An interview with a cartographer about the new digital data for the TransAmerica Trail.

June 1, 2016

Interview with a Cartographer

I recently sat down with Adventure Cycling’s GIS Specialist/Cartographer Melissa Moser to chat with her about the project that has been occupying our cartography department for the past three years: the creation of versatile digital products for the Adventure Cycling Route Network and its services along the way. Last week, enhanced GPX data was released for sale for the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, our classic coast-to-coast bicycle route.

What exactly are the GPX data?

There are two products for each map section — high-resolution GPX tracks that follow our routes and GPX service points that contain the name and contact information for the services, like food, camping, lodging, and bike shop options. These digitally-based service points are the same services that are found on the physical maps, and tend to be organized in the following way.

  1. In between towns, our service points show all known food, camping, lodging, and bike shop options directly on the route.
  2. And in the towns along the routes, our service points show a representation of services based on proximity to the route or on recommendations by cyclists. Many GPS units only accept 200 waypoints at a time, so by showing only the points most convenient to the route or recommended by cyclists, users do not have to do as much editing of points to get the number below 200.

Why did you choose this over other digital options?

Three years ago, as more and more people were asking for digital information they could easily use on their mobile devices, we started investigating options, including suggestions from board members, volunteers, and our members. With some testing, we found that mobile devices were not quite ready for full-time, long-distance navigation because of issues like battery life, connectivity, and durability in adverse weather conditions. We felt it was likely these issues would be worked out in a few years, but until then we wanted to create something that could be used on more reliable GPS units, as well as mobile devices (phones, tablets, etc.). With the help of a super volunteer, Rami Haddad, we created several digital products for our Northern Tier Bicycle Route and sent them out for testing in 2014. We had over 70 testers ride different parts of the route, using different devices and giving us feedback. At the end of the riding season, we reviewed all of the feedback and decided on the current “enhanced GPX data” option.

Why did Adventure Cycling choose to provide GPX data for this route now?

It is Adventure Cycling’s 40th anniversary, and the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail is the first Adventure Cycling (then Bikecentennial) route. In celebration of our anniversary, many people will be riding the TransAm this year. We wanted to get enhanced GPX data out for these riders and the big celebration.

I should note that these data are being created in conjunction with other changes in the Routes & Mapping department. Until a few years ago, all of our map information was simply art and text boxes in illustration software. This worked well for printed maps but made it difficult to do much else with it. We are in the process of moving the map information to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the services to a database. With 104 map sections, this takes a while, especially as we continue to create new maps and update current ones. Once these transfers happen, the creation of the GPX data is much easier. We are doing these transfers map section by map section and creating GPX data route by route as these transfers are complete.

What devices can use the new TransAmerica Bicycle Trail GPX data?

The GPX tracks can be used on almost any GPS or mobile device. The service points can also be used on almost any GPS or mobile device, although these are easier to use on a mobile device because of the typically larger screen, and unless you are using a hiking GPS, many GPS devices limit how many points you can put on a device at one time to around 200 points. There are numerous apps for mobile devices that can take GPX tracks and points. In our online support pages for the GPX data, we recommend a couple of apps we have tested. We also have a checklist for features to look for when searching for an app to use with this data.

Describe the route in just a few sentences. What can cyclists expect overall?

The TransAmerica Bicycle Trail follows 4,228 miles, coast to coast, through a collection of classic American scenes and culture — national parks (Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Mammoth Cave), the tall but graded Rocky Mountains, the short and steep Appalachian mountains, the roller coaster Ozarks, fields of waves of grain, small cities, rural America, Native American history, and Civil War history. This route also comes to Adventure Cycling’s headquarters in Missoula, MT, where we would love to see you for our Montana Bicycle Celebration, July 15–17!

What State or National Parks are on or near the route?

  • National parks: Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Mammoth Cave
  • State parks:

OR: Fort Stevens, Nehalem Bay, Cape Lookout, Smith Rock, Bates

MT: Travelers’ Rest, Fort Owen, Bannack

CO: Lake Pueblo

KS: Cross Timbers, Lake Crawford

MO: Johnson’s Shut-Ins, St. Joe, Hawn

IL: Lake Murphysboro, Giant City, Fern Clyffe, Cave-In-Rock

KY: Rough River Dam State Resort Park, Lincoln Homestead, Old Fort Harrod

VA: Claytor Lake

What kind of bike setup should a rider use?

Ride whatever you want as long as it’s comfortable and durable. Really, don’t let the lack of the “perfect” setup keep you from doing a bike trip. The most common setup for a tour on a route like the TransAm is a steel-framed touring bike with racks and panniers. But people tour with a wide variety of setups, including road bikes with trailers, mountain bikes with bikepacking bags, recumbents, and many other options. The only thing I would say to stay away from is a bike that is way too big or small for you or a bike that does not have parts that you can service and replace. If you are looking for an ideal touring bike, check out our Touring Bike Buyer’s Guide.

How big are the climbs? Do riders need to train?

Well, the route does go over the Cascade Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, the Ozarks, and the Appalachian Mountains. The highest pass is Hoosier Pass in Colorado at 11,542 feet. It is definitely a good idea to train some — both the legs and the bum, which can be your most painful area if you are not used to being long hours in the bike saddle. If you are an active person and you have time to start slowly, you can do some training on the trip, but it will definitely be a more pleasant ride if you have done some training beforehand.

What might be the top attraction of this route?

The TransAm’s unique attributes, both geographic and cultural, make it one of the most popular bicycle tourist destinations in the United States, for both U.S. residents and international visitors. Adventure Cycling’s TransAmerica Bicycle Trail takes in a terrific sampling of these visitor hotspots.

I am a big fan of Yellowstone National Park. On top of its outdoor beauty and abundance of wildlife, there are so many geologic features there that you can’t see in many other places — geysers, mud pots, whole basins of steaming vents, springs, and other thermal features. And if you can ride here outside of the main tourist season, it is an all-around incredible experience. If you’re biking this area in the heart of tourist season, it’s best to ride early in the morning before traffic gets heavy.

What is the best time of year to ride the TransAm Bicycle Trail?

Westbound: May to September. For eastbound travelers, a later start is recommended, say mid-June. While you can run into snow any time of year in the Rocky Mountains, your chances of significant amounts of snow goes up quite a bit outside of that time. Plan on around three months, give or take, for the crossing. Some traverse the route quicker, but this leaves less time for sightseeing.

What is the most exciting feature of the TransAm GPX data?

For tracks, you can set most devices to give you a signal if you get off the track as you are following it.

For service points, if you are using a mobile phone, you can just tap the phone number associated with the service to call.

What other individuals/organizations/companies/federal agencies collaborated/helped?

One main volunteer, Rami Haddad, 70+ data testers, one main board member, 1 temporary employee, 2 interns, 3+ staff, and one software development contractor.


Need more information? Here’s the press release for the TransAmerica Trail’s new GPX data.

Need reasons to ride the TransAmerica Trail? Here’s ten of them!

GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer ‘Jenn’ Hamelman, Routes & Mapping Assistant Director, and appears once a month, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.


don March 31, 2017, 1:37 PM

As I am presently just starting up again to finish the TransAm route starting in Pueblo, CO, I was thrilled that your downloadable TA maps were now available.

However, prior to hitting the pavement, I correctly decided to test drive the map and drove the route by car while watching the map operation.

I set the map for google version and for the map to move with me. It worked beautifully for the first 10 or so miles. Then it began to shut down and leave me screen. I'd restart it from the icon again and it would repeat that shut down. I did that several times. It finally locked up on my screen. It just showed my last position and the area I was in... but the entire app locked.

I deleted the app, re-downloaded, and started the test again. Same thing. It would lock up.

I deleted the maps again ( had them all downloaded to my iPhone) and re-downloaded. THIS TIME, I used the other version.. not the google version... and I set the map to remain ... NOT move... and it seemed to alter its buggy behavior.

At this point, I'm not relying upon it. I'm relying upon my previously created RideWithGPS routes that I then put into my Garmin.

Something is buggy about the newly released electronic version of the TransAm Route and I really don't think you should be selling it until the AC gets it cleaned up. At a minimum, its annoying. But I could see someone relying upon it and finding themselves in trouble ... maybe after dark, for example.

don March 31, 2017, 1:40 PM

I might add that although I might have the settings to operate the map without a failure, the additional settings for camping, food, etc,are not operational.

I only have two of the maps downloaded right now and saved to my phone.

John Driessen June 1, 2016, 9:23 PM

Hey, i just moved to New Meadows, Idaho from Missoula, MT. I'm a GIS Tech for the city of McCall, Idaho and I live on the TransAmerica Bike Route right off the 45th Parellel and Hot Springs Rd, near Zim's Hot Springs. The grocery store in New Meadows, Idaho here closed recently and I'm seeing many cyclist making the trip up to McCall which requires a major climb up Goose Creek Pass for groceries and an extra day. Brown's gas station in New Meadows offers some food and there is a grocery store in Riggins along the Salmon River. Please feel free to distribute my contact info for any cyclists needing a groceries or a bike shop in McCall. There is camping just down the road at Zim's which I recommend or happy to put up any cyclist in need. Happy trails

-John Driessen

(208) 315-3927

Melissa Moser June 2, 2016, 11:16 AM

Thanks for the information and recommendations, John. We have much of that info on our map already, but I'll follow up with you on some details about your potentially becoming a Cyclists Only Camping spot.

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