Monday, August 26, 2013

Update: Summer 2013

Hi, readers,

Sorry for not updating you sooner: This summer, Steve and I are finishing our cross-country bike trip. We're raising money for some of the Aurora theater victims while doing so, and we're taking turns blogging at More to come here in the fall.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nashville to Amarillo: We're Halfway There

I bring you: another day-by-day account! We've been on the road long enough that I do have some more general thoughts about the trip, and I would really like to write them down, but I doubt I'll have time for that until we get to Denver. Until then, let's get caught up, below:

Days 21-22 (6/26-6/27): Took the Natchez Trace Parkway, which we picked up just outside of Nashville, TN, and rode it all the way to Mississippi. The Trace was essentially a park - tree-lined, well-paved, low-traffic, not too hilly, and with bathrooms and campsites (some of which were free!) spaced fairly evenly along the way. That made for some easy riding and gave us the opportunity to think, but there were also long stretches where it felt like we were the only people in the world, and the trees disconnected us from any outside frame of reference to the extent that we couldn't even tell how steep an upcoming hill was going to be until we were upon it. On the second day, we unlocked the "Tristate" achievement by crossing two state boundaries in one evening.

Day 23 (6/28): Biked 98 miles to Steve's friend Lucie's house in Oxford, Mississippi. It was nearly all flat, but we got a late start and were facing what was probably the worst combination of heat and humidity we've seen all trip; so by the time we got to Tupelo, where we would leave the Trace and head west, the strong headwind that blew up just felt like icing on the cake. When we stopped at Subway-inside-WalMart (I didn't realize this was a thing), we were accosted by an old rancher who seemed really taken with the fact that we were biking across the country. After clearing up a misunderstanding ("I know what you are. You're Mormons!"), talking loudly about how riding horses gives you calluses in awkward places, shaking our hands about a dozen times each, and trying but failing to pay for our lunch, he ended up giving us $20.

Day 24 (6/29): Rest day at Lucie's home in Oxford! Lucie's entire family was really good to us, and we spent a lot of time hanging around the house (I'm still really bad at Brawl), hanging around the town (shoutouts to Ole Miss, William Falkner, and L.C.Q. Lamar), and eating really good food. 

Day 25 (6/30): Left Oxford to begin the 7-day journey to Dallas. We were finally wise enough to plan a shorter day after our inevitably late post-rest-day start, so despite a pretty tiring headwind, we rolled into the Grenada, MS area in time to get dinner at a bar/grill that just happened to be on our route and just a few miles from our campsite. The bartender and cook were both fun to talk to, but as we were finishing dinner, an even more interesting crowd arrived: three big, loud, aggressive rednecks. After stories involving women, roofer's knives, "redneck yacht parties," etc., and not a few warnings that they had better not see us around tomorrow, they actually turned out to be a pretty friendly crowd, in their own way. Seeing us drinking Coronas, they bought us Budweisers ("What are you drinking that Mexican shit for? Are you Mexican-lovers?"), gave us $10 ("to help get you the hell out of Mississippi"), provided some sage advice about the Delta (especially the mosquitoes and the black people. "That might sound racist to you... 'cause it IS racist."),  offered us a smoke "from the deer horn," and assured us that they were just messing with us. We parted on good terms, but I will always wonder what was in the deer horn.

Day 26 (7/1): More headwinds, a flat tire (or two?), an excursion onto a county road that turned into loose gravel, and a ~100-mile ride to Greenville, MS, on the edge of the Mississippi and the border of Arkansas. Both of our Couchsurfing requests (for Greenville and Indianola, about 25 miles to the east) went unanswered, and a lot of people had warned us about crime in the Delta, but we encountered a deus ex machina in the form of Steve's friend's sister's fiance's former roommates (no, actually.), whose house was conveniently located about ten miles east of Greenville. We arrived just as night fell, spent the night at their house alone (the former roommates were off vacationing), and availed ourselves of their showers and couches.

Day 27 (7/2): Another tri-state gold star! We crossed the Mississippi (which seemed far from mighty), stopped at a Subway in Arkansas, and rode to Chemin-a-Haut State Park in Louisiana -- which, at $26, clocks in as the most expensive park we've stayed at so far, and also the most luxurious (vending machines and a coin laundry?!). Quick aside, now that I'm thinking about it: we love Subway. One of the secrets to our success so far is their turkey bacon avocado on toasted Italian herbs and cheese bread, with mustard/mayo and as many veggies as possible so that we even get some vitamins thrown in the mix.

Day 28 (7/3): Attempted to ride to a campground in Minden, LA, but were foiled by what was probably our most disheartening day of the entire trip. We had planned to spend most of the day on Route 2, which runs E-W along northern Louisiana, but we quickly discovered that it has almost no shoulder and happens to be full of logging trucks. After multiple flat tires and the first (and hopefully last) "I'm about to die" moment of the trip - when, buffeted by the wind of a passing logging truck, I swerved left for a split second and came very close to riding into its rear wheel - we decided to take a detour, because we figured that staying alive was probably more important than making it to Minden by nightfall. Instead, a very strong finish brought us to Ruston, LA (despite 5 miles of unfinished pavement at the very end, during which I was sure that some important piece of my bike was about to fall off), where we decided to stay in a motel (which, at $31, was barely more expensive than Chemin-a-Haut) and prepare for our July 4th Challenge (see below).

Day 29 (7/4): The July 4th Challenge was to make it to Longview, Texas, where a Couchsurfer had agreed to host us that evening. We got up at 5:00 (our earliest ever), had bought food/Gatorade/water by 7:00, and spent the entire day riding, stopping only to refill, refuel, and refresh. 15 hours and 147 miles later, we arrived at our hosts' house, just after the last guest at their Fourth of July party had left. As we biked through the center of Longview, we passed hundreds of people lined up along the side of the road - they were of course waiting for the fireworks to start, but it felt almost like they were there for us, as if we were completing an Alpine stage of the Tour de France. We ended the day with delicious leftovers, warm showers, and a bed. I was, physically, the weariest I've ever been at the end of a day.

Day 30 (7/5): Rode to Lake Tawakani and stayed at a really fun, privately owned campground / RV park called Kenny's Landing. It was probably the most scenic place we've stayed all trip - we camped right next to the lake - and the convenience store had food and drinks at supermarket prices. The most shocking thing about our day  was that, even after those 147 miles, I still felt energetic. I think I may finally be at the point (at least, on reasonably flat terrain) that we read about in a cycling book that we found in Kentucky: "With enough fuel, the experienced endurance cyclist can ride forever."

Day 31 (7/6): Got out early and had a short, easy ride into Plano, Texas (a suburb just north of Dallas). We were joined halfway by Steve's girlfriend, Caitlin, and her family. Her father and brother had brought their bikes, so they rode with us for the final 20 miles, which was a nice change. For the first time all trip, we ended the day in a hotel - courtesy Caitlin's parents. The sense of luxury we felt was indescribable.

Day 32 (7/7): Spent a rest day in Plano/Dallas. Ate a lot of really good food (hot tip if you're ever in Plano: Besa's, on Jupiter Rd. Awesome Italian food, unlimited rolls, and BYOB.), spent a few quality hours learning about the JFK assassination on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository ($13.50 but well worth it), and spent our second night enjoying the untold luxuries of the Comfort Suites.

Day 33 (7/8): Rode through McKinney, Texas (where my uncle used to live); had a great lunch there (and got free pie because they were closing!), discovered the glory that is Kroger's Signature Stores (we loved Kroger's already. But... a sushi bar?! You could live there and want for nothing.), met a guy who gives $2 bills to everyone he likes (and he liked us.), and spent the night with a very accommodating Couchsurfing host named Bobby in Denton, TX. Before we got to his house, we happened upon a great restaurant/bar called Rooster's, where we met Joe, a middle-aged cyclist whose dream is to do the trans-America trip when he retires. To our surprise, the waitress told us a few minutes later that our dinner bill had already been paid; and, when we tried to thank him, Joe wouldn't hear of it and gave each of us $20 on top of it all. Joe pretty much epitomizes the generosity and hospitality we've found throughout our travels; all we can do is put him on our list, send him a thank-you (/"we actually made it!") postcard from San Francisco, and try to pay it forward later in life.

Day 34 (7/9): We tried to ride the 100 miles to Wichita Falls, but were foiled by storms. Nothing serious ever came up - we saw no lightning - but the sky got very dark and the wind got strong enough that it threatened to knock me over, so we took shelter in a gas station while I fixed a developing flat tire. As often happens to us in these situations, there was a silver lining: we ran into Juanito, a DJ from Denver who was on his way back home after doing a wedding in Texas. He's been getting into cycling, and was really taken with our trip; he's also super friendly, and ended up promising us that, if we arrived in Denver on a Friday, he would dedicate his weekly salsa night (and the proceeds of the cover) to us and our trip. If that ends up happening, it may well be one of the best/funniest/most ridiculous and serendipitous things to happen to us this entire trip. We ended the day in an RV park, where the owner essentially let us stay for free (less than, really), and headed out early the next morning.

Day 35 (7/10): Rode the remaining 60 miles to Wichita Falls, where we arrived earlier (by far) than ever before: 3 PM, even after sushi for lunch and a visit to WalMart. We turned out to have picked the worst possible day to arrive early: our CouchSurfing host, a 40-year-old man with a unique name and an equally unique worldview, talked to (read: "at") us for over six hours. (This is not an exaggeration. Ask Steve, who tapped out even later than I did.) I was just starting to add a head cold to the allergies that had been building since Nashville, so I spent a pretty miserable evening suffering through theories about everything from what made a meaningful African-American model for young people ("You can't argue with peanut butter!") to why the Jewish people are so successful (chutzpah, baby. chutzpah.), and I went to bed exhausted. To be fair, I should mention that our host treated us to a shower, a bed, and a delicious homemade pasta dinner. We've been lucky with our silver linings.

Day 36 (7/11): Things get worse. The section of Route 287 between Wichita Falls and Amarillo has a great shoulder, but it's also full of pieces of blown-out tires. And as it turns out, car tires have wire beading - so each piece, no matter how small, is basically like an armor-piercing round where our own tires/inner tubes are concerned. We literally had six flats between the two of us throughout the day - most of them concentrated within a 20-mile distance - and after changing them in the heat and worrying about running out of tubes before reaching Amarillo, morale hit a low not seen since the Logging Truck Incident (TM). But we pushed hard after the last flat, averaging over 15mph for the final 36 miles, and made it to our destination (an RV park) as night fell. Silver lining: delicious $1 complimentary breakfast the next morning! Everybody wins!

Day 37 (7/12): Things get a little better. Steve got four more flats (he's now at around 3x my own flat count), but at some point during the day we confirmed our suspicion about the wire beading and the danger of running over seemingly innocuous pieces of rubber on the shoulder. (My own bike tires have wire beading. So why didn't we figure this out earlier? I don't know. Maybe we're just dumb.) We didn't get into the town near the park we planned to stay in until pretty late, but we ended the day with a Subway sandwich and a fortunate encounter with the manager of a very small RV park, who let us stay for free and use the shower in his own RV.

Day 38 (7/13): No flats! We were extraextraextra careful, and the shoulder got much cleaner as we approached Amarillo (which we could see from something like 15 miles out. talk about flat.), so we managed to arrive without incident. We hit up a bike shop, where Steve essentially bought armor (tire inserts) and insurance ("slimed" tubes) for his tires; it's basically the armored-Humvee version of flat prevention, so Steve is expecting exactly 0 more flats between here and San Francisco. I figure I'll get a half-dozen more in that time, but we have so many spare tubes at this point that it shouldn't be an issue. We then headed to the home of Steven, our excellent Couchsurfing host (and our first young host; he's 19), and had a fantastic dinner on a really cool strip of restaurants, bars and (yep) antique shops on a section of what used to be Route 66.

Day 39 (7/14): Today we spent a rest day at Steven's house, dealing with some bike- and computer-related stuff and eating good food on the old Route 66 strip. We're starting the Amarillo-->Denver leg of our trip tomorrow, and expecting to get it done in 6 days. We need to get it done in that amount of time, or less... because Juanito and salsa night are waiting for us.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

rest day in Plano

We've taken a rest day in Plano, Texas - in the Dallas area - and had a ton of fun, but managed to accomplish even less than we usually do on rest days. I still have to wash my clothes, figure out how to file an insurance claim for my camera, go through receipts to square away finances with Steve, buy new tubes in case of flats, print out our directions to Amarillo, gather up the explosion of stuff that I've thrown around, and pack it back into my panniers.

Long story short: there will be no blog entry tonight. There MIGHT be one tomorrow night - we're planning a short day to Denton, TX, and hoping to couchsurf there - but I can't make any promises. In the meantime, here's an action shot to tide you over:

Also, although I hope to never again ride this many miles in a single day (at least, not on this trip), I am pretty proud of our July 4 ride from Ruston, Louisiana into Longview, Texas; so I'm going to end with the stats from that day's trip:

July 4 ride stats --
Miles: 147
Time on the road: 15 hours
Cycling time: 11 hours 53 minutes
Calories consumed: >5,000

And as it turns out... we're almost halfway to the west coast! San Francisco suddenly seems so much more accessible than it once did.

I hope to update you as soon as I can with a bit more substance. But blogging requires both time and a computer, and that's one combination of amenities that we rarely find ourselves with. So we encourage The People to subscribe to e-mail updates from this blog and continue with their daily lives until such time as they receive a notification that a new post has been written. After all, we know that The People are very busy, and won't take kindly to refreshing The Blog every hour to no avail.

Until then (more than a few hours from now),

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The First Thousand

Our rest days have been so busy - with recuperating, catching up on things, buying things, spending time with our hosts, hitting the town, etc. - that it's really hard to justify setting aside an hour or two to blog. That said, I do still want to chronicle our journey in some fashion, and I know that the longer I leave it, the harder it will be to catch up. So here's the "2:30 AM at the Bichell home in Tennessee" version of an update for the first 1/4 (!) of our trip. One to two sentences per day; short and sweet.

Day 0 (6/5): Drove down to Virginia Beach, had the best nachos I've ever eaten (Baja Cantina, in case you get the chance to visit). CouchSurfed with Run Away Bill, a fantastic, hippy-type, 50-year-old guy with a house full of curios and one driving mission in life: to find the best parties, mostly of the festival type.

Day 1 (6/6): Took forever to pack, dip our wheels in the Atlantic, clean the sand off our wheels, and hit the road (at 1 PM!). Spent the day working out kinks, and the night sleeping illegally in a park - only to be woken at 3 AM by some very wary police, who fortunately decided our trip was super cool and that since we were already in the park we might as well stay out the night.

Day 2 (6/7): Biked to an area north of Richmond, where we tried and failed to find the "cyclists only campgrounds" indicated on the map (it helps to read the info on the back, which we didn't find until a week or so later). Had our first experience with southern hospitality when we were lucky enough to run into John, a guy who lived nearby (nearly inside the Richmond Battlefield Park) and was kind enough to stop and offer his front yard as our campsite.

Day 3 (6/8): Had a rough day (tardiness, hills), especially for me (soreness, developing a monster of a rash on my legs, and semi-debilitating bowel problems), and ended up rolling into Middle Of Nowhere (Beaverdam), Virginia as darkness closed in. Stopped at a Baptist church, used to find the pastor's number, and got permission to camp (AND a free shower - and strawberries! - in the morning).

Days 4-5 (6/9-6/10): Undertook the long, hilly climb into the center of Charlottesville after an already-long day (79 miles, our farthest at the time by a large margin). Stayed with the family of my friend Nina, who were so wonderful to us (and we were so sore) that we decided on the spot to take a much-needed rest day.

Day 6 (6/11): Our first day of rain had me worried about drivers and visibility (especially given the road we were on), but there was also a silver lining in that we climbed our first major mountain (onto the misty Blue Ridge Parkway) without too much heat and sweat. Spent the night at Lake Sherando (a campground a few miles off the TransAmerica route) and got to see Olivia, a good friend from high school.

Day 7 (6/12): Discovered that going to Sherando, which involved dropping about 1,000 ft after making a 1,500-ft climb the day before, was a horrible mistake; we had to regain those thousand feet in short order, in a climb that has been the most devastating and difficult of our trip to date. Only managed about 35 miles, ending at the Mallard Duck hostel, where we met a very interesting cast of characters - including Steve, whose parting story to us is so great that it has to be reproduced, below:
"And when this guy tried to sucker punch my friend, it was like he was trying to sucker punch ME! So I clotheslined him. And then I clotheslined him again. And then I said, 'Who's your daddy?' And he said, 'Well, I guess you are.'"

Day 8 (6/13): Biked to little old Daleville, VA, where we once again became the recipients of some southern hospitality: a Mr. Painter pulled up on the side of the road as it was getting dark and offered his back porch for us to camp on. By the time we left the next morning, we had also enjoyed his shower (which had so many knobs and dials that he had to explain "the controls"), a hot breakfast, and a parting gift of blueberries.

Day 9 (6/14): Finished Section 12 of the TransAmerica map (it's labeled for eastbound cyclists) and ended the day at the home of a friend from school, Ian. Enjoyed their hospitality, the decor (his dad had shot a bear in Alaska, and its pelt was mounted in the living room), and the small college town of Radford, VA.

Day 10 (6/15): Took a rest day by biking - literally about a block, as it turned out - to the home of (the aforementioned) Olivia's grandmother. Had the best food of the trip so far (mostly because we really love meat now - and also, blueberry pie?!), and shared some great drinks with our host and her friend (the former had a fully stocked bar).

Day 11 (6/16): Didn't get as far as we wanted (I think we were 3 for 9 on that score by this point), so we had trouble finding a place to camp in the smallish town of Marion, VA (but did get to practice our Spanish at a Mexican restaurant, so, yay). A guy offered us his yard, but he lived 7 miles back the way we had came and it was already dark (and thus a safety issue), so we admitted defeat and spent our first night in a motel.

Day 12 (6/17): During a lovely lunch in sleepy Meadowview, VA, we finally met two other cyclists doing the TransAmerica fully loaded (self-sustained touring, as opposed to with SAG wagons / RVs). We managed some very solid climbs (1,500 and later 1,000 ft) without breaking a sweat (okay, just kidding... but we felt good afterward!), which made this the first day that I felt that I must be getting significantly stronger (or at least better adjusted to cycling), and that the whole "We'll train on the road!" idea seemed to be working.

Days 13-14 (6/18-6/19): After 600 miles or so (the TransAmerica route/Interstate Bike Route 76 is pretty winding, and Virginia is wide), we finally crossed the state line into Kentucky! Rode a rather frightening road (one lane each way, and, coal trucks) to Pikeville, where we stayed at Steve's friend's house, and where I finally got to do what I had been meaning to do all through Virginia: talk to some of the people who run/work at Chinese restaurants in tiny/completely random towns throughout the U.S., and listen to their stories.

Day 15 (6/20): Had a much rougher day out of Pikeville than we could have possibly anticipated, which seemed to be ending particularly well when a guy in an unmarked white van pulled up behind us on the shoulder... and proceeded to tell us about the youth ministry of a church nearby that would be happy to host us. It turned out that the church was no longer hosting cyclists, but by the time we discovered that it was so dark (thinking we were set for the evening, we had taken a detour to get pizza) that we had no choice but to fork over $25 each for the only cycling hostel in town - which nonetheless turned out to be completely worth it when we discovered that the guest tent came with a beer, a hot shower, laundry service, a double shot of brandy, an ice pack, and a breakfast of cake, fruit, and cereal.

Day 16 (6/21): Started our secret detour to Great Britain (aka eastern-central Kentucky) when we pulled into Manchester that evening (in the following days to be succeeded by London, Somerset, and Glasgow). Had a superb dinner, then once again paid dearly for the time we spent at the restaurant: rode the 5 remaining miles to the local park in the dark, chased by dogs part of the way (and I can testify that this is frightening at best when you can actually see them).

Day 17 (6/22): Made it to Somerset just in time to catch the tail end of a monthly antique car show extravaganza (and listen to a pretty great cover band, and buy some pulled pork from the vendors). It was dark and we had no particular place to stay (are you seeing a trend here? we're trying to correct this. I probably shouldn't have gotten that haircut in London.), and the police pretty much told us to take a hike when we asked about campsites in town, but with the help of some friendly people we managed to secure the permission of the venue's security guard to camp just off the parking lot at the site of the car show that had just closed up shop.

Day 18 (6/23): Biked our first century of the trip: 100 miles (or 105 for us that day, to be precise), and it. felt. good. Stayed at a pretty happenin' campground near Glasgow, KY, run by the Army Corps of Engineers - a member of which had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail a few years back and was so happy that we were doing something cool and similar that she brought us hot chocolate.

Days 19-20 (6/24-6/25): Biked just shy of a second century to my friend Rae Ellen's home on the southern end of Nashville, TN. We've had a fantastic time at her house - seen the city, eaten incredibly well, listened to some great live music, met her gorgeous family, even resolved some bike issues - and we're kind of reluctant to leave. Fortunately we're looking forward to a smooth ride down the bike-friendly Natchez Trace Parkway to the home of Elvis in Tupelo, Mississippi.

That last thing is supposed to be starting in about seven hours, and it takes us a few hours to get ready and pack each day... so that means I'd better stop with the blogging and start with the sleeping. I hope the format of this was digestible; I'd like to be a bit more thorough, but off-the-bike alone time has been shockingly elusive on this trip.

We'll be taking a rest day in Oxford, Mississippi, where we hope to arrive in three days' time. Until then, I bid you all adieu. Know that I am still alive, still in reasonably good health (though, I'm going to need to visit a dermatologist as soon as I get back to Yale), and pretty satisfied that that's all still true after completing the first thousand miles of our trip.

Love from Nashville,

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Cross-Country Tour: An Introduction

"The town is behind. Its cares are forgotten. If I have left a thing undone, let it remain so; for I have done with the town and all that remains in it, and the open world is before me. Now I care nothing for either time or space, for of both I am absolute master. I scorn appointments, either with myself or with another. I will not end the day in any given spot, but in that spot which pleases me best when the day is near its close. I am king of the road, I, a vagrant, a gipsy, a highwayman if you will, but at all events one who knows and honours the freedom of the road."

 -- Mr. Haydon Perry, a touring "enthusiast" quoted in A.W. Rumney's Cycle Touring (1898, "Price One Shilling")


Hello from Pikeville, Kentucky, and a bike trip that has finally gone interstate. Before I can talk about how we got here, though, a little history is in order.

This trip of ours formally began thirteen days ago today, but a lot has happened over the few years without which we never would have been able to dip our wheels in the Atlantic. When I was in Taipei during the summer after my freshman year, I spent a lot of time exploring: wandering the alleys, cycling into the mountains, trying the food, talking to people I met in restaurants or on the street. It seemed like the best way to take the pulse of the city and the best way to meet its people. The Taiwanese I met were usually just as curious about America as I was about Taiwan; they wanted to know how Americans live, what we eat, what we earn, how we celebrate. I discovered pretty quickly that I didn't have very many answers for them - I could speak for my family, or at times on behalf of suburban Connecticut, but rarely did I feel confident talking about anywhere else in America, let alone the country in its entirety.

When I got back to the U.S., I started wondering why I had never really thought of exploring America, or even New York, the same way I explored Taipei: on foot, by bike, and most importantly in person. So at some point during the winter of my sophomore year (late 2009 or early 2010), an e-mail went out to Steve, a longtime friend and partner-in-shenanigans. It went something like this: "So what if we took a summer and biked across the country?" The reply was characteristic of him, and went something like this: "That sounds great. Let's do it. I mean it."

Over the next year and a half, we kicked the idea around and let it take shape. Around mid-2010, when I had just arrived in Beijing for a year of Chinese study, we settled on the summer of 2012 as our window of opportunity: Steve would be graduating, and neither of us knew what the post-Commencement world would bring, so we figured it might well be our last chance to embark on an adventure of this scale together. In mid-2011, while I was working for a Chinese company in Zambia, we started talking more seriously about logistics, cost, and other considerations. Throughout the past academic year (2011-2012), I spent a large portion of my free time doing research: combing books, blogs, and the local bike shop for clues about what to buy, eat, prepare, and expect. I also applied for but failed to receive a Yale fellowship, saved up some of the money I would need for the trip, and dipped into previous savings for the rest. Most of my spring break in March was spent training, and while I quickly lost the mileage gains I made during those ten days, I did get a lot more comfortable with my new bike and with endurance cycling in general.

Preparing for the trip has involved a pretty serious commitment of time, money, and attention - more so by far than any of my previous summer (ad)ventures - but it's hard to sum up in a word what exactly has motivated me. The main impetus has always been this desire to get a grassroots, worm's-eye view of America, but other elements have also become intertwined in that: rising to the physical challenge, filming some breathtaking scenery, eating some delicious food, cementing a strong friendship, attaining the feeling of achievement that I hope will come after completing an ocean-to-ocean trip, and briefly freeing myself (Perry-esque) from schedules, communication, and obligations.

Given the limited amount of time we have before I need to be back at Yale, it's going to be difficult to balance all of these; just yesterday, for example, we were talking about whether or not we'll be willing or able to maintain a pace that will take us through the deep South, northern Texas, the Great Plains, and Utah, or whether we'll have to take a more direct route to our final destination of San Francisco. We chose our route with the intent to spend some time in as many "alien" regions of the U.S. as time would allow. We hope it will look something like this - - and so far we seem to be reasonably on track, though with 650 miles down and as many as 3,800 remaining, we'll need to pick up the pace a bit to achieve our goal. You'll notice that we didn't start in Connecticut, where we're both from and where I go to school; we figured that if we're reasonably familiar with any two regions of the U.S., they are New England and the mid-Atlantic, so we (and by "we," I mean "Steve") drove a rental car down to Virginia Beach and started there. (This became a brief point of embarrassment yesterday when we met Stan, a guy from Belgium who had started from New York on about the same day as us. Stan also drinks milk instead of water and may be superhuman, so I think we'll go back to being proud of our daily mileage soon.)

Before I launch into what our trip has actually been like - the subject of the next blog entry, so, hold your horses - I'm going to answer a few of the most common questions we've been asked along the way:

Q: What do you carry with you?

A: Everything we need (or just really want). So far, for me personally (including group gear) that comprises:
  • touring bike (mine is a secondhand Fuji Touring from around 2007, a steal at $400)
  • bike accessories
    • bike computer (which I got for free with the bike! stopped working in the middle of Virginia but started back up again two days ago for no reason.)
    • rear rack
    • panniers (saddlebag-type packs that hook onto the sides of the rack)
    • handlebar bag
    • waterproof map pocket (attaches to handlebars)
    • U-lock and cable
    • pedals (Mine are dual platform, which means that I can ride clipped into my cycling shoes or on a flat platform with regular shoes. We always ride clipped in when we're on the road, which was a big adjustment at first but became second nature within a day or two.)
    • cycling shoes with cleats (made especially to clip into the pedals)
    • water bottle cages (2)
    • bell
    • reflectors (one set per wheel and then a back reflector that I've zip-tied to my rack)
    • front light (1W, blue-white)
    • rear light (Very Bright, red)
    • mini mirror (zip tied to my left drop handlebar)
    • flag (3m fiberglass; fluorescent orange replaced with an American flag, which was Steve's idea with inspiration credit to his friend Marshall)
    • mini floor pump (mounted to the down tube)
    • extra mini pump
    • handlebar mount for video camera
  • Spares and Repairs
    • spare tire (1)
    • spare tubes (2)
    • spare spokes (2)
    • patch kits (includes sandpaper, vulcanizing glue, and patches)
    • chain lube
    • bike tool set (includes Allen keys, screwdrivers, tire levers, chain breaker, etc.)
    • rag (for grease)
  • Cycling Apparel
    • cycling shorts (3x; mine are all mountain bike- esque Louis Garneau Cyclo shorts. I'm allergic to something in them and will probably return to Yale with a hydrocortisone and/or Benadryl addiction.)
    • cycling jersey (1)
    • helmet
  • Other Apparel
    • socks (5 pairs, incl. 2 SmartWool)
    • gloves (1 pair, fingerless leather, courtesy my younger brother Ian. For when it gets cold.)
    • pants (1 pair, nylon-y hiking pants, can convert to shorts)
    • shirts (3: 1 short-sleeved, 1 long-sleeved, 1 short-sleeved Seersucker)
    • belt
    • handkerchief (for sweat)
    • rain shell (cheap, plastic-y, and slowly desintegrating)
    • poncho
    • sunglasses and strap
    • swimming trunks (haven't used those yet.)
  • Technology
    • audio recorder (Olympus; in lieu of a journal/notebook)
    • camcorder (Canon Vixia HF-S10)
    • Seinheisser mini shotgun mic (wish I hadn't brought this. not much use for it.)
    • Sony mini lapel mic (ditto.)
    • portable hard drives (two 1TB drives, FAT32 formatted: one Hitachi Touro and one Western Digital MyPassbook [or whatever it's called])
    • cell phone (Verizon, w/ pay-as-you-go plan)
  • Camping Equipment
    • tent (REI Quarter Dome T2+. Truly magical.)
    • tent footprint and rainfly
    • extra tarp (for the bikes. really another tent's footprint on clearance.)
    • sleeping pad (Thermarest, foam)
    • sleeping bag (Marmot Maverick)
    • camping utensils (mostly for making sandwiches)
    • rope (for use as a clothesline)
    • camp soap (not yet used)
  • Everything Else
    • water bottles
    • hydration pack (Camelback Lobo)
    • Leatherman multitool
    • bungee cords (4) and one adjustable strap (haven't had to use the latter yet)
    • pepper spray (mostly for dogs, maybe for humans? Have had a few close calls with the former.)
    • gaffer tape (wrapped around a pencil stub)
    • zipties (super useful)
    • a book ("How Washington Really Works." Picked it up off a pile in my basement; haven't opened it yet.)
    • toiletries (soap, shampoo, deoderant, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, floss, electric razor)
    • towel
    • first aid (band-aids, Ace bandage, cold pack, alcohol prep pads, Benadryl, hydrocortisone cream, aspirin, tweezers, scissors, gauze, antibacterial cream, etc)
    • sunscreen
    • bugspray
    • emergency toilet paper
    • Adventure Cycling Association maps (TransAmerica from Virginia-->Kentucky and Western Express from Utah-->California)

Q: What do you eat?

A: A lot of PB&J - we try to switch up the jelly to make it interesting, but I love PB&J so I don't mind anyway. Also, a lot of power bars - Clif energy (especially brownie flavor) while on the road and Builders (for our muscle-rebuilding protein fix at the end of the day or after a tough climb).

Q: How many miles do you ride a day?
A: We've been averaging 60 but hope to push it up to 75 very soon. We started out at 65 on flat terrain (near VA Beach), and our max was 80 (the day we arrived in Charlottesville), but our pace quickly slowed [ha!] as we hit the Appalachians - after Charlottesville, for example, we had a 45-mile day,  followed by 35-mile day that nonetheless completely wiped is out. We've been doing some pretty solid climbs recently without much of a problem though, so I think our muscles are finally adapting; a few days ago we had a 1,500-ft climb, followed later by a 1,000-ft climb, and we ended that day (about 65 miles) feeling ready for more.

Q: Where do you stay?

A: So far, it's been a mix of camping (at parks or other campgrounds), staying with relatives or friends (or relatives of friends!), and camping in the yards of folks who have just gone out of their way to be hospitable and make the offer. We've also CouchSurfed once(, and had a few more offers but failed to make it as far as we wanted to on that day and so been unable to claim our couch; we hope to do more Couchsurfing in the future, especially now that we have a better idea of our pace and what a realistic daily mileage goal might look like. There's also a site specifically for touring cyclists called WarmShowers, but I've never used it and to be honest I just keep forgetting to check whether anyone's available along our route. We've had to stay in a motel once, and it felt very much like a defeat.

Q: How do you plan your route?

We plan in 3- to 5-day increments. Until yesterday (and except for the first day), we've been largely sticking to the ACA TransAmerica route, which follows Interstate Cycling Route 76 through Virginia and into Kentucky. We've been supplementing that with some Google mapping, either on computers at houses we've stayed at or via Steve's iPhone, but we'll now be deviating completely from the map to head south into Tennessee. When we plan a route, we look for terrain, expected daily mileage, available stops (convenience stores, etc), and places to spend the night (campgrounds, relatives/friends, or CouchSurfing users).

Q: When will you get to San Francisco?
A: Hopefully by August 20 at the very latest. I'd like to spend a few days there before I fly back to NYC/Connecticut (probably August 23/24). But... who really knows? Que sera, sera.

To read about the first two weeks of our tour, check back in five or six days for an update from our next rest stop (hopefully in/near Nashville). Or, for terse but up-to-the-minute information, follow Steve on Twitter! --

In the meantime, here's the cliffhanger to my next blog entry, which begins as we drive down to Virginia Beach, bikes stowed in the trunk of our rented Crown Victoria, to meet with our CouchSurfing host for the evening. What I felt can best be summed up by none other than Mr. Haydon Perry, the fellow from 1898:

"What finer enthusiasm is there than that begot of the thought, 'To-morrow I begin my tour?' - what conveys fuller or surer promise of novelty?"

Until Nashville,