Biking coast-to-coast and RAGBRAI: advice wanted

I’m planning on biking across the country this summer, and timing it all around (my second) Ragbrai.

My general plan is: start on an ACA trail, break off the trail in Wyoming to head towards Ragbrai, Ragbrai :), down the Mississippi, rejoin the trail and keep heading East.

Advice on how to find good places to camp/eat/bike, or anything else, would be greatly appreciated! It will be my first time planning a trip like this on my own.

26 Replies

John Richardson, January 31, 2020 at 8:41 am

Great plan Ari! I have raced the Transamerica Trail twice and the race actually has an alternate route that leaves the ACA route north of Rawlins and continues on across Nebraska. At some point in Nebraska you’d need to angle northeast to get to La Mars. From Clinton I would just head south to Muscatine and connect with ACA’s Great Rivers South route until I connected with the Trans Am route again.

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Bernard Schwartze, January 31, 2020 at 1:17 pm

Ari,
I imagine a few people do this from time to time. The last I heard of was 2018. The guy who did it is named Ryan Van Duzer and he put it up on You Tube as a series called “LoveCycles” He has other adventure travel stuff as well.

Good luck!

Bernie S.

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Sandaltan ., January 31, 2020 at 4:24 pm

Crazy guy has years of info. https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/

RIDE RIGHT

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Mike Howe, January 31, 2020 at 4:40 pm

I know of a guy who ran coast to coast. He could probably provide you with some tips. Hes on his shrimp boat though right now or possibly playing in a ping pong tournament. 😁

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John Richardson, February 1, 2020 at 9:10 am

A couple of years ago I visited with a gentleman that was going to continue riding on to the east coast after he completed RAGBRAI. His plan was to connect with the ACA Northern Tier route at Muscatine and ride on to Bar Harbor Maine. This could be an option for you as well.

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Izzy St, February 2, 2020 at 10:29 am

wow that sounds awesome!

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Ari Brenner, February 2, 2020 at 10:55 am

John, I don’t see the WY/NE ACA route you mentioned, but in either case I think I want to do Northern WY and Southern SD so I can see Devils Tower, Black Hills, and Badlands. It just means I would have to make my own route, which might be a struggle. I might dip onto the NE portion of the Great American Rail-Trail from SD (https://www.railstotrails.org/greatamericanrailtrail/).

I totally missed the ACA Mississippi River route, I’ll definitely check it out! I was planning on utilizing the Mississippi River Trail (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_River_Trail), maybe they have some overlap. I think I won’t do the Northern Tier route this time, because I live in the Northeast anyway, and can always check it out later.

Thanks for the info!

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Ari Brenner, February 2, 2020 at 10:57 am

Thanks everyone! I’ll look into “crazyguyonabike” and “LoveCycles”

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allan kokinda, February 2, 2020 at 9:05 pm

I’ve bicycled those exact sites in Wyoming and South Dakota, and I think you are complicating the trip by limiting yourself to ACA routes- they’re just roads. Get some state maps and plan your own trip. I use AAA maps, all free with an annual membership (mine’s $30 a year) that includes towing should your bicycle break down. This last summer I rode my first Ragbrai while on another tour starting and finishing here in Texas. It was fun actually rolling into Council Bluffs on my own, then leaving Burlington to continue into Canada. The entire tour wound up being just over 7000 miles. You should know that most small towns in the US are like Iowa’s, with friendly folks and little cafes and supermarkets. Camping is almost always allowed in local parks as well. Average motel cost on my 2019 tour was $55. Don’t dismiss riding the Interstate out West either; they are fast with wide shoulders should you need to make time and mileage. I recall Wyoming’s were a joy.
A solo self supported summer long bicycle trip is a wonderful experience- throwing Ragbrai into the middle of one is SOOO much fun! I spend most summers cycling rural America and I can promise you that pedaling your way all the way to Ragbrai will be an unforgettable experience. Think about this: you’ll be fit (you’ll have 1000+ miles under your belt), you won’t have to deal with luggage or any other logistics (you’re carrying your own), rain and sun will be no issue (you’re acclimated),the hills will be nothing (you’ve already climbed mountains) and you certainly won’t need to find a ride back to the start. Sadly I’ll be overseas this summer or I would have liked to meet up. Next year though! I wish you the best summer and hope you have an amazing Ragbrai and tour. Good luck!

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Jose Medina, February 2, 2020 at 10:23 pm

Mike H. You had me laughing out loud . Riders can be so funny . Props !!! That is one of my all time favorite movies after being in the military during the Vietnam war. Thanks , I needed that.

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Ari Brenner, February 3, 2020 at 9:44 pm

Thanks Alan.

I got chills reading the part of your message about your experience, I’m very excited.

I’m actually already a AAA member and didn’t even think of their maps, that’s a great idea. I’m excited for both the ACA routes and for making my own, especially in WY and SD. (If you have any advice on specific roads or places to see in that area, I’d love to hear it.)

I’ll see you on the road in 2021!

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John Richardson, February 4, 2020 at 9:45 am

Sorry Ari, the alternate route I spoke of would probably only be available to you if you were a registered racer, but I could give you the route if needed. It looks like you are planning to ride further north anyway. Planning your own route certainly has it rewards and I normally do it that way but as you are aware the ACA maps have so much valuable information for the novice tourist and their routes try to stay on roads with a low traffic count. I try to avoid interstates and it is illegal to ride on them in many states. I know from first hand experience you are not allowed to ride on them in California. I have ridden on them in Montana and Wyoming when that was about my only option. But for me the problem with riding interstates is that they are usually not all that scenic and I find the constant roar of the traffic to be very annoying. Most small towns will allow you to camp in their city parks especially if you are on a ACA route but some do not. I have been awakened a few times and been told to move on, and also many city parks will have a sprinkler system that will go off late at night which is a rude way to wake up. For maps some states produce a cycling specific map and are free though their Departments of transportation and could be very useful in planning your route. I live in Missouri and for years I have done Mid-West state rides self contained and rode to the start and back home after the finish. On a trip like yours timing is going to be very important. Planning these adventures can be a big part of the enjoyment and hopefully I’ll run into you on RAGBRAI.

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Ari Brenner, February 4, 2020 at 8:06 pm

No need, John, but thank you anyway!

I’ll do more research on interstates in each state and consider them as a backup plan.

State Department of Transportation maps is another good idea, thanks!

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rickpaulos, February 6, 2020 at 3:14 pm

Of all the cross-USA routes, the ACA Trans America (formerly the Bike Centennial route) is the hardest. The Lewis and Clark route avoids the highest rockies. The highest elevation is about 6000 feet. (vs 12,000+ in colorado). From the Mississipi River to the east there are countless options.

Crazy guy on a bike dot com has hundreds of ride reports on just crossing the USA. You can filter the 40,000+ reports by continent, country, state, etc.

I rode Interstates Highways in a number of states “out west”. They do vary. You get honked at by drivers who think it’s illegal. It’s legal in the majority of states in the USA. That is determined by each state, not the federal govt. Interstate highways are newer and built with bulldozers so the hills are leveled out. The older highways next to the interstates tend to follow the terrain (hilly). The shoulder on the interstates is much wider and puts you farther from the traffic than on the 2 lanes. The traffic speed difference isn’t all that different. The shoulder pavement varies quite a bit. In South Dakota, they replaced the traffic lanes with new laterally lined concrete (for drainage) but left the old shoulders in place. Those shoulders were very beat up and the passing traffic was deafening. In Idaho, the lanes and shoulders were new asphalt, super smooth and the traffic was quiet. In general riding on the interstates is just a boring as driving on them. If you want to see the USA which surely your reason for riding across the USA, look for the back roads. I found most of the highways west of the Missouri river have shoulders and most east of the Missouri don’t. Or in some states like Ohio, bikes are banded from the 4 lane highways with shoulders. But once you get east of the Missouri, there are so many more roads to choose from.

I met several guys riding east to west. They all said the same thing: “Why didn’t anyone tell me about the wind”. Yeah, riding westward is punishment for not doing your research.

I found that perhaps 50% of motels in the USA have no internet presence. Not on google maps, not on expedia, not on trivago, no website. I’d guess campgrounds have a similar stat. My wife had a good strategy of calling the bars up the road and asking the bar tenders. They know everything about their town. One place was cash or check only. Check? In the middle of no where? No paying for credit card fees or the communications needed to run them. Several places were cash only which makes more sense. By calling the bars, she found places to stay where the internet couldn’t find a motel for 100 miles around.

This reply was modified 4 months, 4 weeks ago by rickpaulos.

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Sandaltan ., February 6, 2020 at 7:34 pm

There is no better place to stop when traveling coast-to-coast than a country golf course for a bathroom, food & beverage at reasonable prices, refreshing A/C, friendly chatter and local road intel. In ’15 we rode to DC and I still fondly remember some of our golf course stops, at one we had icy cold beers and egg sandwiches that were heavenly and at another, in Ohio I think, we got the full skinny on fracking and some local rags to riches stories.

RIDE RIGHT

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