Apparently I’ve been a good girl this year. That, or all the letters I wrote to Mr Claus aged 5 to 8 racked me up enough brownie points to see me through (it’s quite possible, I wrote a lot). And what do good girls get for Christmas? Maps, of course. Glorious waterproof papered, contour-informing, bike shop-sign-posting, campsite-navigating, Adventure Cycling Association maps.
When I first began researching a route for next summer’s trip, I ventured to that mythical place where all great questions are answered, where sages and wise men come to seek the truth; Google. A quick skim revealed that lots of people cycle across the US, and there’s handful that have done the whole 50 state shebang, just like I’m planning. I spent some time looking at others journeys, but if I’m honest, I wasn't overly keen on taking the exact same path as anyone else. An adventure’s a unique, personal thing, after all.
Without local knowledge (or even regional in my case), it’s potentially difficult to tell is which roads you can and can’t cycle on. I mean, I can tell the big kahuna three lane carriageways from the itty bitty side streets, and I’m sure I can cycle on most, but you never really know until you’re there. I've found myself in hairy situations in the UK, inadvertently winding up on a busy highway, with trucks thundering past me at 70 mph , and a hard shoulder that’s fast disappearing into the verge. I don’t fancy any of that next year. And more importantly, if I don’t convince my Mom I won’t be doing any of that, she may well chain me to the runway at Heathrow.
Thankfully, not too far down the line I happened upon the Adventure Cycling Association and their network of cycle friendly routes. We have a similar thing in the UK called the National Cycle Network, maintained by a wonderful not for profit organisation called Sustrans. I've taken these Sustrans routes through remote parts of Wales and Scotland, and know that they’re a sure fire way to get yourself out into the most beautiful parts of a country. Follow one through Scotland and you’ll make good friends with a highland cow or three (arguably the most ridiculous looking animals on earth – check out the pic). Assuming the ACAs routes would offer something similar to Sustrans, I figured they’d be a great place to start. So I printed off a map of them all.
I then turned to a book that’d been sitting on my coffee table for the past 3 years. Dog eared and much loved “1000 places to see before you die” had been a saviour in times of frustration. Whenever restlessness struck, I’d leaf through and mark the pages with a star (must see before one dies) or a smiley face (should probably see but would need to clone one’s self to fit it all in). So I transferred all the starred and smiley faced places in the US (errrr, most of them) onto the ACA map.
Next, came the tricky part. I don’t suppose you’ve ever tried to draw a line through all states? How about one which covers the shortest distance, but hits all the places you want to see, whilst accounting for the weather conditions between June-January. Easy, right? I had a first crack at a route, figuring I better get across the North before it got too cold and wind up somewhere in the south through the winter months. My first stab came in at 16,000 miles. Eeek. A little long for the time I had, so I went in for round two. By attempt number nine I’d created something that looked to many like an overzealous spiders web, but to me it was the perfect shape for an adventure of a lifetime.
Santa’s delivery of many of the ACA maps I needed marked a return to where it all began: Google (maps). Indeed, I spent the latter half of Christmas day with cold turkey in one hand and route planning with the other - filling in gaps between ACA routes with minor roads and detours to visit cycle friendly communities: “Anna, dinner’s ready” “ I can’t right now mom, I’ve just crossed the Nevada border and I’m headed for Carson City. I’ll come down when I’ve hit Fallon, promise”.
Work permitting; I should have the detailed route sorted and up on the website in the next few weeks. I’m hoping that if people see me passing through their neighbourhood, they’ll let me know - and suggest ways I can help as I go. Either way, the maps are a sign that the whole thing is getting very real. This time next year I’ll be somewhere near South Carolina, having covered close to 10,000 miles. I can’t wait.
Catch you soon,