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Help me plan a long bike tour.
June 5, 2012 7:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning a bike trip in July. Portland to Minneapolis? What are your experiences biking east from the West Coast?

I'm a fairly experienced biker tourist. I'm not concerned about gear recommendations so much, I've got that mostly dialed in (though if you have something you think is absolutely vital on your tours then let us know). I have a new custom built touring bike (hell yeah). But all my tours have been here on the Pacific Coast. Me and friends do a lot of over-nighters and regional touring. I've biked up to Canada for a couple weeks and down to San Francisco. But I haven't headed east! That's gonna change this July.

I lived in Minneapolis for a couple years and one of my best friends still lives there. I go to school and work part time in a pizza joint, so once finals are done this next week I'm gonna have tons of free time (also the folks where I work are super cool and don't mind me taking a month off with ample notice).

What are your experiences biking across Montana and the Dakotas (or eastern Washington and Idaho)? What routes did you take? Specific places I should try to hit up? Or avoid? I'm familiar with Adventure Cycling and their maps but I'd like to hear from you all in here. How long did your ride take? What kind of miles were you doing? Tell me your tales.
posted by rainperimeter to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I biked East to West (Baltimore to San Francisco). It took about 2 months, with plenty of rest days. Average mileage was ~90, with a range of 50ish to 150 (brutal, brutal day). Running into other cyclists doing it the opposite direction, the general consensus seemed to be that starting on the East Coast in the summer was challenging because of the heat and humidity, and starting from the West Coast was challenging because you hit major mountains before you're very conditioned (though that doesn't seem like it will be a big issue for you).

It was amazing how driver attitude towards bicycles changed as we crossed different regions. The eastern states were pretty bad-- some idiot threw slices of pizza at my group in Maryland, and someone threw a box of macaroni and cheese at me in Pennsylvania. The mid-west was unsurprisingly polite (I remember a car very politely refusing to pass a group of us doing about 20mph on a 40mph road for so. many. miles.) Colorado was really mixed, Nevada was bad, and California was mostly ok.

It's a wonderful experience and something you'll look back on fondly in the future. Happy travels!
posted by charmcityblues at 9:32 PM on June 5, 2012


My dad biked from Portland to Champaign, IL sometime in the early or mid 1980s; it took him about six weeks. His main warning to me whenever I've talked about doing bike touring is to do a better job of planning my route than they did -- they ended up crossing the Continental Divide about six times. So... yeah. Don't cross the Continental Divide six times.
posted by naturalog at 11:24 PM on June 5, 2012


The Touring forum at BikeForums.net is more likely to offer complete advice.
posted by Doohickie at 8:20 AM on June 6, 2012


I biked from Albany, OR to Wisconsin several years ago. There isn't much you need to know, especially if you have touring experience. We went from Albany to The Dalles to Walla Walla to Sandpoint, ID to Kalispell, MT and then across MT on US2, then cut down through ND on Rt 200, crossing to MN I think in Wahpeton, then diagonally across MN to La Crosse, WI. Always have an extra day of food with you and carry more water than you think you'll need - there are a lot of pretty barren parts and several of the towns on the map I was counting on in ND for water didn't exist. If I remember correctly it was 2,600 miles and it took 42 days or so. I camped most of the time either hidden in bushes by the edge of fields or openly in city parks, especially in MT and ND where every town has a free park for cycling tourists and RVers. The mosquitoes in parts were quite bad so make sure you have mosquito proof sleeping arrangements. Everyone was friendly, the scenery was great. I called the tourism offices for each state and asked for a road map and a bicycling map if they had it. It is pretty easy to pick a route out west but I remember ID being difficult to route, probably why we just went through the tiny northern bit around Sandpoint. Nowadays with Google Maps the whole planning process is much easier/less interesting/less risky.

Go for it!
posted by ChrisHartley at 10:21 AM on June 6, 2012


I did Adventure Cycling's Northern Tier route east-to-west in 2008. I'll describe it in that direction, since that's my experience, although you'll be riding the other way.

The Minnesota and North Dakota sections were great. Sadly, much of the North Dakota portion of the route is now ruined because of all the drilling activity in the area around Williston. Adventure Cycling has changed the route (and are selling new maps), but my impression is that it's not as nice as the original route. Oh well.

The entire route through Montana is basically on US 2 (the "High Line"). It's nice enough, but the scenery is a little unvarying. Some of the little towns you ride through are interesting/charming, while others are sketchy (for example, Poplar, also known as "Stab City"). I never had any problems myself.

The Northern Tier takes you up into Canada for a day or two - very nice scenery - and then back down into the USA so you can ride through Glacier National Park on Going-to-the-Sun Road. The scenery is truly spectacular, way more impressive than Yellowstone.

After that, there's a busy half-day of riding around touristy Whitefish, then briefly into Idaho for some remote, scenic riding.)

I liked Washington a lot. The Northern Tier route takes you over five passes in the Cascades. By the time I got to them, I was in great shape from the 6,000 miles I'd already ridden since Florida. If you start in the west, they are the first things you have to deal with, however. People I've talked to who did the route west-to-east said it was daunting doing them the first week of riding.

In summary: If I were you I'd get the Northern Tier maps from Adventure Cycling. They're well worth the price, and they'll make your planning much easier than doing it yourself.
posted by JeffL at 1:01 PM on June 6, 2012


I forgot: If you haven't already looked at it, check out CrazyGuyOnABike. I think it's by far the best resource for bike touring. My journal from 2008 is here.
posted by JeffL at 1:04 PM on June 6, 2012


I bike often in Eastern WA and OR. In July it can be very hot and on some routes a long way between services. You need to take this seriously when touring out here in the summer - carry more fluids than you think you need (will you have enough if your bike breaks and you need to walk?), and lots of sunscreen of course.

The obvious route east from Portland is up the gorge. It's dramatic and, if you want to avoid big passes of the Cascades, the way to go, but avoid I-80 if at all possible. The north (WA) side is much more interesting and has better views (in my opinion), but also has far fewer services and so demands more planning and longer days on the bike.

Most drivers out here are very courteous, but we have our share of idiots, drunks and young, drunk idiots in pickups - a mirror is a useful accessory.
posted by normy at 6:51 AM on June 8, 2012


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