When I was young and naïve I thought I could ride from Colorado to California by bike. So I tried, and failed. If you’ve ever ridden in Wyoming or Nevada, you’re probably thinking – “He doesn’t know how lucky he was!”
True, but failure taught me a thing or two about touring and those lessons were not forgotten on my Alps tours of 1985-86.
My trip lasted all of two days. Having just graduated from college and with nothing better to do, I set off one summer day from Fort Collins, heading north on Hwy 287. Everything went well until I reached Laramie, Wyoming.
Then, like a chapter out of A Series of Unfortunate Events, things took a turn for the worse. I continued riding west on Interstate 80 (it’s legal) through mile after mile of sagebrush. The road stretched to the horizon, an endless ribbon of pavement.
A rainstorm blew by and cooled me off, I almost rode into the back of a parked moving van, and when I finally stopped for the night, I had no place to sleep. Without a tent all I could do was lie down next to the road in my sleeping bag as 18-wheelers roared by through the night. Mosquitoes from miles around came to check out the crazy cyclist.
Morning couldn’t come soon enough. I got up and ate a candy bar and set off, already tired. This was just the beginning. I would have thieves try to steal my touring bags at night and 105 degree temperatures in Cache Creek Canyon outside Woodland, California.
Wyoming is famous for its cowboys, its antelope, and its wind. As I headed west, the wind headed east. This was not just any wind. It was a steady 40-50 mph hurricane. Even on the descents I had to pedal. My thumb came out and fortunately someone took pity.
I got a lift into Rawlins and climbed aboard the Train from Hell. This was 1974 in the early days of Amtrak, when freight had priority. My train arrived in Sacramento 24 hours behind schedule.
After that disaster, here’s what I learned about distance touring:
1) Bring your credit card. Ride long and hard, then find a hotel where you can take a hot shower and have a good meal.
2) Go with a friend or two. Consider the savings when the cost of the hotel room is divided two, three, or four ways.
3) If you choose to ride across the country, start in California and follow the winds east (for the most part).
4) Ride through lush green countryside where there are plenty of hotels and towns along the way. That would be Europe and some parts of the U.S.