Sorry it has been a while…

Sorry for the delay. I started writing most of these updates months ago, and actually getting around to tidying them up and publishing the blog posts has got pushed lower and lower down my priority list. So, below is a post wrapping up my TransAm feelings. At the top of the page, there is now a snazzy ‘Practical Info’ tab, where you can read more about the kit that we took, and my top tips for prospective cyclists.

If you’ve enjoyed our blog, please consider donating to our favourite charity, War Child. You can click on the War Child logo at the top of the page, or visit https://www.justgiving.com/ChloeKenward.

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Post TransAm Feelings

Nov 2nd 2014

So, our cycling legs are well and truly rested. In fact, I haven’t done any exercise at all since returning, aside from cycling to work. I’ve done a lot of walking in the last couple of weeks, and I’ve got shin splints, probably from barely walking anywhere for months. I imagine that most of the muscle that I built up will have melted away, but I really haven’t had any desire to hit the gym, and then my workload rocketed. Before I left, a dude at the gym measured the amount of fat I had all over my body, and I got a costume designer colleague to take my measurements. Hugh took a photo of my thighs near the beginning of my trip, and I was assuming that a photo taken at the end would be wildly different. I don’t look different at all, and my curiosity in what happened to my body has entirely disappeared. I’m sure I now have a lower body fat percentage, but in the same way that my finish time lost any significance when I actually crossed the finish line of my marathon I ran earlier in the year, I have no interest in it. I’ve noticed a few people literally look me up and down when they first see me, post-trip, shocked that I look no different. Maybe we should cycle across a country with less fried food. I’m told that Cuba is a good cycling destination; I imagine we’d loose a few kilos there.

Coming away from the trip has been far less eventful than I was imagining. This was not the first time that I have returned home after a few months of adventuring, but I thought that returning from this trip would take more adjustment than previous trips. Cycling across America is very different from backpacking around India, or even walking hundreds of miles through Turkey. Our days were extraordinarily simple. Get up, pack away our humble tent, look at the map, pedal, set up the tent, cook, sleep, repeat. Our days had little variation in activity, which was a refreshing experience for me. I guess maybe because I am self-employed, my days rarely repeat themselves. I’m constantly working with new people, in new environments, doing different projects. In America, I had a routine. We also had freedom, we could deviate from that routine, we could do whatever we wanted – we could have packed it all in if we had decided to. We could have cycled ten miles in a day, or a hundred, if we had felt like it. So, I miss the freedom, and the chilled routine of just getting up to pedal, but there was no massive adjustment to coming home.

Unpack. Laundry. Put bikes together. Go to the supermarket. Go to work. Come home. Eat. Sleep. Go to work. Come home. Eat. Sleep. Go to work…

I don’t feel changed by the experience. Maybe I am, but I don’t realise it. I feel stronger, as a person, knowing that I cycled a very heavy bike a very long way up a lot of hills. But I don’t feel different.

This might sound ridiculous, but genuinely, totally genuinely, the thing that I have found weirdest about returning home is not being able to nip behind the nearest tree for a quick wee. After three months of searching for a roadside tree rather than a toilet, this takes a surprising amount of adjustment. There are far more trees than public toilets. Twice, recently, I have actually considered ducking behind a shrub in central London. It’s just so much more convenient.

The only other thing that I found I needed to adjust to was London cycling. It felt incredibly aggressive. The day after returning, a taxi driver yelled at me, for no apparent reason (well, I was in ‘his’ lane, but as I was imminently turning left – and indicating my intention to – this was somewhat necessary). Everything felt super aggressive. Minutes before, a main hailing a cab nearly took me out with his raised arm, and then also yelled at me when I made him aware of my imminent collision with his arm. The potholes. The potholes are bananas. Yes, in the Appalachians, there was some road damage, where the tarmac was literally sliding down the hills, and throughout the route there was the odd hole or bump that would be taken by surprise with. But the roads in London, particularly the edges where we cycle, feel insanely pot hole-y. I still can’t get used to them now. I’ve swapped my fat tires for thinner ones, not super skinny, but about an inch wide, rather than two, which has confirmed my thoughts that two-inch tires were massive overkill for the TransAm.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working in Boston and New York. It has been, predictably, a very different America to the small towns that I experienced this summer. I found it particularly strange seeing the TV travel news in the morning, with the interstates of the east coloured in green or red to show traffic flow. Loads of loads of interstates snaking their way through, and to, hugely populated areas. In comparison with Wyoming interstates, it felt like these could not be part of the same country. I spent a lot of the summer pondering how many people we met in these small towns had been to any of the major metropolises of the US, let alone out of their country. I suspect that many people we met had not been to LA, NYC, and DC. I spent a long time thinking about that. But now, typing this whilst sitting in a New York airport, I am looking around, wondering how many of the city types around me have lived and breathed the stunning scenery of Oregon, the vast emptiness of Wyoming, the monotony of Kansas farm land, or what could be mistaken for developing world poverty in parts of Kentucky. How many have walked up to a bear, drank from rivers, and bathed in melt water? Obviously, many people have. But I don’t think a significant percentage has.

We live in London. The south of England is famous for being snooty, unfriendly, and far too busy. The further north you get, the friendlier everyone becomes. I nearly fall over with surprise at the friendliness of the check-out staff the first time in any trip that I grab a sandwich in Glasgow or Newcastle. America is similar, with the east being like England’s south. Small town America is swallowed by the cities of the east, and some other dispersed major centres. Small town America deserves more acknowledgement.

In Kansas, repeatedly, various lovely people who picked up two grease-covered, smelly, bike-laden hitch hikers, told us that Kanas is known as a ‘flyover state’, where no one ever thinks to visit, they just flyover, between the east and west. They all pleaded us to tell others that it was a lovely place. Kansas is a great place, with great people. I would urge everyone to go and explore America. And if you are already in America, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. Grab your bike. Or, if that sounds like a bit too much exercise (and you are a very wise person to imagine that), grab a motorbike. Or, if you are short on cash, hitchhike. Get out there.

Of course I miss it. I long for just another day where our only thing to achieve that day is a destination, somewhere, wherever we feel like stopping, at the end of some pedalling. It was so simple. I miss things like feeling of incredible cleanliness after splashing ourselves with river water at the end of the day. I even miss the grogginess in the mornings, battling fatigue and the desire to sleep for many more hours – but knowing that what awaits us in the next 60 miles will be worth it.

Was it a holiday? When I was there, I wasn’t sure. Now that I’m home, back to reality – and maybe with that amazing human ability to gloss over the hard parts, I can very confidently say yes, it was a holiday. Or at least, it was our kind of holiday.

If you have enjoyed reading our blog, if you think what we did is pretty impressive, or if you would like to support a super cool little charity doing great work, then I encourage you to click on the link below to find out more about the fantastic work of War Child. You can also click on any War Child logo on the site.

To see who War Child are: http://www.warchild.org.uk/

To donate via our Just Giving page, or click on the War Child logo at the top of the page: https://www.justgiving.com/chloekenward/

Chloe’s top tips

Thinking about cycling across America? In no particular order, here are some of my top tips.

The Adventure Cycling Association – so, we followed the brilliant TransAm route, which is designed by the Adventure Cycle Association. It’s a good route (designed to be as scenic and safe as possible), and importantly, they make brilliant maps, which are marked with useful things for cyclists, like bike shops, restaurants, campsites, hotels and libraries (where internet access can be found). As many people cycle this route every year, good places to sleep or stay have accumulated – e.g. many fire stations and churches open their doors to us, which may not be so forthcoming off route. Obviously, you can design your own route across the US. But our blog is based on the ACA TransAm route.

Rear flashing lights – if there is one piece of advice I would give any prospective cyclist, it would be to use rear lights, even during the day time (we never cycled at night, by the way, although occasionally got caught out in dusk in the last hour). I cannot express how effective these are, if they are decent lights. We started using rear flashing lights during some of the day times from Kansas onwards, and by the time we hit the Ozarks and Appalachians, we used them all day, every day. We should have used them right from the start. Particularly in the Appalachians, where the roads are narrow, and shaded by the trees, with constant twists, turns and blind rises, I would often be 100 metres behind Hugh, absolutely amazed by how effective his rear flashing light was. Without the light, I would barely be able to make him out, with the light, I could spot him far, far earlier. For a car driver, that is the extra couple of seconds to avoid a collision. On our first hitchhike, we got a ride in a truck. In falling light, we passed some oncoming cyclists. Although we could make out something moving at the side of the road, it wasn’t until we were literally passing them that we saw they were cyclists. I cannot express how invisible cyclists can be, especially when drivers are not expecting them. Rear lights. Even in sunlight, if they are good lights, they are worth using the whole time. We bought rechargeable batteries, and charged them every evening. The batteries had about 2 days life in them, but we charged them every night, in case we didn’t find power sockets the following day.

Portable Shower – my second top tip! Ours is made by Sea to Summit. This was the most incredible, very lightweight, luxury, which made a substantial difference to us feeling good! I cannot express how amazing the feeling of scrubbing ourselves clean at the end of every day was. It is possible to give yourself a decent shower using squirty drinking bottles, but this shower was just so much better. Neither of us have ever felt so clean in our lives as after using this, it was just such a nice feeling after being so dirty, sweaty and sticky at the end of every day.

Flying bicycles – things change all the time, so don’t take any of this as necessarily correct. I found that British carriers were much more accommodating to bicycles than American carriers. American Airlines and United charge for bikes. When we booked, British Airways allowed us to load our bikes as part of our luggage allowance, so we each checked in a cardboard box (containing the bike, and anything else we could squeeze into it’s weight limit), and then paid for one extra piece of luggage, and accumulated all of our gear into a lightweight Osprey Airportez holdall (which we then posted to our end point, to avoid carrying it across the US). Virgin Airlines offer to fly your bike totally free, and so you can still check in a bag within your ticket, but they were very unclear as to whether when we got on the American carrier code share flight (as it’s not possible to fly London – Portland direct), whether the other airline would charge us. BA told us the code share airline wouldn’t charge us for the bikes, although this was always a bit up-in-the-air, and it was only by some very confident/stern words at both London Heathrow and Norfolk Virginia that we managed to not get charged for the bikes. We collected cardboard bike boxes from local bike shops, but ended up basically using 4 boxes to create each box (two were used as a slide on lid), as we didn’t want to dismantle the bikes too much. Be very careful to adhere to the dimension and weight restrictions for all airlines that you are flying with. Somehow, I overlooked the dimension restriction on our flight out of Norfolk Virginia. We were told the bikes physically couldn’t fit through the door of the plane, but somehow they made it on board, but there was a lot of phaffing around.

Oversized vehicles, with honking escorts – if a vehicle approaches you honking its horn, it might be someone giving you a friendly toot and a wave. Or, it might be a gigantic oversized vehicle who is warning you of imminent death (or the escort vehicle of said gigantic vehicle). After mistaking a honk for a friendly toot once, I didn’t make that mistake again! Assume you need to get off the road.

Dog Dazer – this is a battery operated ultrasonic noise that dogs don’t like. Dogs loved to chase us, particularly in the east, where the houses are often right on the roadside, and the dogs are not leashed. I was scared that a dog would cause me to fall off, and also that a dog would be hit by a car, as they just run straight into the road as soon as they see us. A kind cyclist donated me his Dog Dazer in White Bird, when he had already cycled through the ‘dog areas’ (namely Kentucky!). Hugh picked up one called the Bark Genie, in a big Walmart somewhere, after I tested mine on a barking dog with great success. The dogs would always stop advancing towards us, and sometimes retreat. They obviously need to be easy to get at quickly – Hugh’s Bark Genie wasn’t quite as powerful as my Dog Dazer, but the Genie is smaller and would easily fit in a cycling jersey pocket, whereas my Dazer was kept in my handlebar bag.

Halt dog spray – we found some of this in a small bike shop, and judging by the internet forums, it is the weapon of choice for cyclists against attacking dogs. I used Velcro to attach it to my handlebar bag, so I could brandish it whilst riding. I never used it (I found our ultrasonic Dog Dazer effective enough on it’s own), although Hugh did squirt a few dogs who ran out into the road, to try to teach them to not run out into traffic. They stopped running towards him straight away. Oh, and I did pull it out when we encountered the bear, but I doubt it would have done much!

Worrying locals advising us to take bad alternative routes – everyone tells you that the roads are particularly dangerous around their local area, and often advise of an alternative route. Eventually, we learned to stop worrying when people said roads were particularly dangerous – they weren’t, they just appeared dangerous to non-cyclists, who don’t want to see us hurt on their turf. We got convinced to follow alternative routes a few times, and there were always very good reasons why the ACA had tried to route us a different way! The route design is excellent. Of course, you may want to go off route for loads of great reasons, but in our experience, and the experience of other cyclists we met, we found that straying off route normally resulted in things being less ideal than on route.

Gold Bond – this little green bottle of ‘Extra Strength Talcum Powder’ saved our bottoms. It is absolutely incredible. It’s got zinc oxide in it, which seems to be the ‘medicated’ part. I have never heard of it, or an English equivalent before, but a couple riding a tandem told us about it in the first couple of weeks, and we are very grateful for the tip off. At the end of the cycling day, have a wash, whack some of this powder on your behind, and any soreness/ spots will be sorted in the morning. We both used it religiously every evening. We met a few people who used it before cycling, but I stuck to chamois cream during the day, and powder over night. http://www.goldbond.com/extra-strength-body-powder.html

SteriPEN – I had this from previous traveling adventures. It’s a small battery operated UV light that sterilises water very, very effectively. I’ve used it to drink tap water in India for months, and never got sick, so if definitely works. Buying bottled water is ridiculous, and this travels everywhere with me, and I’m sure has paid for itself by now. USA tap water is obviously safe to drink, but we always sterilised river water before drinking it. We have had great success with our Adventurer Opti, but I also had a Classic one which died a death. It’s probably only worth investing in one if you imagine yourself using it for more than one trip. http://www.steripen.com/

Drinking tube – on other blogs, lots of people wear small Camelbak backpacks with water bladders in them. Sweaty back. Uncomfortable. Annoying. For a fraction of the cost, I bought an unbranded replacement drinking tube (new!) on eBay, attacked the top of a water bottle with some pliers and squeezed it through the sports cap, added a couple of rubber grommets to keep it fairly water/air tight to stop road dust getting in, and Velcro-ed the tube in place so it couldn’t get tangled in a wheel. I always had my drinking tube bottle in the bottle cage on the downtube, and the tube ran along the downtube, up to the handlebars, and was long enough that I barely had to lean forward to have a drink from the loose tube that hung over the handlebars. If you have a handlebar bag, you don’t even need Velcro really – I just shoved it through the space between the mount and the bars, which meant it wouldn’t be able to slip down whilst hurtling downhill and get caught in a wheel. I loved it, but no one else seemed to have had the same idea. It meant I drank little and often, which is the best way to stay hydrated. The only downside is that it must have been teeming with bacteria by the end (I survived!), and also that I had to come to a complete stop to swap bottles when I had finished one of them.

Cleaning water bottles / drinking tube – whenever we were somewhere with a sink, hot water and washing up liquid (this was rare), I would attempt to give our bottles and my drinking tube a really good clean (although once, I used too much washing up liquid, and Hugh complained bitterly of the taste for days). If you like things to be bacteria free, you could use the stuff that is used to sterilise baby bottles. At home, every once in a while (OK, every couple of months!), I use Milton to sterilise frequently used bottles. You can probably get sachets of the stuff to tour, and use every couple of weeks.

Electrolytes – I felt adding electrolyte tablets or liquid to water bottles really helped me stay hydrated. Hugh preferred to drink Gatorade, which contains electrolytes.

Power – we spent some money on a snazzy solar panel. It was totally unnecessary, unless you are intending on being very power hungry. We didn’t find power every day in the west, but normally had power every day from Kansas onwards. We had regularly had power, as America has power everywhere. Even the parks that we slept in always had a little picnic shelter, with domestic power sockets, and if we hadn’t got power where we had slept, I just got out our ‘charging station’ over breakfast in a cafe. If I went again, I’d just take a spare battery pack, and not bother with the solar panel. Having said that, we didn’t use the rear lights in the west (which I would do if I went again), and we might have struggled to find power regularly enough to top up those rechargeable batteries.

High fructose corn syrup – America has ‘bottomless refills’, which means that pretty much everywhere, when you buy a cup of soda, you can keep filling it up. I drank a totally ridiculous amount of Dr Pepper in every restaurant. It was insane. But, I told myself, that I would burn the sugar off within minutes of getting pedalling again, and it tasted great and felt really refreshing. During our last week in the US, I realised that American soda (along with an awful lot of other foods) uses high fructose corn syrup, rather than sugar. The body cannot metabolise corn syrup, and so it is not used up, unlike sugar. I wish I had realised this at the beginning, and I wouldn’t have touched the stuff. If you’re interested/worried about it, do a bit of research before drinking several litres of the stuff every day!

Posted signs – if an area of land is ‘posted’ it means no trespassing. Locals told us that it basically means that if you are caught trespassing on posted land, the owner could shoot you. There are a lot of guns in America. How many ‘posted’ signs you see varies from state to state, but in some areas, they seem to be everywhere, including where you think you might get away with wild camping. We never risked it, but I’m sure braver people do.

Bus – business loop – If a road sign mentions ‘bus’, it means business loop, which is signposting you towards the local shops/restaurants, which are probably off the road that you are currently on, which bypasses around the town. We missed out on breakfast once, not realising this, which I was very sad about.

Start earlier in the year – we started at the end of June (cycling west to east), and discovered at this point, that we were late in the season, and most cyclists were ahead of us. This meant that we didn’t meet as many fellow cyclists as we were expecting, which was a big shame.

Early morning climbs – as soon as we left the coast in Oregon, we hit substantial heat. Planning our days revolved more around planning to climb the big hills before 9.30am, than where we could sleep or eat! If you’re in areas with long gaps between campsites, this requires a bit of planning. (This was the only reason we planned anything, we are not normally great planners!).

2” tyres too thick – When Hugh swapped his tyres out for 2” fatties, I thought this was slight overkill, but wasn’t brave enough to think that my instinct might be right over his more substantial bicycling knowledge. I should have stuck to my instinct. 2” tyres were totally unnecessary for this trip, and I think they did not pay back in extra comfort for what they added in rolling resistance. 1.5 would have been fine, and still comfortable. Almost everyone we met had thinner tyres than us.

Foam roller – the muscles in the sides of my thighs (IT band), and bottom (glutes) get super tight, and a foam roller is a brilliant way to get a very cheap massage without a masseuse. I found a mini one, which was hollow, so could be easily attached to the outside of a pannier. The concept was great. In reality, I didn’t use it enough to justify it (purely from laziness). If you think you’ll be dedicated enough to use it, it’s a great little trick. If you think you might be a bit lazy with it, take a tennis ball, or a hard sided water bottle, and use that instead! I got mine in the UK, but I saw the same ones for sale in REI. You can see it in the photos, hanging off the front right pannier.

Energy products – once, when totally flagging in the middle of the day, we shared a small bottle of ‘12 hour energy’. It was incredible. We perked up no end. But we only used it once. Personally, I wouldn’t use energy products for any extended period of time. If you’re racing, and you don’t have the time to eat properly, or the weight to carry real food, fair enough. I prefer proper nutrition. I was surprised by how many people asked if we were planning on using energy gels before we left. (Haha, even my dentist asked me – concerned about my teeth if they were about to face 3 months of sucking energy gels!).

‘Best’ burgers – every restaurant will tell you they make the best burgers in America. They don’t. They are all the same, and all fairly mediocre, even if they promise you they aren’t even out of a freezer. Unless, they are the packed restaurant/bar in the small town on the east side of Hoosier Pass, and then, they are by far the best burgers on the TransAm, and definitely worth sinking your chops into. (This restaurant also memorably has a sticker behind the bar which says ‘If you think healthcare is expensive now, wait until it’s free’. As a firm supporter of our National Health System, I love an argument with a state healthcare-fearing American!). If you are cycling west-east, reward yourself after the descending down from Hoosier -the highest pass on the route.

Food availability and nutrition – in the last few states, I got worried that my biggest challenge would be finding decent food. I literally almost cried when faced with the choice of either biscuit and gravy (there is only so much of that I can stomach) or a processed egg breakfast in Virginia. If I cycled across the US again, I would opt for salads whenever they were on the menu. Instead I scoffed the calorie-laden food for energy for the first two thirds of the trip, with the occasional salad thrown in. As time went on, I got to the point where I my body refused to consume any more fried rubbish, but I was often in restaurants (think ‘greasy food van’ rather than ‘restaurant’) where everything on the menu was fried. My advice would be to eat salad where it’s on offer, so you don’t get to ‘fried food burn-out’ at the point where there is nothing green to eat. In small towns/shops, often all food is canned or processed. I remember both of us cycling out of the large town of Eugene in Oregon with basically a personal plantation of bananas on our rear racks, after having had several days with no fresh fruit on offer.

Sweets – I used sweets as top up energy (although what I said about high fructose corn syrup probably applies to sweets as well). My Gore shorts had a tiny mesh pocket on the thigh, that I filled with skittles at every opportunity. If I was wearing other shorts, I would literally just shove loads of sweets up the leg of my shorts, and extract them whilst riding (this results in food colouring staining when sweaty!). Next time, I would probably design a sweet dispenser on the top tube! When I started discovering how much better riding with sweets was, I went through a whole discovery of what my new favourite cycling sweets were. Beware, ‘Nerds’ are not sold in every state, which was a pretty tragic discovery when I had a Nerd addiction. Skittles were the overall winner for me.

Campsite charges – a lot of campsites operate on an honesty system of putting cash in an envelope and posting it into a chute at the campsite. We normally paid. I’m sure a lot of people don’t. We were never required to prove that we had paid. Once we left the west, where people are expected to pay for campsites (even if it’s just the honesty system), we hardly ever paid for camping again, because in the parks, fire stations and churches, there is no payment/donation system.

Public toilets and campsite facilities – America has far more public toilets than Europe, and there are often toilets (long drop style) in roadside picnic areas, which are normally in a perfectly acceptable condition. Having said that, I would be amazed if anyone cycled across America without ever needing to duck behind a shrub (this is clearly substantially easier for the boys!). Campsites vary hugely, some state ones don’t even have running water, although most have faucets dotted around. All campsites have toilets (often long drop style).

Bicycle security – we would never dream of leaving our bikes anywhere in London without being locked down like a military fortress. Clearly, small town America is not London. We opted to take a medium-rated D lock between us (which conveniently fitted into our Locc Tubus racks). It was heavy, and cumbersome to use on loaded bikes. We ended up ditching the D-lock, and using a Kryptonite cable with a cheap combination padlock that we picked up in a hardware store. I still wouldn’t want to leave the bikes locked like that in any of the larger towns, but for popping into a supermarket or restaurant in small towns, this felt fine to us. Anyone with bolt cutters would get through it in seconds, but it felt like a better option than lugging a D-lock across America, and better than not locking them at all. Many cyclists we met never locked their bikes, but the cyclists we met who did lock them, like us, said that they just wouldn’t relax in a restaurant without locking the bike first.

Bikes in motel rooms – we didn’t stay in many motels or hotels, but the few that we did, we always brought the bikes inside with us, and no one ever minded. I wouldn’t have ever left them outside overnight if we were inside. We would lock them together with our Kryptonite cable and cheap padlock overnight outside of tent whilst camping, and never heard any human poking around them!

REI – for any non-Americans, REI is a major outdoor gear chain store, and a good place to source gear. There are several large stores in and near Portland (which may be your start point to make your way to Astoria), and there is a smaller store in Eugene. There are no other stores on the route. We were lucky enough to have a friend in Portland, who we got things shipped to before we arrived, taking advantage of things being cheaper in the US than Europe.

Hi-Vis – we wore high visibility tops more often that either of us expected, particularly in the east. My theory is that making ourselves as visible as possible is sensible. After riding 100m behind Hugh who was wearing one, and another cyclist, who wasn’t, I couldn’t believe how effective Hugh’s was at making him much more visible. Take one, and wear it when you feel you need it.

Our Gear: What I took

Our Gear: What I took

The tent

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL4 (4 man), weighs 1.8kg. We got this in REI when we landed in Portland, as we decided our two man Terre Nova Ultralight Voyager tent was too small for a long trip. This is a palace. It was in the sale, and was fantastic value. In torrential rain, small amounts of water could splash up into the tent, getting in the gap between the fly and the inner (when the rain was literally bouncing off the ground!), but this was very rare. My only gripe with it is that it would have been nice to have 4 sets of guy lines, rather than two, because it was hard to get the fly to not touch the inner at all. It was huge, and very lightweight, and the envy of every other cyclist who realised how lightweight it was! As with any ‘man’ rating for a tent, subtract one, for a realistic value – so this would realistically sleep 3 people, (but is marketed as 4-man). So, for the two of us, it was brilliantly roomy – we had a gap between our two sleeping mats, which didn’t touch the sides. (Compare this with our other 2 man Terra Nova tent, where we have to overlap our – already very slim – sleeping mats). Hugh carried this on his rear rack, kept in a dry bag, attached with a net bungee.

IMG_20140623_181829 Tent

Technology

The 6W Fuse Solar Panel by Voltaic, which sat on my rear rack. Hugh did a lot of research into this, and decided to go with Voltaic. I don’t think we used it enough to give a decent review, but it worked! A small section of the laminate covering melted when left stationary in very hot sun once in Oregon, but I don’t think this has affected it working. It sits in a nicely designed pouch, that attaches (with a bit of a phaff) to my rear rack, an can charge things whilst cycling, because they can sit in the pouch. In heavy rain, I would shove it in a pannier, but it occasionally got quite wet, and survived. I phoned Voltaic to ask for advice about which one to buy, and they were very helpful on the phone.

Apple iPad Mini. I bought this in Portland, Hugh bought one a week later in Eugene when he saw how much I used mine. For blogging/writing, it was great – I used an external keyboard. I got the 3G iPad, thinking that we wouldn’t have regular WiFi access, and got an American T-mobile sim for data – the T-Mobile data never worked, and I was charged for 3 months use, despite a lot of protesting from me. We regularly found WiFi (although if you were only camping in ‘free’ spots, like parks, or wild camping, and not eating in any restaurants, you would struggle), and I didn’t need to spend extra getting a 3G capable iPad.

Anker TC810 Ultra Slim Folio Bluetooth Keyboard Case (iPad case with external keyboard built in). This worked well until the fairly important ‘e’ key got squashed and stopped working. External keyboards that sit neatly with an iPad Mini are ridiculously expensive, but it was worth it because I wrote so much. When it broke, I reluctantly forked out for a Zagg Keys one from Best Buy. I ended up returning it at the end of our trip, because it kept loosing the Bluetooth connection.

Canon power shot S120 camera. I thought long and hard about bringing my SLR on the trip. Hugh was adamant that I shouldn’t – and he was right. Some cyclists we met carried one, and were loving having it, so it is obviously a personal decision, but I think I probably took more photos by having a very small camera sitting in an easily accessible handlebar bag than hoiking out a great big SLR every time I wanted to take a photo. The cyclists we met with SLRs were constantly worried about keeping it secure (an average SLR costs the same as my bike – and is far easier to go AWOL). Forgetting that compact cameras would take much smaller photos, I panicked about storage space on SD cards for no reason – I used 6GB in the whole trip!

We had our UK mobile (cell) phones with us. Hugh joined the UK Three network before we left, and amazingly, and brilliantly, he could use his call time and data from his UK package to call the UK from America. This was great, although Three generally seemed unsure of how ‘free’ this was going to be – but we never got a horrible bill. Calling an American number would have not been part of the package. I never used my phone. We just popped into local shops on the rare times that we needed to call an American number (normally the Sherrif to ask if we could camp in the park), and people were always happy to let us use their phone.

A particularly useful gadget was the Anker 40w 5 port USB charger – which is explained below under ‘rear right pannier’!

Chloe’s pannier contents 

Rear left pannier- sleeping stuff

  • ‘Thermarest’ style sleeping mat. Ours are actually made by Mountain Equipment, sold my Cotswolds in the UK, and are half the price of Thermarest. We have returned several over the years with little leaks, and they have been good about swapping them, even when they’re quite old, although we have heard amazing things about Thermarest delivering replacements to people in weird parts of the world, so if you’re going off the beaten track for a long time, it might be worth forking out for Thermarests.
  • Sleeping bag- brought years ago very quickly in a department store in Spain, it cost €90, which is an unbelievable bargain for a down sleeping bag. It is about 7 years old, and started to leak feathers through the seams a bit, which I’m told often happens to even very high quality bags. I went over the seams with Gutermann HT2 Fabric Textile Glue, which has stopped the problem, and hasn’t gone crackly. Before leaving, and before gluing it, I hand washed the whole bag using Nikwax down cleaner in the bath, and dried it in the sun.
  • Silk sleeping bag liner, which is useful it it’s too warm to sleep in a bag, and also is always used inside the bag, so the liner has regular washing, but the bag doesn’t.
  • Thermarest Compressible Pillow, seemed to be the best of a bad bunch, although Hugh’s (same brand) seemed to be more puffy than mine. Washing and tumble drying restores puffiness, but crushing them up during the day quickly de-puffs them. They take up quite a lot of room, even when stuffed down, but for three months, a half passable pillow was important to us. On previous shorter trips, I’ve made a fairly good pillow from clothes and air trapped in a dry bag.
  • 2x bungee nets when not being used. These were very heavy for their usefulness. After some measurement, I found that 400mm x 400mm was a better net size over my rear Tubus Locc panniers – these are harder to locate (try eBay), as the standard size is 300mm. They were really useful for strapping wet clothes to panniers with, but I think their weight may have not justified their usefulness. I found that my wet towel could be attached to a rear pannier effectively by folding it up under the two straps that close the ‘lid’. Had I needed to bungee something too big to fit into the panniers, they would have been great, but that never happened.
  • Buff (a versatile tube of fabric that generally goes on your head in various ways) – we expected to wear these under our helmets when really cold, but it was never very cold. I use mine all the time as the best eye-mask in the world (fold it over four times), and would never travel without it.
  • Headtorch (flashlight)
  • Ear plugs
  • An empty old bagel plastic bag (very handy size and shape, bagel bags!) containing –
  • ‘Off’ bug spray (contains DEET, everyone told us that the only thing that works is DEET).
  • Green bottle of extra strength medicated Gold Bond talcum powder, in it’s own ziplock bag – this seems to be used by half of cyclists, post-ride, after washing, and dries out saddle sores. We found it really effective, and used it every night.
  • Aquaphor / Eucerin healing ointment moisturiser which is basically overpriced Vaseline in a tube. It provided a thick barrier to all wind on my face, and lasted all day (albeit it with a somewhat shiny face effect!), when my face got really dry from wind and altitude. I think it would encourage your skin to burn in the sun, so I didn’t use it on sunny days. Often used it at night.
  • Cheap after sun lotion, used as a general moisturiser.
  • Lifeventure Travel Towel- I love mine, but it’s really old, and I think the current ones are made from less absorbent fabric.
  • A pair of flip flops stored in an empty bagel bag, vital for campsite life. Surprisingly, even when I was pretty cold around camp, my feet were rarely cold.

In the front pocket of rear left pannier – easily accessible stuff

  • Chamois cream. I feel I am pretty much an expert at Chamois creams now. My favourite, by a long way, is DZ Nuts, the boys version. The girls version doesn’t seem to last for as long, and needed reapplying every couple of hours. It’s harder to find, and more expensive than other brands. If you’re desperate, contact a shop further on in your route, and ask if they can order some in for you (which the lovely girls at FreeWheel and Heel did for me in West Yellowstone).
  • Sun cream. The once-a-day sun creams aren’t sold in the US (Calypso is a great, cheap brand of these in the UK). We liked the convenience of the spray bottles of sunscreen sold in the US. Our favourite was the Tropical stuff sold by Family Dollar/Dollar General, which was cheap, and greasy enough to know you had covered yourself, but not too greasy.

Rear right pannier

  • Spare plastic bag to take dry clothes into shower rooms at campsites
  • 24 hours worth of toilet paper (literally everywhere in the west was always stocked with paper, from Kansas onwards it is worth carrying your own, but is very easy to replenish the following day with half a roll snuck out of somewhere).
  • Wash bag, which included a bar of laundry detergent soap for hand washing clothes. I found that it was quicker, easier, and more effective to wash using soap rather than shower gel when using our portable shower. Lush make great soap that doubles as hair shampoo.
  • Dry bag with all food- keeping food all in one place made putting it all in bear boxes easier, and I removed it from panniers if I thought an animal might chew through the panniers to reach the food. It would be easy to miss a hidden snack at the bottom of a pannier.
  • Waterproofs: Gore trousers (rarely used, I took them thinking it would be bad if all my shorts got very wet, because of saddle sores, but the padded bit doesn’t really get wet in the rain.) Waterproof jacket, Endura waterproof booties, waterproof helmet cover. Neither of us ever used the helmet cover, fearing our heads would get very sweaty. The helmet cover was high-vis, and being our highest point, would make a big difference to our overall visibility in very poor conditions, but I also feel that if visibility was so low that we wanted more than our hi-vis tops and flashing lights, then we probably shouldn’t be on the road anyway. The waterproof booties were really useful, although when I got them, I was told that none of them keep you dry in bad rain. I found them impressively effective in everything except torrential rain, although Hugh’s didn’t seem as effective, despite being the same brand. Wet feet are miserable, I would highly recommend taking booties!
  • ‘Charging station’ all held in a net laundry bag with
  • An Anker 40w 5 port USB charger – this was one of the best clever little things we took, I’d highly recommend it to all couples or groups travelling with lots of electronics. We could charge 5 things from one socket, great for sneaky charging in restaurants etc. This Anker one was not particularly cheap, but the reviews of some of the cheap ones appear to be a fire risk, and many cheaper ones don’t handle as much power through each port as this one did.
  • This one was really good, although iPods looked as if they weren’t charging – but they actually were.
  • It came with a usefully long power lead (about a metre), which is very handy because a lot of power sockets that we used were not at floor level. In the net bag was also every cable that charged all our devices- next time, I would loom these neatly together, and used coloured tape to identify each end of similar cables, to keep things neater, as they always ended up in such a mess.
  • I brought a PIXO USB Charger from Goal Zero to charge the batteries from our bike lights and my camera battery via USB, which meant all of our devices charged by USB, which also meant they could all be charged from our solar panel.
  • When we used our rear red lights all day, I would try to charge the batteries every day, in case we had no power the following day. My light would have worked for a couple of days with no charging.

In the front pocket of rear right pannier – easily accessible stuff

  • Steripen to sterilise river water for drinking. We used this quite a lot in the very hot west, but didn’t use it again from Pueblo onwards.
  • A small amount of toilet paper, easily accessible!
  • Electrolytes to add to water on hot days, to replace salts lost through sweat. I brought a tube of electrolyte tablets from the UK, which I found surprisingly hard to find in the US. Easily available in the US are tiny squirty bottles of Electrolyte liquid to add to water, they can be found in the soft drinks areas on supermarket shelves, rather than in any medical or sports areas. I prefer the squirty bottles over the tablets, as it was easy to make to taste, and easier to deal with refilling half full bottles etc, rather than breaking tablets in half. I used some of Hugh’s tablets (the Zero brand sold by Wiggle), which left an unremovable pink residue in my drinking tube, which I wouldn’t use again.
  • Collapsible Platypus 2 litre water bladder, useful when we needed to ride with extra water, and to use in campsites that had no close water.
  • White peaked hat, to put on my head whenever my helmet wasn’t on it, when I was in hot sun (sorting out a puncture in the baking sun is not fun!).

Front right pannier- the ‘not used daily pannier’

  • First Aid kit, the smallest little red one made by Lifeventure (as a size guide), upgraded ourselves to contain better plasters, wound dressings, and some burns dressings for any camp stove disasters, painkillers, arnica homeopathic tablets for bruising, and a tiny tube of Savlon antiseptic cream. Also, a ziplock bag with extra micropore tape, Savlon aerosol spray iodine solution (this is great for ‘no-touch’ spraying on wounds, also good for bad saddle sores), and hydrocortisone cream.
  • Spare inner tube, with a pair of latex gloves to keep hands fairly clean. We both carried a spare tube each. It was tempting to only take one between us, but we did have a particularly rubbish puncture experience once, where we hadn’t been good at replacing two ‘dead’ tubes, and found ourselves with no decent spare tube, and a very hard hole to find.
  • Pair of trainers (sneakers) – without these, by the end with all our posting stuff home, we probably could have got down to just two rear panniers fairly easily. The only day that these were really useful on was a day hike near Jenny Lake in the Tetons. They are a very bulky item for infrequent use. I was intending to go on weekly runs, but didn’t go for a single jog – I take my hat off to any touring cyclist who can face running during their journey, I really couldn’t face it, despite being determined before I left not to loose my post-marathon running fitness. My cycling shoes were really comfy, and although definitely not ideal for days off, I could have done without the trainers.
  • 12 part map sheets from Adventure Cycling Association, kept in a ziplock bag, and posted home when we had finished with them.
  • 2 spare dehydrated meals- we never used these, but it’s worth at least having a packet of rice as an ’emergency only’ meal. Occasionally we’d reach a town late, and struggle to find food.
  • 2x Lifeventure travel washing lines
  • Highlighter pen for map
  • Needle and thread
  • Camera lens cleaning cloth, also useful for putting between iPad screen and keyboard, as my keyboard started scratching my iPad, with all the bouncing around
  • Sash to string food away from bears
  • Collapsible lightweight day pack backpack. I had a Flash 18 from REI from previous travel adventures, and love it, although you could get away with something even lighter weight for cycle touring, in that it wasn’t used often. This is not an essential item at all – you could just use a pannier to transport anything that you needed on a day off wandering around a town.
  • A short length of spare inner tube, for re-doing kickstand mounts (we put a bit of tube between the polycarbonate mounts that Hugh made for our kickstands, and the frame of the bike, to lessen the possible damage to the frame).
  • Internet banking login number pad. We joined Norwich and Peterborough building society before leaving, specifically because they don’t charge to withdraw cash anywhere in the world. (Previously, I used Metro Bank for this reason, but they recently changed to only have free cash withdrawals in the EU).
  • Business cards with our blog and email address – popular amongst touring cyclists, many people carry them. I gave away far less than I expected. I took photos on my iPad of other peoples cards, as they are too easily lost.

Things we never used-

  • Sleeping pad repair kit
  • Small table top camera tripod – we were too lazy to use it to take shots of both of us
  • Spare pair of headphones, and several sets of spare earbuds
  • Spare credit and debit card
  • USB stick
  • Short length of sash/ string
  • Safety pins
  • Spare SD cards for camera (I totally overestimated how much memory I’d use in a small point and shoot camera, being used to an SLR on other trips. I didn’t even fill one 16GB card with my small Canon)
  • A Lacie Rugged 500gb hard drive – I had good intentions of really filming our trip, with Hugh’s GoPro, and thought that we’d need far more storage than cards would offer. We did a lot less filming than I expected, and never used up our SD cards.
  • Kingston Technology MLW221 Mobilelite Wireless Reader – I brought this to enable us to use an iPad or Smartphone to transfer data from SD cards to our Rugged external hard drive, but we never used the drive. I should have regularly backed up the cards to the drive (or better still, to a Cloud), but never got around to it. Our maps also marked libraries, where you could use their desktop computers to transfer data, so this is probably an unnecessary gadget for most people.
  • A few minature cable ties
  • A couple of velcro straps, potentially useful for strapping things to the bike
  • CatEars – yeah… These don’t work. We used them a couple of times, but they might as well go in the bin. When we went on our test ride trip in Holland, we cycled into the wind for a week, and the white noise of wind drove me insane. I actually ended cycling with my head turned to the side to stop the noise. I therefore thought that these little pieces of fur fabric which velcro onto helmet straps would be invaluable, but they just didn’t seem to make much difference, and I rarely felt frustrated by wind noise in the US. I wouldn’t recommend bothering with them. They also made me look like a total idiot.

Front left pannier- clothes

Vulpine merino wool short sleeved cycle jersey – red cycling top. Really great, but not cheap. Bought in a Cycle Surgery sale with a small discount. I loved this top for riding in for the first couple of hours of the day, which was always a bit chilly. This was really cosy in cold and cooler weather. Good pockets on the back. The tiny reflective strip on the back fell off within 2 washes. Survived being tumble-dried fine. Being merino wool, it doesn’t get smelly.

Mavic Athena SL Jersey – white sleeveless cycle top, useful for humid conditions, but I preferred a thin white long sleeved shirt when it was really hot. This Mavic top is well made from nice-feeling material, but the pockets at the back had thick, fairly tight, elastic tops, which made it a bit sweaty.

Thin white long sleeved cotton shirt – this made a huge difference when it was really hot (basically half of Oregon until Kansas, but I think I would have worn it even more had we not been riding late in the season). It felt as if this shirt stopped the sun from baking me. It was thin enough for me to use suncream underneath it, a slightly thicker one would probably have provided more protection from the sun. It really is incredibly hot out there, and we regularly spent 8 hours under intense sun. Being cotton, it would stay wetter for longer if it got wet (I’m talking about from sweat here!), so I wore a different top in the early mornings, until the sun was up, which dried sweat instantly.

Gore Bike Wear Ladies Oxygen Waist Shorts – black/white shorts – by far my favourite pair of shorts, worn the most. Most comfortable pad, short enough to make the terrible tan line high enough not to matter, but long enough to feel decent in restaurants. Small mesh pocket on the front right hand leg, perfect for keeping sweets in. Lycra stayed tight, but towards the end, one part of the right thigh started to degrade a bit- the first stage in eventual see-through-ness. They were pretty expensive full price, but I got them heavily discounted from Wiggle. I’m going to buy another pair, and in the future, I’d look at Gore shorts before any other brands. I tried on so many pairs of shorts, and the other two that I got felt far better than any others I tried, but these Gores blow the other two out the running. Impressive.

Craft Ladies Performance B shorts – blue/black shorts – nowhere near as good as my Gore shorts, but OK. Fairly thin, hard pad. They were longer than my other pairs, and would have left terrible tan lines, but I wore these the least. The plasticy gripper bits at the ends of the short legs got all stuck to each other in tumble dryers, and never properly recovered. I wouldn’t buy these again.

Hincapie Wmn Performer II Shorts – nowhere near as good as my Gore shorts, but OK. Pad quite soft, a bit too soft for long rides. The shorts were very short; I felt a bit self conscious off the bike in such short shorts. The Lycra went a bit baggy.

Icebreaker merino wool long sleeve top – black with white stitching detail- handy for cooler cycling mornings, and I slept in this regularly in the colder west.

North Face micro fleece, pale blue – handy around camp, and on long cold descents, as it’s fairly wind proof.

North face zip off shorts/trousers, for off the bike. Hardly ever wore the trouser bit of these, could have just taken the shorts, and a pair of leggings.

I’ve had the merino top, fleece and trousers for 10 years, still going strong, if a little tight!

Fleece trousers – OK, I know they probably look terrible, and they don’t pack small, but they are very warm for their weight, and are nice and cosy around a campsite, keeping muscles warm. I spent ages trying to find some, until I found these for a fiver (new) through an eBay seller.

Regular top (blue patterned one) for off the bike – it’s worth having one piece of clothing that isn’t screaming ‘I’m a cyclist’ to feel a bit normal!

Small pair of pyjama shorts, handy for night time toilet trips. I changed into these after washing each day, and hung out around camp in these, with leggings (and then fleece trousers when really cold) over the top when it got colder.

War Child top– I took this to get a bit of charity branding in, but being black, it was a really bad colour to cycle in, because of the sun, and because of visibility. When it was warmer, I slept in this instead of the icebreaker top.

Regular leggings – useful for on the bike when cold, and off the bike walking around towns. I purposely didn’t bring a sporty fabric pair, as I wanted them to feel like normal clothing off the bike, but I did bring a pair which had some synthetic material as well as cotton, so they dried quicker.

Bikini – this was vital, when washing. In the West, we washed far more often in rivers, or using our portable shower, than in proper shower cubicles, and we continued to use our portable shower throughout the trip. Rarely were we able to wash without any swim wear on (unless in a proper shower, of course!). My bikini top had total structural integrity when only done up around my back, which was really handy for discreet public changing, because I could put a top on before removing it. This regularly had to hang off my front pannier to dry the following day.

Icebreaker merino wool sports bra – not the most supportive or flattering of sports bras, but I am a huge fan of merino wool (it doesn’t get smelly!), and this is one of the few merino wool bras available. I found this in a shop in Germany, they’re not easy to get hold of in the UK, although I’m sure the internet would help.

3 pairs of pants (underwear) and 1 x regular bra – yeah, OK, OK, 3 pairs is a little excessive, but they’re not exactly big, and it’s useful to not be thinking about pant washing all the time (bear in mind that you might want to be wearing a pair of pants whilst washing/drying another pair of pants – then three pairs rather than two makes more sense). Cycling shorts, by the way, are designed to be worn without underwear. Don’t even think about going for a long ride with them on, I never did, but shudder to think about those consequences!

3 pairs of Merino wool socks – because merino wool doesn’t smell, and stays warm when wet – Icebreaker Micro Ultralite Run and Multisport socks – found them cheap on eBay, they did the job fine. No padding. Someone advised me to go for padded socks, because cycling shoes are very unforgiving with very rigid soles, but I didn’t find thin socks to be a problem. Smartwool Run Light Cushion socks – brought when we landed from REI, fearing that I might want thicker socks. These were fine, and more padded, but I rarely felt the need for extra foot padding, although these were a lot warmer than the other two – probably too hot as an only pair.

Nike RU TW Mesh Daybreak Cap – white hat, used for jogging in hot sun at home, this was lightweight, but offered good sun protection whenever off the bike (so without helmet) in the sun – really useful for times like flat tires in the sun, or swimming in the sun.

Gloves – I took spare sets of gloves, terrified of losing them. I was also intending to swap my short fingered gloves on alternate days, to change the pressure on my hands regularly, but the Endura gloves ended up being so much more comfy than the others, that I only rode with the Endura’s. With hindsight, I could have easily done the whole tour with just the Endura’s, and no long fingered gloves.

IMG_0325

Above: the consequences of wearing gloves!

Endura Wms FS260-Pro Aerogel Mitt – short white gloves. Loved these, absolutely loved them, although they did start to lose their shape, and get baggy, which meant the palm pads slipped to a less comfy position (this was fair wear and tear – I can’t imagine any other gloves would have stood up any better). The palms got disgustingly dirty and smelly very quickly, and were frequently put in washing machines. I didn’t tumble dry them after a couple of tumbles seemed to accelerate their degradation. The white top fabric got pretty threadbare. They were really good in hot weather because they are so thin. Gel pads.

Garneau 12C Air Gel – spare, short red/black gloves. Before I got the Endura’s, I wore these in the UK for ages, and loved them, they were better than anything else I had found, but they were blown out with the arrival of the Endura’s. They are also quite thick, and much hotter than the Endura’s. Squidgy, rather than gel pads. Much furrier snot wiper than the Endura’s!

Altura M Night Vision Glove – Hi Viz Yellow – long fingered waterproof gloves. Brought in the sale, these were fairly cheap, although I wouldn’t trust them to be perfectly waterproof (they’re not Gore Tex, which was far more expensive). They are very bright, and add quite a lot to our overall visibility, and I only intend to wear them in very wet weather, so I thought I might as well get the garish high vis version (well, actually, they were the only ones cheap in the sale!). They are not particularly comfy, or padded, but they are warmer than my Gore windstopper gloves, even though they don’t look it. I only wore these a couple of times when it was really cold. When it was raining, it wasn’t normally particularly cold, so short gloves are fine. Not necessary.

Gore Bike Wear W Power SO Gloves (windstopper gloves) – these are great for warmth in British winters, but totally unnecessary in American summers. I was expecting some of the long, high descents in the Rockies to be really cold, but they weren’t too bad. I posted these home. I kept a pair of long waterproof gloves, but rarely used them.

Waterproofs-

Endura Luminite II Overshoe – not the Rolls Royce of overshoes, but I didn’t feel that any I saw were particularly good. These are fleece lined, so nice and toasty. I found they kept my feet dry in all but torrential rain. Water can run down into them, unless worn under trousers. The velcro can get a bit scratchy when worn against bare skin. I wore them above trousers, to keep my trouser legs tight. Quite reflective. The Kevlar enforced toe area has got a little damaged with small holes. They stink – they take ages to dry when wet. I got a size too big, to wear over chunkier shoes in London, which doesn’t seem to matter.

Gore Bike Wear Solid Gore-Tex Lady Womens Trousers – as waterproof trousers go, these are fairly good. I hate wearing them, but think they’re probably no worse than any others. They were actually the only women’s gore tex trousers I could find, brought in an Evans sale. I suspect I will wear them far more in London, not wanting to arrive at work covered in mud and rain, than in the US when getting wet and muddy wasn’t an issue. These are really long, and would be too long for anyone very short. There have little velcro tags to wrap them around your lower legs, to stop them getting caught in the chain, but I think this design could be improved, I wasn’t totally confident they wouldn’t come undone and end up getting ripped in the chain, so I put my little booties over the top. The fabric feels nice, as waterproof fabric goes. Rear zip pocket, but no other pockets, which is a bit annoying for using them for hiking. Small reflective details.

Mountain Equipment gore tex rain jacket – owned already. Does the job. Keeps me dry. Not particularly light weight, as rain shells go.

Other

Specialized BG Tahoe Sport Womens MTB Shoe – I love these shoes, and tried on pretty much every women’s shoe I could find, including ordering loads and loads online to then return them through ‘free return’ agreements. None came close to being remotely close to being comfortable, except these. There is a slightly cheaper version that doesn’t have a Vibram sole, but these ones had a thinner top mesh material than the cheaper version, which was great for the US. Hugh had the cheaper, hotter version, and often had hot feet. If I was only going to wear these in here UK, the cheaper version would probably be more appropriate. The Vibram sole felt a bit more comfy, and they also came in a nicer colour! I’m not sure I would have wanted to walk around all day in these, but, for rigid cycling shoes, they are remarkably comfy (they have recessed cleats). I checked the cleats for mud and stones stuck in them every morning, like with any cleated shoes, particularly after traipsing across a campsite.

Specialized s3 Helmet. It took ages and ages for me to find a helmet that fitted my apparently odd shaped head, and this one seemed to be the best fit. I think there are various varitions of the S3, some look quite different to mine. Usefully, it has a visor, to keep rain out of my eyes, which most road helmets don’t. It is very lightweight (several times I’ve pedalled in London without realising I’ve forgotten my helmet), and very vented, which is great for hot weather (it’s so vented that it gets a bit cold in London!) The downside was that it is black in colour. They did sell a white/gold one, but I really didn’t like it, and when I bought it, I didn’t believe that being black would attract the sun as much as I think it probably did. Just before I left, a friend told me I was ridiculous to wear a big black helmet on my head in intense sun (I thought it would be OK because of the huge vents). In a panic about it, I bought some white reflective tape from eBay (the reflective nature of it wasn’t purposeful, it was just that I tried it with white electrical tape, and it looked like a mess, but we had some other reflective tape at home, and it was much neater), and covered it in white stripes. My only criticism of the design is that the triangular sections that go around my ears of the straps are not adjustable, and feel too big.

Sunglasses – mine are made by Ryder. No idea what model. I took a semi-hard sunglasses case – this was pointless. The sunglasses were almost always on me! Early in the mornings, and in heavy rain, I kept them in a soft sunglasses sleeve to stop them getting scratched in the top of my handlebar bag.

Fuel bottle and Fuel. We both carried two waterbottles and one fuel bottle each. We used red metal MSR fuel bottles. We originally bought white spirit / alcohol fuel (often only availbale in larger bottles, which meant it was useful for us to be carrying two fuel bottles, to decant it into). After a frustrating evening spent in West Yellowstone trying to track down some fuel to buy, we eventually turned to Google, and discovered that we could use a readily available de-icer product called Heet in our stove. It worked, we’re still alive, and it can be bought anywhere. With this knowledge, and a much easier to find product, we could have got away with one fuel bottle between us.

SIS waterbottles – these were just what we had kicking around at home. Cheap (in fact I think they were free with some other products), did the job fine. Had we realized they existed earlier, we might have invested in some of the cold-insulated bottles that Camelbak make which are designed to keep water cooler (although I think these wouldn’t be hugely effective in such massive heat). Ice is very readily available in the US, and when we refilled our bottles in restaurants, people always offered to fill them with ice, which was very welcome.

Dog Dazer (Chloe) and Bark Genie (Hugh) – battery operated devices that create ultrasonic noise that dogs don’t like. Also cans of Halt! dog spray. See tips for cyclists section.

Things that Hugh carried that I didn’t duplicate:

Hugh carried the tent (listed at the top), tools and the cooking stuff.

Trangia Cooking Stove – this was great, it’s not the smallest of things, but was really good, hassle-free, which is important for such a long trip. I’ve got a tiny very lightweight MSR burner at home, but it is a phaff to keep it clean and working happily.

Cooking Pots which Trangia make (one big, one smaller), and come as part of the stove kit. The kettle was posted home!

Sea to Summit collapsible-sides big bowl to store cooked food in cooking process!

2 x Sea to Summit collapsible-sides smaller bowls to each eat from

Opinel knife – French made folding knife, really good, locks into handle.

US army issue can opener – I found this really hard to use, but Hugh seemed to have the knack!

3 x Sporks – if we went on a big trip again, I’d invest in titanium ones. Our plastic ones snapped and needed replacing half way, and Hugh always complains that the plastic absorbs the taste of washing up liquid.

REI cooking spoon – melted into a weird shade of green, but we seem to have survived!

IMG_20140713_193835 Portable Shower

Sea to Summit Pocket Shower – taking portable shower was Hugh’s genius idea, which I had dismissed as being unnecessary weight, thinking that we’d find real showers more often than we did in reality. Many other cyclists we met stank. Properly stank! This shower was brilliant. A dry bag with a small shower head attached, which always looked a bit breakable, but survived the trip, with a lot of use. The idea of it being black is that if you leave it in the sun, the water heats up, but in actual use, we were always using it late in the day, and wanted to get on and use it rather than wait, so we just had cold showers, which were fine. There were several times that we nearly got the thing stuck in trees, but always managed to get it down eventually. We tied our own bit of thin sash onto the top, and tied that round a stick or stone to chuck it over a tree branch.

6’ Kryptonite cable (which we could loop between the two bikes and a post) and a cheap small combination padlock. For easy access, Hugh kept this under the net bungee that held the tent on his rear rack.

Tools – Small Topeak multitool, tyre levers. Additional 6mm Allen key, small set of long nose pliers, small adjustable spanner, tyre boot (a temporary fix for a ripped tyre), and chain lube.

Our Gear: The Bikes and accessories

Our Gear: The Bikes

The bikes: Surly Long Haul Trucker. Brilliant, well, mine was. Mine felt great, it fitted me well, I love my bike. It felt like a natural extension of my body. Hugh never felt comfortable on his, and it’s possible he should have got a size larger. Mine is 52”, Hugh’s is 54”, and we went for these sizes because of standover clearance – we could have both gone up one size, and still stood across the bikes, but would have had little clearance, and Brixton Cycles, who sold them to us, were adamant that in an emergency stop situation, we should be able to jump off the bikes and land without smashing our crotches into the top tubes. I also test rode a Thorn Sherpa, which felt very heavy and slow in comparison to the (comparatively) nippy LHT, although Hugh very nearly went with the Thorn. We also test rode some Kogas, which felt even heavier than the Thorn (although I expect that both the Thorn and Koga could have been ordered with lighter parts – they were probably ‘expedition grade’ showroom models). I had never ridden a bike with dropped handlebars before, but I love them now, and totally disagree with Thorns very persuasive marketing, that includes being adamant that flat bars with bar ends are the best option. Whilst it would have been really nice to ride a British designed bike, and on paper (or rather, on line), Thorn sound great, I found that their ‘our way is best’ mentality slightly wearing. I was totally inexperienced when I started the hunt for a bike, and lapped up the Thorn advice sheets, believing their persuasive tone to mean they were factually correct, but I now disagree with a lot of their opinions. I really valued the different hand positions that dropped bars give, and the different positions by back was in from this variety, and don’t believe that this can be replicated well enough by flat bars with bar ends.

Touring bikes like ours are designed to be strong, and as failsafe as possible. Ours have bar end shifters, rather than STIs, which are more prone to problems, and hard to fix when problems arise. LHTs come with cantilever brakes as standard (there is a Disc Trucker option), and I did loads of research into what type of brakes would be best for us, until I just decided to trust that Surly had made a good decision. They were fine. I was far too inexperienced to know about gearing ratios when we bought them, so we stuck with the standard Surly set up. Now, I wouldn’t say no to an even easier granny gear! Hugh put snazzy bar tape with gel pads on his, I just stuck with what came with the bike, and it was fine.

I am very glad I went with the Surly, although Hugh would say otherwise. They are stock Surlys, off the shelf, apart from the things mentioned below. Hugh had a small problem with a bearing in his front hub, but we had no other mechanical problems on the whole ride. We had 2 punctures each, I had a snapped gear cable (and Hugh would have had one if the route had been a mile longer!), and got new chains twice (we probably could have got away with just one chain change, but I was very paranoid about my chain falling off whilst going slowly uphill, and then me falling off if I couldn’t unclip my feet in time). I think we probably replaced brake pads once each, but I remember being surprised we didn’t need to change them more often.

Surly is also at the cheaper end of the high-end touring bikes – Thorn and Koga were considerably more expensive.

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Shimano A520 SPD Touring Pedals – these are flat/platform on one side, and have the ‘clipless’/SPD design on the other (I think ‘clipless’ is a weird term, as I always feel I am ‘clipped’ to the bike, but I assume it refers to not a toe-clip system). I think these pedals are a great idea, it gives both options, and I still use them cycling around London, even though I never use cleated shoes in London, so I just use the flat side. If I’m wearing cleated shoes, it’s quite easy to accidentally clip in, even if I’m not intending to (e.g. when approaching a junction, knowing I need to stop), so I like having a flat side. When I unclip before a planned stop, I flip the pedals over, before accidentally clipping back in and having a wobble. The flat side of these are a compromise – they are very slippery when wet, and I’m surprised that they weren’t designed to be a bit more grippy, or textured. But, I still think that they were the right decision for me (I hardly ever used the flat side in the US). I have never used any other type of clipless/SPD pedal, so can’t really comment on that, but they seemed pretty good. Even on the loosest setting, I struggled to unclip at first, and can still only unclip by twisting my heels out (you are meant to unclip by twisting heels in, but I literally physically cannot, for some reason!).

Schwalbe Marathon Supreme 26touring tyre, 2 inches wide – we should have gone with the narrower width, although these were probably a bit more comfy. I had read over and over again that the ideal touring width seemed to be 1.75″, and this only came in a 2″ and a 1.6” option, we went with the 2”. Almost everyone we met seemed perfectly happy with narrower tyres. We each got two flats, all in the second half of the trip. During the first half, we thought we wouldn’t get any, and are a bit disappointed by 4 flats, for their price and ‘flatless’ marketing. We only really considered Schwalbe (I looked briefly at what Continental offer), and these seemed the right ones for a road-based job – fairly slick, and much lighter than some of their other offerings. The walls feel pretty thin to me, but it don’t have much to compare them with! For the first 50 miles or so, they are quite noisy, but this soon goes. The first time I put them on the bike, I struggled with girly hands to pop the last bit over the rim, but can do it fine now- either I have got stronger hands, or they have got more flexible. They are very expensive, but they lasted the whole trip. We expected to need to get new ones half way, but even the rear tyres only showed wear very late in the trip. We didn’t even swap rear/front over, to prolong life, although if we were going further on them now, we would. I’m swapping back to the skinnier Continentals that came with the bike, for London, and saving these wide bad boys for future tours.

Brooks B17 saddle, men’s version. So, these are leather saddles that have a famously long (people say 1000 mile) break in process, and many people love theirs. I like mine now, and I wonder if maybe that is as good as any saddle gets. I mean, look at the things, spending 8 hours a day for days and days on end on any saddle looks uncomfortable. Mine is much better than it could be. I originally had a women’s B17, which got stolen in London shortly before we left (despite, by the way, being locked to the frame of the bike). Despite doing well over the 1000 suggested break in miles on the female version, I never felt I was making much progress at breaking it in. The female one is wider at the rear, and has a much shorter nose. Hugh (on his saddle, which was also stolen at the same time) had a much easier break in process than me, so I opted for the men’s version after mine got stolen. I wondered if the longer nose was going to be a problem, but it never was – apparently the only reason that women’s saddles have shorter noses is historical, from them wearing skirts, (although I still don’t see why this would require a shorter saddle nose). I think this saddle ended up being more comfy than my women’s one would have been. Where my seat post attaches to the saddle rails works itself loose, which means the saddle ends up tilting up eventually. I used a longer Allen key (more leverage) than we were carrying in Missouri to tilt it down again, which felt totally wrong for a day, but I then got used to it again. Apparently, there should be absolutely no pressure on your lady bits, which it did fine originally, but them slipped back. I think the tilt angle is really important with Brooks, and I wanted to experiment more with it, but I was also scared of messing it up, particularly after the break in process was fairly advanced, I didn’t want to change too much. It is also a right phaff with the Surly seat posts to experiment with tilt angle. After mine was stolen, I also tried a Specialized Ruby one, which looked super fly, and was pretty comfy, but I was scared that it was ‘as good as it was ever going to get’, whereas with Brooks you have a hope that it might get better as it breaks in more and more! I’m thinking of splurging out on a Ruby to use in London, fearful that my 5000 mile broken-in saddle might get stolen again. The Ruby has much shallower rails, and is much harder to lock securely to the frame of the bike, but will have no sentimental or broken-in value! Hugh had a much harder time with his new B17, and never got comfy on it, despite the original one working for him very quickly. We had applied proofide quite a lot at home, and then bought more in Pueblo to try to quicken the break in process.

Pletscher double leg kick stand – what a palaver. Surly don’t support anyone attaching kick stands to their bikes, because they put a large amount of force onto a small area of the frame. In fact, within a week of using the stand at home before we left, small dents were left in Hugh’s frame from this. However, they were incredibly handy, and on the couple of days where mine fell off, and so I was minus kick stand for a few hours, I got incredibly frustrated with what to do with my bike, in the absence of a handy tree, every time I wanted to hop off and have a wee, or take a photo. It is very cumbersome to lie a heavily loaded bike down. So we felt that not having kickstands was not an option. A double leg kickstand seemed to be the way to go, and Hugh did a lot of Google based research into what other LHT riders had used, and how they had mounted them. Hugh eventually made small polycarbonate mounting plates, which helped disperse the force slightly. Every so often this system failed, and we had to go back to the drawing board. We spent a boring morning in Missoula trailing around scrap metal yards looking to replace the polycarbonate with metal plates, when my plate, and the spare we carried, had both snapped. Tandem riders find it even harder to deal with kickstands, and one tandem couple we had used the ‘clickstand’, which was working well for them, and doesn’t come with the various draw backs of our one.

Tubus Duo Lowrider front rack – I thought this one looked far more elegant than the Tara one which has been the main choice for years. Hugh has to bodge various things to get it to fit on the Surly forks.

Tubus Locc rear rack – heavy, but very strong. Nicely designed – the rail that the panniers clip onto is lower and further out than the top platform, so you can shove a tent/anything on the platform, without it interfering with the pannier rail. It has a particularly handy Locc device – basically a plastic mount that means you can attach compatible Abus locks onto the rack. This is a great feature that I particularly love in London, as my chunky Abus D Lock doesn’t fit anywhere on the frame of my bike. Locks do rattle however, which gets a bit irritating. The paintwork has worn off where the pannier clips sit, and has got slightly rusty.

Panniers: I was fairly unimpressed by the Ortlieb brand initially, but everyone seems to use them, so I went with the majority vote. I now understand why they are so liked. They are totally waterproof. This is really, really important, as you just don’t want to be worrying about your stuff in the middle of a downpour, or overnight. We never took them into the tent, so they were out in a lot of night time rain. When I got them, I thought that they seemed very expensive for a totally empty bag (there is a flat pocket against the back, which I actually never used), I thought I would want compartments built in, but empty is the way forward- I’m really glad there was no compartmentalising, as it would never please everyone.

I went for the Plus version, which has a much thinner, fabric like textile, whereas Hugh went for the plasticy, thicker PVC type version. I didn’t like the thinness of mine in London, where I throw them down at work, and I think they are likely to get damaged, but on tour, I much preferred my Plus ones to Hugh’s. Mine are a lot lighter, and my front ones, which are the same style as Hugh’s can easily be done up without the long (and heavy) strap that Hugh had to use, as my fabric bent more, so could clip up, instead do down. As they were always kept on the bikes (we never took them off, they stayed overnight on the bikes, and are much easier to pack when on the bikes), I wasn’t worried about mine getting ripped, by being continually thrown on the floor. I suspect that any accident that involved the panniers scrapping on the road could rip them, which would be problematic. The tops of my rear ones did fade in the sun, I suspect much quicker than PVC would.

Ortlieb Front Roller Plus – did the job fine. I didn’t take the fairly heavy straps with these, I just rolled them over and did them up without the extra strap.

Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus – I went for the Packer version, without the classic roll top, because I really wanted to have a little pocket on the front. You can buy separately an add on pocket to stitch onto the sides of panniers, but this looked like a phaff, and also sounds as if it effects the waterproof ness. The front pocket was really, really useful, holding stuff that I’d need during the day, but which I didn’t want to weigh down my handlebar bag with. The roll top design is meant to be submergible, which my lid top ones wouldn’t be, but I’m not envisaging taking mine on a boat with a submergible risk, so mine were fine! I find the front pocket particularly useful commuting in London, holding bike lock keys, lights, high vis top, tyre patches and levers – which would otherwise float around at the bottom of the bag.

Ortlieb Ultimate 6 M handlebar bag – these are expensive, but I would highly recommend them to any touring cyclist. It is so, so, so useful to have the map in front of you, instead of shoved in a pocket of pannier. I had the Ortlieb map case attachment on mine. We both kept all our valuables in these, and removed them whenever we left the bike – which I think deters any potential thieves who watch us walk away with the clearly-valuable stuff. They are waterproof, but if the sides we flipped over the strap attachment points, rain can leak in. Small flat pocket, but otherwise empty inside. I thought I’d want lots of compartments, but actually, a big empty space is perfect for just dumping everything in. An iPad Mini fits perfectly in it, on it’s side against a wall. Mine contained our passports in a plastic wallet, iPad with keyboard case, small wallet, small camera, a pen, phone, iPod, snacks and sweets, sunglasses soft case (things get really scratched bouncing around in handlebar bags, so never put sunglasses in without a case), and the all important Dog Dazer, always put at the top of the bag from Missouri onwards.

In the zip pocket were some no-glue tube patches, wrapped antiseptic wipes, an emergency whistle, painkillers, and a small silver foil emergency blanket.

Ultra Light Bike Mirror (from TheRandonneeShop) – fairly hard to find a supplier, but this is a really good mirror. It is designed for right hand drive countries. I found the best place for this was half way down the bottom horizontal bit of my handlebars, where it didn’t get in the way of my hands at all. It had a really good ball and socket joint, which allows the unit to bend whenever there is too much pressure on it, rather than breaking the mirror, but then it can be quickly adjusted back into position when riding, and will hold that position until it is knocked again. I thought that they’d be broken within minutes, but they stood up remarkably well, even with bikes falling over. Hugh’s got a bit bashed, and he picked up a spare somewhere in Kansas, but never needed to actually swap it. They were most useful on fast descents, where it is impossible to hear cars behind us, and we’d often descend in the middle of the car lane, so knowing when to pull over to the side was really helpful. I never used it to monitor if, or when, I needed to ditch myself off the road because of my close passing car, although I think some riders do. I decided that would be more distracting than looking forward! Although a cyclist has to be fairly near to see them in it, it was handy for checking Hugh was OK when behind me. It was also useful to see that dogs had stopped chasing us! I heard good things about the ‘Take A Look’ helmet mirror, and did get hold of one before we left London, but I don’t think a helmet mirror is the right thing for me, although American rider seemed to love them. I found it irritating, having it in direct view, and it also wobbled around, giving a very wobbly picture constantly in my field of vision (if anyone in the UK wants to buy it off me, drop me a line – I got a friend to mule it over from America from me, and never returned it). I think it would also be very easy to damage, flapping around on the edge of a helmet. Bar end mirrors don’t work, as we have bar end shifters.

Topeak Road Morph with Gauge Pump – this should have been brilliant, but disappointingly, basically falls apart! Aside from falling apart, it is well designed, with a little flap out bit which means you can use it as a miniature floor pump, so you can use your body, rather than your arms, to get tyres to a higher pressure, and attaches to the valve with a small flexible tube, rather than direct to the pump, so you’re much less likely to snap off the top off a presta valve. It has a handy gauge, although we compared it using a track pump at home, and found the gauge to be a little bit off (but worked out the ‘conversion’). We obviously only intended to use this in puncture emergencies, and then called in at bike shops that we passed to use their track pumps to keep the tyre pressure maintained. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to fare well on the outside of my bike, and when I unstrapped it to use it for the first time, basically every part that could fall off, did! We put it back together, but pieces still fall off. It had also collected quite a lot of rain water, which probably didn’t help its lifespan. It did however, manage to sort out our 4 punctures, but I wouldn’t take this particular one again. (Generally though, Topeak make nice stuff, and it was really well designed, so much so, that I might consider just getting another of the same, and seeing if we just had a dud).

Solas 2Watt USB tail light, night rider – I got this rear light in Pueblo, when I decided it was definitely worth a $45 investment, because my 3 LED old Cateye light was just no where near as good as Hugh’s stunningly good 5 LED Cateye. This one is stunningly bright, but it is quite directional, so unless you are in line with the light, it is not particularly effective. When you are in line with the light, it is super, super bright. I always used it on the most ‘unmissable- here I am’ flashing setting, and the battery would last about 10 hours, so I charged it every night. This was fine from Kansas onwards, as so we almost always had power, but I would have had to use our solar charger a lot for it in the west (I barely used the solar charger, so it would have been a good use for it!). It fitted well onto the Tubus rack. I think Hugh’s 5 LED Cateye (I think it’s the TL-LD610 one) one is slightly better, as it is very bright, but less directional. The Solas one is so blinding when you’re in line with it, that I think it would blind other cyclists in London behind me! From Missouri onwards we rode with rear flashing lights always (literally, always) on. They were far more effective than you might imagine at making us noticeable. I would highly recommend them. I also had a Cateye front light, which was only ever used in very bad weather, or if we found ourselves cycling later into the dusk than we had intended to. We never rode at night.

Vaude saddle rain-cover – this is really thin, rip-stop type material, and I love it. It’s much lighter and more flexible than the covers by Brooks. I suddenly had a brain wave about looping the elastic pull through the rail underneath the saddle, and then stuffing the cover underneath there saddle for easy access. We covered our precious Brooks saddles nearly every night, even when under picnic shelters. It is important to protect Brooks saddles from rain as much as possible. I always cover my saddle in London, to hide its desirable Brooks-ness from thieves. (On the night that ours were both stolen in Shoreditch, east London, Hugh’s was uncovered, and next to mine, which I, to this day, maintain was the reason they both got stolen).

A-Headset Space Bell from Tredz – this bell doesn’t ring particularly loudly, and I wouldn’t recommend it for City use, but there is very little need for a bell touring, and this one attaches to the headset, as I didn’t have handlebar space, after the handlebar bag mount.

Elite Custom Race Bottle Cage – pretty grippy, survived the tour, lots of colour options. The bottom mounting one had to have its second bolt hole enlarged on my bike, which eventually wore through the hole, but was successfully held in line with electrical tape.

Minoura LeKorde VC-100 quick release camera mount – I thought this would be a good solution to mounting my (normal, not action) camera, on a generic camera mount, and me having a chat to the camera as I cycled. This little one looks very well made, but unfortunately due to the handlebar bag mount, I wasn’t able to twist the mount low enough to point at me. Because of the bar bags, we’d never get front shots from handlebars, but I was hoping to do some ‘to camera’ chat, which didn’t work.

Origin8 Frame/fork eyelet light mount stub – this brilliant little invention solved my front light problem. Because of the bar bags, we couldn’t mount front lights on our handlebars, so had mounted them on the fork at home. We failed to check they still worked when we changed over to wider tyres, and mine no longer fitted between the fork and tyre. This little stub screws into a spare eyelet on the fork, and I mounted the light on the stub. It looked so funky that Hugh got one for no real reason!

Lifeventure combination retractable cable lock, which I ran through my rear panniers and rack, and stored in the solar panel pouch, just for peace of mind that no one could instantly rip the rear panniers off whilst unattended.

Drinking tube – see my tips for cyclists about my homemade drinking tube

IMG_0080 Safety Triangle

Safety triangles – we saw on other blogs that a lot of cyclists used these. We got them cheaply on the US Amazon.com. The good thing about them was that we just put them on our rear racks on day 1, and never thought about them again. I think they probably helped make us more visible, but weren’t great. Several drivers told us how much they thought they were effective though. On our racks, they were fairly low, and therefore not at a great height to be seen by drivers. Some cyclists use florescent flags, which are higher obviously, but they are fairly invisible from the back – from the side, you see a nice big flag, from a driver behind the cyclist, you hardly see anything!

Cateye Velo Wireless+ cycle computer – a fairly basic computer, but did the important things of distance, speed and telling the time. I had mine set to kilometres simply because the numbers tick over faster than miles, so 100Km feels like more of an achievement than 62 miles! America, and our maps, working in miles, this was a silly decision, although Hugh’s worked in miles. Some computers are much snazzier – telling altitude, temperature, revolutions per minute etc. The only thing that I would have found particularly useful would be being able to reset the time (we changed time zones several times), without resetting all the data and loosing the ‘total distance’, that felt like too much of an achievement to reset!

A little note

Just a little not to say that I do intend to write some more here, wrapping up our experiences, and compiling some useful info of stuff that we discovered for any prospective TransAm cyclists, and also giving anyone interested some details about our bikes.

So check back in a little while.

Day 61, Glendale – Yorktown, VA

24th September

We made it! I spent the whole day (well, the whole trip, in fact), terrified that I’d fall off and break a leg at the last moment. I didn’t. More than dealing the actual cycling, the hills, the weather, the terrible food, the times of total exhaustion, I am incredibly proud of cycling 6030Km without falling off, which I was always very concerned about.

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We left the warmth of the Church, into the drizzle. We had proper cycle path for more than 30 miles, which was great. Cyclist starting at Yorktown will be given a very false sense of security by this path, before they have to face the traffic the next day. Separated from the road, wide enough to cycle next to each other. Parts of it were very new, small bits were still under construction, and lots of it is waiting for the finishing touches. For one stretch, there was loads of straw all over the path and the side verges, our best explanation is that it was put down to stop plants growing on the verge near it, but it was all a bit weird. We’ve got straw all over the bikes.

A couple of hours into the day, it was raining enough to put on waterproof jackets and shoe covers. A couple of hours after that, it was hammering it down. Probably the most rain over an afternoon we had all trip. As we pedalled the final stretch into Yorktown, the last 5 miles of which is very exposed, with the road running along a big, tidal river off the Atlantic, we were cycling blind for parts of it, with torrential rain and crosswinds. I couldn’t help but drink loads of rainwater, it just kept finding its way into my mouth.

My parents, uncle and aunt were waiting for us at the finish, in an hours time slot that we had estimated our arrival to be in, but we had underestimated how fast we would go on such flat terrain, and spent an hour killing time in Williamsburg, 13 miles up the road. Restaurants in America are ridiculously over air-conditioned, and we get really cold in them. I didn’t want to put my only warm clothes on over wet clothes. As I put my dripping wet waterproof layers back on in the restaurant, I was shaking uncontrollably from being so cold. A fellow diner looked at me as if I was mad, and also seemed very concerned, telling me that I didn’t have to go outside. But it was time to pedal.

We then got lost leaving Williamsburg, the 13 miles took longer than we thought with the new addition of wind, and we got totally confused about where the finish point was in Yorktown, so we needn’t have got so cold waiting in Williamsburg, but hey ho.

Hugh’s gear cable started snapping just as we entered Yorktown, and quickly got worse, but managed to hold out whilst we circled Yorktown, lost. The map directions seemed to think that telling us to exit on an unmarked ramp, and then turn onto an unmarked road, was a good enough direction, without a close-up map. I have absolutely no idea how we went so wrong, in a fairly small place, but we were a hundred yards from where we were meant to end up when we got into Yorktown, presumably having missed an unmarked ramp, and then got thoroughly confused from there.

Everyone was sheltering in the two cars, but they leapt out as we approached, unveiling a particularly fantastic banner, which was luckily waterproof! A random man was there wanting to take photos of the Victory Monument, which we were somewhat hogging. My Dad enthusiastically told him that we had just cycled across America. He didn’t seem remotely impressed.

My odometer reads 6030Km for our total journey, although I know there were various times when it stopped reading, so I would have pedalled a bit further. Hugh’s reads 3778 miles. The total TransAm route is 4242 miles, so with three weeks off the route, we only hitched 450 odd miles, so we cycled 90% of the route. Which I think is pretty impressive.

I guess I’m meant to say that we feel all these crazy emotions, and our lives will never be the same again after such an experience, but actually, I feel pretty subdued, emotion wise. I didn’t even cry. Yes, I’m proud of what we did, I can’t believe we made it, and we have so many memories of brilliant times, hard times, funny times, sad times to look back on. I’ll write again at some point, reflecting on it all.

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My cycle computer. And yes, that is crazy pink electrolyte residue in my drinking tube, harbouring all sorts of lovely bacteria. Nice.

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Hugh signing a TransAm register at the Visitors Centre to help campaigning for cycle infrastructure in Virginia

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Elevation profile of the day – we’re finally at sea level!

Day 60, Bumpass – Glendale, VA

23rd September, 101Km

(A boring note for any avid blog followers – I’ve struggled to find a good enough internet connection to upload photos recently, so the last week or so’s posts have just had some shots added).

Our penultimate day. I really cannot believe it. I’m convinced that I’m going to hit a pothole and topple off my bike tomorrow. Hopefully not. We’re now about 60 miles away. Yorktown, here we come.

Most of the picnic shelters that we camp in have power and lighting, but without this last night in Bumpass, we crawled into the tent before 8pm, as it was dark. I was asleep at 8, which is a record. I’ve never slept before 9. Neither of us slept particularly well though, mostly because we both got worried about the blue-bandana-ed man from last night, yelling ‘I’m powerful because of what’s on my arm’ (arms aren’t just body part here), as he walked down the road. Every time I woke up I was relieved that we were still alive, and Hugh spent the night imagining him shooting us through the tent. I think we may have overreacted…

The caterpillars. I have been meaning to write about the funky furry caterpillars for about two thousand miles, but keep forgetting. They are such funny fellows. I think there must be something in tarmac that they really like, as since Kansas, there have been loads and loads of the crawling around the roads, all very hairy. Most are crawling towards the centre of the road, which makes me think their survival chances are slim, as they rarely meander back out of the road. I hit one once, ages ago, and felt really bad.

Just after we left Bumpass, a woman pulled over, and offered us her guesthouse to stay in in Bumpass, which sounds like it is empty most of the time, and she just wanted someone to use it. She even offered to pick us up from wherever we finished today, take us to her guesthouse, and drop us back tomorrow morning. She said she once offered it to a Belgian couple, cycling in the rain, and the girl burst into tears with relief, as the guy started throwing the bikes into her car. I guess they were in their first couple of days of the TransAm, and finding it hard. I hope things got better for them. We would have loved it last night, but we didn’t know about it. I told her to contact the route guys, to get it marked on the map. It would probably do quite well, as there isn’t anywhere to stay for 40 miles after.

We had a somewhat revolting breakfast at The Waffle House, on an interstate exit in Ashland. With a population of over 7000, I was imagining we could find a nice little local diner in town, but no where was serving anything more that quiche, so we headed out to the interstate area. The bacon was saturated in oil. Just after this unappealing calorie intake, a car pulled over in front of us, and the dude offered to buy us lunch, as he wanted to hear about our journey. Sadly, we were full, and needing to press on, time-wise. We had a little chat though, and then a Sheriff pulled up, who happened to know lunch-offer dude. The Sheriff, with his name badge saying ‘Farmer’, was really cool, wearing a particularly funny Sheriff hat, and offered us water, and said that he even carried spare tubes in his car for cyclists finding themselves in a pickle. He once discovered two cyclists totally out of food, and sorted them out. Two nice chaps.

A nice flat day, nice scenery, and generally light traffic apart from Mechanicsville. A couple of days ago a local cyclist warned us of heavy traffic around Mechanicsville, which is basically a satellite city joined onto Richmond, the capital of Virginia. It wasn’t too bad, or at least it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, but I did have my closest run in with a pickup yet. On a seemingly never ending narrow road that had a lot of traffic, we often built up queues of cars behind us, and we pulled over quite a lot to let them pass, before they got too angry. I’m not sure whether this pickup was angry, totally oblivious of his size, or simply an unimaginably bad driver, but he didn’t move out at all as he passed us. He was one of those ugly, oddly oversized pickups, that have, literally, a fat bottom, where the pickup spills over the rear wheels. As he past, I believed that he must have been only a couple of inches from my rear pannier (my widest point), but then though I must have been exaggerating the closeness, as he had extra-wide wing mirrors, that would have been very close, had his rear side been so close. This was not the case. Hugh, behind me, watched as the wing mirror literally fitted in the gap between my shoulder and head. Well, maybe that’s what necks are made for. Being struck on the head by one of these mirrors has terrified me. That is what caused James Cracknall’s serious head injury accident. Nasty. Luckily, this guy wasn’t going fast. Had he done that at 60mph, I would have totally freaked out.

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Above – the lovely hospitality that we often experience from Churches.

We are staying tonight at a Methodist Church just outside Glendale. Mark, the lovely pastor, spent a while chatting to us, about cycling, the journey, and funerals. It’s all really nice – shower, WiFi, sleeping indoors in a carpeted room. Total luxury! After a lack of shower yesterday, I’m glad to be finishing tomorrow relatively clean.

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For several days a while ago, we knew that we were a day behind another rider, Jacob, who was staying at all of the same places as us, signing the guestbooks. When we started pushing a bit further, we got out of kilter with wherever he was staying, so thought we might catch him, especially if he took a day off in Charlottesviille. Pastor Mark says that he saw a loaded cyclist pass by at midday today, so we are now just under 5 hours behind him, and will probably not see him now, which is a shame.

I am still not really managing to think of adjusting to home life, but as I pedalled on the right side of the road today, I imagined the routes that I frequently cycle in London, practising cycling on the left, in my head. I am really bad at rights and lefts, generally, and we think that we will be cycling home from the airport, so I need to get the whole ‘cycle on the left’ thing into my head.

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Elevation profile of the day

Day 59, Charlottesville – Bumpass, VA

22nd September, 110Km

Today was another good cycling day, with most of the roads being very quiet, through nice countryside. It is a lot hotter, this side of the Appalachians, and drier. The land is not as lush, and we’re back amongst bails of hay. Still lots of trees.

Getting out of Charlottesville was a bit hairy. Well, it wasn’t too bad, but had I not had lots of experience cycling in a city, or if I was a few days into cycling in America, I would have found it pretty scary. We were leaving in rush hour, which meant that most of the traffic was going the other way, but it got pretty fast and busy around an Interstate entrance/exit on the edge of town. We then managed to miss a turning, and had to pedal back through queuing traffic (the traffic was literally queueing for miles and miles, in a city that cannot cope with the amount of cars). As much as people may be horrified about the idea of cycling in London, the vast majority of London drivers are really aware of cyclists. I don’t remotely trust American drivers to look out for us, to not cut us up, to see us as they turn onto our road, to not open their door onto us etc etc. America has got a long way to go with cycle awareness. I don’t want to belittle all drivers though – some are fantastic (today, a dude resolutely refused to turn right on a green light with a queue of traffic behind him, even though we were ages away – I couldn’t work out what he was doing, until I realised he had obviously not realised how slow we go!), but there are so few cyclists on the roads, that the drivers just don’t learn, or need, a natural awareness.

I had been doing fairly well at avoiding running over dead roadkill, until a few days ago, when I managed to clock up running over three dead snakes over two days. One of them was huge, and I bumped over it. Today, I ran over a snake which was alive, but which had been hit by a car, and was writhing around at the side of the road. I just didn’t see it in time, and my skin is crawling even now, thinking about running over an alive snake. I hope I finished him off. I’m really not a fan of snakes, and couldn’t face going back to check. I think I probably did, and I’m sure I did him a favour, as he wasn’t in a good way. A little green fella. Hugh pedalled through a load of ‘skunk juice’ the other day. We also heard about a cyclist who was near a vehicle that hit a deer. The cyclist got covered in blood. Lovely.

We’re camping in Bumpass. Yes, there is a place called Bumpass. Spectacular. All day I have been saying Bump-ass, but Hugh has just pointed out that the locals definitely say a very quick Bum-pass, which just isn’t as fun.

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Above – proof of the name, at the Bumpass Post Office. There wasn’t anyone around unfortunately to take a picture of Hugh and I bumping our asses.

In order to reach Yorktown on Wednesday, we needed to reach Bumpass today, rather than stay with the fireman in Mineral, further back down the road. There were no camping options listed in Bumpass, and Googling local churches didn’t help much. I did discover a ‘rescue squad’ (I love the term ‘rescue squad’, basically they seem to be Virginia’s equivalent of emergencies that don’t involve fire or police – oddly, there is a fire station down the road), but phoning their office number had no response. We located a nice ‘rescuer’ in Mineral, Josh, who phoned the Chief rescuer here, to ask if we could camp in their station, but the answer seemed to be a resounding ‘no’. I thought the request coming from another rescuer would help. The Chief said there was a park next door though, which is very useful info, and we’re now there. There is no power, or water, but there is a portaloo, and the fire station has an outdoor hose. There is a huge gap with no camping options, and it would be really useful if this was an official one, but the lack of obvious water doesn’t help, and, for whatever reason, the Chief rescuer doesn’t seem to be keen on helping out the pedallers. Which is a big shame.

In our Google efforts of what Bumpass involved, Hugh came across a blog where the westbounder dude was finding the hills around Bumpass very steep (he would have been just a few days into his TransAm). I think back to all the moaning I did at the beginning about the hills. Clearly this blogger, and I, had no idea what was to come!

A bandana-ed dude just walked down the road, shouting some kind of rap, with the most incredible projected voice. He was clearly off his head, and a few minutes after he passed us we heard the angry honking of a horn. I’m amazed he hasn’t been run over. His voice is amazing, we heard it from ages away, and thought it was some kind of argument going on. He sounds like he has been shouting for a very long time, at the top of his voice. Worryingly, he was shouting things like ‘I’m powerful because of the thing on my arm.’ I doubt he meant the ‘arm’ that is part of his body.

For any TransAmers – the park in Bumpass is next to the Rescue Squad – not the Volunteer Fire Station, which could be confused.

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Elevation profile of the day – it’s FLAAAAAAT! NO MORE BIG CLIMBS! Woooohoooo.

Day 58, Vesuvius – Charlottesville

21st September, 67 Miles

So the pass was… just a pass, as normal. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared. It was the first time that the map warned of a climb being particularly steep, so I assumed that it was substantially worse than anything we had done before. It was pretty steep, but it wasn’t horrific. The map had also said that it had switchbacks (American terminology for hairpin bends), but they weren’t real switchbacks, just a very windy road. Switchbacks are a bit of a pain, because the road often has a steep camber, and they end up requiring quite a lot of steering energy, but this was fine. Later in the day we met to local cyclists who had previously done the TransAm, and had walked parts of the pass. They sounded pretty surprised when we said we had cycled it. We’ve never walked. Thunder thighs.

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Above – I’m not quite sure what Hugh was doing here!

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Above – ‘all vehicles’ is fairly unusual – normally this only applies to trucks!

The pass took us up to the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. It had some nice views, which is good, because I haven’t been hugely impressed with Appalachian views, although we haven’t always had good weather. At the times when the trees cleared to allow a view, blue silhouettes of mountains getting fainter and fainter disappeared off into the distance. The mountains are totally tree covered, and very ‘mound’ mountain shaped. I much prefer wild, jagged, uniquely shaped mountains, preferably with a bit of snow on top.

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We haven’t had any trouble with bad wind lately, which has been very nice. It got a bit blowy on the Parkway. As the trees shook, we got peppered with acorns. A lot.

Disastrously, we had run out of bagels for breakfast. I have, however, discovered that adding the remains of the previous night’s sour cream to instant noodles is a surprisingly good combination. I’m gutted I didn’t realise this earlier, as it really is pretty tasty. There were no restaurant options all day, however, which I was very concerned about, with my absolute requirement of hot stodgy food. As we came down off the Parkway we passed a popcorn van selling hot dogs. I was very excited. They were surprisingly tasty. Americans are crazy about popcorn. I wouldn’t have thought that this van was in a brilliant location, but loads of people were driving up just to buy one of the many flavours of overpriced popcorn. I haven’t bought American popcorn since being horrified at the taste at a cinema in Alaska years ago (some colleagues and myself spent two weeks in Alaska one December – going to the cinema most nights, as there wasn’t much else to do!). This buttery stuff doesn’t float my boat.

We managed to get in a muddle with map reading this afternoon. Without warning, the TransAm route which has been following national bike route 76 since Missouri, left route 76, but I didn’t notice, and we kept following the 76 signs. These maps are super simple, so I am hesitant to say that ‘map reading’ is harder in the east, but the roads very small, and we frequently change road, and it would be really easy to miss turnings without the helpful signs. Following the route in the west and middle was never really hard, despite having no way-marking signs. Anyway, the route was a right kerfuffle, and in the middle of the kerfuffle, route 76 turned in one direction, and the TransAm went in the other. We only realised when we couldn’t face pedalling back. I assumed that route 76 didn’t go into Charlottesville, hence why the TransAm was different, although there was the odd 76 sign in Charlottesville. Luckily, Hugh had some data reception, so Google Maps came to the rescue. We stayed on the road that we were on, which went directly into Charlottesville. Getting into town was fairly ugly, road wise, although maybe the TransAm/76 route had selected friendlier roads.

Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia, and seems like a nice place. We would have had a day off here had we not been on a tight time limit. There were no camping options, so we splurged on a hotel in the university area. As we tucked into ribs and tacos in a student-filled restaurant, I realised that everyone (apart from us, clearly!) was drinking soft drinks. It hadn’t occurred to me that students go to university unable to legally drink in the US. That sounds terrible. We had an in depth conversation with the barman about it. They have to be really careful, and they don’t serve minors. The cops use underage people posing with fake ID, and the bar would lose their licence if they got caught, although he did point out a bar down the road that is known to be lapse. He told us about the Frat parties, where ‘little white girls are unable to tell their heads from their butts’, after drinking house-party concoctions. He also told us about a Fraternity girl who walked out of a store with a box of sparkling water. The cops were convinced that she was going in there for booze, and had literally surrounded the place. They pulled guns on her. She totally panicked, ran into her car, and drove off, almost hitting a cop. She sued them for $12.4million, and walked away with $250,000. That’s one way to pay for an American education. He said that the police has a special group just for underage drinking. They clearly got a little trigger happy with this one. We saw police cars branded with ‘University of Virginia Police’ on the main drag.

So, after intending to cycle along today trying to mentally prepare myself for returning to reality, I didn’t at all. I have no idea what to think about to return myself to reality. I guess I’ll just have to land at Heathrow and deal with it then.

Below – views from the Blue Ridge Parkway

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Elevation profile of the day