Ok, so you’ve decided you actually want to try to do this. This section provides suggestions for the things that you should try to do prior to making any monetary investments. Before you go out and spend any money or do anything too impactful, make sure you have all these basics down…
Are you going to go with a tour and/or any support vehicles?
This should be among the first things that you figure out. Are you going to go independently? Are you going to go with a support vehicle? Are you going to go with an organized tour group? Depending on your answer to these questions, the money and preparation needed to do the trip may vary dramatically. Each one of these options has their own pros and cons. Having partaken in several different styles of trips, and talking at lengths with others who have done the same, I can confidentially tell you that you will have an extraordinary time with any of the above options. That being said, your trip will also be different with each option. This website caters towards people who will not be biking with an organized tour, because organized tours are already ORGANIZED. You don’t really need to prepare for several of the challenges discussed on Bike Across America.
What are your objectives for the trip?
Yes, of course you want to bike across America, but what do you want to do exactly. Set some goals for your trip. Maybe you want to raise money for charity, see certain cities, or visit some specific attractions. They don’t have to be lofty ambitions. When I biked across the United States, I wanted to make sure I ate barbeque in Texas, visited certain bars in New Orleans, went to the civil rights museum in Birmingham, and had a cheese steak in Philadelphia. You may think some, or even all, of those are kind of stupid goals, but that’s beyond the point. I found that having these objectives not only created a sense of accomplishment upon completion, but, more importantly, kept the trip online. There was always something to keep going towards.
You may also want to set up some rules to address potential problems which may arise, a trip “constitution” if you will… Are you going to allow yourself to quit if you are not having fun on the trip? What are you going to do if your bike and/or gear is stolen? What will you do if you get sick? What will you do if you get injured? Are you going to bike in prolonged rain? Etc.etc.etc. Don’t get too bogged down in all of the outlandish “what ifs,” but you may find solving these questions ahead of time helps guide and solidify your travel plans.
Where are you going?
Of course this is a really obvious question. The first basic thing to answer is are you going to go east to west or west to east. More people tend to go west to east because you will get a more favorable wind. Obviously you can start and finish at any point you please.
Your route should ultimately go wherever you want it to go. I would suggest starting with a big list of all of the places in the country that you would like to visit and/or bike through. Then try to find a rough route which could maximize your ability to see the things you want to see.
When it comes to planning the step by step details of your route, you do not need to have everything perfectly mapped out before you leave home. I found it useful to identify several large, “milestone” cities spaced about a week apart from each other. Every time I reached one of these cities, I would sit down and plan how to get to the next milestone.
Using Google maps is a fantastic way to plan your route, however I would be cautious when using the “bike directions” tool because it often times will have you taking unmaintained dirt paths which may be closed or go over rough terrain. Instead, I prefer to use driving directions while checking the two boxes for “Avoid Highways” and “Avoid Tolls.” Google maps is awesome, but not perfect. There are some roads it says you can take, which you cannot (for example, roads though military bases or privately owned land), and vice versa.
You can ride a bike on almost every road in the country unless it is explicitly posted otherwise. The one thing you do need to be extremely mindful of is avoiding major bridges and tunnels, as they tend to have no shoulder and high velocity traffic. Riding on Interstates is never a fantastic idea, but it is sometimes allowable, and even mandatory in a few cases (such as near the Mexican border in some areas). I’ve asked everyone, even law enforcement, about the legality of riding on interstates, and I have never gotten a straight satisfying answer. The general rule of thumb is that you are allowed to ride on an Interstate if there is no viable alternative road. Do not worry too much about the legal repercussions of riding on an Interstate; on the off chance that a cop does pull you over, they will probably just want to make sure you are safe.
When are you going, and what is your timeline?
Set a date, do it as soon as possible! Its cliché, but true; the longer you wait, the less likely you are to ever do it. It’s obviously advisable to plan your trip away from the snow during the winter and away from the desert during the summer. Nevertheless, it is possible to do any route at anytime of the year (especially the desert in the summer) as long as you plan and train properly. The vast majority of people who bike across America seem to average between 50-100 miles per day, with an off day every week or so. By no means does this need to be your pace, but it may help to give you a general idea of what your trip may be like. With this average pace, you can expect the trip to take around 2-3 months.