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East to West vs. West to East

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East to West vs. West to East

Old 03-04-08, 01:05 PM
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crosscountry08
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East to West vs. West to East

Whenever I tell people that I am biking from Maine to Oregon I usually get the same response, "arent you going the wrong way?" Originally i had planned on moving to Oregon, so that was always my answer. But things have changed now and I will end up coming back home after the trip, and I'm starting to wonder if we should change the direction of our trip. I'm not opposed to going either way. The only reason we've stayed with the East to West route is because thats what we had planned from the beginning. My question is: is there really that much of a difference as far as the wind goes on the overall trip? Enough to warrent changing our plans to accomodate?
Also, we had planned to drive to maine and then fly home once reaching Oregon. So now I guess we'd fly to Oregon and most likely end our trip at home (Delaware). How hard is it to transport a bike? and are there any suggestions as far as whether we should ship it or pack it on the plane?
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Old 03-04-08, 02:11 PM
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It depends on so many factors, and the prevailing winds end up being a minor part of the decision. So I gather, anyway. My wife and i are heading E-to-W this summer, and all things considered, it's the right way for us.

Other considerations: Do you like to head out from "home", or end your trip in familiar territory? Where will you be in the hell-est part of summer? Do you tap into the "Corp of Discovery" feeling of a westward adventure, like the 19th century explorers?

Here's probably the best description i've read of the East vs. West decision: Mark Gardner's journal. He gives his philosophy on the first page, but the whole journal is a good read.

Have a great trip, whichever way you go.

-- Mark
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Old 03-04-08, 02:48 PM
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I never considered going west to east. I would rather "head out" on a journey. To fly to some unknown place and start from a strange local doesn't do it for me. It doesn't feel natural. I'm sure it's just me.
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Old 03-04-08, 02:58 PM
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I'm interested in making the cross-country trip in a few years and have considered the issue of headwinds. Fortunately a number of riders have tried both directions and reported their experiences on crazyguyonabike.com. Last year I searched that site for any mention of wind direction and took note of everything I could find. The general result was that despite the prevailing winds, on-ground wind direction did not seem to favor one direction compared with the other. Most riders seem to report wind from every direction, and roughly equal number of days with head- and tail-winds. Surprising many riders reported winds from the South when riding in the plains states.

If you maintain your E-W ride, please record general wind patterns each day and let us know what you find.

Just for fun I opened Google's map of the USA, scrolled across the USA, and took samples of current wind patterns today (March 4 2008) from Weather.com. For riders across the USA today, here is what the wind pattern would reveal (a mixture). From today's sample, I cannot see where one direction is favored over others.


South -- Statesboro GA 15mph
South -- Blacksburg VA 6mph
South -- Newton KS 11mph
South -- Morris MN 21mph

Southwest -- Bellingham WA 7mph

East Northeast -- Petoskey MI 11mph

Northeast -- Elmira NY 6mph
Northeast -- Tiffin OH 22mph

West -- Crossville TN 16mph
West -- Globe AZ 7mph
West -- Hemet CA 6mph
West -- Greenville ME 8mph

Northwest -- Columbia MS 10mph
Northwest -- Bryan TX 13mph
Northwest -- Townsend MT 23mph
Northwest -- La Pine OR 4mph

North -- Delta UT 15mph

no wind -- Ukiah CA calm
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Old 03-04-08, 04:32 PM
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I seems that no matter which way you are going, it's always a head wind.
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Old 03-05-08, 06:14 AM
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Very good responses so far, I agree with them all.

On my E to W cross country the wind was only bad in the plains of Kansas and eastern Colorado. In those areas the wind was mostly straight from the south or with a minor western component. I also got great tailwinds for a couple days, which had rain associated with them. All other states the winds were mixed. I would not use wind as deciding factor at all.

To me the biggest factors are the seasons and light. E to west you can leave much earlier in the season, so that you get through the hot/humid states before they get that way. Then you hit the mountains during the heat of the summer (cool and less humid). Another huge factor for me is the light, I like to start my days very early and traveling west puts the sun at my back. Of all the things to consider, the light and the humidity are my biggest factors.

As an aside, I shifted my days to the early side on tour, early to bed (which is easy after cycling all day and not having a lot to do in a campground) and early to rise. I was on the road as early as practical, waking while it was dark and making breakfast at first light. An early start helps with a lot bike touring issues, you beat some of the traffic, most of the wind, and you get to your days destination with plenty of daylight to explore. And again the light, my favorite part of the day is that early morning, no traffic, with the sun to my back, lighting -up the landscape!!
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Old 03-05-08, 07:32 AM
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Originally Posted by gregw View Post
To me the biggest factors are the seasons and light. E to west you can leave much earlier in the season, so that you get through the hot/humid states before they get that way. Then you hit the mountains during the heat of the summer (cool and less humid). Another huge factor for me is the light, I like to start my days very early and traveling west puts the sun at my back. Of all the things to consider, the light and the humidity are my biggest factors.

And again the light, my favorite part of the day is that early morning, no traffic, with the sun to my back, lighting -up the landscape!!
Those are things I hadn't thought about. Considered in that "light," they appeal to me. Hmmm, "chasing the sun" has a nice feel and sound about it. Good post.
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Old 03-05-08, 09:57 AM
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Originally Posted by foamy View Post
I would rather "head out" on a journey. To fly to some unknown place and start from a strange local doesn't do it for me. It doesn't feel natural.
Same here, my wife and I have thought about it many time and we always come to the same conclusion.
We just love the feeling of having everything packed at home and heading off early in the morning.
As far as doing a coast to coast, whenever we get the time we would be heading East to West, main reason being the weather.
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Old 03-05-08, 10:50 AM
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In Canada, the wind in the prairies is predominantly from the west and it can be draining. However, the wind is normally calmer in the early morning and strongest in the afternoon. On an east to west trip, it would be best to start each day early and then stop early. In mountainous areas, the wind is not nearly as much of a factor as the elevation gain.
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Old 03-05-08, 12:21 PM
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Just go east to west. That "wrong way" stuff is nonsense. There's no "right" or "wrong" way.

There's going to be plenty of headwinds no matter which way you go.

It's easier to simply ship you bike home at the end of a trip than to ship it to your starting point and worry about piecing it together.

Experience the land like the settlers did. Go from the colonies to the wild west.

Ride into the sunset every evening, or with the dawn at your back, as gregw stated.
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Old 03-05-08, 12:23 PM
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Try riding across Wyoming against prevailing headwinds for several days in a row and then tell me wind direction doesn't matter. If I were to go coast to coast, I'd start in the West and head East.
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Old 03-05-08, 12:51 PM
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Originally Posted by velo2000 View Post
Try riding across Wyoming against prevailing headwinds for several days in a row and then tell me wind direction doesn't matter. If I were to go coast to coast, I'd start in the West and head East.
I did the TA last Summer W-E and took note that we had more headwinds than tailwinds. From eastern Colorado through Kansas we had a quartering headwind (from the SE). I am told that is the norm.

Edit: I should have mentioned that we had headwinds for much of Montana and some of Wyoming too.

Last edited by staehpj1; 03-05-08 at 01:01 PM.
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Old 03-05-08, 12:57 PM
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Originally Posted by JamieCompos View Post
Just go east to west. That "wrong way" stuff is nonsense. There's no "right" or "wrong" way.

There's going to be plenty of headwinds no matter which way you go.
I agree.

Originally Posted by JamieCompos View Post
It's easier to simply ship you bike home at the end of a trip than to ship it to your starting point and worry about piecing it together.
Personally I find it easier to have air travel out of the way up front. That way you know when you need tickets for and can ride out of the airport. The other way you need to wait and buy tickets when you are near enough to the end to know what day you will be returning.

That said, it is all good and it is about what works for you.
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Old 03-05-08, 01:52 PM
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Thanks alot for all of the help. I had never given the weather that much of a thought, but we will be leaving and June and I think that I would rather be riding through New York, Pa and the eastern humid states in June rather then late July/August. And the idea of heading West does sound much more Adventurous. It seems to me like some of the great sights and landscapes will be out west. Not to say that the East isnt scenic, its just that I'm used to the East.
Either way we won't be starting from home. We want to take a more Northern route so we'll probably start in Maine and use the first part of Adventure Cyclings TA maps. So family will be driving us to Maine. But we'll still be starting out leaving familiar faces so I guess thats somewhat similar.

Once again the forum comes through. I'll owe most of our success to you guys if we survive our trip because without the help i get on here I would be lost
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Old 03-05-08, 04:14 PM
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Just remember that when you find historical weather data that gives prevailing winds it is just an average of data points. You will be affected only by the specific weather pattern that you are riding in at any given point along the route. I think that the considerations for temperature can be more of a factor for planning a cross country. In June last year I and several others on the Trans Am experienced a blizzard in June in northern Colorado. A couple of guys I met were going west to east and had departed in late April, early May. They rode in snow a lot along the route at that time of year. They seemed to be fine with that, but my preference is not to ride in the snow. For what it is worth, I believe it better to start early in the east and miss some of the heat on the eastern part of the trip, and also reduce the chance of snow on the western part of the trip.

I have never tried to take a bike along on the airlines. I have always been able to find a bike shop on both ends that would pack it, ship it, receive it, and unpack it for me. I will say that some bike shops are reluctant to get involved in the process. Too many of them have been sued over shipping damage.

Good luck on your ride.
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Old 03-05-08, 04:49 PM
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Best of luck on the trip. A cross country tour is really a great experience. Are you keeping a journal? If so let us know where so we can follow your progress.
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Old 03-05-08, 06:48 PM
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I battled this question last year before settling on Seattle first on the way to Boston. My logic didn't include winds, I've found they are inevitable. I caught head winds last summer heading eastward and a few years back heading west. I chose to come towards home for the simple reason that it leaves travel plans to be more flexible. By coming home, I was able to roll a few days early or late without worrying at all about a plane ticket. It relieved stress because I did end up making it there about 5 days early. Whichever you chose, it's going to be a great trip.

Have a blast with it!
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Old 03-09-08, 09:30 AM
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Actually - there is a difference.

Prevailing surface winds in the U.S. in many places do have a westerly component. I say that as someone who has cycled cross-country a half dozen times and has many thousands of touring miles in North America. The NOAA website has monthly maps with prevailing wind directions. Remember, that even though the prevailing wind may be one direction, you may encounter the opposite on any given day. My favorite was when I had an easterly wind cycling thru the Columbia River Gorge eastbound - then had the prevailing killer westerly cycling thru westbound the next year.

Having just finished a 1500-mile tour with lots of wind, I can assure you that nothing saps a cyclist more than headwinds - esp. headwinds day after day. I also know that the Great Plains region is the worst since there is so little ground cover to break the force of the wind. Not only are the winds stronger, there is nothing to hide behind. You can bike against a tiring light to moderate headwind. You really cannot against a strong headwind - you might get 20 or 30 miles max, not to mention having a much higher risk of accidents due to gusts and exhaustion.

Given the season for touring on the Northern Tier, the weather of the Western states is far nicer later in the summer than in late May or early June. Although the highway passes may be open, most of the campgrounds and hiking trails are still snowed in in the North Cascades and the Northern Rockies. That is one reason that many people choose to ride east to west. Another is the "Save dessert for last" motivation.

If you plan for a few headwind days and a few days off in the Great Plains, you can have a nice east to west trip. Remember, you can't beat the wind - it will always beat you. What you can do is to bike early. The wind usually picks up by noon and then blows pretty hard until evening. Sometimes there is an evening lull. Also, easterly winds usually precede bad weather. I don't suggest biking in thunderstorms, but those grey, drizzly days are usually accompanied by east winds. After a few scorching days, it may actually be nice to bike on a cool, rainy day. Then get a motel or a KOA campground with showers and a laundry.

For the western states here are average wind directions and speeds by month:

http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/htmlfiles/westwinddir.html
http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/htmlfiles/westwind.final.html

Other regional climate centers may have the data for the midwest and the northeast,
although the WRCC is most user friendly of the various regions.
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Old 03-09-08, 09:37 AM
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Originally Posted by jamawani View Post

Having just finished a 1500-mile tour
Welcome back. Tell us about your trip.
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Old 03-09-08, 01:45 PM
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Deep South - Black Belt

One of the poorest and remotest regions in the U.S.
Definitely not a first tour. Sobering.
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