SBW x Cascadia

Originally posted April 19, 2016

We're hitting the road again and hope you will follow along as we explore the back roads of Cascadia by bicycle. 

Over the next month and a half we will be following a combination of three routes through the Cascadia region; The Washington Backcountry Discovery RouteThe Trans Canada Adventure Trail, and the Great Divide Mountain Bike RouteClick here to view our complete route. This will be our first time touring in this region and we are very excited to get to know the land and the people. We hope you will follow along as we share our journey with you. Find out where we are by following our SPOT

Ride On!

The Trans-America Trail

Originally posted January 2016

“If, as I believe, the most important fact for Americans is America, the main part in the education of an American citizen is to know America” (Dr. S. M. Johnson, Tales of a Pathfinder, 1920).

The Background

The incentive for a transcontinental bicycle ride is different for all of us. For some, it’s a life goal to experience the country from the seat of a bicycle. Some people do it for a taste of adventure, to live a simple life for a while, to spend some time in the great outdoors, and to welcome the unknown. Regardless of the calling to do so, the simple act of equipping a bicycle with basic essentials and then pedaling it across a continent is something a lot of people take on. Throughout my years working in bike shops, I have had the pleasure of assisting many individuals setting out for this kind of journey. Inspired by their stories, I imagined doing the ride myself one day to truly experience this place I call home.  

When most people consider doing a trip like this, the challenge is timing. The time it requires to complete the journey can take anywhere from one month to four months, depending on the route and speed of the rider. This certainly was a big factor for Tom and me. To complete a cross-country tour would require us to close our business for a number of months. Another barrier was the prospect of riding a paved road route and sharing roads with large vehicles traveling 55-80 mph. I do not imagine a long, healthy, and enjoyable life cycling on roads where semi trucks are buzzing past me, which is why Tom and I travel on dirt roads. Riding on dirt roads is a lot like riding on a bike path, but with the diversity of hills and curves that back roads often have. Most of the time you have the whole road to yourself allowing you to ride side by side and to actually hold conversations with your partner. Stopping, to take in views, to take pictures, or to picnic, is a carefree, and often, a car-free experience. So we waited for the right time, to one day ride across the country, not by way of highway, but by dirt roads and back roads.

The opportunity finally presented itself a little over one year ago while I was searching the internet for dirt road routes in the North Carolina and Tennessee area. I stumbled upon a link to www.transamtrail.com, the official website for a dual-sport motorcycle route following dirt roads across the country. My interest was piqued and I spent weeks obsessing over any information I could find about the route. I was skeptical. All the information I had read, photos, and videos I had seen, depicted dirt roads I was familiar with riding. Why could I not find any accounts of cyclists attempting the route? I dwelled on this for a while, thinking there must be a reason why cyclists don’t ride this route. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that I had to learn for myself and decided that one-day we would use this route as our guide for riding across the country.

Serendipitously, that someday came sooner than we expected. Around this same time, we had reached a point with our business where we needed to make a change. We were feeling the result of the growth of our business and some associated sacrifices in our freedom and quality of life. We needed some time for a fresh perspective. We decided that now was as good a time as any to make this journey. We worked, we prepared, we went on a handful of 3-day bikepacking trips, one 7-day bikepacking trip, and by July we had ended the leases at both our home and our bike shop. Our affairs were somewhat in order and we were as ready as we would ever be. On August 1, 2015, we departed on a 5,000-mile, 87-day journey across the country along mostly dirt roads. Equipped with a GPS file of the route, some basic information, and an itinerary designed for motor vehicles, we set out for the greatest physical and personal journey of our lives which proved to be an adventure of discovery, survival, and enlightenment as we found our way across the country along the Trans America (Dirt Road) Trail.

The Route

Not to be mistaken with Adventure Cycling’s popular paved road route from Astoria, Oregon to Christiansburg, Virginia, the Trans America (Dirt Road) Trail, was designed for dual-sport motorcyclists. The original route, created by Sam Correro, starts in Tellico Plains, Tennessee and ends in Port Orford, Oregon. As the route has become more traveled and popular, other people, like www.GPSkevin.com, have contributed additions to Sam’s original route to connect the coastal states of New York, North Carolina, and an alternative finish in Los Angeles, California. Overall, the route follows mostly dirt roads, some smaller paved roads, and occasionally ATV trails, with the percentage of dirt roads increasing to about 85-90% of the route the further west you get.

Since the route was established, over 8-years ago, every summer hundreds of dual-sport motorcyclists make the journey. For them, it can take anywhere from two-weeks to two-months to cover the entire route. The route is structured to pass through small towns with gas stations and/or motels with distances between those towns ranging from every 30 to 160 miles. Many dual-sport motorcyclists can complete the entire route without spending one night outdoors. To complete the route upon a human-powered bicycle is quite a different experience. Speed and distance separate our experiences. While traveling by power, a twist of the throttle can fix a wrong turn or chase down supplies that seem inconveniently out of the way. The motorcyclists’ need for gasoline was very much the same as our own need for food and water. 

We packed our dirt road touring bicycles with basic necessities for shelter, clothing, food, water, and repair. This included a tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, a minimal layering system of clothing good for everything from the hottest days to the coldest, enough storage capacity to hold food for a three day period, and water bladders to store up to 6-liters of water per rider. We also carried a water purification pump and water treatment tablets. All this meant we could take up to three days to travel between towns, camping along the way, until we would restock in town.

Since we wanted a coast-to-coast experience, we combined GPS Kevin’s North Carolina addition with Sam’s original route. Ultimately, we rode from Morehead City, North Carolina into the Great Smoky Mountains, across Southern Tennessee. We dropped into Northwest Mississippi, pedaled across Arkansas, over the Ozark Mountains, and dead straight across Northern Oklahoma and the Panhandle. We rode into the gulches of Northeast New Mexico, climbed up into Colorado, up and over the Rocky Mountains, before we dropped down to ride across Utah, and from basin to range northwest across Nevada and the high desert. We tapped California before riding northwest again, across Oregon, where we came to the end of the trail in Port Orford, Oregon.

The Ride

I’m dreaming about home, my cat, and my bed. I tell myself, it’s time to wake up to get ready for work. When I finally open my eyes I’m greeted with crisp cold air, that I can only feel around my face because my sleeping bag is tightly wrapped around my head. I’m warm and I can smell coffee. Tom woke up early to watch the sunrise and to start cooking breakfast. It’s getting brighter by the minute, which means it’s time to get moving. It’s going to get warm soon and we have a big day ahead of us. We have to make it to the next town to restock on food, water, and to enjoy a good night’s rest and shower. It will be our first town in two days and 140 miles. After this town we have another stretch of 140 miles before we reach civilization again. How long will that stretch take us? Two days? Three days? I burrow into my warm sleeping bag again. Tom tugs at the tent door, carrying what has become my favorite meal of the day, a cup of instant coffee and a bowl of apple cinnamon granola cooked in hot water, a sort of crunchy oatmeal. I drink and eat then I’m ready to greet the day. I change my clothes, pack up sleep stuff and the other remaining contents of the tent, and break down the tent. Once I’ve gotten things packed away, I walk down to the stream to help Tom carry the water he has been pumping.

We’re ready. It’s a beautiful day. We’re in Northern Nevada and we’ve been on the road for over two months. I know how far we’ve come, I’ve witnessed it, I’ve lived it, but it doesn’t feel real. I look down at my skin. I’m tan, darker than I have ever been. I take a sip of water. It has a faint taste of dirt, or does it? Maybe it’s because I know what it looked like before we purified it. I add a packet of instant iced tea powder into my water bottle. Better than dirt. I think back to New Mexico, and the windmills that made filling up with clean water a joy. Every place should have windmills, I wish. Many places did at one point or another have a well of some sort, but we’re in the year 2015 now. Very few people live in these places anymore. There is no one to maintain the wells, let alone drink the water from them. Except for the occasional recreational ATV rider, cattle herder, or TAT rider, why else would someone be out here?

 Our road takes us through a ranch, where we stop and speak with the owner who gives us a 6-pack of Gatorade. We drink two each while talking with him and pack the other two away. He offers us another 6-pack, we’re good, we say, as we thank him and make our way down the road. I can’t help but compare the generosity of people in rural Nevada to the people we met in Oklahoma. I can only assume it’s because of the remoteness of the land, the lack of population, and limited resources that people look after one another. I compare this to our time in Colorado, where we were just two of a million recreation seekers and there was no reason to stop and chat with one another.

The sky is clear and there are few clouds. The temperature will rise to 90 degrees today. We apply sunscreen to dusty skin and keep moving. The temperature reminds me of beginning in North Carolina and the heat through Oklahoma. We’ve been lucky with the weather though. It’s now snowing in the Rocky Mountains. We managed to avoid the snow. If it rained now, the dusty silt of the road we are riding, would turn sticky-wet like clay, like it had that day in Mississippi. I think about the constant crosswind from the South we had seen across Oklahoma and how fast it would push us when we turned right, to the north. I try to forget how slow we would move headed into the wind. It could have been worse. We’ve been lucky with the weather.

I stop to take a picture. I can see for miles and no person, house, or vehicle is in sight. We’re in the Great Basin, and I’m on top of a range looking straight at another range with a basin in the middle. It looks drastically different than what lies just behind us. How is this possible? I’m entertained.

We keep rolling and finally make it to the town. I’ve made it a habit to Google the town. Population 500, it says, a typical result. There is a grocery store, a gas station, a restaurant, and a couple motels. We have choices! We make our way to a motel where I’m greeted by a puzzled look on the face of the clerk at the motel desk. I’m dusty, clad in dirty riding gear, with a distinct sunglasses tan, and explain that, “We’re riding the Trans America Trail. Do you ever get folks coming in here on motor bikes?” “Absolutely”, they say, “but never anyone on a bicycle! You’ve ridden all this way?” This script-like conversation with every motel clerk across the country temporarily connects me back to the reality of the trip. We have come this far and we only have 700 miles left to go. Again, I think back to Mississippi, my lowest point, where I thought I wouldn’t make it to the end. “Stay the course” Tom would say, and that’s just what we did.

The End

On our last day, the clouds opened up, dumping inches of rain upon us and flooding our campsite. Rather than staying put for another day, we looked at this as a sign to finish our journey. That day, October 26, 2015, with over 5,000 miles and 300,000 feet of elevation gain covered, over 87 days, we celebrated in our soaking wet clothes on the coastal beach of Port Orford, Oregon at Battle Rock, the official terminus of the Trans America (Dirt Road) Trail. Life, as we know it, will not be the same, at least for a while. We will be processing the lessons we have learned for months, if not years. One thing, I know, is that we saw America. Not the America seen from a car, but the America where towns are connected by dirt roads, where families, three generations deep, are still ranching the land, and where towns of just 500 people live. This is an America that I read about in history books, where not too much has changed in a very long time. This is an America that many people overlook entirely, traveling city-to-city along the big highways, but I assure you it’s still there, albeit fading slowly, and I am eternally grateful for having witnessed it. You surely will not regret making the trip yourself. 

 

More From Our Ride

The Trans America Trail Route and Alternatives

Our Complete Gear List

The Details: Food, Water, Dogs, Bugs, Wildlife, Trail Magic, Etc. 

Updates From the Road

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

The Finale

 

Trans-America Trail: The Details

Originally Posted January, 2016

Food

Soul food, barbecue, mountain burgers, open faced roast beef sandwiches slathered with cafeteria gravy, chili burgers, pizza stix, corn dogs, Subway, Pop-Tarts, fruit snacks, Biscoff cookies, oatmeal, Clif Bars, Red Vines, ice cream, V8, bananas, ramen, Easy Mac, and dehydrated meals. These were staples that fueled our ride across America. We purchased our food from gas stations and truck stops, local grocery stores, and the endless aisles of Walmart. Fresh fruit and vegetables were luxuries for us in most parts of the country and we began to consider food as a fuel source, rather than a source of nourishing nutrients and pleasure. Occasionally, we would have some extraordinarily satisfying food. Bavarian French toast comes to mind. I’m a big fan of French toast and conducted a study of French toast, across the country, by ordering some at every breakfast establishment we patronized. After having a delicious dinner at the Country Hearth Restaurant, we decided to visit again for breakfast. I had scoped out the breakfast menu over dinner and noticed that the restaurant was known for their homemade cinnamon rolls. This started an internal debate within me that continued all night long… do I order the cinnamon roll or should I order the French toast? By the time we were riding to breakfast I still hadn’t decided, but thought I might as well order the French toast and get the cinnamon roll to go. As I walked through the door, I saw the freshly posted listing of the specials for the morning. On the list was Bavarian French toast, which is a homemade cinnamon roll, sliced in half bun-wise, and cooked into glistening French toast perfection, served with two pieces of bacon on top. It was a perfect combination and will go down in history as having been the best French toast on the Trans America Trail, according to me.

 Pie Shop

According to Google, the Pie Shop in De Valls Bluff, Arkansas is known for “Made from scratch buttermilk pies” and “The best pies on the planet.” We would have to ride a mile and half off route to find out for ourselves, but the sound of a piece of homemade pie sounded perfect at the time. We followed the directions while rain drizzled, but could not find the Pie Shop. We circled back and found a little building tucked away, behind someone’s house, bearing the hand painted words “Pie Shop”. At the sight of the building, we could not help but feel like we had been lured into some kind of strange trap. Despite our skepticism, we approached the door and saw a sign that said the proprietor of the Pie Shop was working at Craig’s BBQ that day and that we could be served slices of pie at Craig’s BBQ. So we went to Craig’s BBQ and got ourselves some buttermilk pie, chatting with a local who had been hunting squirrels on his rainy day off.

Dogs

From North Carolina to Arkansas we were constantly on the defense against wild packs of family dogs. One particular encounter with a dog turned out to be the scariest experience of our entire trip. We had just crossed into Arkansas from Mississippi when we made a turn onto a road and noticed a group of 5-6 men shooting guns in their front yard, on the side of the road, while drinking Busch Lite. As we entered that scene, a large white bull mastiff dog ran from the men, into the road, and charged us head on. The dog, which looked to be around 100 pounds, with a head the size of a cannon ball, was not barking or growling at us, but blocked us, stopped us, and moved very close to us. There was no tail wagging involved and it was apparent that this dog was serious as he mirrored our every move. Adding to the tension of the situation, the gunshots from the group of men on the side of the road had not ceased, even though it was obvious to them that we were having a hard time with the dog. In an effort to get some help, I called over to the men and asked them to call for their dog. Rather than helping us, they suggested that we attempt to outrun the dog (from a dead stop) on our bicycles. Sensing that we weren’t going to benefit from any action on their part, I started a flat out sprint, while Tom corralled the dog with his bike and forced him into a ditch, creating enough space for Tom to mount his bike while running and start riding away. We sprinted for what felt like 2-miles until the dog was out of sight. I will always remember the adrenaline pumping through my blood after that scenario.

Weather

Leaving in August, we knew we had some very hot days ahead of us. As expected, during the first week in North Carolina, temperatures reached 110 degrees. We rode through the heat again in Oklahoma, and even for a short time in Nevada, where temperatures were still in the 90’s. For a while, we experimented with leaving at 4 a.m. to get a jump-start on the heat of the day, but ultimately settled into a rhythm with the sun, waking just before it rose, taking breaks in the shade during the hottest hours, and finishing our ride with enough light left to make camp and cook as the sun set. We focused a lot on staying hydrated and making use of any shade we came across.

            The only other bad weather we had was a series of thunderstorms and rain in Tennessee and Mississippi. At times, we felt very close to where the lightning was striking and often there was nowhere for us to go, so we would tuck into the woods and wait for the storm to blow over. The conditions after the rain were the worst. A day after the last storm blew over Mississippi we were riding along a freshly tilled road when it turned to mud. This mud stuck to everything that it came into contact with, including our shoes, our tires, and our bikes. For 4 miles we walked and carried our mud-laden bikes until we reached the next road that was in much better condition. Later, we learned that conditions were much worse ahead in Oklahoma, and had we been there, instead of Mississippi at the time, we would have been facing a lot more than just 4 miles of mud.

Road in the Distance

When we rode through the dense forests of the Ozarks, we could hardly see 100 feet in front of us. Around every turn there was something new and unpredictable. You are constantly guessing what lies ahead. At times in Utah and Nevada, we could see the next 30 miles of our route, stretched out before us. Everything was predictable because we could see what the terrain looked like. Some days, like this day in particular, we spent the entire day looking at our future. Understanding how far you are traveling in a large space can make you feel very small in the enormity of the landscape.

Sharing the trail with motorcycles

            We loved sharing the route with motorcycles. Because they are all traveling a similar rate of speed, Motorcyclists are lucky see another fellow traveler during their journey. As cyclists, going much more slowly, we got to see almost all the motorcyclists running the route from August through October because they would pass us. It was always fun to talk to them because, like us, they were on a journey of a lifetime and what was significant or difficult for us was just as significant and difficult for them. We would exchange tips and tricks and seeing them really made us feel part of the TAT community. Most of them knew there were a couple cyclists on the route and were tracking our tire tracks for days before finally catching up to us. This particular day was pretty special because it came after a low point. We were literally out in the middle of nowhere, 60 miles in on a 100-mile day, when these guys rolled up on us. The guy next to me in the picture is Casey Folks of Best in the Desert Racing, who was traveling with professional endurance motorcyclist, James Embro, and a group of their friends. They were headed to the same town we would be staying in that night, only they would be there in one hour, and we would be there in four. We told them to save us a beer. They kept the restaurant open for us as we rolled into town in the dark, treated us to a big meal, and when we learned that all the rooms in the town were booked, they invited us to stay with them. We continued to share campsites and motels with TAT riders we met along the route. 

Trail Magic

            We were riding through the Panhandle of Oklahoma on a considerably windy day. The wind had been coming from the South during our entire time in Oklahoma as we were traveling west. On this particular day, our route took us 40-miles south, directly into the wind. It was rough and slow going. We saw that we would be crossing the same creek twice and planned to camp along the second crossing, downstream. At the first crossing, Tom had spotted a few small trout and had hopeful thoughts of enjoying some creek side comforts. When we finally rejoined the creek, it was just a dry bed. All of the water had found a home upstream, irrigating dry fields or watering cows. We had been relying on that water source for cooking and drinking that night so we started to feel a little desperate. When we finally saw a car, we waved them down and asked them if they had any extra water.  They said no, and carried on their way. We then came across a house and went to find their hose which was being closely guarded by a dog growling and showing his teeth, so we continued to ride on. At a fork in the road, we had a choice to get off route and ride to the highway in search of some water or to continue on the route and hope for the best. I saw a green area with trees in the distance, which meant there had to be some water around there somewhere. We rolled down the hill and the road took us right through a ranch with a water spigot in the front yard. I knocked on the door to ask permission to use the spigot, and the man who opened it greeted me by saying “Hello! Come on in!” I was a little shocked and explained that all we wanted was some water and to camp on their land somewhere, but they insisted on having us stay in their spare bedroom. We obliged and enjoyed a much-needed shower, a cold beer, and respite from the road in the good company of Gil and Mary, who told us about what it was like to live in No-Man’s-Land.

Bugs

Bugs were only an issue through New Mexico. Tom seems to be completely immune to bug bites, where I tend to have allergic reactions, so dealing with bugs was a big deal for me. Prior to our departure I was sure to get some prescriptions to manage the ill effects of bites. Sure enough, in North Carolina I got a few bites that blistered pretty badly, then in Tennessee we stayed in a questionable motel crawling with bugs. I woke up the next morning with bug bites on my face, the most demoralizing feeling and look ever. Tom seemed to have made it out unharmed once again, until 24 hours later, a bloom of bites appeared all over his forehead. In Arkansas we had the biting horse flies that haunted us 24 hours a day. This picture was taken after my last encounter, when I fell asleep with my arm against the net of our tent. I woke up with 25 mosquito bites on my arm. We counted! After this, bugs were never really a problem, maybe I developed some immunity, or maybe there were just fewer bugs out west.

Water

We didn't run into water scarcity issues until we reached north central Oklahoma, where ground water ceased to exist. We learned this the hard way one day with some heavy miles ahead of us, 110 to be exact. We knew it would be hot, we knew the ground water was becoming scarce, so we pre-hydrated and stuffed our bags and pockets  with as much water as we could carry. It would be enough on a cooler day, but with the heat in the high 90's we kept our fingers crossed for some body of water along our path that day. Sadly we had no such luck. We had crossed Oklahoma's threshold and the water we were searching for was deep within the ground only to be pumped by the loud generators to irrigate the fields. We ran out of water that day with 20 miles to go. It wasn't a pleasant feeling, it never is. It taught us that we had to figure out a way to get enough water through these long sections through Oklahoma, even if it meant we would have to go from ranch to ranch and ask for it. And that's exactly what we did for a few days. The ranchers were used to it from the motorcyclists and very friendly. Eventually in Western Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado, we were able to use windmills that were still operating. In Utah and Nevada we relied on natural springs, reservoirs, and local ranches. We used our MSR Hyperflow Microfilter most of the time, but in the cases of pumping reservoir water, or water from cow troughs we would pump the water, add a half an aquatab to it, and cover the poor taste with some Crystal Clear Ice Tea. 

Mechanicals

Anyone who knows me, knows that my mechanical skills are fairly unpracticed for the type of riding I do. I’m lucky; I’m married to a professional mechanic who also happens to be my riding partner. He takes his job seriously and prepares our equipment for the long haul. Throughout 5,000 miles our first and worst mechanical happened in Colorado, when I kicked up a large rock while pedaling, lodging it into my rear wheel and breaking one of my spokes. I was riding a wheel with straight pull spokes, which allowed Tom to conveniently replace the spoke within 5 minutes. The damage I did to my wheel with that rock caused two more spokes to break later in the trip, one in Nevada, then one on our last day in Oregon. I did not get one flat the entire trip, where Tom had four. We carried three extra spokes, three tubes, a shift cable, three small bolts (to replace any in case of a failure), a chain ring bolt, a replacement derailleur hanger for each bike, two pairs of brake pads, a spare derailleur pulley, needle and dental floss, some zip-ties, oil for chains, and a thimble’s worth of grease. For tools we had a hand pump, a tiny Leatherman Squirt multi tool, and a bicycle multi tool with a chain tool and spoke wrench. This small list of items, combined with some ingenuity, would allow us to temporarily solve many problems and get out of most jams.

Wildlife

We thought we were in for an adventure full of wildlife sightings when we saw a bear on the first day of our trip. Unfortunately, it was to be the only significant wildlife sighting. We saw many commonly seen creatures like raccoons, turtles, dead armadillos, antelope, horses, and deer. The most frequently encountered creatures we interacted with were cows and snakes. In the mornings, snakes would be sunbathing all over the roads. There were big ones and medium sized guys, but the ones that spooked us were the tiny, fast, and squiggly baby snakes. As much as we were on the look out for them, there were still times where we would be riding side by side and notice that we had just rolled past a large snake that was lying in the road between us. As a sudden chill went up our spines, we reprimanded each other for not paying attention. We learned from the locals that these sunbathing snakes were not too much to worry about unless they were coiled up. After so many miles, and so many snake encounters, we became fairly desensitized to the presence of snakes. 

            We had a love-hate relationship with cows. On one hand, they were a constant throughout our entire trip, the calves were cute and, at times, I think Tom was really trying to speak to them. On the other hand, they were always in the way. There were the freedom cows, on the loose, which would be quite surprised by our quiet and sometimes rapid materialization, often causing them to overreact and run straight through their barbed wire fence back to safety. Then there was the issue of wild camping and upsetting the surrounding cows who would sound an alarm, giving away our position. There were even impenetrable herds of cattle blocking our path. If you should happen upon such a sight, it is possible to part the sea of cows by merely moving straight ahead, often resulting in sheer chaos, but clear passage. 

Trans-America Trail: Gear List

Originally Posted, July 2015

The gear we chose for this trip is mostly just what we have always used, but a little zooted up. We ditched our generator fronthubs in favor of equipment we could happily race on a mountain bike. It's remarkable how much, and how fast, everything changes. The choices we make are influenced by some fact, but happen mostly by feel. The ⛺ is lighter, has scary carbon fiber poles, a pretty great screened-in porch mode, and happened to be USA made and in stock when I had a few minutes to look. The bike packs got hopped up as well. Porcelain Rocket made the rear and main triangle frame bags and front rolly-bags with cuben fiber. When, not if, our packs get soaked, they'll remain light, and dry quickly. The rear bag is also easier to pack and remove, and sports a tubular steel hoop to give it more of a spine. I'm hoping to make use of the added support for some top-of-bag loading from time to time.

Sarah will ride her Specialized AWOL bicycle. Specifics, down to a number, matter a lot until you weigh your water payload. Water is heavy and big, so we placed it in a Platypus 2 liter Hoser bladder inside the framepack. Don't worry about those long stretches with no water,she has another optional 2+ liters of storage in other containers. I should note that we prioritize water over many things in life. The AWOL is versatile and has adjustable dropouts that allow for backcountry single speed impromptu repairs in the event a derailleur gets FUBARed. Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Road 43mm tires, which we use for general dirt road exploration, mounted easily with a floor pump to the Roval Control SL wheels. The tires are installed with no tubes, and contain a small amount of latex sealant. This has proven to be a highly satisfactory combination with comfortable and efficient rolling at pressures between 25 and 40psi. 

Sarah's Bike

Frame: Specialized Awol Comp (http://m.specialized.com/us/en/bikes/road/awol/awol-comp-frameset)

Wheels: Specialized Roval Control SL 29 (http://m.specialized.com/us/en/ftb/wheels/roval-mtb-xc-race/roval-control-sl-29

Handlebar: Ritchey WCS EvoCurve 40cm

Stem: Thomson X4, 70mm x 10 degree

Brakes: Avid BB7s with centerline 160mm

Shift/Brake Levers: SRAM Red Ergodynamic 10 speed

Rear derailleur: SRAM X0 Medium Type 2.1

Front Derailler: SRAM Red Yaw

Cassette: SRAM PG1070 11/36T

Chain: SRAM PC1091R

Crankset: SRAM Force 22 GXP 170mm 46/34T

Bottom Bracket: Chris King

Pedals: Shimano XT

Tires: Bruce Gordon Rock 'n' Road 700 x 43mm, tubeless 25-35 psi

Saddle: WTB Deva SLT

Seatpost: Thomson Elite Setback

 Tom's Bike

Frame: Swallow Bicycle Works All Road

Wheels: Specialized Roval Control SL 29 (http://m.specialized.com/us/en/ftb/wheels/roval-mtb-xc-race/roval-control-sl-29

Handlebar: Ritchey WCS EvoCurve 44cm

Stem: RItchey WCS 100mm x 6 degree

Brakes: Avid BB7 with centerline 160mm

Shift/Brake Levers: SRAM Red Ergodynamic 10 speed

Rear derailleur: SRAM X9 Medium Type 2.1

Front Derailler: SRAM Force 22 Yaw

Cassette: SRAM PG1070 11/36T

Chain: SRAM PC1051

Crankset: SRAM Rival GXP 175mm 46/34T

Bottom Bracket: Chris King

Pedals: Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3

Tires: Bruce Gordon Rock 'n' Road 700 x 43mm, tubeless 25-35 psi

Saddle: WTB Volt Pro

Seatpost: Thomson Elite Setback 150mm

Bags (both bikes)

Front Bag:  Porcelain Rocket MCA with Porcelain Rocket cuben dry bag

Cockpit Bags: Revelate Designs Gas Tank, Carsick Designs Goodie Bag, Fuel Belt Aero FuelBox

Frame Bag: Porcelain Rocket custom El Gilberto, cuben

Seat Bag: Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion

Hardgoods

Cookwear

·       MSR Ti Mug (2)

·       MSR Kettle

·       Ti Spork, Ti Spoon

·       Vargo Ti Hexagon

·       Vargo Ti Triad

·       MSR Coffee Filter

·       Trangia Fuel Bottle

·       Emmergency: Esbit Fuel Tab (2)

Water

·       Platypus Hoser Reservoir 3.0 L (Tom's Frame Bag)

·       Platypus Hoser Reservoir 2.0 L (Sarah's Frame Bag)

·       Swallow Bicycle Works 26oz Purist Waterbottle

·       MSR HyperFlow microfilter

·       Extra Water Storage: Platypus 1.0 L Softbottle, Platypus 2.0 Platy Bottle

·       Emmergency: MSR Aqua Tabs

Electronics

·       Sony Xperia Tablet

·       iPhone (2)

·       Sony RX100 III

·       Sony A6000

·       Garmin 1000

·       Garmin Touring

·       Spot Gen3

·       Light and Motion Solite 250 ex (2)

·       Light and Motion Vis 180 (2)

·       Selfie Sick

·       Back-up Batteries: (1) 15,000 mAh, (2) 10,000 mAh, (3) 3,000 mAh

·       Wall Adapters: Aukey 3 USB port, Aukey 4 USB port

Repair Kit

·       Lezyne Pressure Drive medium, wrapped with tenacious tape

·       Topeak Hexus II Multi Tool

·       Leatherman Squirt Pocket-knife

·       Motorex Wet Lube and rag

·       Tubes (3)

·       Spokes (3)

·       Shift Cable (1)

·       Brake Pads (4 Pairs)

·       Zip-ties (Assorted)

·       KMC 10 speed missing link

·       Rema Patch Kit

·       Super Glue

·       Thomson sestpost bolt with nut

·       Derailleur pulley

·       Valve core tool

·       Park Tool tire boot

·       Heavy-duty thread

·       Upholstery needle

·       Chainring bolt with nut

·       Cleat bolt

·       Problem Solvers Universal Derailleur Hanger

·       AWOL derailleur hanger

·       MSR ultralight cord

First Aid

·       Antiseptic wipes

·       Ibuprofen

·       Tegaderm

·       Antihistamine

·       Medical tape

·       Gauze

·       Band-Aid (assorted)

·       Tweezers

·       Eye drops

·       Wound closure strips

·       Tweezers

Sleep and Shelter

·       Tarptent Double Rainbow two-person tent with carbon fiber poles

·       Tyvek tarp

·       MUSA Vapor Barrier (2)

·        Sea-to-Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Liner

·       Therm-a-Rest Neoair

·       Z-Pack Stuff Sack Pillow

Clothing

Sarah's Ride Clothing

·       Specialized Prevail Helmet

·       Giro Manta Shoes

·       Swallow Bicycle Works x TAT Jersey by Podiumwear

·       Merino wool jersey by Giro

·       Podiumwear bibshorts

·       Rapha Souplesse bibshorts

·       Giro wind vest

·       Ibex long-sleeve 150 baselayer

·       Patagonia Rain Jacket

·       Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket

·       Sock (3 pair)

·       Riv Summer Gloves

·       Giro Westerly Wool Gloves

·       Cycling cap

·       Oakley Radar Sunglasses

·       Rapha merino leg warmers

Sarah's Camp Clothes

·       Giro merino baselayer t-shirt

·       Patagonia shorts

·       Teva Sandals

·       Ibex undies (3)

·       Ibex bras (3)

·       Merino Buff

·       Merino Ibex hat

Tom's Ride Clothing

·       Giro Aspect Helmet

·       Giro Code VR70 Shoes

·       Swallow Bicycle Works x TAT Jersey by Podiumwear

·       Rapha Lighteight Jersey

·       Podiumwear bibshorts

·       Rapha bibshorts

·       Giro wind vest

·       Ibex long-sleeve 150 baselayer

·       Patagonia Rain Jacket

·       Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket

·       Sock (3 pair)

·       Riv Summer Gloves

·       Giro Westerly Wool Gloves

·       Cycling cap

·       Rapha merino leg warmers

Tom's Camp Clothes

·       Surly pocket merino t-shirt

·       Columbia hiking shorts

·       Teva Sandals

·       Ibex undies (2)

·       Merino Ibex hat

Toiletries

·       Dermatone Sun Screen

·       SPF chapstick

·       Jungle Juice Bug Spray

·       Dr. Bronners Magic Soap

·       Shampoo

·       Joshua Tree Cycling Salve

·       Enzo's Buttonhole Chamois Cream

·       Action Wipes

·       Toothpaste

·       Toothbrush

·       Floss

·       Razor

·       Q-tips

·       China Gel

·       Deoderant

Miscellaineous

·       Packtowel (2)

·       Bandana (2)

·       Z-pack Multi Pack 4-in-1

·       Waterproof notebook

·       Fischer Space Pe

Note: We made some changes to this kit over our time on the Trail and after. We eliminated many extras like the notebook, pen, Sony RX100, and coffee filter. When we reached the mountains in Colorado we switched our Musa and Sea-to-Summit Liners for our 40 degree sleeping bags. 

The Ohio Buckeye Trail

Originally Posted July, 2015

For more info on this route, click here

In the 1950’s, a foot-trail was conceived from the Ohio River to Lake Erie to encourage young people to slow down the pace of day-to-day life, and learn about their native land. An association was formed and the Buckeye Trail was built along back roads and trails throughout Ohio’s most scenic and historic locations. Ohioans know many of these roads, trails, and regions, but most don’t notice the small rectangular blue blazes along these roads. Painted on trees, polls, and posts, these symbols mark a thoughtfully chosen route that navigates specific points of interest within Ohio. With the help of my friend Gary, I started noticing these symbols. All of a sudden, a pattern started occurring where I would be riding my bike and say, “man... this is an awesome road” and a few seconds later, I would see a Buckeye Trail symbol. Once I started noticing them, they were everywhere I looked on my local rides. I finally got around to looking in my atlas and sure enough, the Buckeye Trail was completely marked, 1444 miles circling the state of Ohio. I immediately wanted to ride it.            

I didn’t know anyone who had ridden extended portions of the trail; in fact, I had a hard time finding anyone familiar with the sections outside the hiking trails within the state parks. I decided to create my own plan based on my knowledge of the route and preferences as a rider. I like crossing things, so riding from my house in Maineville, Ohio (Cincinnati) to Lake Erie was appealing. It was especially appealing because Tom and I had already ridden across the West side of the state. As a result of glaciers, the terrain on the West side of Ohio is very flat with rolling plains. Our route was a short 260 miles characterized by straight flat roads and a whole lot of agriculture to look at, it was also paved. When I first moved to Ohio, I imagined a place exactly like what we rode through 4-years ago. To say it was boring is incorrect, but I find that some rides are more interesting than others, just like movies. If you have to watch it for so long, it better be good. Was Ohio capable of holding my attention for a week? I thought so.

I wanted to ride across the East side of the state, the side that was untouched by glaciers and is much more rugged, wild, and hilly. I pulled out my laptop and started tracing the route from the atlas into a GPS file, replacing the obvious hiking (no biking) trails, with an alternative back road/dirt road/two-track. Aside from those modifications, we were following the blue blazes. The final numbers for the route from my house to Lake Erie turned out to be a whopping 626 miles with some 36,000 ft of climbing. This would be a big trip, and would require some long-term preparation.

The route file sat lonely in my Ride with GPS account for one year, but once spring approached it was time to gather the team for an early June departure. The timing was perfect, Tom and I had a cross-country tour on the horizon, and my little sister was planning to move away from Ohio, to Portland. The Buckeye Trail ride would be the perfect tune-up for our legs and equipment for our trip, while being the ideal send off for Mary to move away from her home state of the last 18-years. Our date for departure was set for June 14 for a seven-day pilgrimage to see what the rest of the state was made of.

We departed for our ride on a Sunday and finished on the following Saturday. We wanted to stay true to the forefathers (and mothers) of this route by taking as leisurely of an approach to the route while remaining within our time limit of seven days. This meant that with a 90 mile per day average, we had a little bit of time to enjoy extra curricular activities like swimming, some site seeing, extended breaks from the elements, early evenings and relatively late mornings at our campground or motel.

While the idea of this route sounds appealing, the rugged reality of how hilly the terrain is in Southeastern Ohio is no joke. Then, there is Ohio’s climate; cold wet winters with humid hot summers. Normally, the high heat and humidity doesn’t hit hard in Ohio until July-August, but it’s Ohio, you can’t predict the weather. The week of our ride just so happened to be the week of hurricane Bill’s party on our weather system, which gradually made its way up to Ohio giving us roughly 2.5 days of clear blue skies, 90 degree temperatures, and very high humidity before the clouds opened on us. This was a relief, as the rain would wash away the sweat and cool down the air, however, it also made everything wet, really wet, all the time.

The first four days were rough. The heat, humidity, rain, mud, and the wet everything, pushed our understanding of discomfort to new levels and because of this, our energy was low and slow at times. We kept going, and just like that, the pain was gone. The terrain was the same, the weather was the same, but we had adapted, and the leisurely mindset we set out to have, finally made it’s way back into our consciousness.

            Throughout the journey we enjoyed our favorite Blue Rock Quarry, the tight twisty gravel roads of Scioto State Park, the caves of Hocking Hills, the remoteness of Wayne National Forest, the oddness of the historic communal village of Zoar, and the friendliest town, called Deersville, where a couple returning home from their camp trip gifted us a feast of leftovers and beer. We rode the dirt towpath along the historic Ohio and Erie Canal (flooded at the time) through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and saw Brandywine Falls. We blew bubbles, played with fireworks, took shelter in barns, ate barbecue, ice cream and donuts (on separate occasions), camped in a bathroom, and joked with the locals who couldn’t understand why it was taking us so long to ride our bikes across Ohio, which can be done in half the time via a more direct route. We enjoyed our state and national parks. We saw evidence of the life cycle of the coal and oil industry and it’s effect on the water, and the towns, many of which are now deserted. We saw Lake Erie and all of its Mayfly glory and dipped our feet in the water while drinking a local Great Lakes Beer.

            I have seen Ohio, and I like riding my bicycle in Ohio. I especially like Ohio during the autumn months, which is the time of year I’d recommend taking on this challenging, yet scenic, roller coaster of a route. In autumn, Ohio turns red, orange, and yellow, and the air is lighter and crisper. In retrospect we are happy to have done the ride when we did. The timing was ideal for building more memories with Mary before her departure and we will be talking about this trip for years to come. Also, Tom and I could not have asked for a better tune-up for our cross-country ride in August, where weather conditions will likely be similar to what we encountered. We go forward in our journeys with a better understanding and appreciation for the place we call home. If you are looking to see Ohio for what it is, follow the blue blazes.

Photos by Mary Lytle (@maryroselytle), Tom Swallow (@carbon10speed), and Sarah Swallow (@swallowbicycleworks)

Buckeye Trail Bicycle Route (Cincinnati to Lake Erie): http://ridewithgps.com/routes/8350930

Donate to the Buckeye Trail Association

http://www.buckeyetrail.org/donate.php

Buckeye Trail Map Photo Source

http://www.buckeyetrail.org/

 

 

Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride: Crush The Commonwealth

Originally Posted May, 2015

 “If it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well… maybe chalk it off to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.” Hunter Thompson’s advice can easily be applied to Tom’s decision-making process when encouraging us to do something that is the most challenging thing we have ever done. For me, I am a bit of a skeptic. I ask questions like, “Is it worth it? What do I stand to gain from it all? Why even do it?” This is the debate Tom and I had when we considered participating in a ride called Crush the Commonwealth, a 385 mile informal race across the state of Pennsylvania. The ride would be the longest distance we would have ever ridden, in the shortest amount of time. The ride would require two days off work, travel, food, and lodging expenses, but most importantly, time away from our normal day-to-day, comfortable life. So why would we do it? Well, as pioneers in search of new and meaningful experiences on and off of our bikes, the reward always outweighs the costs. Doing things that are hard is good because we learn from new experiences, it makes daily life seem easier, and it can alter our perception of what is possible. There is no substitute for a genuine experience. I could have read other people’s accounts, but I would never really know what it would be like to ride 385 miles across the state of Pennsylvania unless I did it myself.

            We are cyclists, but we are also the only employees of the bike shop we opened 4-years ago. As business owners, to say we don’t have time for most of the stuff we subject ourselves to would be an understatement. Training isn’t structured other than trying to ride our bikes as much as possible, whether that’s to and from work, or a weekend ride. When planning trips, we plan as much as we can, but embrace the unknown. We enjoy the emotion of seeing a new road for the first time in person, not on Google Earth. Crush the Commonwealth was right up our alley. With a statement posted to the internet of the ride date (Friday, April 23), route (385 miles and 15,746 ft of elevation gain from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia), and start time (5 a.m.), we committed, mentally, to do the ride. This wasn’t the first time we had heard about Crush the Commonwealth nor was it the first long-distance ride we would do overnight, it would be the longest, so we did what we could do to prepare. We had three weekends to ride 12-14 hour days of 120 – 140 road and gravel miles. Believe it, or not, this was the easy part. The more difficult part was dealing with the logistical puzzle of doing a point-to-point ride. Again, not the first time we have done this, but every time is different. Rental car rates and hours of operation are different. Finding a place to park your car for three days is stressful and confusing, and lastly, hotels.  Selecting hotels that aren’t going to break the bank, but also don’t force you to loose hope in all humanity. We chose the wrong hotels on this trip. This is the hard part. Another hard part was when we were cold and tired and it was three in the morning and we were 245 miles in. With a forecast of low 40’s, the high 20 degree temperatures through the night caught us by surprise. The temps also had an affect on how tired I felt. I noticed this when, while riding, I started breathing very slow, and calmly. I was pedaling slower, and slower, then, “Hey! Are you falling asleep!? Get up here!” Tom would say. I had the choice to pull off to the side of the road and sleep in the current temperature, or, move faster, ride 15 more miles, and get to an establishment that was open. By the time we found it, we were so cold, it took us 10 minutes of watching the tv show COPS to actually stop shaking, relax, and doze off to sleep. Then, waking up an hour later, putting a second pair of shorts on, and getting back on our bikes, in the same cold, and dark, and feeling the stinging burn in our legs as we started pedaling again. We had ridden 260 miles. This was hard. I submit. At this point, 125 more miles sounded like a very long ride.  It was, but when it was over, it was done. We had made it. We would never feel that same pain again, or at least for a long while. This is also a feeling we get when we return home, to our comfortable life. The problems we left before the ride don’t seem as big. Those bills aren’t that bad, that ride was not that hard, the dog pooped in the house… Well, yeah, that’s still kind of bad. The people and things familiar to our daily life seem to have a silver lining.  Life, well, it just seems easier.

            We are students of the school of life. That came from somewhere, but I don’t know where. When you do hard things, you learn stuff. All sorts of stuff, like if your saddle is uncomfortable, there are some 50 different combo moves to seat angle, forward and back, up and down, left to right that one can do to actually make that uncomfortable saddle more comfortable. This, I always knew, but never genuinely experienced it. Here is another example. Did you know that Pennsylvania has pizza burgers? It also has mountains, rushing clear rivers, waterfalls, large rock formations, and huge expanses of farmland between mountains. I knew this, but I never witnessed it firsthand from the saddle. We learned that State and U.S. Bicycle Routes are not as bicycle friendly as one should expect, that spicy breakfast burritos don’t digest well, but perfectly toasted, plain, butter covered, bagels do. We met a fellow Ohioan on the ride and ended up sharing a van with him from Philadelphia, back to our cars in Pittsburgh. His name was Paul. From Paul, we learned many things and that an individual can come from 270 pounds and not riding, to riding Crush the Commonwealth 4 times within 6 years. We know this and by now you get the idea.

            When you do something that is hard, like ride 385 miles all at once, you realize how far you have traveled in such little time. At 12 a.m. we reached a town called Chambersburg. We only had 160 miles left to go and the last 226 miles went by with a breeze (literally).  At some gas station in a town outside of Philadelphia, I told the lady at the counter that I had started in Pittsburgh the morning before, and have been riding ever since. Now, I was across the state, almost in Philadelphia. I did this by pedaling a simple bicycle, with two wheels, a chain, you know, very little. I was able to cross a state, just me, and a human powered machine. Doing this ride has altered my perception of what is possible. If I can ride 385 miles with very little sleep, what else can I do? What else would I want to do? Thus, perpetuating a cycle of seeking challenge to gain experience and to grow as a human being.

            Crush the Commonwealth is an informal race across the state of Pennsylvania, meaning some people race it, and some people don’t. There is no prize for first place, and the ride is free to do. The route traverses 385 miles with 15,746 feet of elevation gain, following the crushed limestone of the Great Allegheny Passage, and the smooth paved roads of PA Bicycle Route S. Every year, the route switches direction from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, to Philadelphia to Pittsburgh giving the ride veterans two routes to test their time upon, despite the unpredictable yearly course conditions and weather. The ride started at 5:15 a.m. on a Friday. With a focus on having fun, and enjoying ourselves as much as possible, we rode our pace, sometimes steadily, and sometimes with frequent stops, through the night and temperatures reaching down to the twenties. We slept for 60 minutes. We made it to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia just after 3 p.m., just in time for a Philly Cheese Steak.