Crossing America by Bicycle: TransAmerica Trail

From the Atlantic to the Pacific on the TransAmerica Trail

Transamerica trail biking
Bicycle touring in Wyoming, USA. Flickr/Blue Canoe

America celebrated its bicentennial on its bikes in 1976. The TransAmerica Trail was constructed that year so those capable could experience the expansive country in one of the most direct ways possible – bicycle touring.

Bicycling offers the ideal pace and placement for experiencing countryside and cities alike. Quicker than walking, but more intimate than a road trip, cycle touring opens the landscape to the self-reliant traveler.

Cyclists typically carry enough supplies to last several days before needing to stop to refuel, so the heavy loads of pannier racks mean the experience of landscape must be earned, often in the face of hills.

Transamerica trail touring bike
A fully loaded, vintage touring bicycle. Flickr/Arlen

“Credit card touring” is a more expensive, but no doubt more enjoyable way to travel, with most nights spent in hotel rooms and most meals eaten at restaurants. This lightens the load of necessary equipment. Even more self-sufficient tourists recoup in a hotel room every few nights.

The TransAmerica Trail sets a particularly hilly route because it seeks to showcase the United State’s natural wonders. Larger roads would be a quicker, more direct passage, but the trail’s planner opted for a more off-beat ride.

Biking the Transamerica Trail in Grand Teton National Park
Bicycle touring Grand Teton National Park. Flickr/Andreas Johansson

You start the 4,262-mile trail in Astoria, Oregon and pass through eight other states before ending in Yorktown, Virginia. Most riders choose to ride east to west, and begin the three-month journey in May. This allows them to avoid the late-summer heat of the plains and the chilly early-summer temperatures of the Rocky Mountains. This time frame allows you to enjoy the long days surrounding the June 21st summer solstice.

If you’re riding east, the trail departs from the Chesapeake Bay and heads west into the historical fascinations of Colonial Williamsburg. Then it rolls through the grueling, undulating hills of the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky. Crossing the Ohio River brings you to Carbondale, Illinois. A lively college town is always a good place for a layover.

Crossing the Mississippi River gives you opportunity for more historical side-trips, this time into places significant to the Civil War. The wavy plains of Missouri level into the long, flat, hot days of farmland Kansas. Fortunately, the Rocky Mountains come into view as you reach Pueblo, Colorado. The trail turns north, and ascends to the continental divide, crossing Hoosier Pass at an oxygen-deprived altitude of 11,542 feet.

Biking the TransAmerica Trail, Wyoming
Early season biking in Wyoming, USA. Flickr/WyoFile

Yellowstone National Park warrants a layover of at least a day, as do the Grand Tetons. These areas are the Rocky Mountains at their most rocky. The 13,000-foot peaks cut through the trees, beckoning to climbers. Stop here.

Missoula, Montana is home to Adventure Cycling’s headquarters, and is another cool town for a resentful night in a hotel. Adventure Cycling sells maps that note the presence of grocery stores, hotels and attractions along the entire route. The advent of smart phones makes these maps less of a necessity than they once were. A phone paired with a traveling solar charger will get you all the info you need.

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