Quite a tiring day off today! After pottering round the hostel for a bit, I went on a bit of a hike. There is a trail at the south end of Seaside which you can take all the way to Cannon Beach, around a coastal headland. It was actually about 2miles from hostel to the trailhead – if I'd known I probably would have taken my bike! But it was a nice walk along the beach. And then I did about 1.5miles of the trail before heading back. Probably walked about 8-9miles today in total!
When the sun came out in the afternoon I hit the beach and went for a paddle in the sea. I can see why Seaside is a much bigger resort than Manzanita. It might only be 20miles up the coast, but the beach is much less windy and the water temperature was probably about 8-10c higher! You could actually play around happily in the surf and not feel cold. I even did about 10minutes of barefoot running on the wet sand – got a half marathon 4 weeks after I get back to the UK so need to start training for that soon!
But in lieu of any cycling action today, I though I would start to wrap things up with some of my thoughts on the trip as a whole. And to start with, I'm going to attempt to answer one of the most common questions I've been asked (apart from “Are you from Australia?”) - which has been my favourite State. Now this is a personal opinion, based on my feelings, experiences, people I've met, things I've seen etc. Just to try and give an idea of how each State influenced me – good or bad!
I'll do it in the same order I cycled them, so starting back on the East coast
Ahh, Virginia! Where I set off 12 weeks ago as a callow, in-experienced cycle tourer. Unsure of what lay ahead of me. And overall Virginia was quite a baptism of fire. After just 5 days I was climbing the Blue Ridge Mountains and thinking “I hope it gets easier”! The Appalachians were generally very scenic, the Blue Ridge parkway especially, but man were they tough. It took me 2 weeks to get through my first state, and it was a hard introduction. On the plus side, I felt a tremendous sense of satisfaction on that first day of climbing. Charlottesville was also one of the nicest places I visited. Its a shame it was so early in the trip, as it would have been a good place to spend a day had I encountered it later on. Damascus was also a cool little town, and the ride into it was an early highlight. But it also contained Hayters Gap. Enough said. So overall Virginia scores a fairly middle of the road score
The problem with doing this is that there is going to be a loser. And I'm sorry Kentucky, it's you! But let's start on the positives. I spent most of my time in Kentucky riding with Sam and Cory – definitely the best riding buddies of the trip and a couple of great guys. Dave at the historical society in Hindman was a great host, as was Albert and his family in Hardin Springs and Bob and Violet in Sebree. Kentucky was also the scene of my first 100mile day. All good things. But sadly outweighed by quite a few negatives.
The roaming packs of wild dogs. The fact that everywhere was dry so I couldnt ever get a beer. It still had some tough hills, but the scenery wasnt very nice. Anywhere that would have been scenic had been turned into a strip mine. The fact that I could barely understand what people were saying. I'm just glad I got it over and done with early – it wouldnt be a great place to get too near the finish.
Illinois is like that footballer who comes on as a sub with 10minutes of a game left, when the result is already beyond doubt. It's difficult to judge the performance in context. By some margin the state that I spent the least time in, and rode the least miles in, I don't feel like I got a sense of 'identity' for Illinois. I did have one of my best nights out there, when I met up with Cory and Sam in Carbondale. But overall dont really have a lot to say about Illinois – nothing wrong with it, but nothing stood out either as I simply wasnt there long enough.
A few times on this trip people have told me the nickname for Missouri is 'Misery'. Now I didnt have to put up a deranged woman trying to break my legs with a slab of wood and sledgehammer, but it wasnt far off! I guess the worst thing I can say about Missouri is that I'm struggling to remember much about it at all. My most vivid memory was of the 30mile stretch between Ellington and Alley Spring, which I would say was one of the hardest sections of the entire route, maybe even the hardest. The Ozarks were quite pretty, but nothing stands out in my mind. It was also where the hot weather really started having an effect on my ride.
Now we're talking! After the less enjoyable Eastern states, things tended to improve as I got further west. Kansas scores highly for it's people, it's lovely flat roads and it's sparse beauty. Some of the nicest people I met were in Kansas. Becky, who took in cyclists in Eureka was lovely. And Jerry, Steph and their friends in Hutchinson were great people to spend some quality drinking time with! Just hope Jerry has actually gotten to drive the new car he had to buy! Hutchinson was also a good place to spend a day off. And the riding in Kansas was generally great. Nice and flat, I was able to consistently put on some big days to get myself ahead of schedule. And I did enjoy the scenery. It was very flat, but the vast expanses made a nice change from the hills of previous states.
Where Kansas loses marks is the weather. The one-two jab of heat and humidity often made riding really tough, and sometimes simply impossible. Often I would have to finish by 1pm as it was just too hot to carry on without feeling like I would be putting my health at risk. In the UK, if the temperature reaches 100f it usually makes the front pages of the national papers. Illustrated by some page 3 wannabe on Brighton beach in The Sun, some wholesome looking middle class girl in The Telegraph and a crackpot theory about Princess Diana in The Express! In Kansas 100f heat was a daily occurrence. Usually by about 11am! And with the humidity it often felt hotter still. But overall, a definite improvement on what had come before, and a good sign of things to come.
I imagine if the state of Colorado was a person, they would walk around with quite a smug, self-satisfied look on their face. And to be honest, it would be justified! Colorado was a great state to cycle through. It had the flat prairie lands of the east and the stunning Rocky Mountains of the north and west. It was also the home of few notable achievements on my trip. Longest single day – 113miles from Eads to Pueblo. Highest elevation – 11,500ft as I went over Hoosier pass. In addition it also had 2 more of the 4 highest mountain passes of the trip. The climbing was always enjoyable since it was never too steep for too long, and there was usually some great downhills to reward the efforts. Also gets extra marks for being the home of Fat Tire – now the “Official beer of Transamerica 2011”! Downsides? Probably one of the most expensive states I visited. And some of the roads were not always the best quality. But those are minor quibbles.
A tough one to judge. No state which contains Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks can ever really be given a low score. But take those out of the equation, and Wyoming would be struggling. Just because of the headwinds. God, I shudder just thinking about them. The 20mile stretch at the end of a long day into Rawlins, and the 18miles into Jeffrey City the day after, were two of the hardest, most soul destroying sections of the entire trip. To be putting in so much effort and still only be going 7mph down a hill is not a nice feeling at all. Just doesnt make for nice riding. The other problem with Wyoming was the lack of people. It is the least populated state in the US, and second only to Alaska in terms of population density. Kansas was spread out, but at least there were farmhouses dotted around on the roads in between towns. In Wyoming there was nothing. In some ways the isolation was nice, but would be re-assuring to see the odd person. And it also tended to mean that riding, and lodging, options were limited. Which again tended to make things expensive.
But on the plus side, it does have those parks! Dirt cheap hiker/biker camping. Amazing scenery and wildlife. Simply stunning.
5.5/10 (without the parks) 7.5/10 (if you include them)
As surely as you have a loser doing this, you'll have a winner too. And Montana just pips Colorado and Oregon. Overall it was simply a great place to spend some time on a bike. It had the mountain scenery of Colorado, but also some nice forests. It also had Missoula – my favourite place I visited on the trip. I guess the fact that the Adventure Cycling Association HQ was there helped. It was great to go inside and be treated a little bit special. Got my photo on the wall as a permanent record of what I was doing. The hostel I stayed in was also great. Since it was so close to the ACA there were lots of cyclists and other road trippers staying there, so you could meet like minded people. Also had another top night out, including a pub quiz! And it was just a very nice city overall. Cycle friendly, relaxed attitude, nice surroundings. But generally Montana was great, and a worthy winner.
The surprise package? I reckon so. Didnt know much about Idaho, or what to expect. And actually, when I first looked at the maps I though I only cut through a thin section of it like I did in Illinois. Didnt realise I would be there for almost a week. And what a great week it was. Such a diverse range of scenery. The amazing lushness of the Locsha river (great day of downhill riding that was), to the high deserts further west. Also had the fantastically twisty descent down from White Bird hill. And then finished off with Hell's Canyon. Did find the heat quite tough going in Idaho – more so than in some of the previous western states. But definitely a good one overall.
The final state on the trip. And a lovely one to finish with. So glad I went east-west and not the other way across! Initially Oregon was pretty arid and hot, but the further west I got the greener it became. The climb up to, and then down, McKenzie pass was fantastic. The strange lava fields at the top, followed by the 3,000ft drop through a twisty, tree-lined road was superb. And obviously Oregon has the coast, which has been my goal from day 1 so it's bound to get some points based on the emotional feeling of finishing. The last 200miles or so of riding have in some ways been a bit less fulfilling than they might have been. But that was because I was ahead of my schedule, and could take it easy. In a way it would have been nice to have finished with a flourish and a long ride, but it has been relaxing to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the coast over a week or so. The coastal route was definitely one of the best for meeting other cyclists too, and had some great hiker/biker campsites. So definitely a good place to end in.
So there we are. Stay tuned tomorrow for the finale of my epic cycle ride. And then over the course of the next week I'll hope to put down my thoughts on a few other things. Maybe a few best/worst style lists. And just reflections on what I have learnt, what I've enjoyed and maybe even a few tips for anyone who has been inspired to try something similar (I overwhelmingly recommend it!)