It's the question I sometimes dread when someone hears that I'll be doing a bike tour:
"So where are you going?"
I dread this question because people usually want a pat, easy soundbite. Five words or less. In some cases, five words or less can work, like "Down the Pacific Coast," or "Around the San Juan Islands," or "Up the Columbia Gorge". And yeah, the upcoming tour can be tidily summed up as "Across the continent". But that's too vague, so that answer will lead to the inevitable follow-up, "But where across the country are you going?"
And that is a very good question.
This is the point that I wish that I took the "easy" way out and decided on one Adventure Cycling Association route and purchased the required maps. With ACA the route most of the thinking and hard work of planning is already done for you. It's all mapped out and cue sheeted: where to turn, where you can camp, where the grocery stores are located. I could opt for the "granddaddy" of cross-country bicycle routes, the Transamerica (formerly "Bikecentennial") route, which travels 4,200 miles from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia. There's nothing wrong with ACA routes (in fact, we'll be covering some of the Northern Tier route on our journey. They are well thought out and go through some beautiful country.
But I had a few problems with strictly following an ACA route, at least for this time out. For one, it's a prescribed route. It's not necessarily where you (or in this case, I) want to go, it's a route laid out by someone else. For some people who may have no other regard than just crossing the country from one coast to the next, that may be all they need. And as I said above, they do a good job in their routes.
My other problem is that ACA routes are all based around urban avoidance. They only go through a city (like San Francisco on the Pacific Coast route) because they have to--there's no practical way to avoid or bypass it. Part of this urban avoidance policy is because Adventure Cycling wants to give folks as nice and bucolic ride as possible. Cities don't usually fit into that equation. And part of it can be traced back to the organization's inception in the mid-70's, when cities were scary, dangerous places. Better to route around urban blight than route through a scary neighborhood. I can understand the reasoning, but I'm a city person. I ride around cities, and I definitely want to see many cities on this tour.
So no full Adventure Cycling Route. I'm stitching together some routes, like the Northern Tier and probably parts of the Atlantic Coast, but a lot of it will be of my own making. This means a lot of scouring the internets for information, ordering maps, asking people for advice.
So why are we going where we're going?
Well, wait to the next part for more details!