Prepare for a southern-style, cross-country ride on our shortest, most accessible transcontinental trip. To make this tour even better, we’ll enjoy the relative luxury of having the Adventure Cycling van tote our gear to and from each overnight location as we pedal from the West Coast across deserts, over mountains, past prairies, beyond bayous, and through citrus groves, all the way to the East Coast. You’ll also enjoy starting this epic tour in one of America’s best beach cities, San Diego, and ending it in St. Augustine, America’s oldest continuously occupied European settlement.
Notable stopovers along this route, each with a unique set of diversions, include Phoenix, Austin, and New Orleans. In between there are many other great sights, sounds, cuisines, and cultures to experience.
I believe Dave and Lee did an excellent job at taking care of the group, providing guidance and support but also allowing the group some flexibility with regard to the route logistics.
Week 1. San Diego, California to Wickenburg, Arizona
We’ll meet each other just a couple of miles from the San Diego coast. After dipping our rear tires in the Pacific Ocean, we’ll begin a long, steady climb to the quiet Alpine and Pine valleys, nestled in the foothills of the Laguna Mountains. We’ll continue climbing through great pine and oak forests before a terrific descent to Ocotillo and other Imperial Valley towns in the Colorado Desert. We’ll ride through Blythe, where you can check out the Blythe Intaglios, 400- to 2,000-year-old giant human, animal, and geometric figures carved into the desert surface by the Mojave and Quechan tribes. Finishing up our first week, we’ll cross the Colorado River and ride into the state of Arizona. Threading our way among the Harcuvar, Harquahala, and Vulture mountain ranges, we’ll roll into the old cowboy town of Wickenburg, where you can try your luck at gold panning in the “Golden Triangle,” one of the best prospecting areas in Arizona.
Week 2. Wickenburg to Silver City, New Mexico
We’ll swoop through the big city of Phoenix and park our steeds here for our first layover day and have the opportunity to explore the Valley of the Sun. Next we’ll exchange friendly waves with saguaro sentinels as we continue eastward through the desert by climbing to the town of Tonto Basin and alongside the 357-foot–high Theodore Roosevelt Dam and Reservoir. After another climb to Globe, we’ll start a long, gradual ascent along the Gila River that will bring us ultimately to the state of New Mexico. We’ll cap off the week with a layover in Silver City, a funky hamlet ringed by mountains and an old hangout for outlaws and renegades like Billy the Kid and Geronimo. From here you can set out on a hilly but rewarding side trip to the ruins at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, home of the Mogollon people who populated the region over 700 years ago. Or you can simply relax, get off the bike, and explore some of the fine diversions Silver City has to offer.
Week 3. Silver City to Van Horn, Texas
Rested and raring to go, we will climb over the Continental Divide, zoom down into Mimbres, and then prepare for a long, scenic ascent of 8,228-foot Emory Pass, the high point of the Southern Tier Route. From there it’s smooth sailing to our campsite at Caballo Lake State Park. Then we’ll roll on through Hatch, the self-proclaimed “Chili Capital of the World,” home of the famous chili festival held every September. We’ll press onward to Las Cruces, the state’s second-largest city and the home of New Mexico State University, following the course of the Rio Grande River. After crossing into Texas, we’ll spend a night in El Paso, a boomtown that was so lawless in the late 1800s it earned the moniker “Six Shooter Capital.” From here we’ll stay within sight of Mexico, bedding down in Fort Hancock for a night. We’ll then move on to Van Horn situated in the high Texas plains.
Week 4. Van Horn to Camp Wood, Texas
Continuing eastward, we’ll ride across what a popular western swing song refers to as “miles and miles of Texas” — more than a thousand miles, in fact. After a long day’s ride to reach Fort Davis, the best surviving example of a southwestern frontier military post, we’ll enjoy a well-deserved layover day with time to explore Davis Mountains State Park and/or the famed University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Rejuvenated, we’ll cruise over sagebrush-covered hills and under the wide open skies of west Texas passing Big Bend National Park, named for the sharp turn that the Rio Grande makes on its way to the sea. We’ll spend a night in Marathon and then swoop into Sanderson, the Cactus Capital of Texas. Next we’ll press on through Del Rio (site of a legendary UFO crash), Seminole Canyon State Park, and Brackettville.
Week 5. Camp Wood to Navasota, Texas
Moving into the beautiful Texas Hill Country, we’ll ride along the Guadalupe River and take comfort in the town of the same name. Next we’ll delight in the descent from Blanco to Wimberley and, finally, enjoy a long-awaited layover day in Austin. Known as “the live music capital of the world,” Austin is exceedingly rich in history and home to an inordinate number of fine museums and great eateries. We’ll spin from Austin through the town of Bastrop, nestled along the Colorado River (a different Colorado River), into Winchester, site of the largest mountain bike race in Texas. We’ll cap of the week by riding downhill to our camp spot at Navasota — perhaps stopping in at the Burton Cotton Gin, built in 1914 and still in operation. We’ll cap off the week by gliding through a beautiful stretch of woods within Sam Houston National Forest.
Week 6. Navasota to Jackson, Louisiana
Continuing our journey eastward, we’ll glide through a beautiful stretch of woods within Sam Houston National Forest. We’ll then head through the brushy Big Thicket Preserve, historically a hiding place for outlaws and rogues, and spend a night in Silsbee, nestled in the piney woods of southeast Texas. Come morning, we’ll cross into Louisiana and the town of Merryville, which skirts both the state border and the Sabine River. All of Louisiana lies within the geological province known as the Gulf Coastal Plain. We’ll spend the majority of our time here crossing the pine hills and prairies of the Louisiana Uplands. As we continue to Oberlin, with luck we might catch the Bundick Lake Cajun Cook-Off. Then, on the following day, we’ll pass through Mamou, the Cajun capital of Louisiana (and the world!), where we can treat our ears to authentic zydeco music and our taste buds to catfish and boiled crawfish. We’ll ride through Simmesport and then finish the week crossing the mighty Mississippi.
Week 7. Jackson to Pensacola, Florida
As the terrain gradually changes to gently rolling hills, we’ll visit Easleyville and Bogalusa and cross into Mississippi, the land of levees. We’ll camp in Perkinston — known far and wide for its spicy chicken strips — with a layover strategically scheduled for New Orleans. Here we can take in some of the best sights, sounds, and flavors the region has to offer. After recharging our batteries and jump starting our engines with zesty Cajun and Creole food, we’ll cross into Alabama and roll our bicycles aboard a ferry across Mobile Bay to the Fort Morgan Historic Site and Dauphin Island, which has flown French, British, and Spanish flags. We’ll then pedal to our campsite in Gulf Shores, situated along the Gulf of Mexico. The next day we’ll find ourselves in Florida, on the coast in Pensacola.
Week 8. Pensacola to Gainesville, Florida
We’ll begin our last full week of the trip diverting from the traditional Southern Tier Route, cycling near the coast with its amazing sights, sounds, and smells, and by the relatively remote Apalachicola National Forest. Rivers we’ll cross in this area are wide and slow near the coast. Eventually, we’ll leave the Gulf and head across the state towards the Atlantic. We’ll finish the week near Ichetucknee Springs, Florida’s natural lazy river.
Week 9. Gainesville to St. Augustine, Florida
On the penultimate day of the tour, 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 milkshakes on the entire route. Our journey concludes in St. Augustine, the oldest European-settled city in the USA. Here we’ll dip our wheels in the Atlantic and relax.