My point in mentioning this is not to draw attention to how awesome we are (although we are pretty awesome). What I really want to do, before I forget, is just record some of the useful day-to-day stuff we learned along the way about doing a long bike tour. Given my limited experience at such things--this was my first tour, after all--I don't offer any of this as advice. But here are some things that worked well for us.
Just before noon on our first day, we stopped to buy lunch food in a San Diego supermarket, where Phil suggested buying a bag of flour tortillas.
It was such a good idea we did it again later. And again. And again. For the next seven weeks, in fact, we ate tortillas at least twice a day, and often three times a day. They're cheap, fairly dense in terms of calories, and easy to travel with. They don't break or crumble, and the flexible plastic-bag packaging allows them to slip easily into a even a pannier that is already packed full.
Best of all, they're versatile and really good. We ate them with peanut butter and bananas for breakfast, with cheese and avocado (or more peanut butter) for lunch. We sometimes ate shredded rotisserie chicken with mayonnaise and Cholula hot sauce rolled up in tortillas for supper. That is a good meal.
It was also fascinating to watch the tortilla supply change as we traveled. There were many brands available in California, but even more in Arizona and New Mexico. Some stores in those states had most of one aisle devoted to tortillas. The selection gradually declined as we headed east in Texas. By the time we reached Mississippi, there was often just one selection to be had--Mission brand, the Wonder Bread of the tortilla universe.
We carried a small folding isobutane stove and a one-quart aluminum pot, which allowed us to have hot tea in the morning and cook simple meals. One favorite was smoked sausage boiled with rice and sliced sweet potato. We always carried a couple packages of ramen noodles and foil pouches of tuna for times when nothing better was available.
By the way, you can make an excellent convenience-store gorp by crushing a medium-size bag of Ruffles potato chips until the fragments are cornflake-sized, then adding two miniature boxes of raisins and a small bag of mixed nuts.
2. Bikes, Gearing, and Luggage
Phil rode a long-wheelbase Rans recumbent, and he seemed very comfortable throughout. He was certainly faster than me. Not sure about the details of his gearing, but I did notice that he almost never used his granny chainring. Is that a recumbent thing? I'll have to ask him.
I rode a 1981 Miyata 1000. I'd thought about going with my triplized PX-10, but ultimately decided to give the Miyata--a legendary loaded touring bike of its day--a chance to do its stuff. It worked really well. I had it set up as a half-step-and-granny, with 48-44-30 chainrings (on the original 86 BCD Sugino crankset) and a 14-16-19-23-28-34 Suntour freewheel.
I never wished for a higher gear, but I would have liked to have a slightly lower one during a couple of long climbs. A 46-42-28 crankset might have been a slightly better choice. (As it happens, I have exactly that gearing on the triplized Model 93 on my Raleigh Gran Sport.)
Both of us tried to cut our luggage to a bare minimum, and it paid off. We didn't have anything we didn't need (except for our 6 pounds of tools and spare parts, most of which went unused), and never needed anything we didn't have.
My base load, including the tent fly, cooking gear, tools, clothing, and sleeping bag and air mattress, came to about 32 pounds. That includes my panniers and trunk bag, but not the bike-mounted racks. When we added food and a gallon of water apiece--as we sometimes did in West Texas, where it watering holes might be 50 miles apart--I must have been carrying 45 lbs or more.
Guesstimating by pannier volume, it seemed to me that many of the other riders we saw along the way had to be carrying carrying twice the weight that we were, the poor devils.
I was able to fit all my stuff in a pair of smallish 1980s vintage front panniers and a trunk bag on a rear rack. The steering felt "heavy," but the bike handled very well once I learned to equalize the side-to-side load between panniers. If the load wasn't balanced, the bike developed a bad speed wobble at about 15 mph. (I had heard that it's possible to dampen a speed wobble by pressing a knee against the frame's top tube, and was relieved to find that it does. I'm not sure how I would have managed the 4,000-foot descent into California's Central Valley otherwise).
Overall, I much preferred the setup I used to the feel of rear panniers alone.
Phil, on the other hand, just used a set of rear panniers and a small handlebar bag. At least he started with a set of panniers--he finished with one pannier and a soft-sided beer cooler. I hope someone in Texas found the one he lost and is putting it to good use.
I have always felt that non-cyclists are put off by riders who are decked out in spandex, colorful cycling jerseys, and wraparound sunglasses. That's not necessarily because they're being unfriendly. If you're dressed like a racer--or at least wearing what a non-rider thinks of as racer garb--the non-rider is likely to assume that you're in a big hurry, and probably don't have time to stop chew the fat.
Is that a wingnut idea? I have no data to support it, but makes sense to me
Anyway, both Phil and I made an effort to wear fairly normal-looking clothing. He mostly wore t-shirts and a pair of pants with zip-off legs (no need for cycling shorts on a recumbent). I wore a white cotton dress shirt, black long underwear, two pairs of liner shorts, and a pair of unpadded mountain-bike shorts. (The liners were thin and cheap, so I had to wear both pairs to get adequate padding. I washed the outer pair every night, put on the clean pair first the next morning, and moved the previous day's inner to the outside.) I convinced myself that the combination of black long underwear and black shorts looked something like regular long pants if you didn't look too closely.
And we did have lots of fun conversations with the locals at markets and convenience stores. That wonderful talk we had with the overall-wearing guy in Poplarville, Mississippi? Who rode across the country on an Indian motorcycle in 1960? Would that have happened if we'd been wearing cycling clothes?
Heck, I don't know, maybe it would have.
According to my notes, we spent 4 nights with friends, 8 nights with Warm Showers hosts (www.warmshowers.org), 14 nights in motels, and 27 nights camping. Our motel stays most often happened because we were in an urban area at nightfall with no other options, but there were a few occasions when we were just tired and wanted to sleep in beds. Two of the motels nights were timed to avoid heavy rain and lightning.
In California, Arizona, and New Mexico, it was simple to get out of sight of the road and pitch our tent out in the desert. Texas was another story. There's practically no public land, and the private land is tightly fenced to within a few yards of the road. We tented mostly at RV campgrounds--often on miserable little patches of gravel--but we also stayed in one lovely county-run campground on the Nueces River and a state park or two.
We could have wild-camped here and there as we got further east, but for one reason or another we never did, except for one night by a levee outside Simmesport, Louisiana. The Florida state parks, we thought, were great.
I was a little bit surprised to find that all state parks and RV campgrounds had showers, which meant that we only went unwashed on our wild-camping nights.
The Adventure Cycling Association maps are excellent, but they necessarily cover only a narrow strip of territory. That can make it difficult to detour off the established route or put your location into any sort of big-picture context. Digital natives might be able to do that with a smartphone, but the required zooming in and out made us queasy.
We relied on old-school road maps. The problem, we quickly discovered, is that printed road maps aren't easy to find today. Except for Louisiana and Florida, even the state welcome centers didn't have them.
While wandering around the vast urban sprawl of metropolitan Phoenix, hopelessly off the ACA route, we stopped at a dozen or so convenience stores before two helpful women who worked at one of them rooted through the magazine display and triumphantly came up with a tattered Arizona highway map. But because it lacked a computer bar code, they couldn't figure out how to sell it to us. The store manager came out of his office and rang it up manually, remarking "We haven't sold one of these things in years."
It took us until Mississippi to realize that all drugstores carry a wide variety of printed maps, often in regular and large-print editions. Who uses road maps these days? Old people. Who spends a lot of time in drugstores? Old people. If we weren't so old ourselves, we might have figured that out two thousand miles earlier.
At the start of the trip, Phil and I met at a motel a few hundred yards from the start of the bike route. To avoid handing our bikes over to the airline's baggage handlers, we boxed and shipped the bikes to ourselves at the motel a few days before we arrived, using a service called BikeFlights (www.bikeflights.com).
When we arrived in St. Augustine in the middle of April, we considered flying back to New England (Phil to Maine, me to Vermont), but weren't enthusiastic about having to find bike boxes, transport them to the airport on our bikes, and dismantle and pack everything for shipment there.
I had priced one-way car rentals back in February, and found that it would set us back something like $300 apiece. But because this seemed so much simpler than flying, we looked into it again, figuring that it might be worth the added cost.
Amazement! A one-way rental for an economy car--from St. Augustine to Rockland, Maine--was $3 per day, with unlimited mileage. The guy at the rental company explained that there was always a huge surplus of cars in Florida in the spring, and that it was cheaper for the company to get customers to drive them north than to load them on a car carrier and pay to ship them where they were needed.
It ended up costing us a bit more than that, because we needed to rent an SUV to accommodate Phil's recumbent. But at $16 a day plus gas, it was still a screaming deal.