The Southern Tier has become one of our most popular tours, and it’s easy to see why. This route is 1,200 miles shorter than either the Northern Tier or TransAm, yet offers epic quantities of scenery and shoulder-season sunshine.
After dipping our bicycle wheels in the Pacific, we’ll climb eastward, riding through Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico. In Texas, we’ll parallel the Rio Grande River before hitting the Texas Hill Country. From there, it’s on to Louisiana and the heart of Cajun Country. Finally, you’ll pedal along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Alabama, cross Florida’s panhandle, and ride to your adventure’s end in St. Augustine. From enchiladas to Texas barbecue, alligator po’ boys to Southern grits, we’ll experience the culinary cultures of the South. As one past participant put it, “This trip lends new meaning to the phrase ‘eating up the miles.’”
|Start Date:||Sep 13, 2015||End Date:||Nov 16, 2015|
|Start Location:||San Diego, CA||End Location:||St Augustine, FL|
|Total Days:||65||Riding Days:||56|
|Average Daily Mileage:||56.4||Surface:||Paved|
|Riders:||14||Elevation Alert:||High point: 8228'|
|Airport:||San Diego, CA (SAN); Jacksonville, FL (JAX)||Meals:||Shared cooking|
|Physical Difficulty:||Advanced||Level of Support:||Self Contained|
You'll meet the group and your leaders in San Diego at the Point Loma Hostel on the coast. From there, we'll begin the long but well-graded climb to the small town of Alpine, situated alongside the Sweetwater River. We'll continue ascending as we skirt the Mexican border, before enjoying a hard-earned seven-mile downhill into Ocotillo, cruising through the Uha Desert and the Imperial Valley, past the Colorado River, and finally into the town of Palo Verde. The following day we'll have a short ride to Blythe, where we might check out the Blythe Intaglios, 400- to 2,000-year-old giant human, animal, and geometric figures carved into the desert surface by Mohave and Quechen Indians.
Hope is on the way! Hope, Arizona, that is. Over the next few days we'll ride through the rolling terrain of the Harquahala and Vulture mountain ranges, though we may be tempted to spend a few hours out of the saddle trying our luck at gold panning in the "Golden Triangle," one of the best prospecting areas in Arizona. Riding into Phoenix, we'll delight in a rest day, great cuisine, and terrific bicycling. Next, we'll spend a night in Apache Junction, climb over Gonzales Pass into Globe, skirt San Carlos Lake, and wave to the saguaro cacti as we head for Thatcher.
After enjoying a descent into Three Way, we'll proceed into New Mexico and roll steadily along toward Buckhorn. The next day we'll arrive in Silver City, the legendary land of outlaws and renegades like Billy the Kid and Geronimo. Here we may choose to kick back and chow down on some spicy Mexican food during our layover day, or ride to the ruins of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. There we can take explore the homes of the Mogollon people, who resided in the region around the turn of the fourteenth century. Rested up and raring to go, we'll surmount the Continental Divide and zoom down into Mimbres, readying our legs for the scenic climb up 8,228-foot Emory Pass, the high point of the Southern Tier. From there it's smooth sailing to our campsite at Caballo Lake State Park, and onward toward Las Cruces.
Continuing eastward, we'll begin to experience what a popular western-swing song refers to as "miles and miles of Texas," more than a thousand miles, in fact. In El Paso, home of the World’s Largest Pecan Grove, we'll take a layover day. From there we’ll proceed to Fort Hancock and then cycle onward to an overnight stay in Van Horn. After a long day of riding to reach Fort Davis, the best surviving example of a Southwestern frontier military post, we'll enjoy another respite as we explore Davis Mountains State Park and/or the ever-popular Reptile and Rattlesnake Museum. Rested up, we'll pedal past low-growing brush and under the wide-open skies of West Texas into Marathon.
Riding from Sanderson toward Del Rio, we'll pass within a few short miles of Big Bend National Park, named for the sharp turn the Rio Grande River makes there. Next, we'll climb into the Lost Maples State Natural Area, pedal along the Guadalupe River to Comfort, enjoy the descent from Blanco to Wimberley, and, finally, delight in a long-awaited layover day in Austin. Known as "the live music capital of the world," Austin is also exceedingly rich in history and home to a number of great museums. When the settlement was founded in 1923, Austin law required every colonist to present evidence "that his character was perfectly unblemished ... and that he is moral and industrious..." Fortunately, we'll not be required to live up to those high standards while just passing through!
After paying homage to the late Stevie Ray Vaughn at his statue located on Town Lake, we'll bike from Austin to Bastrop, nestled along the Colorado River (a different Colorado), through Winchester, site of the largest mountain bike race in Texas, and into Carmine. The following day we'll ride downhill to our campsite at Navasota — perhaps stopping in at the Burtin Cotton Gin, built in 1914 and still in operation. The ride to Coldspring winds through a pleasant stretch of woods within the Sam Houston National Forest. As we push on toward Louisiana, we'll ride through the brushy Big Thicket Preserve, which historically served as a hiding place for outlaws. Come morning, we'll enter Louisiana (is it ever too early in the day for jambalaya?) and Merryville, which skirts both the state border and the Sabine River.
We'll spend the majority of our time in Louisiana crossing the pine hills and prairies of the Louisiana Uplands portion of the Gulf Coastal Plain, the geological province in which the entire state lies. As we continue to Oberlin, with any luck we might catch the Bundick Lake Cajun Cook-Off. Then, on the following day, we'll visit Mamou, the Cajun capital of Louisiana (and the world!), where we can treat our ears to the rich sounds of zydeco music and our taste buds to some catfish and boiled crawfish. We’ll ride through Simmesport and then finish the week by crossing the mighty Mississippi. The terrain transitions from table flat to slightly rolling as we bypass Baton Rouge and finish up the week in Bogalusa, where we have the option of taking a layover day and making the trip to New Orleans.
We'll begin the week with another state border crossing, entering Mississippi. We'll camp in Perkinston — known far and wide for its spicy chicken strips — then shift toward the Mississippi Sound and enter Alabama. As we fight the urge to spend our days exploring seafood restaurants along the route, we'll head to the Alabama Port, where we'll roll aboard a ferry for a different sort of ride through Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island, which has flown French, English, and Spanish flags, and the Fort Morgan Historic Site. We'll then find the way to our campsite in Gulf Shores, nestled along the Gulf of Mexico. Just like that, we're in Florida, the final state of our cross-country ride. Perhaps we'll have timed it right to take in the Pensacola Seafood Festival or the Milton Scratch Ankle Festival as we cruise along the scenic Blackwater Trail toward DeFuniak Springs. We'll wrap up the week in the Marianna Lowlands, just a stone's throw away from Florida Caverns State Park.
Our final week on the road begins with an overnight in Midway and a final time-zone change at the Apalachicola River. Florida boasts the world's greatest concentration of citrus growers, and we'll see plenty of orange and lemon groves as we take aim at Waukeenah and proceed to our campsites in the Spirit of Suwannee Park. Next, we'll enjoy the shade of tall tulip poplars as we find our way to High Springs. From there, we'll bypass Gainesville in favor of the smaller communities of Hawthorne and East Palatka — where, it’s rumored, previous Southern Tier riders have tracked down some of the best milk shakes on the entire route. Our journey ends in St. Augustine, the oldest city in America. Here we'll dip our wheels in the Atlantic Ocean and relax.
"This was really an amazing adventure and I will remember it for years to come."
2012 Tour Participant
"The Southern Tier was fun and I'd highly suggest doing it."
2008 Tour Participant
"Excellent tour, great group, great leader. It was better than I anticipated!"
2008 Tour Participant
"I had a blast, as I like to tell my friends: '3500 miles, but many more smiles!!'"
2008 Tour Participant