Celebrating the TransAmerica Trail: From Bikecentennial to U.S. Bicycle Route 76

October 8, 2014

Cross-country cyclists featured in Adventure Cycling's Open Road Gallery

Every spring (and occasionally starting in the winter), the loaded bicycles and trailers start piling up outside the Adventure Cycling “world headquarters” in Missoula, Montana. Throughout the rest of the summer and fall about 1,000 sunburnt, helmet-haired, smiling, and oft odorous cyclists wander through the office for an ice-cream, a polaroid, and a chance to experience the quirky, down-to-earth “mecca” where historic bikes and black-and-white portraits of cyclists hang on the walls and where bicycle travel became a thing. Many of them are riding Adventure Cycling’s longest and most popular cross-country route, the TransAmerica Trail.

 

A group of Bikecentennial cyclists in 1976

The summer of 1976 saw a similarly sunburnt and carefree group of cyclists who were participating in the Bikecentennial ride that established the TransAmerica Trail and launched Adventure Cycling. These cyclists and those following in their tread have kept Adventure Cycling’s wheels turning with their inspirational, unique, strange, funny, adventurous stories, photos and personalities, their volunteering and contributions, reports from the road, dreams of new routes, and infectious love of bicycle travel. And we do our part to keep their wheels turning too. In this respect, not much has changed over the last (almost) 40 years. The TransAm is still the iconic bicycle route that provides a pedal-powered means for people, young and old, of all income levels and backgrounds, to experience self-empowerment, a rite of passage, or transformative exploration of their backyard landscapes and themselves.

As Dan Ambrosio wrote in an article chronicling the history of Bikecentennial,

“Many cyclists who took part in 1976 (and those who take TransAmerica trips today) say essentially the same thing about the experience: "I learned more about this country in 90 days than most people learn in a lifetime."

And more about themselves. Every one of us should, someday, have an experience like the Bikecentennial summer of 1976.”

A Big Vision From the Beginning

Bikecentennial was a big vision that could easily have dissipated had it not had passionate, hard-working, and idealistic staff and supporters who made it happen. Greg Siple, current art director and a founder of Adventure Cycling, describes the vision in its earlier stages:

 "My original thought was to send out ads and flyers saying, 'Show up at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco at 9 o'clock on June 1 with your bicycle. And then we were going to bicycle across the country. I pictured thousands of people, a sea of people with their bikes and packs all ready to go, and there would be old men and people with balloon-tire bikes and Frenchmen who flew over just for this. Nobody would shoot a gun off or anything. At 9 o'clock everybody would just start moving. It would be like this crowd of locusts crossing America."

The event evolved from its originally envisioned spontaneous exodus of cyclists, but the amazing thing is that it happened. There were 300 trips consisting of 4,100 men and women representing all 50 states and several other countries taking part; 2,000 of them cycled the full 4,250 miles from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia. Over only a few decades Bikecentennial’s legacy and development into Adventure Cycling has created a network of over 42,000 miles of mapped bicycle routes, 100 tours, an award-winning magazine, and 47,000 members.

And while there is no large-scale organized event, every year thousands of cyclists depart on their own TransAmerica adventures, fueled by the same desire for exploration, self-discovery and camaraderie as the original Bikecentennial riders.

A New Chapter for the TransAm: U.S. Bicycle Route 76

Now another vision is helping cyclists to experience the TransAmerica Trail and other interstate bicycle routes in a new way – the U.S. Bicycle Route System. The USBRS integrates existing bicycle routes like the TransAm and new routes created by local and state partners on roads and trails to create a national system of numbered and signed bicycle routes that will eventually connect all of the lower 48 states (also in Alaska and Hawaii) with over 50,000 miles of routes.

The TransAm route, aptly numbered U.S. Bicycle Route 76, already has 1,613 miles of approved route designations in Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri. USBR 76 signs have gone up in Virginia and Missouri, which not only helps cyclists with wayfinding and branding the route, but also lets motorists know that cyclists are legitimate road-users and to be aware of them. Official approval from state transportation agencies encourages the development of bicycle-friendly improvements and infrastructure along the route. Engaging tourism agencies, local bike/trail groups, and businesses helps to create bicycle-friendly communities that will bring sustainable economic growth through increased bicycle tourism.

Touring cyclists on U.S. Bicycle Route 76/TransAmerica Trail near Centerville, Missouri

Celebrating U.S. Bicycle Route 76 in Missouri

Missouri in particular has a lot to celebrate when it comes to USBR 76/TransAm Trail. The state designated and signed the route in the same year – 2013 – which no other state has since accomplished in that time span. The route traverses 350 miles, from the Mississippi River in Chester, Illinois, to the Kansas state line near Golden City. Cyclists climb the beautiful Ozark Mountains, one of the oldest ranges in the world, ride through lush, green forests and agricultural land, and can swim at Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park on the East Fork of the Black River. They spend their dollars locally, stopping at small town cafes and restaurants to fuel up on pie and coffee, picking up bike parts at local bike shops, and finding quirky accommodations like Al's Place, an old jailhouse that was rennovated into a bike hostel in Farmington, Missouri. Towns like Farmington (population 17,800) have used the TransAmerica Trail to create a culture of welcoming bicycle travelers and building their identity as a bicycle tourism destination. 

Al's Place Bicycle Hostel in Farmington, Missouri

Farmington will be hosting a celebration and dedication of the TransAm's designation as U.S. Bicycle Route 76 this Saturday, October 11th at Al's Place on 11 North Franklin, starting at 11:30 am. We welcome you to join us and our partners, the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, the Missouri Dept of Transportation, and the City of Farmington, for this event which will feature speakers, lunch and a dedication cake, and tours of Al's Place. It will be an opportunity to recognize and commemorate the history of the TransAmerica Trail and the benefits that 40 years of bicycle travel has brought to Farmington and to Missouri, and to celebrate its incorporation into the U.S. Bicycle Route System. 

What's Next: The TransAm Turns 40

A year and a half from now, in 2016, Adventure Cycling and the TransAmerica Trail will be turning 40 and national celebrations of the journey from Bikecentennial to U.S. Bicycle Route 76 will commence. It will be "The Year of Bicycle Travel," and we hope to have the rest of the TransAm designated as U.S. Bicycle Route 76 by then. If you have ever dreamed of riding across the country, or wish you had participated in Bikecentennial, the TransAm in 2016 will be the place and the time to make it happen. 

We'll see you there!

Top three photos by Greg Siple; USBR 76 sign from the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices; bottom two photos by Dennis Coello.

BUILDING THE U.S. BICYCLE ROUTE SYSTEM is posted by Ginny Sullivan and Saara Snow of the Travel Initiatives Department and focuses on news related to the emerging  U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS). The USBRS project is a collaborative effort, spearheaded by a task force under the auspices of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Members of the task force include officials and staff from state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration, and nonprofits like the East Coast Greenway Alliance and Mississippi River Trail, Inc.

 

Comments

James Epifanio October 19, 2016, 2:42 PM

I rode half the trail, Portland to Denver in 1977. The tour guide's name is Ernst Adalot. A summer I will never forget. I'm trying to find a set of the original trail books. I would also like to get in touch with the wonderful people I rode with. Do you still have records from way back then?

Tom Greeley October 31, 2015, 7:02 PM

I rode the trail in 1980 and have written our group story called 1,344,000 Revolutions due out on Amazon mid November

ray leard January 5, 2015, 10:49 PM

Hi! I road the trans am trail that first year. Traveled west to east and ran out of $$ in Colorado. Selling my business and would like to get back into helping you folks grow your great organization. How might I get involved?? Plans are to do the northern tier this year and perhaps finish the trans am next year.

Wayne Linnenbringer October 12, 2014, 5:20 PM

Love this blog!

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