I've found that a good way to assess my situation is to have a Q&A session with myself, so that's what I'm doing here.
1. Why the hell are you doing this?
Because I want to get outside and see the country, on a tactile level, and breathe the air. Because my job keeps me cooped up inside, and even though I love my job and would not trade it for any other, I need to do something to counteract the feeling of frittering my life away in a cave. Because I like being on my bike. It is a fantastic way to travel. I also like camping, I like futzing with my camera, I like audiobooks, I like snacks. It's everything I like.
2. Great, but, no, seriously - across the whole damn United States? That's insane.
It's been done tens of thousands of times by people with similar experience levels. There are yearly events, even races, with dozens of riders. There are well-considered routes to choose from. As you investigate it, it seems more possible, not less.
I've already had many day-long trips and back-to-back trips... But I know I'm definitely going to have to keep training. At this point, though, I'm convinced that I have the fitness level to do it. I just need to refine my equipment to the point where it's as comfortable to use as possible.
3. Fine, fine. You think you can do it. But still, that's a very long distance. How about riding to Los Angeles instead? How about a trip to Oregon? Or Yosemite and back?
I may eventually decide that a shorter trip is all I have time for. It depends on how much time away from work I can wrangle. I would actually be keen on an arrangement where I do programming work from a laptop for three or four hours a day. Got to do something when the sun goes down, after all.
But I do get the point. If the idea is to work up to a trip like this slowly, there's still an awful lot of slope left between my current track record and the three-month excursion that a cross-country trip will be. At any point in this preparation, I may decide, "I just don't feel comfortable enough yet," and switch down to something shorter. ...Because though I have learned an awful lot about keeping myself safe on a long ride, I still have a huge amount to learn.
4. Well now you're talking a little more sensibly. What more do you need to learn?
I need to refine my bicycle to the point where I can ride it comfortably for many consecutive days. Right now that means getting a better rear rack, raising the handlebars, and possibly finding a better seat. I'll also need to keep iterating on my equipment: Better luggage bags, a better battery system and software, better clothing, a more complete repair kit, et cetera.
Also, there are dozens of little disasters that can happen on a long-distance trip that haven't happened to me yet. I need to learn how to deal with all of these if I'm going to enjoy my ride. I need to learn how to deal with the following things when I'm out in the middle of nowhere:
* A punctured tube
* A ripped up tire
* Broken chain links
* A damaged rack
* Sudden rain
* A poor campsite
* Loose dogs
* Various medical ailments
There are other worse things that can happen - a stolen bike, a broken limb - but those things are what I would consider trip enders. At that point it's time to flag down a car, find a payphone, and call for rescue.
5. Wouldn't a lot of this risk be mitigated if you had trip companions?
There is a group of three that is going on a cross-country trip starting on the 19th of May. The route they are planning to follow is almost exactly the route I would choose, though their pace is a little quicker than I would consider ideal. They are also much more experienced than I am with long-distance trips.
The range of time they've chosen has the most favorable weather, but it may be too early in the year for me to get adequate time away from work. They're also all retirees, and I don't know how they would feel about having a young rookie tag along. I get the impression I'll want to go slower and take in the sights longer than they will.
That group aside, I know of no one with the same plans. None of my friends seem interested in a trip this ambitious, or if they are interested, they don't have the time. Have I missed anyone?
6. What about that trip to Nepal you've been talking about? Isn't that in May?
Yes. If that comes together, I'll probably do that instead of this trip. I don't have enough time to do both this year. But all the same, I am going to prepare as though the ride is happening.
7. Do you have a preparation itinerary?
It's slowly congealing. The biggest thing is, I need to attempt more multi-day trips, so I can get used to camping. These will happen over the weekends, and probably consist of me starting my ride at various points around the Bay Area, biking for a while, and then setting up camp for the night unassisted. Then the next day I'd pack up the campsite and ride some more, until I reach a pickup point. Possibilities include (in order of difficulty):
* Bike to work, bike home, and camp in the back yard. Then get up, shower, and bike to work again.
* Starting from work, bike home, then camp in the back yard. Get up, shower, and bike to the Tech Shop in Menlo Park. Then bike home again.
* Starting in San Francisco, bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, camp, then bike back across the bridge.
* Starting in Carmel, bike south on Highway 1 to the Andrew Molera State Park, camp, then ride back to Carmel.
* Starting from work on a weekend morning, bike to Sam McDonald County Park via Alpine Road (over the mountains), camp, then bike to the coast along Pescadero Creek Rd and turn south for as long as I can.
* Starting at the top of Highway 9 at Skyline Blvd, head along the crest of the mountains until Skyline turns into Summit Road, then Highland Way. Enter Nisene Marks from the back entrance and stealth-camp at the trailside. Get up at dawn, pack things up, and ride down out of Nisene Marks to Santa Cruz.
8. How are you going to finance this?
It's really not that expensive. Campsites with showers, supplemented with the occasional motel stay, are a cheap way to spend the night. And of course I spend nothing on gas. It's all about the food.
9. Speaking of food, how are you going to remain vegan on a cross-country ride?
I honestly don't know. In all seriousness I may have to go non-vegan not because of any current health considerations but because it's what the territory demands. I've become very used to having fresh fruits and vegetables of great variety, and high-quality oils, and all kinds of vegan possibilities for big chunks of protein and fat. Variety is the keystone of being a healthy vegan. Out there in the world - I'm looking at you, Kansas - there probably isn't enough variety for me to thrive.
Yes, I find that quite sad. This is the breadbasket of the world, not Alaska. There is absolutely no good reason for the landscape to not be brimming with variety. Instead, the middle states grow endless fields of government-backed wheat, soybeans, and corn, dusted by Monsanto and shoveled into cattle troughs, or made into 100 variations of the same loaf of white bread. It's an unnecessary plant monoculture. If I'm going to go riding through it, I may end up eating it, and its dairy-based offerings. It has been so many years now that the thought really disturbs me.
If you can't understand my feeling, imagine this scenario: You're visiting a foreign country. You shake hands with the hotel concierge and when you open your mouth to say hello, he spits into it. He then stands there, slack-jawed, waiting for you to spit back into his. After a few stunned moments, he closes his mouth, clearly insulted by your lack of etiquette. This same absurd ritual happens with everyone you meet. You keep your mouth tightly closed, ... and they just spit on your face instead. You end up insulting everyone, and feeling nauseous all day. The furious bellhop mangles your luggage. The waiters bring your food cold. Taxi drivers call you a boor and charge you double. You realize you can either join the crowd, or remain miserable.
10. Thanks, I needed that image. Thlbtlbthlpt. So how are you gonna deal with it?
Like I said, I don't know. Maybe I'll compromise and allow eggs from unknown sources? Or the occasional cheese sandwich? I guess I need to do more research.
11. Can you really do this?
Yes, it is well within my grasp. I just need to make sure I can do it with enough speed so that my employer will allow it. I could easily extend a journey like this into an entire year, by hiking and camping and zig-zagging over the land to catch every bizarre midwestern monument on the map. But at that point I would be unemployed, probably with no chance of getting my old job back. A terrible idea. No, when it comes down to it, my job is more important than this trip.