Saturday, 26 June 2010

Cycling in the US - my personal conclusion

I made it safely to California and after having climbed three vaults every day in Nevada the 4,000 ft elevation gain to get over the Sierra at Carson Pass was almost a piece of cake. And then in California there were trees! Real big trees! With shade! And they were everywhere! No more sagebrush, hurray!!!! And I had a nice cycling finale on the American River Bike trail getting into Sacramento with great river views and a fantastic car-free bike path. But now I will stop cycling in the US and take the train to San Francisco.

On a long trip like this not every leg can be fantastic and so it will not come as a total surprise that these last 5 weeks of cycling have not exactly been the highlight of my trip. My personal conclusion is that the US is not the greatest country for cycling. I have cycled several months each over Europe, Australia, NZ, Japan and Korea and each country has been better for cycling than the US. Why? Let me explain my evaluation:

On this bike trip in the US I faced two situations:

Sign on Hwy 50
1. You are on a lonely road through a lonely area (like Highway 50). The good thing is that there is hardly any traffic and lots of public land for free camping. The bad news is that services (and especially water!) are very few and far between. So every day you have to cycle 70 - 80 miles to get to water. That is very doable, but the big problem is that you cannot plan your distances due to weather, especially the wind. I admit that I had very bad luck with the wind and all the locals told me that this is a very unusual year. Still that did not help me with the head wind.... So generally the problem is that you are very often totally exposed to the elements and have to deal with whatever they throw at you: heat waves, snow storms or head winds. I no other country I have felt so helplessly exposed than here.

2. You are in a more populated area with busier roads (like California): The traffic is really bad here, basically because the average American driver is not used to cyclists and has no clue what they are doing. Nobody looks over their shoulder when doing a turn to look out for cyclists. People do not know the dimensions of their vehicles when they pass you on a narrow road. Especially dangerous are seniors in their oversized American RV's pulling their car behind them and double-trailer mining truck who pass you at 70 mile per hour. Most young drivers think it is fun to honk or yell obscenities at you while they pass you. Also the camping situation gets really bad once you are out of public land. Everything is fenced in with hundreds of "No trespassing" signs making camping a real problem.

I have experienced bad traffic in other countries as well but I have always felt that it is "worth" it - like in Japan where I cycled from temple to castle and even the little villages where fascinating. Here there was not really much to "see" en route. The scenery in the Great Basin was fascinating, but did not change for days... and the towns were pretty desolate. In Europe or Japan there were all these nice little stops to check out a church or interesting building - but here there was only sagebrush and fast food restaurants....(Ok, I might be exaggerating a bit here....Salt Lake City has definitely been a highlight.) Also, as I have written in an earlier post the combination between cycling and hiking did not work out very well either.

Bottom line for me: The cycling here has not been a total desaster, but it has not been a highlight either. My original plan was to come back to the US after half a year of Australia and cycle across the country on the ACA Southern tier. I don't think I will pursue that plan any more now. First of all the Euro has weakened so much that the US are not a cheap country for me any more and second I think that I am better off cycling in other countries. At some point in a sand storm in Nevada I was about to send my bike home and give up cycling altogether but I will give it another try in Australia - but this time I have checked the prevailing wind direction before hand. So cross your fingers for me....

But before I start my next outdoor adventure in Australia I hope to spend some leisurely days in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sydney.


Wolfgang said...

I'll try my best to let you have a relaxing time in Sydney. See you soon.

Jean said...

I am so glad you found trees, green hills and a respite from the wind after leaving Carson City. We thoroughly enjoyed your visit and loved our brainstorming discussion on trails. Those conversations motivated and energized us both.

I am sorry you had such a windy Nevada experience because we would hope to meet you again somewhere. Maybe we will just have to do more walking in Europe. I'll look forward to reading about Australia and your experiences there.

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us and happy travels in Australia.

Jean and Bill

eArThworm said...

I keep finding other AZT reports that mention you -- always good! I'm happy to see your photos now.
Have fun on the rest of your trip.

revelo said...

I believe you are doing bike touring all wrong. You've made it clear you like wilderness when hiking and absolutely hate road walks, especially walking along busy highways, but yet you've chosen to cycle on these same busy highways, which makes no sense to me. You might want to look at my website for more on the topic of dirt road bike touring in the western United States. The time of year you picked for this first tour (June) is really bad: windy, hot, sunny. Sep 15 to Oct 15 is much better: little wind, mild temps, days neither too long nor too short.

revelo said...

Having read some more of your website, I have to take back my recommendation for dirt road bike touring in the western United States until you have more experience with bike repairs. You have an enormous amount of experience with hiking, including in the desert, but I think you should hold off on dirt road bike touring in the desert unless you have a full set of tools and spare parts. You don't need to repair everything yourself (nobody repairs their own bottom bracket in the field) but you definitely need to know how to repair things like broken shifter cables. What kind of bike is that anyway? You said you had a Rohloff but it doesn't appear to be a Thorn. You might want to read a few books on bike repair.

German Tourist said...

Revelo,I am a bit surprised about your comments. You say that Highway 50, the loneliest highway in the US is a busy road? That does not make sense to ME!
Anyway, I have no intention on doing dirt road bike touring. My bike skills are just not good enough to enjoy that and you are correct, Í am not very good at repairing bikes. This is way am road touring again now. By the way, I have a Hardo Wagner steel frame bike, not a Thorn.
I also think that reading bike repair books would help. I have attended bike repair courses at my local bike club and do all the maintenance myself, but still some people like me are not gifted when it comes to mechanical problems.