Friday, 2 March 2012

My proposed journey

ACA TransAmerica Trail
I’m flying out on 8 May with the objective of cycling coast to coast across America, starting at the Atlantic and finishing at the Pacific. I’ll be following a well-pedalled route most of the way – the TransAmerica Trail, developed as the Bikecentennial in 1976 and ridden in one or other direction by scores of cyclists every year. The eastern starting point is Yorktown, Virginia, best known for the surrender there of Lord Cornwallis to General Washington in 1781, effectively ending the war that had begun with America’s declaration of independence from Britain five years earlier. The western end is Astoria, Oregon, close to where the Lewis & Clark expedition passed the winter of 1805-06. They had been sent by President Jefferson to explore a possible river route through to the ocean via the headwaters of the Missouri. This followed the acquisition by the United States in 1803 of a vast tract of land - one third of the continent - lying  west of the Mississippi (the so-called Louisiana Purchase). Theirs was the first overland traverse of this unknown territory; it is an important episode in American history. 

The bicycle route across the country is mapped by the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA). From Yorktown, it passes through Williamsburg and around the northern edge of Richmond, through Charlottesville and up the Blue Ridge Mountains, which separate the Shenandoah Valley to the west from the larger part of Virginia. There is a great deal of steep climbing in the Appalachian Mountains, continuing through eastern Kentucky – notorious for coal trucks and uncontrolled dogs – as far as Berea, where the terrain becomes more rolling. At the western end of Kentucky lies the Ohio river and, a ferry ride away, Illinois. The route continues in that state to Carbondale and Chester where it bridges the Mississippi into the state of Missouri. Although Virginia has the largest elevation gain along the way and the Appalachians are not to be sneezed at, the steeply-pitched hills of the Ozark Mountains in Missouri present a major challenge even to the cyclist who thinks that by this stage in the ride he is fit. It is possible to avoid the Ozarks by finding one’s way through or around the city of St Louis onto the Katy Trail. This is a rail trail named from the initials of the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas rail line. It is part of the ACA Lewis & Clark Trail and follows the banks of the river Missouri. It is flat and shaded and traffic-free, but has a surface of crushed limestone which is heavy to ride over, and there can be problems with mosquitoes and flooding. I’ve been in two minds about this option; most likely I won’t take it. Back on the main trail, the route continues into Kansas and across the immense flatness of the Great Plains.

ACA Lewis & Clark Trail
Pueblo in Colorado is the approximate halfway point of the TransAm route, which having proceeded westwards up to now here takes a turn to the north-west and follows the line of the Rocky Mountains. The highest altitude reached is at Hoosier Pass (3,517 m, 11,539 feet). The route continues through Wyoming and the magnificent Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks into Montana. The city of Missoula, on a spur off the route, is the ACA’s home base. Here there is another change of direction. The route goes over the Lolo Pass and south-west through Idaho along the Lochsa river. The TransAm Trail turns south at Kooskia, then west into Oregon over the Cascade Mountains, through the city of Eugene (home of Bike Friday), either to the coast at Florence (an alternative end point) or north, against the prevailing wind, to Astoria. I am proposing to finish by a variant route, jumping ship at Kooskia, Idaho from the TransAm Trail to the Lewis & Clark Trail. This goes through a corner of Washington state and follows the Columbia river gorge to Portland, Oregon, from where it is a further 150 km to Astoria. I am choosing to go this way because it is shorter and I will be on a tight timetable with my permitted stay in the United States limited to 90 days.

The total distance is about 6,500 km including the return leg from Astoria to Portland for my flight home. This works out at an average of 90 km a day, six days a week, for 12 weeks.


  1. Hello Alasdair,

    Good luck with your tour. It will be terribly exciting. I know you will be just fine once you get underway.

    I'll stay in touch so that you might pickup from my own experiences with regards to Americanisms etc.

    Best wishes

  2. Greetings Alasdair from the Kentucky Appalachian Mountains. We hope to see you in Hindman, Kentucky, about 73 miles from the Breaks Va/Ky which is one of the toughest days you'll have through the mountains, esp. if you are passing through on the weekdays wherein there will be more coal truck traffic. We hope to provide you with some comfort after such a day at the Knott Historical Society. Good luck with your charity. - David R. Smith, Hindman, Ky.