3600 Miles from Los Angeles to Miami.
Forty Eight Days, Eight States, Four Time Zones, Eleven Punctures, Three Alligators …….. but just one bicycle.
I first started long distance cycling and touring in 1995 when I was asked to join a charity ride from London to Paris, along with a group of 22 other cyclists. Since then I’ve ridden in and around a number of European countries (France, Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Andorra). I’ve ridden the length of the Pyrenees, circumnavigated mountainous Corsica; cycle-camped from London – Barcelona – London and completed the Audax National 400km (over 240miles in 21 hours). But there was always one ride that had captured my imagination, and in the late winter/early spring of 2008, through a combination of changes in both my personal life and my employment I found myself with enough time to complete it – cycling Coast to Coast across America!
In planning my ride I had to take account of flights to and from America. I needed to reduce the opportunity for delays and lost luggage and therefore wanted direct flights to and from London. I also wanted to ride from west to east because (apparently) that is the direction of any prevailing winds. The obvious direct flight to the west coast was to Los Angeles, although San Francisco was also an option. The return from Florida gave me a little more scope: Orlando (been there, done the whole Mickey Mouse thing), Sanford International (ditto) or Miami. Decision made: Los Angeles to Miami. All that I needed now was a route.
An American cycling group, Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) has a number of cross country routes mapped out. One of which is a Southern Tier Route from San Diego, California to Saint Augustine, Florida. I decided to utilise part of this route for my trip, with additions and modifications which would allow me to take in New Orleans, West Coast Florida and Miami.
I spent weeks studying the ACA route, surfing the internet, reading accounts of similar trips and locating campsites, motels, restaurants, bike shops etc before deciding upon my route which resulted in the following: My ride started in Los Angeles; followed the coast south to San Diego. I then turned east inland, up and over the mountains of east California. I then crossed the Colorado River into the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico before entering the hill country of West Texas. This part of the route then followed the Mexican Border south to Del Rio where I turned east again to split Austin and San Antonio before entering Louisiana. Here I rode through Baton Rouge and headed south to New Orleans before following the Gulf Coast through Mississippi, Alabama and into Florida. In Florida I rode east along the panhandle, turned south down the west coast via Tampa and Naples to the Everglades and approached Miami from the west.
I planned for the ride to take exactly 7 weeks, averaging about 65-70 miles per day with a couple of spare days for contingencies. I didn’t include any rest days, although I did plan for three or four of what I call “active rest days”. Those are shorter days of around 30 miles, just to keep my legs active and prevent stiffness whilst providing some opportunity for the rest of my body to recover. I created daily route sheets showing opportunities for food, motels and campsites. I identified at least three locations to aim for accommodation at the end of each day’s riding and my chosen one would depend on how I was feeling: there was one for an optimum day, one for a ‘bail out’ day if I was having a bad time and a third option to extend the day’s riding if I was feeling good. I calculated the route at approximately 3200 miles, crossing all 4 American time zones and riding through the eight southern States.
Those were the plans and in reality I stuck pretty much to them. There were, like all great plans, some adjustments needed because of weather and other unforeseen circumstances. You can follow my ride on the next eight pages, which for no other reason than to satisfy my OCD, I have divided up into narratives for each of the eight states that I cycled through.