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Map 12: Random thoughts on 8.5% of a westbound TransAm, truncated.

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Map 12: Random thoughts on 8.5% of a westbound TransAm, truncated.

Old 05-25-16, 12:18 PM
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thumpism 
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Map 12: Random thoughts on 8.5% of a westbound TransAm, truncated.

My brother-in-law and I recently retired and set out May 1st from Yorktown, heading uphill and in the rain. Three weeks later, still in Virginia in much the same conditions, we decided to halt the trip and resolved to try again later. We had just arrived in Christiansburg, Virginia on Friday at the western edge of Adventure Cycling's Map 12 of the B76 route. Before moving on to Map 11 that would take us as far as Berea, Kentucky, we needed to evaluate our progress relative to our hopes and expectations and we decided that health concerns, discouragement with the near-record rainfall and the need to regroup helped us make the unhappy choice to come home.

We were both in pretty good spirits for the twelve riding days we did, but don't let anyone tell you it is not a tough ride. If you are carrying your own gear you'll be doing a lot of work. I've done two lengthy European tours by bike but both took place more than 35 years ago and, while I know what it takes to do such a trip, knowing and still being able to do so may not be the same thing.

Here we are with our first glimpse of the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Trip relaunch in Arcadia, Virginia with the B.O.B. on my bike instead of four panniers.


So, on to the thoughts.

Weight: This certainly was a component of our undoing. Each of us had about 50 pounds on the bike and to carry significantly less weight we both would have had to resort to ruthless cutting, but we wanted to be comfortable so carried spacious tents, camp stools, "civilian" clothing and the like.

Water: Each of us had two large bottles and extra capacity, like a Nalgene collapsible 48 ounce bladder that was not called into service. Even in consistently cool, wet weather we found ourselves using up two bottles each easily on a given day. Be advised.

Gearing: Lower is better but I do not know the practical limits. I had a 24-34 low (19.05 inches) and Jeff had a 26-32 (21.93 inches) that should have been adequate for any hills we encountered. I have crossed the Alps and the Apennines with a 40-28 low (38.57 inches) but I was 24 years old at the time. Also, I've been a barcon guy for decades but would now consider brifters simply due to the repeated need for multiple shifts in sometimes harrowing road/traffic conditions and especially for those short, steep rollers. I would also consider a Rohloff 14-speed IG hub if throwing money at my rig.

Traffic and drivers: Lots of it on the roads we traveled and, just as I remembered, one of the most disturbing things is the drivers who simply will not pass. At some point you have to quit waving them on and concentrate on riding. I will happily state that we experienced NO overt rudeness or hostility and many of those folks must have been frustrated by having us impede their progress. You Virginia drivers we encountered, I salute you. Thank you for your courtesy and/or your lack of imagination regarding insults and gestures.

Gear: We both began the trip with front and rear panniers, handlebar bags and stuff on the rear rack tops. At one point Jeff had an equipment failure with a front Thule pannier so we returned to Richmond for repairs/replacements. I wound up borrowing a friend's B.O.B trailer that I've been wanting to try and Jeff used one pair of my panniers to replace his damaged ones so we set out again with considerably different setups. I found the trailer to be more stable but my all-up weight was greater. Kind of a wash but the trailer does have the added hassle factor (additional length, different sized wheel, etc.) and the single large bag in the trailer is more difficult to compartmentalize than individual panniers. And if you open it in a heavy rain you'll want everything in it bagged to stay dry. Another issue was weight distribution in the bag. The items you want on the top, food bag anytime and tent at the end of the day, were the heaviest and seemed to affect the handling a bit. Nothing serious, but any packing change meant trading one hassle for a different hassle.

Each of us had an ALPS Meramac2 two-man tent and they were great, but the space they provided was a luxury that came with additional weight. I heartily recommend that tent, especially for the price, and they do make a one-man version.

I have always used a poncho to stay dry in heavy rains but would likely get a tailored raincape to replace the poncho for less flappage next trip.

Taiga helmet rain cover works well despite dorky looks. Third Eye helmet mirror works. ESGE Pletscher Twin kickstand works and is handy but is heavy and requires front wheel to be bungeed straight when parked to prevent flop and likely tipover.



Interestingly, my two big pre-trip worries turned out to be non-issues. I fell several years ago and broke both feet and frequently get foot/ankle pain after a lot of use, but neither the pedaling nor the frequent dismounts and sometimes long slogs pushing up hills caused any discomfort. A lot of the comfort credit goes to the Shimano SPD shoes that I would not have bet would be that comfy. The other fear was sleeping on the ground at age 65. That was also no problem and I had no fancy gear to promote comfort; just my tent, hip-length Thermarest pad and unfancy sleeping bag. Everything else conspired to undo us; the rain, the hills, sometimes the low temps, although none of those was urgent. We just decided to get out while it was logistically advantageous to do so and before serious medical issues came into play. Incipient hip problems are not to be taken lightly.

Anyway, we're back home and getting back into the domestic groove and we're planning to try the GAP/C&O for a change of pace, and we may retry the TransAm later. I hope this report will be of some help to any aspiring tourons out there. You won't regret having tried it but you probably will regret it if you never do.
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Last edited by thumpism; 05-29-16 at 08:49 AM.
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Old 05-25-16, 12:25 PM
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Appreciate the report and insights. I'd like to do the TransAm one day as I've done the northern tier.

Weight really matters and that becomes more true, the older one gets. I'm going to try some shake down trips locally as one of my goals is to get the weight down.

I'm sure that the Alps Meramc 2 is a fine but but it is a 7 pound tent with fiber glass poles. Your rack and bags, tent, and sleeping system are good places to focus on when trying to cut weight.

Persistent bad weather is tough to deal with on a trip.
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Old 05-25-16, 08:50 PM
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Too much "stuff"/weight at the start of a tour is an oft-heard refrain (cue George Carlin). An ultralight hammock can often fill in for a chair and is handy for gear storage off the ground, too, if you don't want to sleep in it.
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Old 05-26-16, 06:44 AM
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Persistent bad weather, too much stuff, yeah. We can deal with a lot of adversity, but there has to be enough fun to balance it out. When the balance tips toward no fun, it's hard to keep going.
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Old 06-05-18, 09:13 PM
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Interesting followup here. My bro-in-law, Jeff, sets off tomorrow on a driving trip along the same TransAm route with his bride. They plan to spend a month making the trip and will have bikes with them for occasional riding so if you expect to be along the route in the next month and you see a maroon CR-V with bikes on the back, be sure to wave.
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Old 06-06-18, 07:48 AM
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Gearing: Lower is better but I do not know the practical limits. I had a 24-34 low (19.05 inches) and Jeff had a 26-32 (21.93 inches) that should have been adequate for any hills we encountered.
Lower gearing is possible, and good to have when climbing extreme hills, facing headwinds, or both. My bail-out gear is 22-36, and I use it. Next time I refurbish my drive train, I will see whether 20-36 is possible.

Some people will tell you that extremely low gears don't work... that you will travel so slowly that you will have trouble staying upright. I have never had trouble staying upright when riding in my lowest gears.
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Old 06-06-18, 07:50 AM
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Out of curiosity, did you try any trips beforehand with your load? It is one of the most pertinent pieces of advice I have gotten from here, especially for the first longer camping trip.

I'm hardly a gram counter, and I do agree with you on a two person tent being much nicer for a single person than something smaller, but dang 7.5# is heavy for such a tent. My two person Big Agnes is a full three pounds lighter, and it isn't exactly lightweight.
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Old 06-06-18, 09:03 AM
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I’ll be riding the entire C&O and GAP in early July. I do at least part of the route each year. You can get away with a heavier load since the climbing is steady to non-existent. That is, assuming you stay on the trail. The weather has been particularly rainy this year, so hopefully things will return to normal soon, because the adjacent roads are very hilly. Might want to reduce your load if possible. Do you really need that cast iron frying pan?
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Old 06-06-18, 09:09 AM
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I've recently retired also and would like to do a transcontinental tour. I've been bicycle touring since the 1970's and I'm sure I have the physical capability. It's the mental discipline where I have doubts. I think at some point the journey would turn into mental drudgery and I would start to think about all the good things back home......wife's wonderful home cooking, playing with the dog, sitting on the front porch not doing a damn thing......and lose enjoyment of the tour. I've toured across a number of European countries and much of the way along several European rivers, but these journeys are seldom longer than a month at the max and I get to experience such a variety of landscapes and culture, not mindless pedaling across an endless prairie.
So in the end I have determined I don't have what it takes to do a North American transcontinental. I salute you for making the effort, especially in the midst of some of the most consistent rainfall the eastern US has experienced in a very long time.
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Old 06-06-18, 02:08 PM
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Originally Posted by jefnvk View Post
Out of curiosity, did you try any trips beforehand with your load? It is one of the most pertinent pieces of advice I have gotten from here, especially for the first longer camping trip.

I'm hardly a gram counter, and I do agree with you on a two person tent being much nicer for a single person than something smaller, but dang 7.5# is heavy for such a tent. My two person Big Agnes is a full three pounds lighter, and it isn't exactly lightweight.
I had toured before with similar loads but slightly lighter and was traveling solo mostly, but I was half my current age. That makes a big difference. I had not done any recent touring but had done some training rides, including a few day rides with my touring load. I know that I know how to tour, but it was a shock to realize it's not the same me doing the touring these days.

I'm sure I could have ditched ten pounds easily but I doubt if that would have made the difference. A lighter tent that would also be less spacious, no camp chair, just the SPD shoes and ditch the sandals, fewer spares, but the comfort and peace of mind would have been different. I may try a TransAm again and also plan to do the GAP/C&O.
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Old 06-06-18, 02:33 PM
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Originally Posted by thumpism View Post
I know that I know how to tour, but it was a shock to realize it's not the same me doing the touring these days.
Fair enough!

My comment on the tent wasn't so much that a lighter tent would have led to success, but incrementally, a bunch of items that one sacrificed "just a pound for" can add up in a hurry. Then again, last tour I carted around 18 tall boy beers, so I can't say much about giving up comfort for weight savings
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Old 06-06-18, 02:46 PM
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Hmmm...

Bad weather is tough. For one of my longest rides, years ago, I did Parma to Rome and back. I think I got rained out in Bologna, so I left the bike with friends and took the train back to Parma, and went back the next week to resume my ride. I still got 1 or 2 days or rain, but wasn't starting in the rain.

Your bikes do look heavy. Trailers, lots of gear,etc.

I think I'm quickly learning that the older I get, the less I want to pack with me. I have to try some more shorter tours this year, but am really considering how to cut weight. Part of it will be to never carry more food than I really need, although that may be tough if one gets into the middle of nowhere. BIVY?

It turns out this is the weekend of the kickoff for the 2018 Transam ride/race. We've had a couple of weeks of beautiful weather here in Oregon. So, I would assume the riders got at least a week or so of sun to start the race with.

If one could do the ride in say 1 or 2 months, then June/July would be great, especially if one stays north out of the deep south.

Or, perhaps plunges south in earlier months April/May.
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Old 06-06-18, 06:23 PM
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It sounds like you and you partner gave it a good try, and made a good decision based on your circumstances. It also sounds like it was a "learning experience".

Wet weather and wind are often more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge. Unless you are not equipped to handle those conditions, then it becomes physical. My wife and I experience 35 days (not continuous) of rain toward the end of a 3-month tour, and it took us awhile to "adjust" and still enjoy the ride.

When riding in Europe with a French couple a few years ago, we were caught in an intense, windy rain shower. They donned their rain capes, and we put on our rain jackets and pants. When we finally reached the train station that would take us back to Paris, the French folks wanted to know all about our rain clothes. Their rain capes made traveling against the wind in the rain a real challenge! Point is, at least in my opinion: Rain jackets and pants are more efficient for keeping comfortable/warm and dry in harsh conditions.

We have ridden across both the American and the Canadian prairies, and did not find them "mindless". We found them to be really enjoyable, and allowed us to experience slices of the countries, rather than "cherry pick" the areas.

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Old 06-06-18, 07:04 PM
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Weather aside, how about a different approach. Here's the thing; what I am hearing is potential defensive measures for next time. I.E. Less weight, lower gearing. How about the best defense is an offense. Last year, I tried touring and felt weak. I went back to the gym. I attacked the leg press (I used to press 600 pounds) I started again back at 180) I said that I was weak right. I overloaded my touring bike with sandbags and rode the bike a few days a week. I am touring this summer and the bike feels reasonable compared to last year. So, mount an offense!!!! You can do it.
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Old 06-06-18, 10:20 PM
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Last winter I hit the spin bike at the gym to increase my average cadence and lost 35lb's. It has helped my touring.
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Old 06-08-18, 08:51 PM
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After the first trip with a BOB trailer it was sold to a friend of mine and the panniers went back on the bike. They are simply too much hassle for everyday use and drudgery to pull up hill. Great idea for grocery runs and hauling stuff short distances, but not my choice for touring. Nice to see you enjoyed yourselves despite the weather.
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Old 07-10-18, 08:12 PM
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Just heard that the wanderers reached the Oregon coast via the B76 route and are heading for Seattle, and will return via Canada and the northern tier of the U.S. Interestingly, I would expect them to have seen hundreds of touring cyclists but the number was evidently in the low dozens. I'll get more details upon their return home.
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