No Rest Out West: a 3,500-mile summer bike tour around West U.S.

This summer I’m setting off to cycle around the mountainous West of the U.S. with my brother. We have two months and our rough plan is to cycle a big horseshoe route, heading north out of San Francisco late June, up the Pacific Coast of California, then riding up the Sierra Cascades through Oregon and into Washington. From there, we’ll turn right and ride east across Idaho and into Montana until we intersect the Great Divide Mountain Bike route. There, we’ll turn south, pedalling across Montana and Wyoming until we reach the vicinity of Denver, Colorado, where we’ll catch flights home.

Less than two weeks to go and I’m more than a little excited. I’m looking forward to a new adventure with my brother and a chance to hang out together (we live on opposite sides of the world, you see). The scenery promises to be spectacular on every level, from the remote Northern coastline of California, to the volcanoes of Oregon and Washington states, through to the drama and majesty of the Rockies. I’ve never visited the West coast or the West mountains of the U.S., so every day, every mile, will be a new experience. I’m looking forward to sleeping out in a tent again, living the simple life out on the road. I’m looking forward to it all.

Route:

I’ve used the maps of the excellent Adventure Cycling Association to create our route, combining their separate routes to create our own Frankenstein version, which consists of five distinct stages:

Stage Start End Adventure Cycling Route Terrain Distance (miles)
1 San Fransisco Crescent City Pacific Coast Route Road 420
2 Crescent City Medford Highways US 199 & US 99 Road 130
3 Medford Twisp Sierra Cascades Road 900
4 Twisp Eureka Northern Tier Road 550
5 Eureka Denver Great Divide Mountain Bike Route Off-road 1,500

This gives a route that looks something like this:

Approximate route of our tour around the mountainous W of the US

Approximate route of our tour

The plan is to spend our first month on the road section up to Eureka in Montana. That leaves our second month to spend on the Great Divide route, to cover approximately 1,500 miles. This should be achievable and leave us some time for side trips or hopefully some summit hikes. We’ll see!

Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential. – Winston Churchill

How did this route evolve? For years my brother and I have dreamt of riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike route together. Separately, I’d been dreaming of seeing the Sierra Cascade mountains and the Pacific Northwest, so we put the two together to come up with this hybrid route. Another factor in our planning is the unbearable heat of the desert in New Mexico mid-August, so it wasn’t a difficult decision to omit this part of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and save it for another trip.

The riders:

Well, there’s me. And my brother.

Some kit notes:

I may do a geeky blog post further down the line detailing all the kit and decisions that went into it, but for now, this little snippet will have to do.

Suffice to say we’re going lightweight on this tour, inspired in no small part by the adventures of the Crane cousins and their ride across the Himalayas to the Centre of the Earth. (Any bike tourers out there – I fully recommend reading their book: it’s a fantastic account of a wild bike adventure, written in that self-deprecating style, favoured by the eccentric, slightly crazy English explorers through the ages.)

As for us, we’re both riding cyclocross bikes with rear panniers only, which should be a good compromise for riding on and off-road. The bikes and gear should be pretty light for this tour, which should translate into more fun on the road.

Cyclocross bike for tour

Cannondale cyclocross bike in touring mode

Regarding photography, this will be the first long trip that I don’t carry an SLR camera. I ummm’d and ahhh’d for ages on this, going round and round in circles weighing the pros and cons of taking or leaving the big camera kit. However, I couldn’t get past the weight of it all, the camera, then lenses, filters etc., it all added up to one big, heavy pile. So, it’s being left at home. I’m taking a compact camera (Canon G16) and my iPhone, both very capable cameras in their own rights, and best of all, light and easily carried so as to be accessible. I’ll be posting photos throughout the trip on my instagram account.

Whoop, whoop! See you on the road.

18 thoughts on “No Rest Out West: a 3,500-mile summer bike tour around West U.S.

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  4. Alison

    Follow your path and go get ’em, Ben! So cool that you’re doing it with your brother. Looking forward to following you on your journey!

    Reply
  5. Barbara Bagwell

    Congrats on your journey! You will love the view when you enter Sandpoint, ID. The cycling path mirrors the road, crossing a lake surrounded by mountains with a train track on the opposite shore. Gorgeous on a sunny day.

    Reply
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  7. Barbara

    Your wife-to-be wrote an exceptionally inspiring article cheering you on for this cycling tour. She’s right. I know the guilt that niggles in the back of your mind taunting and frustrating. I’m glad that you didn’t allow it to rule your dream and squash it. Happy travels!

    Reply
  8. Nina

    Awesome Ben! I just read Alexis’ post about this and thought I’d give you that encouragement she suggested (what a sweet woman!). I live in Oregon, so I hope you enjoy your trek through this beautiful state. Keep pursuing your dreams, you won’t regret it.

    Reply
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