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Transcontinental Tour, 01993

Little did I know just how far
this road would lead...

On the evening of July 13, 01993, I snapped a padlock shut on a storage facility in the hills of western Massachusetts, where all my worldly possessions would spend the next few months, and hopped on my bicycle.  Seconds later, I was riding west, not planning on stopping until I reached California.  San Francisco, to be exact.  At that moment the most profound thoughts of "What have I gotten myself into?" crossed my mind, but the sense that I was finally doing something that would expand my view of the world was more powerful.  At that time I had no idea that those would be the first kilometers of tens of thousands more, over many years, which would take me to many of the most fascinating places in the world.

Some of the fine details of that tour have faded into the mists of my memory, but this page gives a quick description of the route and my impressions of the trip.  One thing that strikes me as I look back on that tour is that I obviously didn't think anything of setting such an insane pace.  Ah, the exhilaration of youth.  Certainly, these days I would insist on doing a little more exploring along the way.  The map below shows the route, and statistics for the tour are in the sidebar.

The East

By midday of the first full day of the tour, I had already passed through the Berkshires of western Massachusetts and entered New York, the second of eleven states that the route would pass though.  At that point I was still a little disorganized, and my lack of experience was showing.  I passed much too close to the urban center of Albany, and made the poor choice of riding along the busy road, US 20, to cross most of the state.  However, the Finger Lakes region was quite pretty, and I didn't seem to be slowed down too much by the incessant headwinds that marked the first few days.  Before long, I arrived at Niagara Falls where I took a morning off to admire their impressive display.

In order to avoid the urban areas of northern Ohio and Indiana, I decided to cross into Canada for a brief period and traveled along the northern shore of Lake Erie.  There the terrain flattened out, relative to New York, which was a nice change, and the countryside took on a more agricultural flavor.  That section was fairly uneventful, the highlight being my discovery of one of my all-time favorite sites for free camping, at the top of some sandy cliffs overlooking the Lake near Port Burwell.  It was there that I decided that I would continue to camp in that manner indefinitely.

Pleased that I appeared to be making steady progress, I soon crossed the St. Clair River into Michigan on a small ferry. Things took a turn for the worse, shortly thereafter, as the next morning I discovered the first of two failures of my rear rim.  The eyelets had pulled out in several places, and even with my minimal bike repair knowledge at the time, I knew that meant trouble.  Fortunately, I looked up from the discouraging sight to see that I was standing right across the street from Alpine Cycles in Port Huron.  The nice folks there got me set right up with a replacement wheel sent out overnight from the factory.  During that brief wait, I at least had the chance to do some laundry, discover that pizza was my most favorite touring food, and take a relaxing swim in Lake Huron.  Once on the move again, I made rapid progress across the state, though often on rather bumpy roads.  In a few days, I was swimming in the third Great Lake that I would see during the tour, namely Lake Michigan, at Ludington.

Lake Canadarago, New York

Niagra Falls from the Canadian side

The Midwest

My route had taken me to Ludington, specifically to allow me to board the S.S.  Badger, the large ferry that crosses Lake Michigan.  That seemed like a fun alternative to navigating around Chicago, and though the weather was not very good on that day, it was a refreshing change of pace.  Up next was Wisconsin, and I had mixed experiences there.  I found the state to be very scenic, and there were some very nice cycling conditions.  I also took the time to take two short tours off the bike, one of the Trek Bicycle Factory in Waterloo, where my bike had been manufactured, and another at Frank Lloyd Wright's home and school, Taliesin in Spring Green.  Both of those visits were very enlightening and added a lot to my trip.  In particular, I was a little bemused as I entered the Trek factory that I did not see a big rack of employee's bikes parked outside the factory on such a beautiful day.  Much to my delight, I soon noticed a spectacular indoor parking facility for just that purpose.  A nice touch, indeed.

As I approached the western edge of the state, I began to see the aftermath of the Great Mississippi Flood of 01993.  That particular cataclysm was of great concern to me just before the start of the tour.  In fact, I was very worried that there would be no practical way to ride across the great river.  Since I had never before been west of the Mississippi, and doing so by bike was one of my primary goals of the tour, I feared that Nature might put a big kink into my plans.  Fortunately, the waters had receded to near normal only a couple of weeks before I arrived (only to rise up again a few weeks later.)  That was the only bit of good luck I had experienced for a while.  I was still having big problems with flats, and wheels in general.  The situation seemed to be getting worse, and I was beginning to fear that I would eventually have to abandon the tour.

In Iowa, things changed for the better, and not a moment too soon.  For the first time, I had several days in a row with no, or light, adverse winds, which made a huge difference in my mood.  There was also the generally flat terrain of the state, and many classic midwestern small towns which were very pleasant places to take my rest breaks.  But the best bit of good fortune came during my first morning in the state.  As I approached the little town of Decorah, I started noticing an inordinate number of other cyclists out on the roads.  While quite a welcome sight, I was a bit baffled, since I had grown accustomed to seeing very few others in recent days.  The numbers of my two-wheeled compatriots continued to rise as I entered the center of town, and it was there that I realized what had just happened.  I had run head-first into RAGBRAI.  That slightly clunky acronym refers to one of the best-known cross-state organized group tours.  In those days, however, I was very much out-of-the-loop in the bicycling world, and had never heard of such a thing.  No mind, as meeting a few thousand other riders out having a good time really lifted my spirits when they needed it the most.  Of course, I stopped right there and spent the rest of the day enjoying the fabulous festivities.  After that great, if unexpected, encounter I literally flew across the rest of the state, recharged with a new level of confidence and enthusiasm.

Crossing into South Dakota was an event that I had been really looking forward to for many days.  It was there that I entered the Great Plains, and felt for the first time during the tour that I was in unfamiliar surroundings.  I had never been in a region such as that before, and from that point on, every place that I would see would be a very new experience.  As expected, the winds restarted their howling ways, choosing to blow mostly into my face for several days.  At that point, however, I was finally beginning to hit my stride, and I continued to make good progress towards the west.  At the far end of the state I took a day off to visit Badlands National Park, the first park that I ever visited on a bicycle.  The weathered rock formations there provided such a stark contrast to anything that I had seen before, that Badlands still remains among my favorite parks.  Before leaving South Dakota, I passed through Custer State Park , in the famous Black Hills, where I saw my first examples of wild bison.  That was quite a sight for an east-coast fellow like myself.

The Wisconsin shoreline of Lake Michigan

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, Spring Green Wisconsin

RAGBRAI comes to Decorah, Iowa

Morning near Ashton, Iowa

The Mountain West

As I entered Wyoming, the environment around me really began to change, as expected.  I was quite surprised at just how desert-like the eastern part of the state was.  I had never realized the extent of the great Western Desert until that point.  There were many fascinating sights and encounters in that region, and one of the most memorable was my first encounter with the famous pronghorns of the plains.  I was riding along a quiet stretch of highway, when out of nowhere a pronghorn buck passed me from behind, joined a few seconds later by his mate.  Not knowing exactly what to do, I followed along, riding as fast as I could possibly go.  For a short while they tolerated me, and I kept close enough that I could almost reach out to touch the tip of their tails.  They were simply toying with me, however, and in a few seconds they both accelerated to what seemed like 90 km/h, and then in one graceful leap, jumped a nearby fence and disappeared onto the prairie.  That is one memory from this tour that will remain with me forever.

All was not perfect, however, and just as I had left the town of Gillette, I pulled the eyelets out of my rear rim for the second time.  Limping back into town, I found another shop to help me, though it took a little longer to get the repair done this time.  Perhaps that was for the best because just ahead were most of the major mountain passes of the tour.  This first of these, and my first high pass ever, was the Bighorn, or Medicine Wheel, Pass, just west of Sheridan.  That was a significant climb of 1,400 meters, topping out at 2,930 meters, and I was quite pleased with myself for making it up in reasonable shape.  Near the summit I stopped to visit the Bighorn Medicine Wheel historic site.  The quiet solitude of the alpine country was very new, and inspiring, to me and thinking about the peoples who had held that place scared for centuries gave me a very new perspective. 

Continuing on, my next goal was, obviously a wonderful visit to Yellowstone National Park.  There is not much that I can say to add to the well-deserved reputation that the park holds.  In spite of some rather poor cycling conditions, my visit there was by far the highlight of the entire tour.  The weather, which had been rather poor the previous day, decided to cooperate and just as I crossed Sylvan Pass at the east gate, the skies turned blue.  So I decided to spend the next three days there, camping at the hiker-biker sites at Bridge Bay.  The first two days were spent mostly off the bike, and on the third I took a ride around the lower loop.  On that ride, I had one of those special experiences that don't come around very often.  I had stopped to take a quick look, and for a brief rest, at the Daisy geyser basin.  Things were pretty calm there, and I was the only human to be seen in the entire basin.  Just then, several geysers decided to erupt and spewed their liquid ejecta high into the air.  It was as if they were performing solely for my benefit, and I greatly appreciated their effort.  The rest of the park was equally fascinating, and I have yet to see a more impressive display of either wildlife or geology.  Though the rangers did tend to look at cyclists with a bit of perplexed concern.

It was also in the park area that I met several other solo or small-group tourists, the first examples that I had seen so far.  I was really nice to chat for a while and compare notes from the roads, and that reinforced my feeling that I was doing all right after all.  Leaving Yellowstone, I swung south to visit Grand Teton National Park.  There, I rode along the fantastic Jenny Lake road, took a great hike into the mountains, and camped at an excellent hiker-biker campground at the base of Mount Moran.  My last section in Wyoming took me thought the tourist town of Jackson, where I stopped long enough to go on a chilling, but really fun, whitewater raft trip on the Snake River.

Idaho came next, and I chose a route across the southern part of the state.  That took me back out into the desert once again, and proved to be a tough, but interesting section as well.  There were some unusual sights along the way, such as the Craters of the Moon National Monument, which lies at the center of a 300-km wide lava field, and Bruneau Dunes, which really gave me the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere.

The entire town of Spotted Horse, Wyoming

Climbing the Medicine Wheel Pass Wyoming, Elv. 2,930 meters

The amazing Yellowstone Falls

Old Faithful, Yellowstone, N.P.

The Continental Divide, in Yellowstone .N.P.

The West Coast

Crossing into Oregon, I began to feel a strong desire to see the ocean after crossing a several hundred kilometers of desert.  To achieve that, I began to increase my daily distances.  Even today, I am rather amazed that I maintained that pace through some fairly rugged terrain.  That doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy that section, far from it.  In fact, it did not take me long to realize that Oregon is probably my favorite U.S.  state for cycling.  The eastern part of the state had some impressive scenery, but it was when I crested the Cascades that I really felt inspired.  That crossing took place on the McKenzie Pass Highway, west of Sisters, which, even today, remains one of my very favorite cycling roads.  In addition to the amazing scenery, and the subsequent transition to thick coastal forest, that pass gave me the feeling that I would, without a doubt, complete my tour as planned.

From there, I continued to make a bee line for the coast, eventually encountering the mighty Pacific, for the first time in my life, at Florence.  I must admit to feeling rather emotional as I stood there watching the Sun set over the waves.  At that point, I turned south still heading for my final destination of San Francisco.  The coastal route is deservedly famous for its scenery and great cycling, and I concurred with that assessment as well.  I had a fabulous time on that part of the route, and both the weather, and my physical and mental conditions were in good form, which made things even better.  Some of the best sights along the way were in Honeyman State Park at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, and Samuel Boardman State Park.  I was still travelling fairly quickly, but I had the feeling that I would definitely be back to that area again in the future, so I was not too concerned about missing anything.

When I crossed into California, I almost could not believe it.  The tour so far had seemed both very long, and very brief.  There was still a lot to see, however, along the splendid California coast, and that would definitely make for a great finale to the trip.  The first, and perhaps most awe-inspiring, place along the way was the region where mighty Redwoods still grow.  I was directed by a ranger to camp at the Flint Ridge campground in Redwood National Park, which sits atop a bluff near the mouth of the Klamath River.  My first sighting of the big trees there remains one of the most memorable moments of my life.  Unfortunately, I could not spend too much time in sightseeing along that section, as I was expected in San Francisco before long.  In fact, I made things much harder for myself when I mistakenly told my sister, who planned to meet me there, that I would arrive on Wednesday, when I really should have said Thursday.  That error forced me to put in some really long days over very hilly terrain.  I have repeated parts of that section of the route over the years, and I am still amazed that I was able to cover such long distances back then. 

Nevertheless, before much longer I was rolling my wheels over the Golden Gate Bridge.  The 49 days of the tour had seemed to go by much too quickly.  Though it was only my first tour, I had become accustomed to the touring lifestyle, and I was already thinking about grander plans for the future.  In fact, had I not been running short of cash I may have simply kept on going right then, and I don't think I would have regretted that decision.

Picture Gorge, near Dayville, Oregon

My very first view of the Pacific Ocean, near Florence, Oregon

The Tour ends on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge

Past Tours List


Just after I had finished my graduate studies in Massachusetts, I suddenly found myself with a few months of time to kill before my new job on the west coast was ready to begin.  For some inexplicable reason, I decided that I would ride my bicycle to my new home on the other side of the continent.  In context, that seemed like a truly strange decision.  I had no idea at the time that people actually did such things, and since the Web was only in its infancy back then, I did not have the access to the combined wisdom and experience of the touring community that we are so fortunate to have readily available today.  Combine that with the facts that at that time I only bicycled for fun and fitness, and was bound by the very tight budget of a starving student, and it is no wonder that I had to learn the basics of touring in a trial by fire.  To be sure, I made plenty of mistakes on that trip, but it was in so doing that I realized just how creative one can be when pressed by unusual circumstances.  That lesson has served me well in all of my subsequent trips.

Probably the biggest error that I made was ignoring the advice of one of the wrenches at a local bike shop before I left.  I mentioned what I was planning to do and asked if he had any tips for me.  He recommended using a bike with the largest tires possible.  However, I had already spent all of my meager budget for equipment and decided to make do with the 25-mm tires on my sport-touring-type bike.  A huge mistake.  I was plagued by flat tires starting on the very first day, and stopped counting after fixing the first thirty punctures.  Even worse, my rear rim failed—twice, causing me to lose several days of travel.  The situation was so bad that I seriously doubted whether I would be able to finish the tour.  Somehow, I managed to struggle onward and finished after all, though I did need to fix my last flat just two or three kilometers from my final destination.  Nowadays, of course, I have learned that lesson well, and probably overcompensate by using some truly tough tires.

There were many other aspects of touring that I didn't catch on to until after the tour had started as well.  I bonked before lunchtime on the very first day, and learned to eat a larger breakfast.  I spent the first two weeks getting blasted by high-speed traffic, and learned that the shortest road is not always the best.  I spent a few nights sleeping in ditches before I learned new skills for locating appropriate places to camp.  I wore many articles of clothing that were not appropriate, and learned the true meaning of the word saddlesores  But most of all I learned that there are lot of amazing places out in the world, and making the significant effort required to see them using only one's own power makes the experience immensely more gratifying.

In the years since that tour, I have read many other tourist's accounts of their own first tours  I am frequently interested to see that almost everyone made many of the same mistakes that I did, and, more often than not, they resolved them in a similar manner as well.  This, I feel, indicates a level of resourcefulness that we all have in common but, unfortunately, rarely need to develop fully.  It's too bad that so many people will never come to realize that in themselves.

Ride Log

July 13

Montague, MA to Charlemont
Distance: 49 km
Roads: MA 2
Conditions: Pleasant

July 14

Charlemont to Altamont, N.Y.
Distance: 133 km
Roads: MA 2; NY 7; local Rtes. 155, 156
Conditions: Pleasant

July 15

S. of Altamont to Morrisville
Distance: 158 km
Roads: Local 155; US 20
Conditions: Windy

July 16

Morrisville to Geneva
Distance: 144 km
Roads: US 20
Conditions: Windy

July 17

Geneva to Rapids
Distance: 174 km
Roads: US 20; NY 5; local roads
Conditions: Pleasant

July 18

Rapids to Sherkton Shores, Ont., Canada
Distance: 110 km
Roads: Local roads; Niagara River Parkway; ONT 3
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: Niagra Falls

July 19

Sherkton to Port Burwell
Distance: 170 km
Roads: ONT 3; local Rds.; ONT 6, ONT 24; Rte. 42
Conditions: Overcast
Sights: Lake Erie

July 20

Port Burwell to Marine City, Michigan
Distance: 183 km
Roads: Rte.42, Rte. 20, ONT 3, ONT 76, ONT 80, Sambra Ferry
Conditions: Windy

July 21

Marine City to Port Huron
Distance: 34 km
Roads: MI 29
Conditions: Mechanical Failure; Broken rear rim.
Sights: Lake Huron

July 22

Port Huron to Mayville
Distance: 121 km
Roads: MI 29; MI 90; local Rd; Rte. 17
Conditions: Pleasant

July 23

Mayville to Claire
Distance: 182 km
Roads: MI 15; MI 13; local Rds
Conditions: Pleasant

July 24

Claire to Ludington
Distance: 164 km
Roads: US 10
Conditions: Cloudy

July 25

Ludington to Manitowoc
Distance: 0 km
Roads: Lake Michigan Ferry
Conditions: Light rain

July 26

Manitowoc to Hustisford
Distance: 187 km
Roads: Local Rds; WI 32; WI 144, local Rds.; WI 60
Conditions: Windy

July 27

Hustisford to Black Earth
Distance: 134 km
Roads: Local Rds.; WI 19, local Rds. WI 60
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: TREK Bicycle Factory tour, Waterloo

July 28

Black Earth to Millville
Distance: 135 km
Roads: WI 60; Rte. C
Conditions: Windy
Sights: Taliesin tour, Spring Green

July 29

Milleville to Decorah, Iowa
Distance: 105 km
Roads: US 18; IA 76; local Rd.
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: RAGBRAI Encounter, Decorah

July 30

Decorah to Clear Lake
Distance: 195 km
Roads: IA 9; Rte. S56; Rte. B43, IA 107
Conditions: Pleasant

July 31

Clear Lake to Ashton
Distance: 206 km
Roads: Rte. S14; Rte A42; IA 4; Rte. A34
Conditions: Pleasant, with afternoon thunderstorm

August 1

Ashton to Clayton, S.D.
Distance: 171 km
Roads: Rte. A34; Rte. A42; US 18; SD 44
Conditions: Very windy

August 2

Clayton to Winner
Distance: 198 km
Roads: SD 44
Conditions: Windy

August 3

Winner to Kadoka
Distance: 182 km
Roads: SD 44; SD73
Conditions: Pleasant

August 4

Kadoka to Interior
Distance: 63 km
Roads: I-90 frontage Rd.; SD 240
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: Badlands N.P.

August 5

Interior to New Underwood
Distance: 111 km
Roads: SD 240; I-90
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: Badlands N.P.

August 6

New Underwood to Custer St. Park
Distance: 89 km
Roads: SD 44; SD79; SD 36
Conditions: Showers, and a huge storm with hail

August 7

Custer SP to near Wright, Wyoming
Distance: 167 km
Roads: SD 36, US 18; WY 450
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: Custer SP

August 8

Wright to Gillette
Distance: 93 km
Roads: WY 450; WY 59
Conditions: Mechanical failure: Broken rear rim again

August 9

Conditions: Repair day in Gillette

August 10

Gillette to Dayton
Distance: 214 km
Roads: US 14; I-90; US 14
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: Medicine Wheel Pass, 2930 meters

August 11

Dayton to Bighorn Lake
Distance: 119 km
Roads: US 14; US 14-alt
Conditions: Pleasant

August 12

Bighorn Lake to Pahaska
Distance: 183 km
Roads: US 14-alt; US 14
Conditions: Light afternoon rain, showers

Aug 13

Pahaska to Canyon Center/Bridge Bay, Yellowstone, N.P.
Distance: 116 km
Roads: US 13; US 89
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: Yellowstone, N.P.

August 14

Sights: Yellowstone, N.P.

August 15

Lower Loop Circuit
Distance: 167 km
Roads: Lower loop roads
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: Yellowstone, N.P.

August 16

Bridge Bay to Jenny Lake, Grand Teton, NP
Distance: 130 km
Roads: US 89; Teton Park Rd.; Jenny Lake Rd.
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: Grand Teton, N.P.

August 17

Jenny Lake to Jackson
Distance: 38 km
Roads: Teton Park Rd.; US 89
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: Snake River whitewater trip

August 18

Jackson to W. of Idaho Falls, Idaho
Distance: 179 km
Roads: US 20, WY 22; ID 33, ID 31; US 20
Conditions: Pleasant

August 19

W. of Idaho Falls to Carey
Distance: 171 km
Roads: US 20
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: Craters of the Moon N.M.

August 20

Carey to Bruneau
Distance: 206 km
Roads: US 26; I-84 frontage Rd; ID 78
Conditions: Windy

August 21

Bruneau to near Owyhee, Oregon
Distance: 180 km
Roads: ID 78; US 95; OR 19; OR 201
Conditions: Pleasant

August 22

Owyhee to Prairie City
Distance: 188 km
Roads: Lytle Rd. US 26
Conditions: Pleasant

August 23

Prairie City to Ochoho Pass
Distance: 206 km
Roads: US 26
Conditions: Windy

August 24

Ochoho Pass to McKenzie Bridge
Distance: 190 km
Roads: US 26; OR 242;
OR 126
Conditions: Pleasant, but cool
Sights: McKenkie Pass, 1,630 meters

August 25

McKenzie Bridge to Florence
Distance: 212 km
Roads: OR 126; US 101
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: Pacific Ocean

Aug 26

Florence to Port Orford
Distance: 179 km
Roads: US 101
Conditions: Pleasant

August 27

Port Orford to near Crescent City, Ca.
Distance: 142 km
Roads: US 101
Conditions: Pleasant

August 28

Crescent City to Klamath
Distance: 47 km
Roads: US 101
Conditions: Pleasant
Sights: Redwood, N.P.

August 29

Klamath to Benbow Lake
Distance: 230 km
Roads: Drury Parkway; US 101; local roads, US 101, Ave. of the Giants, US 101
Conditions: Pleasant

August 30

Benbow Lake to Manchester
Distance: 185 km
Roads: US 101; CA 1
Conditions: Pleasant

August 31

Manchester to Bodega Bay
Distance: 129 km
Roads: CA 1
Conditions: Pleasant

September 1

Bodega Bay to San Francisco
Distance: 116 km
Roads: CA 1; local roads, Golden Gate Br.
Conditions: Pleasant

Total Distance

7332 km