“I have found out there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
— Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad, 1894
I can’t back out now. The time for doubt and apprehension is past. I’ve made the final payment to the Adventure Cycling Association for a self-contained bicycle trip across the southern tier of the United States from California to Florida.
The ride — about 3,160 miles — begins Sept. 18 in San Diego and ends, if all goes well, in St. Augustine on Nov. 21, the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
The Adventure Cycling Association has e-mailed the roster of riders. There will be 13 of us, including the guide. The 12 paying participants include seven men and five women, from around the United States and the world.
Of the six from the United States, two are from California, two from Ohio, one from New York and one from Texas (me). The international riders include two from Germany and one each from Canada, Britain, Australia and the Netherlands.
Along with the e-mailed roster came some sobering last-minute advice:
“The Southern Tier Expedition requires participants to be prepared for mental and physical challenges. This trip is best suited for experienced cyclists with established camping skills. Riding will include significant climbs and long stretches with no services. Although the Southern Tier is shorter in length than our other cross-country trips, it should not be considered the ‘easy way.’ Please note that the early parts of the trip include high mileage, long hills and few services. Consequently, you’ll need to arrive at the tour start with adequate fitness. It is not feasible to ‘ride into shape’ at the beginning of the trip.”
On the weather:
“In the southwestern United States, you should expect weather extremes. We have planned the trip to avoid the hottest season, but it is possible to have very hot weather any time of year. You should be prepared for temperatures in the 100s. You’ll need to remember to keep yourself hydrated. We recommend carrying a minimum of 100 oz. of water (3-4 bottles, or a large personal hydration device [i.e., Camelbak]) with you on the bike. In addition to very hot riding conditions, you will likely encounter cold temperatures at night. Expect temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit at the higher elevations. Storms and high winds may arise suddenly along any part of the route.”
As for fitness: I hope I’m there. As of today, I have ridden more than 2,400 training miles since the start of the year and am on pace to reach my goal of 3,000 miles before the start of the transcontinental trip.
The heat, particularly in the Arizona desert, could, indeed, make for some uncomfortable days. But temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s are simply part of summertime cycling in Texas. By design, I’ve been riding in the heat of the day to get ready for the desert.
Now for the last-minute preparations: Mount new tires on the bike, get a thorough tuneup, assemble and check all my gear, rent a small SUV to get to San Diego and purchase travel insurance to recoup my costs if I crash and burn before or during the ride.