My Route

For more detailed maps, scroll down through the blog. Click on any one to enlarge it; use the backspace button to return to the blog. That goes for the photos, too.


PROLOGUE #1: How It All Began

This trip didn’t start on the East Coast of the US. In fact, when this trip started, it could have just as well been the West. It could have started in Virginia and ended in California. In fact, it didn’t start in North America at all: it started during a morning tea break, here in Brighton UK, on a regular workday in September 2006.

As usual, I was browsing the Guardian online. I noticed a feature called ‘Netjetters’: basically, a series of weblogs from various people getting up to exciting journeys. The one that caught my eye was by Susan Greenwood, a freelance PR copywriter for the Guardian who was attempting to cycle across the US from the East Coast to the West over three months, using the TransAmerica cycle path. I was hooked from the start – in fact, before the start. I was hooked from the introduction, and it was clear that her unfolding story was rekindling in me a desire to get back on my touring bike – to re-connect with the person I was age 18 when I cycled Lands End to John o’Groats with my friend John.

We took a long, meandering route. The point wasn’t to do it fast, or by the most direct route, but to explore Britain and visit as many landmarks as we could link together. We saw Dartmoor, Cheddar Gorge, Thomas Hardy’s cottage, the river where Constable painted The Haywain, Salisbury Cathedral, Stonehenge, Avebury, Bath, Shakespeare’s cottage, Bakewell (for the tarts), the Pennine Way, the Yorkshire Dales, Ambleside and Lake Windermere, Hadrian’s Wall… all that and more, before returning to the more familiar sites of Scotland. I still remember the long slog over the Forth Bridge, the beauty of Perthshire and the Highlands beyond. I still remember the two of us arriving at John o’Groats on a cold, wet day surrounded by grey clouds, and a twist of sadness in the midst of celebration in recognition that it wasn’t the arrival that counted after all; it was the journey.

My passion for cycle touring was sincere enough, but not very robust: once Edinburgh University had got its social claws into me, it just softly faded away. But, as it turns out, it didn’t take much to bring it back. I first mentioned the idea of a grand Trans-America trip to my friend Edward, as a postscript to an email about noise-cancelling headphones:

From: John
To: Edward
Sent: 14 September 2006
Subject: Take two pairs of headphones into the shower?

OK, sound-isolating. They don't say which model and I've forgotten, but they’re semi-transparent like those 80's Swatch watches or those top-of-the-range earphones you were dreaming about (though they're not). Cost about £50 a couple of years ago and were well recommended at the time. Oh, and they come in a cool black pouch.

Now here’s a thing: I've decided to take some time out next year to go on a cycling adventure. Partly inspired by Susan Greenwood's Netjetters column in the Guardian (, I'm planning a 4-month Trans-America trip. I know it sounds crazy, but there are so many National Parks I want to visit, and I love small-town rural America (as long as you keep clear of the red-necks, not to mention the bears, moose and rattlesnakes...). So what do you say, want to come with?

From: Edward
To: John
Sent: 15 September 2006
Subject: Trans-America

It's very nice of you to ask, I'm not sure I'd wish four months of me on anyone... it needs some serious thinking about. There are attractions (by God I'd be fit, National Parks, four months off work) and difficulties (hard to organise, long time away from the UK, cost). Let me mull it and discuss with Ewa, OK?

From: John
To: Edward
Sent: 15 September 2006
Subject: Trans-America

I'm not sure I'd wish four months of me on anyone, either. But I'm beginning to formulate a plan. Since starting to think about this in a semi-realistic way I've mentioned it to a couple of friends and so far the response has been similar to yours: “great idea, but, wow, four months”. I'm not against doing it on my own, but there are many good reasons to go with someone else. At the most basic level, if someone has an accident you have backup. And then, although cycling's a solitary pursuit, there's the value of companionship after a long day in the saddle. Now here's the plan:

I’ll basically do it on my own, but ask friends to come along for parts of the route, depending on how much time they can take off work and where they want to go. So, for example, one friend may come along for the Yellowstone bit. Another thinks Oregon sounds mighty nice. Well, you get the idea. Keep thinking it over, and as an aid to thinking, check out the Adventure Cycling Association's TransAmerica Trial. I'm also looking at their Northern Tier route. John.

From: Edward
To: John
Sent: 15 September 2006
Subject: Trans-America

Perfect. Ewa and I were just discussing this, and decided that I'd get back to you and suggest that you get both of us for one month instead. This would be very conditional on Ewa getting appropriately fit, which she isn't, and I would be very stringent about that - I wouldn't want her to come and then not be able to do it. She's very keen, though, so I think it's a realistic possibility. Would that be any use to you?

From: John
To: Edward
Sent: 15 September 2006
Subject: Trans-America

This could pick up momentum quicker than I'd thought! I'd imagined a healthy dose of "get real" rather than "can I come with?" But it's really encouraging and is starting to convince me that I'm on to something. Technically, the cycling should take 3 months, but I'm adding in a week at the start to get fixed up and at the end to come down, plus some time mid-route to compensate for exhaustion / things going awry / just wanting to laze and look at scenery.

Keep thinking it over,

PROLOGUE #2: Logistics, Part One

How far do I plan cycling each day? I spent quite a lot of time obsessing over this, starting with choosing my route and calculating the total distance. The classic TransAmerica is 4,262 miles. The Northern Tier is 4,322. Mine, a combination of those two with a linking section on the Lewis & Clark Trail, is (as best as I can figure without the detailed maps) 4,307.

Based on recent cycling, the idea of 52 miles a day seems reasonable, but that’s not enough: my 4-month leisurely meander has been cut down by the US 90-day Visa waiver program. So, 90 days it is. This is how I worked it out:

TOTAL DISTANCE 4,307 miles
At 63 miles per day, that’s 68.5 days
With one rest day per week, that’s 9.5 rest days
Add 6 days start / finish and 6 days for stops mid-route
GRAND TOTAL 90 days.

Can I do 63 miles a day? Seems a lot, but then some do a lot more. The Adventure Cycle Association’s own road group tours average 60 miles per day. So, 63 is in the ballpark.

By the way, discovering the ACA was a major breakthrough in organising this trip. Not only with their obviously well-researched cycle routes across the States, but with the maps and online resource of information they provide. It all makes it real, and calms fears of being stuck on endless interstates. I emailed them a few times with questions, and here’s the first:

From: John
To: Adventure Cycling Association (ACA)
Sent: 16 October 2006
Subject: Map & route-related questions

I’m a cyclist from the UK and I’m at the early stages of planning a TransAmerica cycle trip using a hybrid of three ACA bicycle routes. I propose to do the trip East to West, starting on the Northern Tier from Maine to North Dakota then switching over to the Lewis & Clark for Montana into Yellowstone then finally joining the TransAm for Idaho to Oregon.
I have a rather basic question: are there any problems with this route that immediately spring to mind? For example, do the different routes actually connect? (it’s hard to tell for sure without detailed maps).
John Henderson

From: Richard Darne (ACA)
To: John
Sent: 18 October 2006
Subject: Map & route-related questions

Thanks for your interest in the ACA. All of our routes are split into sections, so yes; you can use a combination of these routes. At different points, these routes intersect each other.
The Northern Tier and the Lewis & Clark intersect in Parshall, North Dakota. The Lewis & Clark and TransAm intersect in a few different points. You may want to take the Lewis & Clark all the way to Missoula and our headquarters. You can then take the TransAm all the way to Oregon. If this sounds like what you are looking for, here are the sections you will need:

Northern Tier: Sections 3-11 Bar Harbor, Maine to Cut Bank, Montana
Lewis & Clark: Sections 3-5 Pierre, South Dakota to Missoula, Montana
TransAm: Sections 1-4 Missoula, Montana to Astoria, Oregon

I hope this helps. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.
Richard Darne

PROLOGUE #3: Training

I got into a routine of one-day cycle training most weekends starting from February 07, once winter had retreated sufficiently. A regular circuit took me out of Brighton, over Devil’s Dyke, out into the Sussex countryside before looping back over Ditchling Beacon and Woodingdean before taking the undercliff path back home. As the weeks went by the small village, picturesque woodland and narrow, windey B road of Sussex (both East and West) started to reveal their hidden charms. I introduced to my routine a few longer trips to build up a bit of stamina, as well as to get used to carrying panniers. I set up my weblog and liaised with Architects for Aid (now Article25) to help raise some money for their charity.

I started my weblog by writing notes on some of those training trips, and here they are over the following 4 blogs, the first being a one-off before Christmas. Marking the start of training for my TransAmerica trip, it felt appropriate to be doing it with Edward and Ewa.

Sunday, 19 November 2006: Edinburgh to Aberdeen via Perth & Braemar

Day 1
We set off from Stockbridge on a sunny & frosty morning, taking the Route 1 cycleway to the Forth Bridge. I was full of the joys of cycling and kept the tempo brisk as if I were on my own touring bike, rather than on Edward's mountain bike, blissfully unaware (or stupidly ignoring Edward's advice) that such carry on can be knackering over long distances. Still, the route was lovely and we arrived in Perth two punctures shy of a maintenance-free day yet feeling good to be on the road. Evening: Pizza Express and ‘Casino Royale’ at the Picturehouse Cinema.

Day 2
Bright, sunny weather to Blairgowrie. Mixed afterwards, with heavy rain to the Spittal of Glenshee then snow on the Devil’s Elbow where road-gritters accompanied us on our ascent to the ski area. Strong crosswinds and wind chill made the downhill to Braemar a cold & sometimes scary experience. Evening meal at the Fife Arms Hotel, after significant thawing and drying out at our B&B.

Day 3
Rain, sunshine, clouds & occasional wind throughout. Left knee started to hurt early in the day & continued to get worse. I’d strained it during the summer while experimenting with jogging, and hauling myself up the Devil’s Elbow in a snowstorm no doubt helped to remind my knee why it got sore in the first place. Evening: accommodation and bike advice provided by friends of the family, Liz and Dave.

Postscript: You’ll be pleased to hear that with proper care and attention, the knee strain has not reoccurred.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007: Coast to Coast UK (Scarborough to Ravenglass via Thirsk and Kendal)

I'd arrived in Scarborough by train (from Brighton) the previous day, and spent the night at the Youth Hostel, where entertainment was provided by an enthusiastic hosteller singing “ging-gang-gooley” to his young son & daughter while his wife helped them with a jigsaw. Went to bed early.

Day 1
Through the North York Moors to Pickering. A landscape of hidden valleys, winding rivers and remote villages, punctuated by the occasional steep climb and descent. Detour to visit Rievaulx Abbey, an atmospheric ruin set in a beautiful and tranquil valley. A very steep road takes you down there, so, of course, a very steep road to takes you out again to the top of Sutton Bank, which provides an almost scarily steep descent to Thirsk. Staying with my friend, Vicky, who lives in a cottage in Sowerby.

Day 2
Departed Thirsk on a cold, crisp morning. Spent half an hour at the lovely Jervaulx Abbey (yes, another ruin, with its floor of green grass and ceiling open to the blue sky). Too early for many visitors, so for a while it was just me and the sheep, me munching brazil nuts while they munched grass. Lunch at Aysgarth then off through the Yorkshire Dales via Garsdale (which is very pretty) to Kendal, where my dad lives.

Day 3
The shortest day in terms of mileage, but with the only serious climbs of the route. Firstly, though, over to Ambleside, round Windermere and up to Little Langdale. From there, the narrow road to the top of Wrynose Pass is a tough slog: quite a sense of achievement sitting at the top. Very beautiful mountain landscape between the two Passes, and pretty much the whole place to myself. Then up the ridiculously steep Hardknott Pass. Had to push up the steepest section, but I’m not too embarrassed about that. Fabulous downhill into Eskdale, home of the popular steam railway, and along the river Esk to meet the West Coast at Ravenglass. Then back to Kendal for a lazy weekend with my dad and his wife RenĂ©e.

Sunday, 29 April 2007: Petersfield to Brighton

Today I was out discovering Elgar Country, only 55 miles West of Brighton and a little bit inland, but quite another word: some of the prettiest English countryside I've ridden through. All narrow country lanes, bluebell woods, rolling hills revealing one view after another worthy of a Constable, or an Elgar for that matter. And that's not mentioning the baby bunnies playing in the hedgerows or the song birds chirping in the trees.

But it doesn't stop there: on the narrowest of single lanes, ladies with walkie-talkies ushered me through and relayed messages to other ladies further along to keep the road clear of oncoming traffic. A person could get used to such red-carpet treatment: I started to expect maidens cycling infront of me, brushing summer flies from my face...

Of course, the day ended with my old pal Devil's Dyke, which, coming from the North, splits itself into three consecutive leg-testing climbs. A bit of hard work to balance out all that idyllic stuff.

Sunday, 27 May 2007: Dover to Tunbridge Wells via Canterbury

A nice couple of days cycling through Kent, and a chance to visit my Uncle Harry who lives in Wye. The trip from Dover to Canterbury is lovely, offering Tour de France cycling-across-cornfields moments as well as hedgerows, fresh fruit and the fabulously sculptured 12th Century Norman Church of St. Nicholas in Barfreston, which made a couple of well-travelled German cyclists and I screech to a halt in wonder. Canterbury was far too full of French schoolkids being force-fed history lessons for my taste, but what an amazingly picturesque place.

The trip from Wye to Tunbridge Wells was a bit wet and chilly, despite a forecast for better things, and kind of put a damper on the fun of Oast-house conversion spotting. However, I do like a nice forest and the route through Bedgebury Forest past the Arboretum made me glad I stuck to the National Cycle Network Route 18 rather than taking tempting shortcuts. All very green and pleasant.

PROLOGUE #4: Cleared For Take Off

So that was it. Next thing, I’m on my flight to Boston.

Well, not quite: there was considerably more coordination with Edward & Ewa; endless fretting over minimalist packing and the purchase of my new bike plus panniers, bike tools, clothes etc. Evenings spent pouring over maps; re-checking distances; worrying over unknowable events; concern about fitness; concern about booking accommodation... Booking flights; arranging busses form Boston to my starting point, Acadia National Park in Maine

Another issue was accommodation, specifically camping vs. motels. For budgetary reasons, I’d been thinking along the lines of taking a tent but staying at motels every third night or so to get cleaned up properly. For Ewa, this was a deal breaker: motels or no-go. I was happy to concede, reckoning that I could always buy a lightweight tent in Niagara, if I needed to, once our ways had parted.

Edward and I discussed mobile phones, maps vs. GPS, road bikes vs. hybrids, arrival time & coordination... you name it, we emailed it. He pre-booked accommodation for the first few nights. I took the train to Gatwick on the morning of Friday 29th June, feeling a little weird boarding an intercontinental flight with nothing but a couple of panniers and a bar-bag for luggage. Welcome to the world of the light-weight. Welcome to cycling across America.