Bicyclists throughout the world dream of crossing the U.S. on one of the trio of cross-country routes Adventure Cycling has mapped over the years: the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, the Northern Tier, and the Southern Tier. Now there’s fourth option, for the western half of the country anyway: The Western Express Bicycle Route from San Francisco to Pueblo, Colorado, and the TransAm from that point on eastward.
The primary impetus for mapping the Western Express was to create a more direct and centrally positioned route for riding across the U.S. Linking it with the eastern half of the TransAmerica Trail creates a cross-country route almost 500 miles shorter than the TransAm in its entirety. Moreover, the Western Express explores some of the most spectacular terrain on Earth, including the red-rock country of southern Utah and the San Juan Range of southwestern Colorado. Extreme weather, tough riding conditions, and long distances between services all come along as part of the package; by accepting these challenges, cyclists are rewarded by experiencing some of the least visited and most magnificent corners of the American West.
It wasn’t until now that we’ve connected the two routes for an organized group tour, and the above-mentioned challenges are part of the reason we’re offering this trip as van-supported rather than self-contained. Hundreds of cyclists have pedaled the route independently, however, and they would tell you that in doing so they captured a lifetime’s worth of memories.
From the City by the Bay, we’ll pedal eastward through lush agricultural valleys and over the lofty Sierra Nevada. We’ll take the “Loneliest Road in America” across Nevada, then visit several of the heralded national monuments and parks of southern Utah, pedal over the spine of the Rockies, and continue through the mountains to Pueblo, gateway to the Great Plains. There we’ll meet up the TransAm Trail, which will take us through the wheat-growing country of Kansas (where community swimming pools will become one of our best friends), over the roller-coastering hills of southern Missouri, and on into southern Illinois, Kentucky, and Virginia.
|Start Date:||Jun 07, 2015||End Date:||Aug 22, 2015|
|Start Location:||San Francisco, CA||End Location:||Williamsburg, VA|
|Total Days:||77||Riding Days:||68|
|Average Daily Mileage:||55.3||Surface:||Paved|
|Riders:||13||Elevation Alert:||High point: 11,312'|
|Airport:||San Francisco, CA (SFO), Richmond, VA (RIC)||Tour Leader:||Jerry Edwards|
|Level of Support:||Van Supported||Cost:||$6,999.00|
After a ceremonial dip of the wheels into the Pacific, we’ll set out from San Francisco, beginning with a ferry ride to Vallejo, which eliminates a tricky day of city riding. The route parallels the interstate, winding through suburbs to Fairfield and then poking into an agricultural region. We’ll have a bit of urban riding to contend with in the area of Davis, Sacramento, and Folsom, although separated bike paths along much of this stretch are a welcome gift. Wineries are abundant along the route east of Placerville. From there, we’ll wind up and into the Sierra Nevada, a region rich with the legacy of mining.
After making our first of many state border crossings, we’ll push on into Nevada to begin our quiet trek down the “Loneliest Road in America,” a nickname for U.S. Highway 50 in Nevada coined years ago by a Life magazine writer. “Up, up, up; down, down, down” will be our mantra, as we negotiate the numerous long climbs and descents thrown at us by the classic basin-and-range country. Ghost towns are plentiful, while living towns are few and far between; the latter include Austin, Eureka, and Ely, founded as a stagecoach station along the Pony Express, and now the center of eastern Nevada’s tourism industry.
We’ll continue through Nevada to Great Basin National Park, one of the younger components of the National Park System (designated in 1986), which is crowned by distinctive Wheeler Peak, elevation 13,065 feet above sea level. Soon thereafter we’ll cross into state number-three, Utah, making our way southeast to Cedar City. There the big climbs and string of magnificent national parks begin, including Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This we guarantee: You’ll never forget the ride along the hard-rock “dinosaur’s back” in the vicinity of Escalante.
On through scenic Utah we’ll continue, before crossing into Colorado near the town of Dove Creek, the self-proclaimed “Pinto Bean Capital of the World” (need gas?) At Dolores we’ll veer to the northeast, riding along the western edge of the massive San Juan Range, considered by many to be the most spectacular mountains in all of Colorado. The route comes within just a few miles of Telluride, so we’ll probably take a detour into that stunningly gorgeous recreation mecca for a layover day. Subsequently, we’ll visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, a name reflecting the fact that parts of the deep, narrow gorge receive only about a half hour of sunlight in a day.
The peaks and passes and valleys of the Centennial State continue, as we ride to and through Gunnison, lovely Salida (where we’ll intersect with the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route), Westcliffe, and Wetmore. Finally, we’ll reach Pueblo, which marks the end of the Rocky Mountain West and the beginning of the rest of the country. The historic city is roughly the halfway point on the TransAm Trail, which you’ll join here.
You may be surprised to learn how many miles of Kansas-like terrain remain to cross in eastern Colorado before actually reaching the Jayhawk State. After we get there and begin navigating our way through western and central Kansas, we’ll gradually sense that we’re leaving the arid West behind and entering the more humid Midwest. We'll cross paths with history in Larned, with its many hand-laid brick streets and its museum dedicated to the Santa Fe Trail.
When we’re still miles away from Newton, Eureka, and a host of smaller towns, we'll spot the communities’ tall grain elevators standing like sentinels above the endless plains. Depending on which direction the wind is blowing — at our backs or in our faces, that is — we'll either praise it or curse it as we ride on past endless fields of wheat and sunflowers. Our final overnight in Kansas will be spent in Pittsburg, a town that in 1876 was named, minus the “h”, after the far better known city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
On into Missouri, the Show-Me State, we’ll proceed, where we’ll be shown a seemingly never-ending series of steep ups and downs through the Missouri Ozarks. In Eminence, we might set our bicycles aside for the morning and take a mellow canoe float down the crystal waters of the spring-fed Current River, a component of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Camping for a night at Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, we'll explore the narrow gorges carved by streams into 1.5-billion-year-old igneous rhyolite. Finally, we’ll cross the mighty Mississippi into Chester, Illinois, beginning our very brief spin through the southern tip of the Land of Lincoln.
After Carbondale, home to Southern Illinois University and a perfect place for a layover day, we’ll traverse the ridges and valleys of the small mountain range known as the Little Ozarks en route to our camp at Dixon Springs State Park. From there, we’ll cross the Ohio River and enter bucolic western Kentucky, visiting towns that include Marion, Utica, and Bardstown. The Bluegrass region of central Kentucky will greet us like a breath of fresh air with its lush pastures, white-fenced farms, and tidy equestrian operations.
As we will learn, eastern Kentucky is quite a different place from central and western Kentucky; here the roads are extremely hilly and often winding, closed in with dense vegetation, and used also by coal trucks. After laying over for a day in Berea, where we can learn about mountain culture at the Appalachian Museum and at Berea College, we’ll come close to the McCoy-Hatfield Feud territory on the Kentucky-West Virginia. After entering Virginia at Breaks Interstate Park, we can swing in and sign the “Across State Ride” book that officials in that state are keeping to compile statistics that they hope one day will result in improvements to U.S. Bicycle Route 76 — established in 1982 and now part of the growing official U.S. Bicycle Route System.
Between Christiansburg and Vesuvius, the route closely parallels the Indian Trace, an ancient Native American trail skirting the base of the Blue Ridge along which Stonewall Jackson marched troops along during the Civil War. From Vesuvius we’ll begin the four-mile climb up the “wall” leading to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a legendary road among motorists and cyclists alike. In Afton, we’ll ride by the Bike House, longtime home of June Curry, the world-famous "Cookie Lady" who hosted more than 14,000 touring cyclists from 1976 until her passing in 2012.
During this, our final week on the road, we’ll enjoy a layover day in Charlottesville. There we can tour the pretty campus of the University of Virginia and, outside of town, Thomas Jefferson's stately Monticello, with its resplendent gardens and hilltop location that provides expansive views of the surrounding countryside. From there, we'll ride through the Virginia Piedmont’s gentle hills, then enter the moderate terrain of the Tidewater region. At last, we’ll celebrate our cross-country accomplishment and say our farewells in Virginia's Historic Triangle, the “birthplace of America.”
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"Our group gelled well, and we all had a great time!"
2008 Tour Participant
"I don't think anyone could have asked for a better group of fellow cyclists to ride with! Men, women, young, old, experienced and newbies."
2009 Tour Participant
"Think you do a great job...keep it up!"
2009 Tour Participant
"I was very impressed by the guides. They were all very effective at getting us/gear/equipment/schedules organized, and they were all genuinely glad to be out riding bike with us and getting to know us. I also liked the way the tour was structured -- I liked that everyone was able to depard when ready, and ride at their own pace, as long as they arrived before dinner. I felt no pressure to go fast or slow, and that was very liberating for me."
2012 Tour Participant