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Michael's Spring 2001 Bike Trip

Trip Diary: Week 1
Intro | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4

I've wanted to bike across the country for some time, but it's been hard finding a partner -- how many people have two months free from work or school, and would be willing to go on such a trip? Well, in January 2001 I was visiting Las Vegas and met Lara Millsom at the hostel I was staying at. She's a 28-year-old, green-haired vegan from Australia, traveling around America for the last several months for fun. We hung out a little bit, and I invited her to look me up if she ever came to Austin. I didn't expect to ever see her again, but then just a couple of weeks later she called and said she was coming through Austin with a couple of friends, so I put them up for the night. After Lara left, I asked her by email whether she'd want to do the bike trip. She initially declined, but then a month later she said she'd be willing to do a half trip -- halfway across the country in a month, instead of coast to coast in two months, because she only has a month left in the States. Good enough for me. I started making plans.


We'll leave Austin on April 5th and arrive on the Florida coast (Jacksonville) on May 6. Lara's in Los Angeles now; she'll try to get a driveaway to Austin, and failing that she'll take the bus. When we finish our bike trip in Jacksonville on May 6, she'll take the bus to Miami, and then catch her plane to Europe to continue her travels. I'll bus or fly back to Austin. I'll have my bike shipped back to Austin, and I'll sell Lara's bike when we get to Jacksonville. (I bought it specifically for the trip.)


It's 1475 miles, so at 60 miles a day, that would be 25 days. We actually have 31 days, in case something goes wrong, or we need to rest, or want to hang out in a certain area. I'm counting on 10mph for six hours a day. Lara hasn't done any training, but I think she'll be able to handle it, based on several things:

  • I've done 100 miles in a single day, on two separate occasions, with no training. (I'm not a sports/rec rider, I just putter around town usually.)
  • I did a 100-mile and 60-mile single-day ride, each with a different female companion, neither of which had done any training.
  • Lara's a runner, and ran a marathon in March, something that I could never do.
  • Lara has a conquer-everything attitude, and doesn't doubt herself.
  • If 10mph is too difficult for Lara, we can just slow down and put in more hours -- such as 7 hours at 9mph instead of 6 hours at 10mph. I'll let Lara ride in front so she can set the pace.


I don't want to pay rent while I'm gone, so I'm putting all my belongings in storage and getting someone to move in and finish out my lease. I don't know where I'll live when I get back, but I'll worry about that then. I got maps from Adventure Cycling, which makes maps specifically for cross-country trips. (As you can imagine, they're incredibly useful.) I bought the usual supplies and camping gear, with an eye on things that are lightweight (lightest tent I could find, lightest sleeping bags & pads I could find, etc.). I got SPF 40 sunscreen for both of us. (In fact, I got two of everything -- Lara will need to bring only toiletries and clothes.) I bought a laptop on eBay so I could try to check email from the road and upload trip reports (and also because I promised a friend I'd try to help him edit his book). I got a cell phone for emergencies, and a GPS on eBay because it seemed like it would be useful and fun.

Tent: 2-person, 3 lbs.

Sleeping Bags: Lightweight, 2 lbs. each? (weight not marked). Both fit into a single stuff sack.

Sleeping Pads: 3/4 length Thermarest, about 1 lb. each, take up very little room when deflated and rolled up

Solar Shower: Large strong plastic bag holds 5 gallons of water, warms up rapidly in the sun to provide water for showering

Lightweight Yellow PVC Rainsuits

Lighweight Blue Tarp (to sit on while camping, to cover bikes when raining)

Digital Camera: For uploading photos while we're on the road.

iBook computer: The Titanium G4 is much lighter and smaller, but it was $1,000 more. Besides a phone cord for the modem, I'm also bringing a cord with alligator clips on one end, in case we stop somewhere without a modular plug and I have to disassemble the phone outlet box on the wall to tap in.

Small Battery Charger: To charge batteries for lights, radio headsets, and digital camera.

Tools & Supplies: Small vise grips, crescent wrench, 15mm box wrench, allen wrench set, spoke wrench, chain tool, tire levers, patch kit, four spare tubes, extra brake cables, chain lube, rubber bands, zip cords, electrical tape, string, Swiss Army knife, candle lantern with four 9-hour candles.

Miscellaneous: Cell phone for emergencies, ID, credit cards, cash, medical insurance card, postcards, envelopes, multivitamins, vitamin C.


We're taking BikeE's, a reclining-style bike ($550). They're very comfortable. Upright bikes are okay for riding around town, but riding one for more than an hour can get uncomfortable -- and doing a cross-country trip on one seems crazy. I added wire baskets to hold our gear. (No panniers, no trailers.) Seven-speed cassette, plus a three speed hub, for 21 gears total. 16" wheel in front, 20" in back. Speedometers and water bottles. (Lara also has a Camelback water bag.)

Safety Equipment

Each of us has a good rearview mirror. Each also has a tall neon safety flag and a large slow-moving vehicle emblem on the back of our bike (neon orange triangle, with a fluorescent yellow border).They really stand out, even during the day.

We'll try not to do night-time riding, but if we do, we'll be lit up like Christmas trees. When we can't ride single-file, I'll ride in the back, so Lara can set the pace, and because if only one of us gets hit, it'll probably be me. So I set Lara up with the better headlights and myself up with the better tail lights. Lara has two headlights, a Trek Disco white flasher (VERY bright), and an LED flashlight (because the batteries last a really long time, and it can double as a camping flashlight). My headlight is a CatEye that runs off batteries or a battery pack. Each of us has two rear red flashers (in case one dies/breaks and we don't notice it while we're riding), but I also have the ultimate light toy: a blinding white strobe from REI ($20) that runs off a single D battery. If someone hits us when that thing is on, they're either blind or aiming for us.

I also have a first aid kit, a snakebite kit, and for each of us, pepper spray (for dogs or people who try to hassle us) and a loud safety whistle. Each of us has a helmet, but we actually may not wear them that much. (I'm not going to debate the efficacy of bike helmets vs. large trucks here, and I don't need to hear from people who want to argue with me about this.)


Long sleeve dress shirts that are open in the front are actually cooler than t-shirts because they're vented so the wind cools you down. T-shirts hold all the heat in. Also, they protect you from the sun better because they cover your arms. I'm bringing two old long-sleeves, plus one nice one that I can wear in casinos if we stop in Baton Rouge or New Orleans. I also have two pairs of shorts and one pair of nice pants. Lara is bringing a similar sparse assortment.

I found that I can make a pillow by stuffing my shirts into a cloth hat. (I got an actual camping pillow for Lara.)

I got each of us a straw hat at Goodwill to protect against the sun, but they're prone to blowing off, and they're impossible to wear with helmets. Lara also has a cloth hat and I have a gimme cap.


Lara and I happen to have similar dietary criteria: Vegan, low-fat, and natural. On the road, we'll probably have to settle for simply vegan and mostly low-fat, and not worry too much about natural. We'll get most of our food on the road, but I'm bringing some items to make things easier:

  • a pitcher of low-fat maple granola
  • a pitcher of whole rolled oats
  • a bag of instant refried beans (about a pitcher's worth, but in a bag)
  • a bag of oranges and apples
  • ~25 Cliff bars (sports candy bars, enough for each us to have one every other day)
  • a jar of soy butter and grape jelly
  • two small bags of chocolate chips

I got a small camp cooking pot, which is enclosed by two metal bowls, for $1.99 at Goodwill. Whoo-hoo! Also at Goodwille, I got a very small wire metal box, that works perfectly as a cooking grill. And it's space-efficient, because we can put stuff in it when we load the bikes. For non-heated food, I also have two small plastic bowls with covers.

Things I won't bring next time:

I'm writing this part during the trip, based on what we've learned.

  • Radio headsets -- got kind of old after the first day, cumbersome to hassle with, especially with limited room to pack them when we weren't using them.
  • GPS -- Didn't need it. The small country roads we travel on generally aren't represented on it anyway.

Solar Shower -- Didn't need it. Even when we camped, campsites have showers.