Tag Archives: bike touring

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.


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.

4th July Bike Tour

Day 1: Washington DC to Calico Rocks camp area, Maryland – 43 miles

Finding myself having a few days free in a row, I decided to make the most of the opportunity and head out for a little adventure. I strapped the tent to the back of my bike and pedalled out of Washington DC into the evening sunshine.

Heading W into the evening sun, beautiful but hot

Heading W into the evening sun, beautiful but hot

I didn’t end up departing until 4pm – work to do, then it took a while to get ready, hey it’s been a long time since I’ve been bike camping! – which left me about four and a half hours to reach camp. The light was gorgeous, the roads were relatively empty as people were getting in place for the fireworks, but damn, it was hot as hell out there. I had planned to do the climb up and down Sugarloaf Mountain en route, but didn’t have the time on this occasion.

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Sugarloaf Mountain

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This area is rich in history

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Long evening shadows

The C & O Canal is 185 mile National Park stretching from Washington DC to Cumberland, West Virginia, running along the Potomac River. There are camp areas every 8 – 10 miles so I aimed for Calico Rocks camping area, near to Point of Rocks, for my overnight stop.

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Riding along the C & O canal. Feeling the heat but happy to have arrived at camp

All I could think about in those final few miles was the prospect of cold, fresh water. With bottles almost depleted, it would have been a thirsty night if the well was dry. It took many pumps to draw up the first water, as the old-fashioned hand pump creaked, groaned and gurgled into life. There’s nothing quite like a drink of cool, fresh water when you’re baking hot and dehydrated.

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Water pump at Calico Rocks camp area, C & O canal

The sultry temps in the high 80s (around 30 degrees C) persisted well into the evening. The mosquitoes had a plentiful 4th July feast. Sleep was not easy until it cooled off, even after I left the flysheet off in a bid to increase the airflow.

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Home, sweet home

Day 2: Return to Washington DC via Purcellville, Virginia and the W&OD trail – 75 miles

My original plan was to stay out for another night and head down to Shenandoah National Park, but with another hot, hot day in prospect I decided against a second oppressive night in the tent. Plan B was to ride south for 30 miles through the Virginian countryside, pick up the W & OD trail and then follow it 45 miles to home.

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Early morning day 2 – pondering my strategy to cope with the onslaught of mosquitos once I exit the tent

Leaving camp I crossed from Maryland over the Potomac river into Virginia by the Point of Rocks bridge. Immediately afterwards I turned off onto quiet side roads, through rolling farmland along the base of big hills. This was the most enjoyable and scenic stretch of the tour.

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Mountain Road, Virginia, about 30 miles North of Shenandoah National Park

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Old corn dryer, Mountain Road, Virginia and yup, starting to get damn hot

There were plenty of other cyclists about at the start (or end) of the W & OD trail at Purcellville. I stopped to top up my water bottles and take a break from the sun.

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The Town of Purcellville and the start of the W&OD trail back to Washington DC

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On the W&OD trail

I was really struggling with the heat by the early afternoon; the hottest part of the day and no shade to hide. I rode at a leisurely pace, within myself, to ensure I’d make it home. Big grin on my face of course, I was thoroughly enjoying being out bike touring again.

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Keep on pedalling

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One of the old rail cars that would have served this route

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A family of deer on the trail (blurry photo taken whilst on the move)

Half the fun of these sorts of trips is the return and being able to feast on whatever you’ve spent the past few hours dreaming about. A cold beer and pizza on this occasion!

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Reward for all the effort

Mountains, fjords and bike touring – the Arctic Bike Tour 2006

[Editor’s note, January 2014: this is the story of a 60 day, 3,000 mile bike ride from my home in England to the northern tip of Europe, Nordkapp, in 2006. Sadly the bike I toured on (which by the end of the tour felt more like a friend than a mere mechanical object) was stolen in 2013.]

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Mountains and Fjords, my constant companions on this tour

I rushed home, clutching my map of Norway and yellow highlighter with a fervent grip, determined to mark out my route and commit myself to this project whilst the momentum of the adventure overwhelmed my faculty of reason.

Route of my Norway tour

Route of my Norway tour

Spread across the table, the map of Norway looked both exciting and intimidating in equal measure. The yellow line of my route from Kristiansand in the South to Kirkenes in the North seemed to take an inordinately long time to wind its way around, over and under mountains, fjords and islands. I booked the ferry that very day, ordered some pannier racks and tyres and told my family I would be going away for a long while.

Setting off from home

Setting off from home

Despite thorough preparation in the weeks prior to departure, I suffered a potentially catastrophic setback less than a mile from home. The rear pannier rack with my tent, roll mat and rear panniers on, fell apart on the first hill; a rather auspicious start but luckily not a sign of things to come. It transpired that I had merely forgotten to tighten up two crucial, but well hidden bolts so the problem was easily rectified and never again reared its ugly head. It took me four hard days to cycle across the country from my home near Liverpool to the ferry terminal in Newcastle. By the fourth day my body (actually mainly my backside) was protesting strongly at the whole idea of this tour but the great variety of scenery, challenges and emotions that I felt in those first four days convinced me to continue on to Norway.

Trying to picture the whole route from Kristiansand to Kirkenes in one go was too much to deal with at this stage so I broke it down into week long sections as follows: Kristiansand to Bergen, then Bergen to Trondheim, Trondheim to Bodø, Bodø to Tromsø, Tromsø to the North Cape and finally from the North Cape to Kirkenes. For the first leg I enjoyed the luxury of a well signed cycle path, the North Sea Cycle Way, which would lead me all the way from Kristiansand to the centre of Bergen. At least that was the theory but how did it all pan out on the road?

Pushing through the snow

Pushing through the snow

Rather ominously it snowed twice during my afternoon in Kristiansand and less than 5 kilometres outside of the city I found myself pushing my bike through deep, lingering snow patches on the minor roads through the hills. I soon returned to the coast though, on minor roads that were continually undulating. This was a feature common to all of Norway’s roads and one that I came to love and hate depending on which way the gradient pointed. I suffered several broken spokes in the rear wheel (fixed in bike shops en route), many heavy rainstorms, headwinds and wet camps during this first week in Norway. When the sun did shine though, the scenery was stunning with mountains, fjords and pretty little fishing villages to keep my spirits high. I arrived in Bergen after 7 days of cycling and just over 1000km completed.

I spent three glorious days in Bergen and the sun shone every day which was quite remarkable for a city where it is supposed to rain four days out of five. Over drinks, I shared tales from the road with a host of other travellers from as far away as Australia and South Korea. Bergen was a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with many hidden corners to explore like the fascinating wooden warehouses in the Bryggen. These old Hanseatic merchant’s trading houses from the eighteenth and nineteenth century leaned this way and that seemingly defying gravity in their old age.



Beautiful fjords

Beautiful fjords

It was a lonely road out of Bergen but the sun shone long into the evening and it was exciting to be out on the road again. The route to Trondeim took me along Highway 7 and then Highway 55 over the Sognefjellet, the roof of Norway. With each passing day I penetrated deeper into Norway’s mountainous interior. The road climbed to over 1400m with snow lying thick all around as I rode under the shadow of Norway’s highest mountain, Goldhøpiggen, 2469m high.

Climbing over the roof of Norway

Climbing over the roof of Norway

The road had only recently been cleared after the winter

The road had only recently been cleared after the winter

Of course, the reward for all the hard climbing was the stunning vistas of great jagged mountains heaped up above the frozen lakes and snowy valleys. The downhills were as exhilarating as they were cold and I was glad to have my winter clothing with me. I joined the E6, the road that went all the way to Kirkenes, and followed it over the high plateau of the Dovrefjellet which reminded me greatly of the A82 over Rannoch Moor in Scotland, pulchritudinous but desolate, sunny but bitterly cold and not somewhere to linger. I was elated to have made it across the mountains in one piece and an easy day’s riding across flatter plains took me into Trondheim. My one and only flat tyre of the whole sixty day tour occurred on this approach into Trondheim. I must have looked a pitiful sight crouched on the roadside mini-pump in hand, panniers cast to one side, fixing a puncture in the heavy rain.

Camping in the snow

Camping in the snow


Waterfall seen en route

May 17th is Norway’s National Day: a holiday to celebrate their Declaration of Independence and formation of a Constitutional Government in 1814. The residents of Trondheim were out in throngs on the streets to partake in or watch the colourful parades up and down the main streets. It was a treat to bear witness to this celebration of such an historic moment in Norway’s past and one of the few times I really saw the Norwegian people letting their hair down properly. This was also the day that I met Markus, the German cycle tourer, also en route to the North Cape and staying in the Youth Hostel.

Markus with the bikes

Markus with the bikes

We shared the road together from Trondheim to Bodø, nine days of beautiful coastal scenery. Rather unfortunately there was a ferry strike in Norway and as we were following Highway 17, involving many ferry crossings, this made our route a rather dicey proposition. Several times we found ourselves at a dead-end waiting at an empty ferry terminal for a ferry that would never arrive. Somehow in each case we found locals who were able to help by offering lifts in their private boats thus saving us the unappealing prospect of back-tracking our route to the South (the very word became an anathema to me as my journey progressed!).

Ferry ride with a local

Ferry ride with a local

On day 29 I encountered my first and sadly, only elk of the tour. It ran along the stony shore beside the road clearly startled by the sight (or perhaps the smell) of two cyclists, before leaping the barrier and then crashing off into the woods above the road. It was an enormous creature with a great big ugly head and it looked perfectly at home in this woody, mountainous countryside near the Arctic Circle. This was duly crossed on day 33. This was something of a milestone in the route, marking roughly the half-way point and justifying the title of Arctic Bike Tour that I’d told my friends and family I was going on.

Markus and I stayed in Bodø for just one day which was time enough to take in the Aviation Museum and rest our weary legs. The next stage of the journey began with a ferry journey over to the southern end of the Lofoten Islands, somewhere I’d long hankered to visit.

Fishing harbour in the Lofoten Islands

Fishing harbour in the Lofoten Islands

We stayed in the Youth Hostel at Å on the first night. It was an arrestingly beautiful, peaceful little fishing village lying on the southern extremity of the island chain. It was here, of all the places I visited in Norway, I felt most enchanted with. After a stop that I felt was too short, we were once again underway, heading north and battling headwinds. At Stamsund Youth Hostel on day 38, I bid farewell to Markus as he stayed put to await his girlfriend, who flew out to join him in the Lofoten. I continued onwards, alone again.

The Lofoten Islands

The Lofoten Islands

Typical day in Norway

Typical day in Norway, not a bad place to cycle!

The islands were like a miniature version of mainland Norway exuding the wild beauty of a land unchanged for hundreds of years. As I progressed North onto the Vesterålen Islands the terrain mellowed with the spiky mountains giving way to rounder hillocks. A rare treat awaited me in Andenes at the northern end of the island chain. I camped next to the beach and watched in awe as the sun shone all through the night. The midnight sun was a phenomenon I had dearly looked forward to seeing and it didn’t disappoint.

Mountains and Fjords I

Mountains and Fjords

Mountains and Fjords II

Mountains and Fjords II

One ferry journey and two further days of riding saw me to Tromø, the last city I would encounter on my journey. Here I met Flip, a Dutch cyclist with many fascinating theories about “Bermuda Tunnels” and the age-old headwind vs. tailwind debate. His theory was as brilliant as it was simple. I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that most cyclists would consider themselves headwinders (ie. always fighting a headwind). Now, Flip reasoned that he was more likely to meet cyclists approaching from the opposite direction and so if they were fighting a headwind he would be enjoying a tailwind. We cycled together for two days in still airs which was in accordance with Flip’s theory as my headwind had cancelled out Flip’s tailwind. At the town of Alta our routes diverged and I was alone on the road again. Alta marked a turning point in the weather which steadily worsened over the following days into a settled pattern of rain and strong winds. All of my equipment became wet; the mountains were swathed in clouds and appeared foreboding rather than beautiful. The allure of wild camping quickly disappeared when the first puddles started appearing in the tent.

Cycling above the Arctic Circle

Cycling above the Arctic Circle

Steady progress north though had finally brought the top of Europe within reach. After a night in a hostel in Honningsvåg, I set off to cycle to the North Cape, accompanied, as I had now come to expect, by rain and wind. Reaching the North Cape on day 52 was nothing of the anti-climax that such hyped moments often are; instead I was full of joy and wonder at the very adventure of being here on my bicycle.

Approaching Nordkapp, the top of Europe

Approaching Nordkapp, the top of Europe

Nordkapp, journey's end

Nordkapp, journey’s end

Suitably buoyed, the final leg of five days to Kirkenes was completed with a broad grin that not even a broken chain or further inclement weather could remove. I was not only weary and happy but also deeply sad that the adventure had come to an end. I had spent 60 days amongst the great fjords and mountains of Norway, met many great characters along the way and covered over 3,000 miles on my bike. All that remained was to creep back south again using a combination of planes, buses and ferries to see me home.

The trusty old steed gets a badge of honour

The trusty old steed gets a badge of honour