Ten Years since my Cross-Con Tour

It’s a long time ago, yet feels like yesterday: Ten years ago on this very day my then-partner April and I embarked on a cross-continent tour. Our goal was big: Ride from the Pacific Northwest eastward, with a detour into the Canadian Rockies and Prairies, then through the Midwest and Northeast, hopefully ending up in Atlantic Canada. We quit our jobs (well, I quit my job), got rid of our apartment, put our stuff in storage at a friends, and started to pedal. We gave ourselves until October to complete the journey. Read all the blog posts about the tour (and some before planning documents and after musings) here.

We got as far east as Chicago by the end of September and decided to call it quits. The tour up until that point took longer than planned, not helped by a circuitious route with ample stop time. Yeah, if we really wanted to get across country “efficiently”, it would have been better to follow a tried-and-true route like Adventure Cycling’s Northern Tier. Our friends Paul and Caroline tackled that route the same summer, after their wedding. They managed to get all the way across. (We actually met up with them in Chicago, taking Amtrak’s Empire Builder home.) They also had a deadline to meet, whereas we had “all the time in the world” until we didn’t.

Looking back, I don’t think either of us was truly ready ready for the tour, just ready enough. Sure, we had plenty of touring experience under our belts. What we lacked was resources: We were pretty broke through the trip. This type of travel ain’t so bad when one is in their twenties, but we were in our early-to-mid thirties by then. I did expect to have more money, though: There was a big art project I was contracted to do before the trip. Unfortunately a month before our departure it was obvious that this project was not going to come through. But I had quit my job, we gave up our lease, and told everyone what we were doing. We didn’t want to back down, and I didn’t want to ask for my job back. When would we get this opportunity again?

There were a few mishaps, as there can be on a trip of this length: I thought I was going to get eaten by a bear, I had a leaky sleeping pad, April’s weird stem came undone on Day One, and April’s chain broke on the side of a Canadian highway. But looking back, that was really it. Neither of us got sick or injured, well, injured beyond what a vicodin could take care of. Bikes did what they were supposed to do for the most part, same with our bodies. I’m still amazed to think about how we could do things like pull back-to-back (almost) (non-metric) centuries, especially since at this point I haven’t ridden over 30 miles in almost two years.

Looking back, I remember a lot of the positive moments: Seeing lots and lots of beautiful scenery. Pushing my body further than it had ever gone before. Going further north than I had ever travelled. Meeting some great folks along the way, whether fellow bike tourists, our hosts, or other cool folks when we were in towns. Seeing the Northern Lights for the first time. Heck, seeing a bear for the first time!

I know I was bummed out at the end of the trip. Even though we were both road-weary and ready to return to Portland, there was a tinge of disappointment in not getting all the way to the other coast. And I had hoped that I’d become “a new person” by the time I got back to Portland, but I still was the same old me. Ten years have softened those stings. I can appreciate the trip for what it was. And I can hope that I get to do another big tour at some point, hopefully before this decade closes. Until then, I still have all the good memories from that time I toured in 2011.

I reminisced about the tour at the five years done mark in 2016. There’s some good thoughts there as well, check it out here. Also worth checking out is this blog post when we hit our first 1,000 miles of the tour in Missoula, Montana.

For the full set of photos from my Cross-Continent tour, see the dynamic flickr album below. Or, click here.

Shawn and April at Marias Pass

4 thoughts on “Ten Years since my Cross-Con Tour

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  1. This reminds me that this year makes 25 years for my TransAm trip. I remember that dread feeling of no money coming in and why don’t I feel ‘changed’. In the end though, still glad I did it.

  2. The issue you had with the slipping quill stem is something I’ve run into before while trying to haul too many groceries. I think the stem bolt head needs to be lubricated and/or fitted with a smooth washer to prevent it from tightening against the top before the bottom nut can fully tighten inside the steerer. I’ve also broken chains and carry extra quicklinks and a chain tool. More infuriating has been a rear wheel that kept slipping off-center in semi-horizontal dropouts when the going got really tough. It turns out that not all quick-release skewers are created equal.

    I haven’t toured since 2015, but I’m getting the itch again now that I’m out west and have access to a lot of cheap FS campsites and public land. Living in the Midwest until recently, high campsite fees has been a big deterrent for me, not to mention the mosquitoes and ticks. I’m also considering mixing in car travel to get to shorter off-road routes along the continental divide instead of a long multi-week tour.

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