One of the questions I’m asked nearly every day is how I plan my route. In fact, this is the most complicated and (to an observer) confusing part of the whole ‘Ride.
If you’ve spent any time on this website, you’ve probably noticed the “Route and Schedule” page. This is my most up-to-date map of my entire route. This route was the best way I could think of to visit all 48 states in the least number of miles and (theoretically, at least) with the best weather - ie going north in summer and south in winter, for more rideable months each year.
However, this route can change - and has changed, sometimes drastically - as I go, depending on a multitude of factors such as weather, wildfires, better ideas, and where I can find helpful hosts. And the actual daily route depends almost entirely on this ability to find safe places to stay each night.
To oversimplify a bit, my route planning process goes something like this:
*Step 1* Which general direction am I headed on the overall route map? “Towards X city” or “north” are typically how I look at it. This step gives me a picture of where I’m going over the next one to three weeks, which is to say the next 60 to 200 miles.
*Step 2* In this direction, are there any problem areas I should avoid, or important places I should visit? These might include finding a safe bridge over a major river, staying out of places I couldn’t find water for Apollo (such as avoiding the harshest or least populated of deserts last year), only crossing through a town or city if the mileage is rideable in one day (and otherwise planning to go around), detouring to towns where there is a domestic violence center that has invited us to visit, etc.
*Step 3* Now that I have a basic picture, I start asking people that I meet or posting on Facebook for help in finding places to stay. If I ask enough people, I am able to find a stop every 10 to 15 miles (typically). These stops are almost never in a direct line towards what I determined was my regional goal in Step 1. However, they will be “close enough” that I can meander my way in that direction, and am not backtracking. For example, if I’m going north, this may involve days where I go west or east instead, but certainly NOT south.
This results in a mapped route that looks and feels like a game of Connect The Dots, as the most important thing is to have a place to stay that is not too far from the previous night, and the second most important is to go in the “right” direction.
Often I cannot complete this planning step until the night before I actually ride it, because it is so difficult to network ahead. But this step is crucial - I cannot actually decide which roads to take or sometimes even to which towns I’m riding until I know where I can stop at the end of the next day.
*Step 4* Once I have my following night’s stop arranged, I can actually plan what roads I will take. When possible, I take the smaller roads and avoid the highways and major streets. If no smaller roads are available, or if getting to them involves too many extra miles of detour, then I will take the busier roads. I also take bike paths, rail-to-trail multi use trails, and other such non-trafficked options when I can get them (which is not often). I use Google Maps to compute all of this (using the “walking” and “biking” options, never the standard “driving” option), and occassionally ask the help of locals to determine the better roads for riding.
*Step 5* The final bit of route “planning” is actually doing it. As I ride (or walk) along, I am constantly reassessing the day’s route, and may decide to try a different road than the one I had planned on taking. Occassionally I find a shortcut, but more often I decide that the road I hoped would be quiet just isn’t and that detouring is a better option.
Seeing America at 3mph is wonderful, but the slow pace requires that I be very efficient and careful about selecting my route. And the most important part of the plan is you! I can’t fully plan my route until I know where I’m going, and that requires having a safe place to stop every 10 to 15 miles.... for all 10,000 miles that this ‘Ride will take us.