Thursday, July 21, 2011

Final Thoughts and Advice for Tourists

I'm writing this final blog post from home. I'm sitting on my couch, on my computer, eating food from my cabinets and drinking milk from my fridge. It's all of the little things that I've missed the most. I got to see my family today, and it really hit me how much I had missed them.

We woke up this morning and headed to the UPS store. The first one was closed, so we tried a second one. This one was open; great news! We started boxing them up, and while fitting it all in the box was tough, we got it to work. Jason had to go to a bike shop to get his pedals off, but we made it work. I shipped mine for about $114, which was less than I had expected it to be.

We were running pretty late at this point. We got to LAX at about 10:45 with our flight taking off at 11:35. We got though security quickly though and still had time to grab some food. Our flight went well and we got to Baltimore safely. Our second flight was originally delayed an hour, but we took off only about 45 to 50 minutes late. We got into Portland around 11:40 where we met my parents, my sister Sally, Jason's mom, and our good friend Woody. We drove home and it was just incredible. It feels so surreal to be back in my house where life is normal.

I'd like to take a few minutes to give some quick thoughts and advice for anyone who comes across this blog in hopes of doing their own trip.

1) Don't Over-Plan: We did this mostly by accident, as we just didn't have time to put much together. If you try to plan every day, it will only frustrate you.

2) Roll with the Punches: This is pretty similar to the last point. Things will not go how you expect them to (usually.) You have to be able to change your plans on the fly. If you're having a great day, like if you have a tail wind and a cool day in the west, go further than you had planned. Just because you were going to stop at 80 miles doesn't mean that you have to. On that same note, if you're having a terrible day, stop early. The wind will be better tomorrow, or your legs will be more fresh. You've got to learn to adapt to your situation.

3) Carry less: Clothes are heavy. One shirt does weight much, but a bag of them does. Shave weight wherever you can. Our system was to shed weigh as we went, but we could have easily started with way less. If you have to stretch to think of a situation where you need something (with the exception of some tools, which are actually essential) then you probably don't need to bring it.

4) Get paper maps: We used almost solely our phones, and it didn't work out plenty of times. The battery died, or you lose service, and you're done. This would be especially true if you were touring by yourself, or if  your group had the same service provider. Jason and I had different providers (I had AT&T and Jason had Verizon) so we usually could make it work, but we wanted paper maps plenty of times.

5) You WILL ride at night: It doesn't matter that you'd planned not to. Something will go wrong, and you'll have to fix a flat, or you'll get an address wrong. Get a GOOD bike light; a headlamp is not good enough, trust me. On this same note, if you want to ride at night for any part of your trip, try to time it with a full moon. We got lucky and hit the full moon when we were doing huge days and thus riding partially at night. On that same note, riding at night can be a good option since it's cooler and there's usually less wind. Just be prepared. Keep an eye on cars behind you, and assume that they won't see you; riding into oncoming traffic is a good idea since you can see them coming, just be careful on winding roads.

6) You WILL get flats: Practice changing your tire. You don't want the first time to be in the middle of the desert. Carry more tubes than you think you'll need, and carry patches as well. It's not impossible to get two flats in one day. I met one older tourist going from California to DC who had gotten three that day.

7) Carry a lot of water: This is especially true through the desert. Three water bottles are NOT enough for a 70 mile stretch of road through 105 degree weather. You'll want extra to have to throw on yourself to cool down. The most I ever carried was 7 bottles: 3 bottles and 4 Gatorade bottles full of water. Even if you don't use it, it helps mentally knowing that you have it just in case.

8) Talk to locals: They know the roads and the hills. Frequently they can tell you better roads to take, or at least give you new ideas. Be wary of course for they will probably be way off on the mileages that they give you, but they're an important resource nonetheless. Plus, it's fun hearing their stories and meeting interesting people.

9) Carry food: Just like having water, it's important to have snacks. Not all gas stations are open 24/7, and you'll get hungry at strange times. If it's hot, snack even if you don't feel hungry. You're body will be happy that you did.

10) Push yourself: If you're doing a big tour, then you're already doing this, but keep it in mind. Ride through that rainstorm with hail. Camp on the side of the road behind a baseball field where you won't get found. Go further than you think you can. That's what touring is about. Push your limits and you'll feel the reward. Some of my fondest memories are of the hardest and most challenging parts of the trip.

11) Relax and have fun: Take your time and enjoy, after all that's why you're touring. If you've had a terrible day (which you will from time to time) get a hotel and have a hot shower. Sleep in a little late. You're doing this to have fun, so remind yourself of that from time to time.

12) Stealth camp: This is for those trying to save a few bucks. Stealth camping can be really fun. We found that the best places were baseball fields and parks on the outskirts of town. It's harder in the midwest, but when there are forests, use the cover of trees to hide yourself. I read some good advice once that said basically that if you think you're hidden, chances are local kids will know of that spot too. Just be careful and you should be fine. Stealth camping for an entire long tour would be no fun as it's fairly stressful, so try to mix it up with real campgrounds and a hotel once in a while.

That's my list for now... I'm sure I'll think of more, and I'll try to keep this updated as I do.

This tour was the biggest thing I've done in my life. It's changed me more than I had ever imagined it could, and in ways that I didn't expect. I'm proud of what I've done; really and truly proud. I don't feel that way often, if ever, and it feels amazing. I've gotten far more of an education being out on the road for 50 days than I will ever get at any institute of higher education. I'd like to say thanks to my wonderful parent for all of their support, both financial, and much more importantly, emotionally. I could not have done this without them. The phone calls home were what kept me going. Thanks as well to my fantastic sister, Jason's mom, and all of my friends at school and at home. You're all amazing.

So go out and do something amazing. Don't over think it. Just because you haven't done it before doesn't mean that you can't do it. It's terrifying but that's what makes it so damn fun. Stop reading this and go take up your own adventure.

If you'd like to get in touch with me for any reason, to talk about touring or bikes or anything else, you can get in touch with me at

Signing off for the last time until my next adventure,
Greg Merritt

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day Forty Nine

And so the adventure comes to a close. We rode 74 miles from San Bernandino, CA to Venice Beach in Los Angeles, CA.

It was really a spectacular last day. It wasn't too hot or too windy. We had good roads all day through the suburbs of L.A., and we had bike lanes for a goog portion of the day. We rode fast, leaving the motel this morning at about 8am. We got burgers for lunch, but made it quick so we could keep going.

Riding through the city was really cool. Los Angeles seems like a really cool town and I wish I could have seen more of it.

With about 9 miles to go, we stopped for a bathroom break, and to buy paper and champagne. We only found paper. So we stopped again, but this time found only champagne. Finally we found a bathroom about 5 miles from the beach. From there we went at a dead sprint. We started recording, and got a great video.

Highlights of the video include lots of yelling and trying to make red light turn green, Jason's friend Sam (who we're staying with tonight) rolling up alongside of us, and we almost getting hit by a car. At that point nothing could stop us. We rolled onto the beach, ditched the bikes, and ran to the Pacific Ocean. After basking for a minute or two, I took off my shoes and put my camera in safe place. I went for a swim, and enjoyed making it all of the way across the country.

Eventually we went back to the bike and met Sam and her friend. We took tons of pictures and had a blast. We popped champagne and finally got to lift the bikes over our heads in triumph. It was surreal to actually finish the trip. It was an abrupt ending. We basically rode until we ran out of country to ride across.

From the beach we took a ride to a bike shop in hopes of getting boxes. They didn't have any, but the second shop did. After some logistics, we decided to strap the boxes to the roof and ship the bikes early in the morning before our flight.

After a quick ride down Sunset Boulevard, we went back to Sams and showered and snacked. We decided on mexican for dinner, so we headed out to some restaurant. After we ate, we took a long driving tour of the city, which was great. We got to see the Hollywood sign; it wasn't lit up so we couldn't get a picture, but we can still say that we've seen it! We got a bit lost, as Sam only moved here about a month ago, but it was a great time nonetheless.

Tomorrow: Home.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day Forty Eight

Today went a little more slowly than we would have liked, but it was fine. My computer stopped working about halfway through the day, but according to Google Maps it was 85, so given our wrong turn and other things, I'll say that we rode 87 miles from Twentynine Palms, CA to San Bernardino, CA.

We slept in a bit since we got in so late last night. We were on the road at 11. It was really hot again, but it was either better than the days past, or we're just getting used to it. The kicker today was the wind (again.) It's like going up a hill with no top.

We ate lunch at Subway, which was great since we hadn't had a legitimate meal in a while. After we ate, we had a huge downhill. Jason missed our turn, so we trekked up the hill a bit. Unfortunately, our road was dirt. So, we turned back around and headed to I-10, whether we were allowed to ride on it or not.

The answer was not. As we pulled in to a rest stop to refill water, a cop came up behind us. He was nice, and just said that we couldn't ride on this stretch of freeway. It was fine, and he just said to get off at the next exit. So we did that, and were in a much better situation than we would have been with the dirt road.

From there it got even windier. Actually, there was a wind farm (I think that's what it's called?) right there as well; so many turbines! We made it to Banning at about 8 and found an italian restaurant, which we've been wanting for what seems lime weeks. We checked our milage, and it was exactly 100 miles to the beach. We booked a motel (another Motel 6) about 27 miles away.

Our night ride was awesome. There were great road with bike lanes, and we're back in society so there we street lights for a while. We were on the road at about 9:20, and were at the motel, after stopped to buy breakfast, by midnight. So now we rest for a few hours and do 72 miles as fast as we can.

Tomorrow: Venice Beach, CA, where our adventure comes to a close.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day Forty Seven

It was another long day. We rode 126 miles from Needles, CA to Twentynine Palms, CA.

We woke up to find that bikes weren't allowed on I-40. We knew they were at some points, so we we trekked as far as we could on backroads, and then there was no sign prohibiting us at that exit.

Jason got a flat, so we fixed that. We passed an exit where we were asked to leave the freeway, but we pretende we didn't see the sign, and kept going.

It was insanely hot today. Like, probably around 110, maybe 105. We climbed 2000 feet until we exited the freeway. We didn't get kicked off by the police, though we almost wanted to so that we could get a ride in an air-conditioned car. We mostly weren't kidding.

After we got off, we sat to take a break. A nice guy stopped (probably because we looked haggard) and gave us some water. He told us he owned the auto shop in the next "town" (population around 10 maybe? His shop was the town,) and that we should stop to get water. So we made it the 11 miles and stopped. We chilled in the shade and drank water and ate snacks and chatted with the old man napping outside. He was nice, and very interesting, just incredibly quiet.

After we left, we trekked the 34 miles to Amboy. It was still hot. but we made it, and sat in the air-conditioning for a while. We drank some drank, filled water bottles, and headed out.

The sun went down, and it cooled down considerably. We climbed a gigantic hill, which, combined with my dehydration (it's literally impossible to stay hydrated) and hunger, made me very unhappy. Near the top, I "realized" that the hotel was 20 miles closer than we'd thought. That turned my mood around, and got me up the rest of the way. We had an epic downhill, which is always nice. At our turn, we realized that the hotel was not in ya new location, but actually in te original location. Bummer.

We rode another 19 miles into town to our Motel 6. We rolled in at about 2:45. Of course, we were on the third floor. No worries though, there was an elevator. Then our key didn't work. I went back down, got a new key, and am now crashed in bed. We've got 140 miles to Los Angeles, and another 15 to the beach.

Tomorrow: Somewhere a few miles east of Los Angeles.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day Forty Six

Today was long, but we finally made it into California. We rode 126 miles from Seligman, AZ to Needles, CA (my odometer's reading 121 miles but it broke for about 5 miles.)

We woke up and got breakfast and were out of the hotel around 10. We stopped for snacks and bought awesome american flag bandanas. Then we hopped back on I-40.

We were on I-40 for about 70 miles. It was okay. About 5 miles from Kingman, Jason got a flat. We found a shard in the tire, and replaced the tube. Then we stopped and ate dinner at Panda Express. When we came outside, the tire was flat again. Luckily, the Wal-Mart was next door. So we walked over and I stripped the tire off while Jason bought tubes. I found two more shards in the tire. Yeah, they were a great purchase.

Then we left for the rest of our day, which was about 50 more miles. It got dark, so we lulled out lights and reflectors. We had a huge climb through what I can imagine would have been really pretty in the daylight. Then we finally got the decent we'd been waiting days for. We dropped about 3500 feet in about twenty or so miles. It was awesome. We could see the city for nearly the whole decent. I'd say it was my favorite stretch or road thus far.

We crossed into California without much of a welcome sign. We stopped at Jack-In-The-Box for a bite to eat, and checked into the Motel 6 at about 12:10. So now it's time to sleep so we can wake up early and go hard again.

Tomorrow: Twenty-Nine Palms, CA.

Day Forty Five

Today didn't quite go as expected, but it was okay nonetheless. We rode 104 miles from our hotel at the Grand Canyon National Park to Seligman, AZ.

We got up this morning and trekked over to the cafeteria to grab cream cheese. We're probably not supposed to take it, but hey, if it's free when you buy a bagel then it should be free if you don't buy a bagel. We ate in our room, packed up our bags, stopped by the market to buy snacks, and were on the road around 10.

The first 60 miles were okay, just a lot slower than we'd hoped. We thought that the elevation of Williams was lower, but it actually wasn't. That combined with a light headwind, made for some slow going. We got in around 5:30, and got dinner at Jack in the Box, only because we didn't want to waste miles in to town to find a better place. After a pit stop for McDonald's smoothies, we were back on the road at around 6:45.

That left us with about 40 miles to go. We were on I-40 (yes, in Arizona bicycles are allowed on interstates) so we had a good road and good shoulder. After a few miles of a slow climb, we found a "6% Grade Next 6 Miles"'sign, which was awesome. It was about a 10 mile decline, all told. We got a great sunset, and took out reflectors and lights. It's very nearly (or maybe it actually was) a full moon, so we had enough light to ride. There were some big rolling hills, but we made
it to Seligman just shy of 10.

We have one of the nicest $60 hotel rooms I've ever seen. And the town seems really cool too. I wish we had time to explore. It's the "birthplace" of historic route 66, and apparently the movie Cars was based on this town (the tow-truck is parked just across the street.)

Tomorrow: Needles, CA.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Day Forty Four

What an amazing day. We rode a total of 4 miles, which was just down to the post office and grocery store.

We slept in late in our super comfortable beds. We gathered ourselves and headed over to the cafeteria in the lodge to get breakfast. It was really really expensive, but I suppose that's expected at a National Park. The we went to the gift shop to get t-shirts. We tried to look as touristy as possible, but it's hard to compete with the people here.

We went back to the room and I got a shower. We checked our route from here to Los Angeles (exciting!) and made sure we had hotel options. We decided on what we were shipping home, and rode down to the post office. I shipped all of my camping stuff (tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad,) plus my back bag, which also had a handful of stuff in it. So now we're riding super ultra light. I'm down to just two bags with the bare minimum in them. Then we got lunch, went bag to the room to drop the bikes off, and walked down to the canyon's edge to catch a bus that would bring us to the good viewing places.

The canyon truely is, well, grand. I expected it to be amazing, but it still surpassed all of my expectation. It really is a see-it-to-believe-it kind of place. We snapped a ton a amazing pictures.

At one of our first stops, we got to talking with a group of kids. One of them suggested a brilliant picture, so we took that. We found out shortly that this group was actually two group who were just hanging out. We boarded our bus with one of them, our new friend Robert. He plays football at Coastal Carolina, and was in Arizona helping a friend move. He'd decided to take a day at the Grand Canyon, much like we were doing. We spent the rest of the day with Robert, which was great. It's nice to have more than one person to interact with out here.

After all of the stops we went to get dinner before reboarding a bus to watch the sunset. We ended up missing our bus by about one minute. Bummer. We ended up watching it from a different spot, and all was well with the world.

Robert came back to our room for a few minutes so he could borrow Jason's phone charger so that he could call his mom. We hung out for a few minutes longer, and then he left to drive back to Flagstaff to his friends new apartment.

We watched some television and booked our flights home. Wednesday, July 20th at 11:35am we will be on an AirTrans flight home. Now it's back to the road on our final stretch to the Pacific Coast.

Tomorrow: Seligman, AZ.