Transam Route; Statistics and Planning Considerations - CycleBlaze

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Transam Route; Statistics and Planning Considerations

George Hall

I'm posting this to make it easy for someone in the future to research the Transam route.  Please reply if you wish and add your own stats or thoughts based on your experience riding the Transam route, and that way this thread could become a great resource for others who are considering this route.   My journal from 2015 (2015 Transam Tour) may be helpful to describe the day-to-day experience for those wanting more detail. 

General Description; the Transam is THE grandaddy cross-country route.  It was inaugurated during the country's bicentennial in 1976 and was originally called "Bikecentennial." This route is challenging; it includes the steep mountains of the Appalachians in VA and KY, the never-ending roller coaster mountains of the Ozarks in MO, wide-open desert sections in KS and WY, the Rocky Mountains in CO, WY, and MT, and the rugged country of ID and eastern OR.  This route attracts numerous tourists every year, both domestic and foreign.  Because it has existed since 1976, this route has more cyclist "infrastructure" than any of the other long-distance cycling routes.     

How I Did It; I rode the route in 2 separate 5-week periods in 2015; initially I rode westbound from Yorktown, VA to Canon City, CO from May 6 to June 11, and then after a 7-week break to keep up my job duties I rode eastbound from Tillamook, OR to Canon City, CO during the period from August 8 to September 11.  My work duties forced me into this schedule; otherwise, I would have ridden it in one continuous period.   

Weather;  In any coast-to-coast trip you will experience a variety of weather, and it will certainly vary amongst travelers.  Nonetheless, the following is what I experienced.

Rain There were 6 days when I noted rain as being a factor.  These were days when it was necessary to don the rain jacket; sometimes it may have been just a moderate rain shower and sometimes it was a drenching downpour from a storm.  There were other days when the rain was gentle and maybe only lasted for such a wee bit that I didn't even put on the rain jacket, and I'm not including those days in the total.     

Cold Weather.  "Cold" is a subjective term, of course, and what's cold to one person may not seem so bad to another.   While heat is the primary enemy, you will experience cold mornings in the mountains even in the summer. I noted that it was cold for at least part of 12 days.  Most of the time this just consisted of the early mornings and once the sun came out the cold got chased away.  

Hot Weather.   The summer heat, especially so in some of the long open (no-service) stretches in KS, WY, MT, ID, and eastern OR, is likely the greatest risk you will face on this journey.  I noted the heat as being a significant factor on 17 days. You should consider this as being a minimum statistic - it's likely that it was hot on other days and I just didn't note it.    Also, you should consider that I start very early in the morning to avoid the afternoon heat.  

Wind.  I noted wind as being an issue during parts or all of 8 days on my journey.  Again, you should consider this to be a minimal statistic in that it was likely a factor more often than that and I just didn't note it. 

Forest Fire Smoke.  I have now ridden coast-to-coast twice, and both times I had to deal with closures and smoke from the forest fires.  This is likely to continue for many years due to climate change, so you need to be flexible and willing to change your routing to avoid the fires.  On my journey I had to deal with smoke from the forest fires over a period of 16 days, and I once had to take a forced rest day due to the fires and then ride 2 days journey in 1 day to escape the chaos. 

Insects.  Interestingly, I had very little trouble with insects. The only times I noted insects as being a problem were a couple of times in KS and eastern CO when I pulled over to rest under a shade tree and got swarmed by gnats.  Others have reported biting flies and other insect issues particularly in western KS and eastern CO. 

Navigation.  The ACA maps worked very well for this route. Most of this route is now co-existent with USBRS 76, and USBRS 76 is signed in about 1/2 of the states now.  In other words, not only are the ACA maps quite reliable, in some states you can simply follow the USBRS 76 highway signs across the entire state.  I did manage to get myself temporarily off-track a few times in the eastern portion of the route where the road system is more complex, but it's pretty hard to get lost out west. 

Climbing Stats.  My journal includes a daily note of the amount of climbing, and you should consult it for details.  

Total Climbing Elevation171,475 feet

That number comes from the profile generated from the maps. Since I did a "both ends to the middle" tour, I effectively lost about 5,500 feet of gain I had made from Virginia to Colorado, and had to start back at 0 when I began the 2nd half on the Oregon Coast. In other words, I had about 5,000 - 6,000 feet more climbing elevation than one would have experienced by riding continuously from coast to coast.

  • Days Elevation Climbed was Less than 1,000 feet5
  • Days Elevation Climbed was 1,000 - 2,000 feet;   19
  • Days Elevation Climbed was 2,000- 3,000 feet;   14
  • Days Elevation Climbed was 3,000 - 4,000 feet18
  • Days Elevation Climbed was 4,000 - 5,000 feet8
  • Days Elevation Climbed was 5,000 - 6,000 feet;  1

Grade. The elevation gain certainly doesn't tell the whole story regarding the climbing difficulty, because it doesn't factor in the grade.  The steepest grades and the most difficult climbing occurs in the Appalachians. There may be 1 or 2 days in the Ozarks wherein the grade is as steep as the Appalachians, but for the most part the Ozarks consist of a never-ending roller-coaster series of hills.  The Rockies have relatively gentle grades as compared to the Appalachians.  You may only be climbing for a mile or less in the Appalachians, but the steep grade makes it quite difficult.  In the Rockies, you may climb for 20 miles but the gentle grade makes it quite pleasant - only the last few miles over the major passes have noticeably steeper grades. 

Passes and/or Significant Climbs.  This is a highly subjective statistic to develop; what may seem like a "significant climb" to one may not even be noticeable to another.  Regardless, I have tried to compile the number of significant climbs that I experienced in each state - these are based on notes I made in my journal, and/or the elevation profile, and/or my memory of the day.  While others would likely have different numbers, it should at least provide a way to compare the relative difficulty of each state. Following is a list of the states with the number of significant climbs;

VA;  10

KY; 17

IL; 2

MO; 7

KS; 2

CO; 3

WY; 6

MT; 4

ID; 5

OR; 8

Upon reviewing the above list, I realize that it will look strange to some.  For instance, why does CO (a mountain state) only have 3 significant climbs listed while IL (a relatively flat state) has 2?  I experienced some hard climbs along the Ohio River in IL; it could have been that I was very tired that day, and the weather may have been a factor, so this is obviously a subjective listing.  I only recall 3 hard climbs on the route through CO, even though a couple of them lasted for many miles.  I doubt this list will be of much benefit to anyone, but I'll leave it in for now.  

Riding Days65

Rest Days7  

Average Mileage On Riding Days;  66.1 

Number of 100+ Mile Days4

Number of 90+ Mile Days5

Number of 80+ Mile Days16

Number of 70+ Mile Days27

Number of 60+ Mile Days40

Number of 50+ Mile Days56

Number of 40+ Mile Days59

Mechanical Problems: 6 Flat Tires.  I only had 1 flat on the 2nd half of the journey after I put real touring tires on the bike (it was caused by a goathead, a nasty thorn - see day 51 for a picture). On the 1st half I was running supple tires that would have been better used for randonneuring as opposed to fully loaded touring. See the "Advice for Others" section of the Epilog for more discussion and a tire recommendation.

Water/Fluid Consumption1.5 - 2 ounces/mile on average.  The fluid consumption is the total of all fluids consumed once I left on the day's journey up until I reached my destination. So it includes anything I drank with lunch during the day's travel, but does not include any fluid I may have had at breakfast before heading out or anything I may have drank at dinner after the day's ride. This became a reliable number for me to calculate how much fluid to carry when there was a long gap between services.

Hotel Nights52

Hostel Nights7

Camping Nights6

"Other" Nights7

The hotel nights doesn't include the night I arrived in Yorktown before I started riding, or the night I stayed in Portland before I took the bus to the coast the following day; so consider that in your planning. The hotels were mostly modest but clean, with the exception that I noted 4 that I considered to be real dumps. The hostels were generally great places to stay. Many were free and asked for a donation only if you could afford it, and some had a small fee ($15 - $25). Some hotels say they have a hostel, when in reality it's just a cheap way to lodge in a down-graded hotel room. But as a rule, I enjoyed the hostels and recommend them. I intended to camp more, and some of the "other" category really amounts to a sort of upgraded camping inside in a "primitive" cabin for instance. On the 2nd half of the journey I would have camped more often but the forest fire smoke made for unhealthy air and I felt that I should stay inside at night since I was breathing the smoke all day.

The "other" category includes a pretty wild range of places I stayed. The Cookie Lady's house at the start of the Blue Ridge falls in this category. The place is getting a bit run-down, there's no shower or bath, but there's a restroom and a sink in the kitchen for water. It was free, and it is right on the route and there's not much else around there, so it was fine with me. The next "other" category place I stayed was the Double-L grocery. It's an abandoned grocery store that's full of a lot of junk, and the owners call it a hostel - but it's not really. But I got a shower there, I washed my clothes, the dryer didn't work so I dried them outside in the sun, and I slept inside on a couch. It's a bit strange, but it was OK. Running Springs Farm in Everton, MO also falls into the "other" category. It's a great place, very nice, and they charged cyclists only $25 if they promise to sleep in their sleeping bag and thereby not soil the linens. So, it's sort-of a hostel I suppose, but it's off the beaten path about a half-mile down a sandy road and folks don't realize it's there. In Stafford, KS I stayed inside the office building of the Pine Haven RV park with 2 other cyclists. The owner was surprised that anyone wanted to camp there in the summer heat (camping was our original plan) and offered to let us stay inside for the same fee; so that was an unexpected "other" category stay. Near Lamar, CO I intended to camp at the "Sportsman's R.V. Park & Horse Motel." However, they had a camper unit available for $25, so I opted for sleeping inside it instead of paying $10 for a tent site. Outside of Moran, WY I stayed at another RV park in a "primitive cabin" that had no running water, but it had lights and an electric heater. And in Hartsel, CO I was the only occupant of the Hartsel Springs Guest Lodge. The place was really nice, but it's fell on financial hard times and most folks don't even know it's an option. Other than being a little spooky to have the whole lodge to myself, it was great.

Average Speed While Biking: Approximately 10 mph.  I recorded my average speed for each day on the second half, and the overall average for the second half was 10.4 mph. I didn't record it on the first half, but I earlier estimated (see the Intermission section on stats) that it was about 9 - 10 mph. So I think a good guess is that I rode across the entire continent at an average speed of 10 mph while biking. 

Continental Divide Crossings; 9.  You cross the Continental Divide 2 times in CO, 6 times in WY, and 1 time in MT.  It's not as difficult as it sounds.  You really only have to climb for the 2 crossings in CO, the 1 crossing in MT, and 1 of the crossings in WY; the rest are not too difficult.  

Most Wildlife Sightings.  I certainly haven't ridden ever possible route coast-to-coast, but I have ridden the Northern Tier and this one.  The Transam wins as far as the wildlife sightings you are likely to have.  I saw bear, deer, antelope, elk, bison, and coyotes, as well as numerous small game.  Others have spotted moose, but I wasn't so lucky. 

Foreign Cyclists.  You are likely to encounter international visitors on the Transam; this is the route they have all heard about.  I encountered English, Canadian, Swiss, Dutch, Korean, Japanese, and Australian riders.  There were 3 German cyclists in my vicinity once, but I never met them. 

What I Would Do Different; My work schedule forced me to take the trip in 2 halves and to expedite the trip as much as possible.  If I were doing it again, I would not break the trip into 2 halves but would do it all as one continuous ride.  I would ride the route entirely from east to west this time. The other major change I would make is that I would take 12-13 weeks to cover the distance. Twelve weeks is a more "normal" pace for cyclists, and would allow me a lot more leisure than I had.  There are about 21 hostels along the route, and I would plan to stay in most of them.  Not only does this save money, it allows you an opportunity to meet other cyclists along the way.  I would likely camp more as well - I only camped 1 week before, this time I would probably camp for 2-3 weeks of the journey.  

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2 years ago
John PickettTo George Hall

I've only done about 1/6th of the TransAm (from Ash Grove MO to Wetmore CO). Still here are a few thoughts.

The towns along the TransAm are much more used to seeing bicycle tourists than other ACA routes I've ridden (parts of Northern Tier, Great Lakes, Atlantic Coast, NYC to Chicago, Lewis and Clark, and Pacific Coast). In eastern Kansas a woman put a cooler out on the side of the road in front of her house with cold drinks for passing bicyclists. She graciously let me use her bathroom, too. She didn't know me from Adam. In Montana and northern Wisconsin I told people I was on a long-distance bike tour and they looked at me like I was insane. Okay, maybe they had a point but they had absolutely no idea they were on ACA routes.

As I rode into Ash Grove I was flagged down by a man sitting in his car on a side street. He then led me to the town park, told me to have a swim, and let me into the air conditioned house that they use to shelter cyclists. 

Going west to east means your first day will involve a rather abrupt climb. A Warmshowers host on the Northern Tier in Washington told me that many riders quit after a few days as they were not anticipating the intense effort at the begining of the tour. This holds true for the Western Express I am sure.  The climb to MacKenzie Pass in Oregon isn't as high but riders need to be prepared for the effort.

In 2019, we encountered epic flooding in western Missouri and eastern Kansas. We managed with the Google and luck to make it through the waters okay. Thunderstorms in the humid south can be truly scary. Near Golden City, Missouri we rode past a farm that had been decimated by a tornado the day before. Three people were killed. It was truly shocking to see parts of buildings strewn across the farmland. As we rode by the farm we could see a man walking through the debris. I can't even.  (I had close encounters with tornados twice on the Route 66 trail earlier that week.) 

I hooked up with 2 Transam riders in Ash Grove. We split up in Pueblo. They gave up their tour near Silverthorne Colorado, I suspect, despite their high levels of fitness, because they tried to do too much too soon at altitude. (I plan on joining them this summer for the completion.) Go easy at altitude. Drink a lot of water. Rest. 

I was surprised that many of the towns we rode through in Kansas seemed to be nearly deserted. 

The wind wasn't too bad for us. We pacelined one day in Kansas but otherwise didn't struggle much with headwinds.  A friend and her husband rode the TransAm on recumbents, west to east. One day they encountered soul sucking headwinds in Wyoming. After a couple of hours of struggling at 4 miles per hour they turned around and went back to the day's starting point. The next day the winds had shifted and the rode over 100 miles at over 20 mph with minimal effort. 

Thank your stars that you have weather apps and GPS software for your tour. 

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2 years ago
Mark BoydTo John Pickett

I was not planning to ride on the bike 76 route this year, but my planned route to visit my younger daughter and her family  fell apart when I found out, yesterday, that VA 340, which I had planned to use to get to Waynesboro VA, has too much traffic and sections with no rideable shoulders on that route. My daughter, who now lives in Crozet VA and works at a big factory south of 340, met us - my wife and I - for lunch  in Stuarts Draft. 

I had already discovered that part of my planned route was on Bike 76, so I investigated the possibility of using more of Bike 76 instead of the Waynesboro routing . I knew Bike 76 went through Alfon VA, because I expected to use that part of the route. I guess I should have expected that also meant  it went on the Blue Ridge Parkway  since the Parkway's north end is near Afton. I should also have remembered that 340 is less than ideal riding since I rode on 340 after riding the Parkway from Asheville to its northern end on my first loaded tour back in 1995 ;-}.

I was surprised when I saw that the north end of the Parkway was part of Bike 76. I think that may be a bit too much steep climbing for  many of the folks who are travelling east to west on that route. I met one just a few days ago who was feeling tired from the climbing he'd already had to do on the eastern end of that route. I worried what was going to happen when he needed to climb over the Blue Ridge.  Having to climb the north most  30 miles of the Parkway, after you've climbed up to Rockfish Gap seems like it might be  too much climbing! At 76, I certainly couldn't do it  without some e-assist.

But. using the Bike 76 route, it looked like the last day of my ride  to/from  Crozet could have over a mile of climbing.  I'm pretty confident that I'd be able to do that on my e=biked V-Rex since I'll be carrying a spare battery. I would not be so confident if I didn't have that second battery.  However, I see much of that mile of climbing can be avoided by routing from Greenville, which is on my route to Crozet,  south  on Greenville School Rd then east on Cold Springs Rd (608) and  then south using  Howardsville Turnpike (610) to  connect to the Parkway near the top of last hill before its north entrance. That route, according to Google maps is 30 miles with only 1355 feet of climbing, most of which is in a steep climb up to the Parkway  after Sherando. The Bike 76 route has about 2000 feet more climbing in a similar distance.

I hope to be riding those roads in July, so I'll report back on them then.

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2 years ago
David HendersonTo George Hall

Are the hostels listed on the ACA maps?

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1 year ago
George HallTo David Henderson

Most of the hostels are listed. It helps to read other's journals also to get the latest info - for example, see journal "Criss Cross America" and note where he stayed. And that's why talking with other cyclists is also helpful.  You should be able to stay inside for free for 2 to 3 weeks of the Transam crossing in hostels. 

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1 year ago
Wayne EstesTo George Hall

I stayed at a few hostels (not recently) and none of them were free.

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1 year ago
George HallTo Wayne Estes

Most of the hostels along the transam consist of churches and a variety of civic buildings, and they were free although you were always welcome to leave a donation.  Recently there have been some operations that advertise themselves as hostels when in fact they are actually low-budget lodging.  I stayed at a "hostel" in Willamette, OR that charged $25 for a night (2015). The hostel was run by a hotel that charged $70 for a hotel room. So it was much cheaper, but not free.  I tallied up the hostels along the Transam last year and came up with 21 - that includes churches, fire stations, other city-owned buildings like Al's place in Farmington, MO (former jail), a house that Ellington, Mo uses as a hostel for cyclists, private places like the Cookie Ladies house, etc. The Transam definitely has the most hostels of any ACA route. I rode the Northern Tier last year and stayed in only 4 hostels - all that existed as far as I know.

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1 year ago
John PickettTo Mark Boyd

Well, this summer (journal forthcoming) I rode the western half of the TransAm, including Wetmore CO to Astoria OR. 

Most of what I said in my earlier comment still holds. Be very careful about adjusting to elevation especially if you are travelling East to West. I stayed at 4,500 feet for five days (Pueblo, Florence, and Canon City) before I started climbing. Admittedly this was overkill. The climb to Guffey from Canon City was less than 40 miles but we ended up sleeping at over 8,000 feet. We then rode over a 9,000 foot pass to Fairplay at around 10,000 feet and slept there. The ride over Hoosier Pass was hard but fun. No altitude problems at all.

My biggest mistake was bringing a sleeping bag that was woefully inadequate for camping at elevation. I froze in Yellowstone. Temps dipped into the 30s.

You will encounter long days of headwinds. They don't call it the Wind River for nothing. We had a daylong headwind going through there and it was HARD. Try to keep in mind that the odds are you'll get a few with tailwinds too. Our ride from Quake Lake to Ennis was downhill with a tailwind. Wonderful.

The hostel in Mitchell OR was phenomenal. The one in Canon City OR was also very good. The Warmshowers hosts in Ennis were insanely helpful. The campground in Nehalem Beach OR was my favorite. Sleeping on pine needles and sand with the sound of the ocean in the distance was super relaxing.

The traffic from Pacific City to Sunset Beach was quite unpleasant. Ditto traffic on the McKenzie Highway west of the pass. Noise, dump trucks and logging trucks. (We also rode from Astoria to Portland and it was even noisier.)

I haven't done the eastern third of the TransAm but I wonder how those early Bikecentennial riders got up all those steep hills in the east.

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1 year ago
George HallTo John Pickett

"I haven't done the eastern third of the TransAm but I wonder how those early Bikecentennial riders got up all those steep hills in the east."

One thing I should have included in my initial post; you need to be in decent cycle condition at the start of an east to west Transam tour.  I noted that there were 27 "significant" climbs in VA and KY, and if you aren't prepared at the onset then it will be easy to quit before reaching Illinois.  You don't have to be in Tour de France athletic condition, but you should have built up your weekly long ride to 70 miles and tackled some hills in your training (I'm assuming your training is done on an unloaded bike).  This isn't a tour where you can get into shape as you go along - better show up at least a little conditioned.

The Appalachians are the toughest physiography of the entire continental crossing.  Most of the Bikecentennial riders were young, and young folks can survive a lot of physical abuse that us older folks can't.  Even so, I saw quite a few youngsters struggling in the Appalachians and pushing their bikes up the steeper grades.  Anyone with the right mental attitude can likely ride the TransAm, but it will be so much better if folks show up prepared.

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1 year ago
Keith AdamsTo George Hall

I rode 1,175 miles - mostly on the TransAm - in July of this year, starting in Bend, OR (not actually on the TransAm- my first 50 miles or so got me to Prineville where I joined the route).  I left the TransAm in Yellowstone, switching to Parks, Peaks, and Prairies.

"Anyone with the right mental attitude can likely ride the TransAm, but it will be so much better if folks show up prepared."

My intention was to ride all the way back to my home in Maryland.  In the end, for a number of reasons (excuses) I elected to stop in Cody, WY.  One of the reasons was, in fact, mental / emotional.  I wasn't lonely, but I did find that spending 100 percent of my time on the road without any companion to urge me on or provide a sympathetic ear (I'd undoubtedly have gotten whiny had there been anyone to whine at) got wearing after a while.

I enjoyed talking with others, cyclists and non-cyclists alike, in the places where I camped or stayed in hostels (and yes the Spoke'n Hostel in Mitchell OR deserves special mention!) but that wasn't enough to keep me going.

Faced with the prospect of several consecutive days of extremely challenging conditions: a brutal climb, very limited services (specifically the availability of water) for a 95 mile stretch of open, desolate road in northern Wyoming, the likelihood of adverse winds coupled with heat and absolutely zero relief or escape from the sun, and some mechanical considerations, my will to continue crumpled and imploded. 

Once I left Cody the next potential bailout point would have been Lincoln, NE unless I deviated a couple hundred miles toward Rapid City SD (where I'd have arrived at the height of the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally- NO THANK YOU).  Lincoln is +/- 850 miles from Cody, with a vast open space in between them.  Had anything gone wrong (and I'd had enough tire troubles already that the possibility was very real that it might have) I'd have been well and truly stuck.  That possibility, which I'd faced as a reality once already in Idaho, helped me persuade myself that a strategic withdrawal was the best course of action for me personally.

My helmet is forever doffed to those with the stamina, fortitude, and mental toughness to make it all the way between the coasts, but I'll never join their ranks.

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1 year ago