If you’re reading this… Congratulations! You’ve made it to the final section of my website. Trust me, I’ve saved the best part for last. Grab yourself a drink and kick your feet up while I tell you about my once in a lifetime experience.
Where did you come up with that idea?
I’ll take you back to last year, around October of 2015. I was working a part-time job to pay bills since I was having trouble finding a full-time job that I wanted. It was ok, nothing special. But I was growing impatient and bored with not only that job, but my life in general. I wanted to break out of the mundane routine of going to work, paying bills, complaining about life, going to sleep, blah blah blah, you get the gist. I wanted to do something extraordinary and possibly life-changing. I started brainstorming ideas during my free time. The brainstorming continued for a few weeks…
Finally, it hit me! Why don’t I travel across the country on a bicycle?! After all, I’ve always wanted to travel the country. This makes perfect sense. I’ve never been to the west coast, or any other part of the country outside of the east coast for that matter. “But that’s going to take you forever! You can’t just drop everything and leave for a few months!”, you might be saying. Why not? I have some things working in my favor. I am not married, I don’t have kids, I don’t have a home mortgage, and I’m not knee deep in my career yet. And the company where I held my part time job was going out of business in a month or two. There is really nothing holding me back from doing a trip like this. So my mind was made up, I was going to ride my bike across the country.
Recruiting the team
This trip sounded so amazing on paper, but I also realized that it could be very dangerous and difficult to do it alone. I figured it would be beneficial to do the trip with at least one other person. I quickly had two people in mind that I knew were in a very similar point in their lives – two good friends I went to college with and lived with for a few years. I called them up, pitched the idea and just like that, they were on board! I didn’t even really have to sell it. I think they were almost waiting for a phone call like that one. Looking back on it now, we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into. But at the time, it seemed like a no-brainer. Regardless, we were all extremely excited to take a break from life for a while and experience something like never before.
We decided to start the trip in the spring of 2016, leaving us roughly 5-6 months to prepare. Considering we were starting from scratch – no prior experience, no gear, and most importantly, no bikes! – we felt that 5-6 months was enough time to get ready.
First order of business was figuring out a starting point, end point, and a route. This took us forever to finalize for a number of reasons I won’t get into, but we came to an agreement on starting somewhere on the NJ shoreline and finishing in the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco, CA. We wanted to go ocean to ocean. During our research, we happened to stumble upon an extremely useful resource to help us with our route – the Adventure Cycling Association. They have a network of bike routes that have been mapped out by previous riders (coast to coast routes, north to south routes, and everything in between). We decided to piece together a few of their routes to make our own. We would create our own route using Google Maps for the first third of the trip. Then jump on their most famous “Transamerica Trail“, which goes from Yorktown, VA to Astoria, OR. We would connect with that route somewhere in Missouri. From the TransAmerica Trail, we would ride to Pueblo, CO where it connects with another route called the “Western Express“. This route takes us from Pueblo through Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California with a destination of San Francisco.
The shopping list
Second order of business was finding bikes and all of our gear. This took the better part of the 5-6 months that we had to prepare. We spent countless nights having FaceTime conferences discussing different equipment, bikes, clothing, you name it. Hours and hours of research every day takes its toll on you, but it was all worth it in the end. We decided to get our bikes from REI, a well known and reputable outdoors shop. The Navarra Randonee was the weapon of choice for a variety of reasons – a touring style bike, steel frame, hybrid tires, rack mounts, and wide gearing range for climbing hills. It was around $1,200 but we knew the one piece of equipment not to skimp out on was our means of transportation.
Now on to carrying our gear. We discovered panniers, (nobody in the cycling community seems to pronounce that word the same), which are essentially waterproof duffel bags that can attach to your metal bike rack. They can carry a decent amount of gear, keep it dry, and most importantly keep weight off your back and onto the bike. After that, we each purchased our own tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads. We decided to share some other camping items like a camp stove, pots and pans, fuel, lighting, etc. Then it was time for miscellaneous items that would come in handy – bike repair tools, spare bike parts, pocket knives, tape, zip ties, rope, batteries, solar powered phone chargers, cameras, etc.
Finally, what clothes would we bring? It can’t be that hard to pack clothes right? Since we were leaving on May 2nd and going into the summer, we packed mostly summer clothes (cycling shorts, gym shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, etc). But spring in the northeast can still have some cold weather and we will be up in the mountains at certain points in time, so we had to pack some warm clothes. So add in a pair of sweatpants and sweatshirt for sleeping… and gloves and a winter hat for good measure. But what if its cold while riding? Add in some base layer compression shirts and pants. What if it rains on us? Throw in a rain jacket. What if we can’t do laundry as much as we need to? We’ll just pack five more pairs of underwear and socks just to be safe! The list went on and on. As it turns out, we didn’t even need half of the clothes we packed – go figure. (We’ll blame that on our inexperience). We actually ended up shipping most of our clothes back home while we were in Missouri.
Now fast forward a few months to the end of April, 2016…
The final week
Wow! Those five months flew by. Here we are just a week before departing. There were still plenty of things we needed to check off our list though. Our bikes just got finished being assembled (we had to order them since the store didn’t have the correct sizes). So we just got our bikes with a week to do some dry runs and get used to riding them. We also still were waiting on some items we ordered from Amazon. Things were coming down to the wire. Finally, our final shipments came in just a few days before leaving. We started organizing all of our stuff we would be bringing and checking them off our long list.
My one friend who is coming on the trip with me has a brother who was living in a house near the beach at the time. We thought it would be a good idea to stay at his house the night before so we could just wake up that morning and ride a few blocks to the ocean. We took our bikes and all of our gear to his house the night before and began packing. Things had to be packed strategically. Items that we would need immediately, such as rain jacket or tools, had to be easily accessible. Items not so immediate would be at the bottom of our panniers (bike duffel bags). It was also important to make sure both panniers were balanced in weight so the bike isn’t leaning left or right. There were a lot of things to consider when properly packing up our gear. Needless to say, this took all night. We finally hit the sack around 1 AM and got some rest. After all, this would be the last night we slept somewhere familiar.
The day has come! May 2, 2016
We woke up pretty early around 6 AM, made breakfast and coffee. We were hoping that morning would be sunny and warm like early May often is, but of course that didn’t happen. It was cloudy, cold, and lightly raining. Little did we know, but this weather was going to be the norm for the first two weeks of our trip! Oh well. We got dressed and finished packing up our bikes.
My parents were going to meet us at the beach. They both had work that day, but they wanted to be there when we took off to wish us good luck. We left the house and rode a half mile to our starting point at the beach. This was the first time all of us were riding with a fully packed bike. These bikes were HEAVY! It definitely was going to take a little time to get used to the handling. After a wobbly half mile, we got to the beach where my parents were waiting. We took some time to take a few group pictures and soak it all in. The next time we see an ocean, we’ll be looking at the Pacific about 4,000 miles on the other side of the continent. Thats when all the emotions set in. We were excited and anxious, but a little sad and definitely nervous at the same time. It felt like that first day high school when you didn’t know what to expect. It was just a weird feeling knowing that for the next two-three months, we weren’t going to see our family and friends. We weren’t going to know where we would be sleeping each night, or where we would get our next meal. Just a lot of uncertainty. But one thing was for certain – this was going to be the adventure of a lifetime! We saddled up, started pedaling west, and never turned back!
I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story. I hope you enjoy it!
If anybody ever has the opportunity to do a trip like this, I HIGHLY recommend it. Trust me, you will not regret it one bit. It was a life-changing experience that provided me with amazing memories that I’ll never forget.