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Advice for newbies planning a cross country trip

Old 06-02-16, 03:29 PM
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Advice for newbies planning a cross country trip

I'll try to keep this brief, but I have a few questions/concerns that hopefully someone more experienced with both the area in question and with bicycle touring can address. We will not have a support vehicle for this ride.

The route in question can be found here: https://goo.gl/maps/aLy8aAfcXEv

The issues I have in mind are as follows:

- The heat. We are used to a considerably hot day being 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit, and a large portion of the southwest will be over 100F in a few weeks when we plan on being there.

- Nutrition. Is getting adequate food for 80+ miles a day possible with only the occasional grocery store and gas stations? From my experience eating out of gas stations I would say no, but if others have different experiences... There are also stretches of 50-70 miles with no resources such as gas stations or even buildings which would require some degree of stocking up.

- Water. We estimate 3 gallons per person would be adequate between fill-ups, but once again stretches of 50 to 70 miles of hot desert concern me. There are also plenty of 20-35 mile stretches of nothing, but those seem to fade in comparison to the bigger ones. Is this a reasonable amount? What is the best way to carry large amounts of water on a bicycle?

- Camping with food. There obviously aren't campgrounds perfectly placed along our route, so we'd be guerrilla camping (which we've got experience with), but neither of us have any idea what issues such as mountain lions or other food-curious animals would be of concern. In the midwest we just toss a bag over a tree but in the desert that won't be an option.
Should we plan for more wildlife than just snakes and scorpions and such?

- US/Mexico border. We'll only be close to the border for a short while, but we have zero experience with how safe traveling by bicycle it is down there. Should we be concerned with sleeping in a tent off the side of the road if we have to?


Lastly, we planned this somewhat impulsively and are starting to feel committed. How realistic is this for a pair of guys in their early 20s who have never done any serious bicycle touring, let alone in the south in the summer?

Thanks
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Old 06-02-16, 07:29 PM
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Heat: Drink plenty of water, and it's not that bad. You stay cool as long as you stay moving, because of the self-generated wind. And the southwest is the opposite of humid. You might find the heat more oppressive in the south, where it can get incredibly humid.
I see you're from Michigan...100 F is probably unfathomable to you, like 25 F is unfathomable to me. I've survived it, you can too.

Nutrition: How many miles are you doing per day? Even in the desert, towns are rarely more than 70-80 miles apart. You should get into town at least once a day. Twice if you count starting in a town, and finishing in another town, the same day. At a maximum, it'll take two days to get to the next town, and outside the desert, you'll see them more often. You might not be able to get your favorite brand of something, or exactly the things you like, but realistically, you could carry no more than one day's worth of food at any time and still be OK.

Water: I get by on 3 liters per day, and usually don't finish it all. Then again, I weigh 140 pounds. That's also not taking into account the fact that I always sleep near a water source. So that's 3 L only while on the bike (not counting breakfast and dinner), and that's gotten me through 120+ miles in 100+ degree heat. 3 gallons per person is overkill, unless you're out of shape, overweight, or only fill up once every two days.

Camping with food: Keep all your food, and anything else with a scent (like toothpaste) inside a ziploc. Now get a huge ziploc (camping stores sell large "odor-proof" bags) and put all your ziplocs in the big ziploc. Then put that inside one of your waterproof panniers and close it. Then keep it inside your tent. If there's an animal that can smell through all that, it has earned its dinner. I have done this many times, including in bear country, and haven't even had a close call.
More importantly: Don't eat, or brush your teeth, or use any other scented anything where you camp. Your camp should be completely scent-free.
BONUS: Perhaps you can camp less often than you think. Has anyone told you about WarmShowers.org? Get on that. Also, in small towns, ask around if there's a church, school, or fire station where you can sleep on the floor, or ask the local cops if there's a city park where you can set up a tent. Don't say "camp," say "set up a tent." Small town folks are extra nice, and the cops have nothing better to do than help touring cyclists find a safe place to sleep. You might even get fed!

US/Mexico border: You're fine. It looks like you'll only be anywhere close to the border for one night, two maximum. Even then, it's not that close to the border. And even if it was, you'd be fine.

If you like riding a bike, I'm sure you'll manage! You learn quickly once you get out there. If I weren't going on a tour of my own this summer, I'd offer you a place to stay in North Texas.

Last edited by BlarneyHammer; 06-02-16 at 09:03 PM.
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Old 06-03-16, 04:41 PM
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++++Advise here is spot on.

Don't carry 3 gallons of water.

I'm 52 years old and I've traveled in similar desert situations. 3 liters max.

Keep in mind the first tour (especially the first few days) are full of personal doubt.
You will realize there really isn't much to worry about.

People with pick-up trucks will help you if all goes to hell.

Ride early in the morning or at night if you have lights. Hang out in the town public library, swimming pool. etc... if the sun is just too much to take.
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Old 06-03-16, 05:07 PM
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The secret to staying hydrated is make sure to bump up your sodium intake. I weigh 180 pounds and the rule I follow by is 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt per liter of water I drink. That keeps me hydrated and keeps my performance up. From what I've read from guys that know what they are talking about you need, depending on body weight around 1000 mg of sodium per liter of water if you want to keep the water in the body instead of sweating it out big time. If you start noticing white stains on your clothing you then know you are not getting enough sodium. Riding in the desert/down south during the heat of summer can make it completely necessary to do things you would never do in normal life...just to survive.

I would have to agree with riding overnight, not only less traffic but since you are in an area where services will be limited anyways then you might as well ride it when its cooler.
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Old 06-03-16, 05:42 PM
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You will also be battling the sun, which will be at it's peak this time of the year. Arms, face and ears are the most vulnerable.
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Old 06-03-16, 06:20 PM
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The Southwest in midsummer?
The Northwest - i.e. Glacier, Yellowstone is much more temperate.
Also, do NOT stealth camp on Indian reservations.
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Old 06-03-16, 06:38 PM
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If you pushed it north just a tick, you'd hit the cool mountain air in northern Arizona and New Mexico. The route you're planning is gonna be roasting hot, without a single break until you hit the forests of east Texas. Southern Arizona is going to be hitting 105 degrees plus every day soon, and even Texas won't be much better. Make sure you've considered the road heat when you get your tires setup - I've burned holes in more than one set of shoes on the tennis courts and jogging trails of Phoenix and Tucson in the summer. The roads get so hot that you'll see tar melting, and you'll want to make sure your tires can deal with it.

Just something to consider. If it's me, I'm jumping a bit north and taking a lovely tour through the rolling mountains of Flagstaff, Santa Fe, maybe keep on trucking right across Oklahoma and skip most of Texas.

The border area isn't anything to worry about. Just keep moving, and don't spend a lot of time conversing with people who look like drifters. Keep in mind, most folks who come across the border illegally are looking for work, or are drug mules. Either way, they aren't much interested on someone on a bicycle or on foot.

Gas stations across those states are usually well-stocked in things you'll actually need to survive - water and drinks, protein bars, beef jerky, etc. Look for the big truck stops - they'll be the best stocked, and often you'll find a Subway inside one out in the middle of nowhere. Make sure you have some cash, as some of the remote gas stations will try to charge you a fee to use a card, or their card machines will be down right when you need to make a purchase. And don't assume that you'll be able to find a working ATM within a 100 mile area. One thing I do when I'm on the border is stick my cash in my underwear or my sock, and don't flash more than you need to use.

Good luck!! As another poster said, travel at night or early in the morning. And remember, the desert can get quite chilly at night, even in the middle of a blazing hot summer.
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Old 06-03-16, 06:45 PM
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Also, a lot of those remote desert gas stations can shut down pretty early in the evening. If you are out of food and water, don't wait until 8-9pm to roll into one, or you might be spending a night without dinner or drinks. And plan on about half the vending machines along the border being out of service.
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Old 06-03-16, 06:47 PM
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LOL. Can't believe I'm saying this but 40 years ago this summer 6 of us impetuously took off and rode a XC continental wandering route 4000 miles in 60 days.

Heat: 90 degrees plus ok as long as we were moving. Sun burns, sweltering humidity at night, just got used to it. Bugs bad in Rockies and Great Lakes- east. We started as early as possible. Chill during mid day. Ride a fair amount in early eve (very very rarely in dark..twice as I recall).
Water: I had a standard water bottle say 16 oz and a 24 oz backpack bottle. I drank water all the time and kept those topped off.
Camping: 50% in parks/hostels (ladies wanted showers) and 50% on the road (rest stops, dugouts, ski slopes, porches, fields, hobo RR camps, where ever).
Animals: No issues other than the occasional asshat human.
Food: I ate my way across the continent. I went from 155 to 153. Mass quantities of GORP, bread, peanut butter, honey, bananas, milk, occasional buffet pig outs, in retrospect I probably could've eaten better but I was a clueless 21 year old.
Borders: We were going back and forth US-Canada. We always got searched coming into the US.
Mileage: It's a tour. We averaged 60-70 but also did some 30 and 130 mile days. If I had one minor second thought..90 day tour would've been more fun as in more sightseeing though that would've added cost.

You will never regret such a tour.

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Old 06-04-16, 07:19 PM
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Three liters of water? Seriously?

You should also realize that you'll find very little shade out there in the desert. One trick would be to hole up in a motel room during the hot parts of the day, and start riding during the coolest parts of the night, but stealth camping defeats that. It hit 103F here yesterday in the inland coastal valleys of San Diego, and the desert was even hotter. There's nothing like climbing over 4000' over the peninsular range of San Diego county with the sun beating almost straight down on you with that kind of heat--the mild tailwind just makes it worse, since you get no wind cooling at all.

Instead of making this a death ride, why not cross the country via more northerly route--such as starting from San Francisco or Oregon?
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Old 06-04-16, 08:40 PM
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Some like it hot? For me I'm gasping when it hits 100 F. Drier western air only helps a bit AFAIK when it's super-hot. OTOH perhaps one can acclimate a lot. Leaning down could help.
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Old 06-04-16, 10:28 PM
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don't underestimate the heat or the humidity.
carry more water than you think necessary.

plan water needs according to terrain, not distance.
30 miles of flat desert in 105 degrees?
....easy, maybe a liter will do (for me).
10 miles climbing, 90 degrees 90% humidity?
.....i'd need a gallon or more.

i wouldn't ride at night, i wanna see the countryside.
early morning and late afternoon for riding.
take a couple hours break to nap at lunch.
carry a lightweight reflective blanket and some
cord to make some shade.

chicken fried steak!
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Old 06-05-16, 05:20 AM
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Originally Posted by DropBarFan
Drier western air only helps a bit AFAIK when it's super-hot.
Dry air helps at lower temps. Ever ridden when it's in the low to mid-80 with very high humidity? I did yesterday, and often do. The sweat was pouring off me on the climbs, and the sun wasn't even out most of the time. High humidity ******* evaporation. Evaporation cools you.
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Old 06-05-16, 06:04 AM
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If you decide to embark on this crazy summer-time desert crossing, I'd suggest you read up about desert travel, go slowly and gain experience as you travel.

With the water consumption you'll need, probably close to two gallons per day, you'll need aggressive salt replacement or you will die. (That may not be a problem if your nutrition plan includes plenty of gas station food.)

Will you be able to sleep when it's 110+ at sunset, nighttime temps do not drop below 90F, and the winds are calm? Sleep is essential to this kind of travel.

When "monsoon" moisture hits the Sonoran Desert in late June/July, it can get pretty nasty, even at night when the increased relative humidity does not allow temps to drop. Evaporative cooling ceases to work as efficiently.

You may want considerably more budget to pay for motel rooms, probably during the day as noted above.

Desert travelers should study up on heat injuries and first aid. Learn what happens when core temps rise too high, and learn to recognize signs of heat stroke (such as mental impairment, brain damage, death).

The nearby border and food storage are non-issues, at least compared to the others.
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Old 06-05-16, 08:17 AM
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I suggest: Luxembourg , you can cross it in an afternoon.

Last edited by fietsbob; 06-05-16 at 08:30 AM.
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Old 06-05-16, 08:32 AM
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Q: you have done a lot of less ambitious weekend/ 1 week tours where you live, before thinking up this one?


No? do that first.
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Old 06-05-16, 10:07 PM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz
Dry air helps at lower temps. Ever ridden when it's in the low to mid-80 with very high humidity? I did yesterday, and often do. The sweat was pouring off me on the climbs, and the sun wasn't even out most of the time. High humidity ******* evaporation. Evaporation cools you.
My area (DC) is pretty hot & humid & sweaty but in the east we don't really get temps over 100 F. I think since body temp is 98.6 F the hot desert temps are a real problem: sweat evaporates OK but body is blasted by air higher than body temp at the same time. As a kid visited Great Sand Dune NP & we started to hike up the big dune barefoot, was cool in the morning. Sand quickly got so hot my uncle had to retrieve the shoes from the car. BTW I wonder about wearing sun-protective clothing like light-colored long-sleeve jerseys & tights for the OP southern route? Even if one isn't concerned (like many older riders are) w/UV damage, a lot of folks who live in hot desert areas don't leave a lot of skin exposed. I used to think cowboy hats were an affectation but after living out West I realized they made sense to keep scorching sun off.
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Old 06-05-16, 10:42 PM
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Take google maps with a shaker of salt. Google usually doesn't recognize that you can ride on interstates in some states and will try to send you down graveled, dirt, or non-existent routes. I still love google and google maps though.

Churches are your friend for camping.
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Old 06-05-16, 10:51 PM
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This doesn't sound like much fun; the idea of taking a more northerly route suggested above makes sense.

Get a camelbak. You can fill that full of ice and water; the water will stay cool for a long time which will be a big help.

Heat is nothing to fool around with it. Do some reading and some thinking before going on this trip.

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Old 06-05-16, 10:56 PM
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Originally Posted by bikemig
Get a camel back. You can fill that full of ice and water; the water will stay cool for a long time which will be a big help.
Yes, and maybe even a camel.

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Old 06-19-16, 01:01 PM
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Following up on this, today it's currently 110F here in inland coastal San Diego County at noon; it was 108F in the deserts at 10 am, and is supposed to be hotter tomorrow. (122 or more in the deserts) Granted, this is an extreme heat wave, but just emphasizes the danger of this route in midsummer. I've toured in 110 F heat, but in northern California where there were trees, swimming holes, and cafes to stop at and cool off. The desert is another thing altogether--I hope you guys changed the route.
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Old 06-19-16, 01:12 PM
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2009 we rode it in the heat...Leave out at 5 AM and be finished 12N-1 PM for the day.

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Old 06-19-16, 03:36 PM
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Originally Posted by 10 Wheels
2009 we rode it in the heat...Leave out at 5 AM and be finished 12N-1 PM for the day.
I'm curious what maximum temperatures in which you ended up riding. The OP intends to free camp across the desolation, which makes me wonder how they will escape the worst heat*, let alone get any sleep.

* As in these 2 PM observations:


Code:
 PALM DESERT      N/A    118  39   7 CALM      31.05S HX 110           
 THERMAL        SUNNY    117  24   4 CALM      29.72F HX 107           
 BLYTHE         SUNNY    115  34   6 NW7       29.78F HX 107           
 IMPERIAL AP    SUNNY    115  31   5 CALM      29.74F HX 106           
 EL CENTRO NAS  SUNNY    115  25   4 CALM      29.76F HX 105           
 YUMA AZ        SUNNY    118  29   5 N8        29.75  HX 108
Edit: Hottest spot in Arizona yesterday hit 127 F: https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/mesowest/getobext.php?sid=UP561

Note that it was well over 120 by noon, cutting riding hours even shorter. By some quirk, it was "only" 103 F in Death Valley Sunday, making it more comfortable than inland San Diego.

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Old 06-19-16, 08:17 PM
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Originally Posted by 10 Wheels
2009 we rode it in the heat...Leave out at 5 AM and be finished 12N-1 PM for the day.
Maybe living in Texas you were somewhat acclimated to the heat? After all in the SW folks work outside & don't stay home if it's hot right? Anyway, early-morning rides a good reason for dyno hub lights I'd guess. In the wide open stretches I imagine one doesn't usually miss much of the scenery.
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Old 07-02-16, 04:37 PM
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A few people 'raining on your parade' here, but for good reason....

I have lived in AZ for nearly a decade, and live right along the I-8 corridor you are planning to traverse.

It will be a living hell the time of year you plan to ride.
You will run the risk of SEVERE dehydration on the suggested 3 liters of water.
2 gallons/person is what I recommend.

Frankly, I recommend traveling this section of the US at a different time of year. It would be much more enjoyable.

If you survive the blow-torch heat of the desert southwest, you'll melt like candle-wax in the repressive humidity of Georgia.
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