow the entire TransAm to the OR coast and ride south.
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Old 01-10-14, 12:23 AM   #13
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+1. If you have the time, you could even follow the entire TransAm to the OR coast and ride south.
+2. Even further north you can hit temperatures of 110 F in July/August in southern Wyoming, Idaho, and eastern Oregon

Not much shade in Oregon's High Desert.
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Old 01-10-14, 10:51 AM   #14
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Hi, even though you said northern AZ, as a longtime year round rider in the Phoenix area I'd like to give some tips that still pretty much apply: You will want to be off the road and into shade with water by around 10 AM. Some people would say 12pm but IMO that's much too late and you risk heat related illness going past mid-morning with daily rides. I would plan to be on the road before sunrise before 5am; the ambient temp rises quickly into the mid-90s shortly after sunrise and I have seen 102F by 10am. Additionally, mid-July is when the desert monsoon begins so the humidity level increases to 30-40%. At those temperatures, 40% humidity feels like a sauna and makes dehydration that much easier. Drink a lot of water, like half a gallon every night before bed if you're planning on spending more than 3 hours in the saddle every day. And of course drink at least 24oz water/hr. with plenty of electrolytes (think Nuun, cytomax, etc) to prevent hyponatremia. These are the guidelines I and my friends that ride live by during the summer - I have gone too light on water in mid-July's of the past and have met the ugly face of heat exhaustion a couple times, one time after only 30min in the saddle, nearly passing out - not something to play around with. In summary if you are drinking plenty, keeping electrolytes up and off the road before mid-morning you should be fine.
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Old 01-10-14, 10:59 AM   #15
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<< I have heard of people starting their rides at, like, 4:00am and ending them at 11:00am to avoid the scorching heat. Is this common practice? >>

As a resident of the hottest part of AZ, yes it's possible to ride summers that way. What you might be forgetting is that you won't be able to pull in from your ride and camp in 100+ degree daytime heat. It doesn't cool off that much when the sun goes down either (that's why early morning is best for riding), can stay at 100+ til midnite. Plan on motels. Pre-check routes & distances carefully before you go. Call ahead & make sure that the motels / restaurants you're counting on will be open. Lots of these businesses in AZ are seasonal - open winters when hundreds of thousands of snowbirds (retirees from cold climates) are here, closed summers. Motels that remain open will most likely be verry slow & happy for the business and let you check in early.
I agree with this - in the dead of summer, people without air conditioning are advised to go to shelters, stay with friends and family, etc. It's entirely possible to develop heat related illness when sedentary here, not to mention after a long morning of riding.
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Old 01-10-14, 11:41 AM   #16
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+2. Even further north you can hit temperatures of 110 F in July/August in southern Wyoming, Idaho, and eastern Oregon

Not much shade in Oregon's High Desert.
I have to say that I was heistant about the eastern OR portion during the time of year they seem like they may be there. 2003's Cycle Oregon went smack across the middle of the state. There were a couple of crispy critter hot days (John Day to Mitchell and Mitchell to Sisters) with no shade. Some poor soul keeled over and died during the long slog towards Mitchell, which I think is part of the Trans Am route. On they day off in Sisters it got up to 96. This was all in second week of September. May have been anomalous, but I was thinking how doing the same route in July and/or August could be miserable.

Personally, I would not want to have to choose between: 1. Starting out in the dark and getting out of the sun by 10 a.m. and 2. Possibly dying or nearly dying.
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Old 01-12-14, 12:37 PM   #17
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I live in Northern AZ. You're likely to see almost daily afternoon thunderstorms in July. June is the scorcher here. The trick is water. You would need more in June and some of your path is pretty desolate country. Just for scenery, I would skip Farmington etc. and go through Cortez, Bluff -long stretch through Monument Valley - Kayenta, -long stretch I'm not familiar with- Page, Kanab, etc.

PS. You'll be going against the wind.
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Old 01-14-14, 01:17 AM   #18
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Hi everyone. First of all, I just want to extend a big thanks for all of the helpful feedback so far. The general idea that I'm taking away from everything that's been said up to this point is that riding through the desert safely is possible so long as we take the right precautions, which I'm understanding as being:

-Finish rides before 11.
-Drink plenty of water with electrolytes.
-Plan ahead and confirm route ends a few days prior to arriving.

This whole thing has actually created some friction among my riding partner and myself. He believes that taking even that Northern route through central UT and NV is incredibly dangerous, and wants to avoid the area by going north via the actual Trans American Trail:



I made the argument that this route wouldn't be much more dangerous than the one I would like to take:



Both seem like they would be very hot and that the same precautions would have to be taken either way.

Any more insight is appreciated. Thanks to everyone so far.
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Old 01-14-14, 05:57 AM   #19
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Thing to keep in mind is that weather patterns are not always consistent. We are currently having a bear of a winter in the northeast. A couple of years ago we had a very mild winter. Sometimes the summer is much hotter in August/Sept in parts of the southwest than it was in June/July. Sometimes the entire summer is cooler than usual. You never know. That's part of the adventure. I always say that if you are adventurous enough to want to ride a bicycle across a large continent, then you have to be adventurous enough to take on Mother Nature. Just be prepared and keep a smile on your face.
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Old 01-14-14, 09:31 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by cellery View Post
Hi, even though you said northern AZ, as a longtime year round rider in the Phoenix area I'd like to give some tips that still pretty much apply: You will want to be off the road and into shade with water by around 10 AM. Some people would say 12pm but IMO that's much too late and you risk heat related illness going past mid-morning with daily rides. I would plan to be on the road before sunrise before 5am; the ambient temp rises quickly into the mid-90s shortly after sunrise and I have seen 102F by 10am. Additionally, mid-July is when the desert monsoon begins so the humidity level increases to 30-40%. At those temperatures, 40% humidity feels like a sauna and makes dehydration that much easier. Drink a lot of water, like half a gallon every night before bed if you're planning on spending more than 3 hours in the saddle every day. And of course drink at least 24oz water/hr. with plenty of electrolytes (think Nuun, cytomax, etc) to prevent hyponatremia. These are the guidelines I and my friends that ride live by during the summer - I have gone too light on water in mid-July's of the past and have met the ugly face of heat exhaustion a couple times, one time after only 30min in the saddle, nearly passing out - not something to play around with. In summary if you are drinking plenty, keeping electrolytes up and off the road before mid-morning you should be fine.
I would add a couple of things. First the humidity. I understand what you are saying about the humidity increase for those of us from dry places but for someone that is from the Gulf coast like Rwc5830 is, he's going to feel like a dried up lizard most of the time. A slight boost in relative humidity will only shrink the cracks in his skin a little.

The other comment is about water and water carriers. Water in a regular plastic bottle in anything over 80 F is just awful. I agree that you should drink electrolytes but I put mine in the water bottle and let it cook. For plain water, I use a Camelbak. Use a 100oz pack and stuff it with as much ice as you can possible put in it, it will remain cold (32 F) for hours. There are several advantages to this approach. You are more likely to drink water if the water is cold. The cold water also absorbs better. You are also more likely to drink water if it is fairly easy to get to. Having the hose right at your shoulder encourages you to drink.

One of the arguments against Camelbaks is that "they make my back sweaty". Packed with ice, the cold from the melting ice seeps out of the pack and into you back. You back gets a little sweaty but it's also cooled which makes a huge difference to your ride comfort. In low humidity situations, a sweaty back is also less of a problem than it is in high humidity. The evaporative cooling effects of sweat works much better in dry heat than in the wet heat of the Texas coast.
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Old 01-14-14, 01:39 PM   #21
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The other comment is about water and water carriers. Water in a regular plastic bottle in anything over 80 F is just awful.
+1

One of my front panniers is insulated. Drinks stay cool most of the day, especially if a bottle filled with ice is stowed in it. It is something to consider doing, if you plan on riding in really hot weather.

Nothing fancy, just $6.00 Walmart closed cell camping pad and some duct tape. This one was fabricated on the road in Wyoming with a Swiss army knife. We had been riding for almost a month (July) in 100+ temperatures and needed to solve the problem cyccommute posted about. It worked so well we made another insulated liner for a new set of panniers. A rectangular piece of foam acts as a lid. The original from our cross country trip is still used to haul milk and ice cream home from the store.


Also the cheese, chocolate, and other things that tend to melt stay recognizable.




Personally, I'd prefer the northern route, not for the weather, but for the scenery.

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Old 01-14-14, 03:39 PM   #22
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By the way, you're more likely to become buzzard food east of the Mississippi than west of it. I've stomped around the 4-corners area for several decades and I've seen one buzzard...he was trying to fly into my car window because he couldn't get off the ground fast enough. I've done lots of tours east of the Mississippi and seen buzzards everywhere. We have lots of crows but not too may buzzards. Buzzards circling over dead things out on the desert is one of those Hollywood myths that have little bearing on the truth.
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Old 01-15-14, 10:13 AM   #23
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Sure, it's possible, but I have to question how much fun it would be. It's possible to ride across the country while poking a stick in your eye every mile, too, but that's not really my idea of having a good time. If you can wrangle it, do the northern route.

Re vultures: There's lot of them once you get to California! (real ones, not lawyers)
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Old 01-16-14, 03:17 PM   #24
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By the way, you're more likely to become buzzard food east of the Mississippi than west of it. I've stomped around the 4-corners area for several decades and I've seen one buzzard...he was trying to fly into my car window because he couldn't get off the ground fast enough. I've done lots of tours east of the Mississippi and seen buzzards everywhere. We have lots of crows but not too may buzzards.
Makes sense, the more critters and highways there are per square mile the more vultures you're gonna see, although the range of the Turkey Vulture also encompasses the Four Corners. Specific to the Four Corners, I've seen more ravens than crows although both are present.


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Buzzards circling over dead things out on the desert is one of those Hollywood myths that have little bearing on the truth.
I'll give 'em a pass on the vulture thing, what troubles me is when they dub in noises that are supposed to be what a vulture sound like. Actually all New World vultures are literally speechless, no vocal chords, the best they can do is a resonant hiss.

Mike

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Old 01-16-14, 04:46 PM   #25
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Makes sense, the more critters and highways there are per square mile the more vultures you're gonna see, although the range of the Turkey Vulture also encompasses the Four Corners. Specific to the Four Corners, I've seen more ravens than crows although both are present.
The range of the turkey vulture does encompass the Four Corners but you just don't see that many of them. Most of the dark wing birds I see soaring in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona are crows (and ravens). I noticed that the turkey vultures that I've seen in the eastern US have much whiter under wings than crows or ravens.
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Twisting Down the Alley. Misadventures in tornado alley.
An Good Ol' Fashion Appalachian Butt Whoopin'.
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