10 Questions: Cycling Around The U.S.A.
A trip around America on two bicycles: that’s the journey that Alan & Morrigan started in 2008.
Their trip took 10-1/2 months, and they travelled 11,000 miles around the United States in that time, from Maine to Florida, California, Washington and back to New York.
Along the way, they documented their surroundings, and blogged about the trip. The portraits of Americans and audio recordings that they collected are now touring around the country as an exhibit called Project Tandem
“We had never toured (let alone rode loaded bicycles) before the day we left on the trip,” says Morrigan. “We were both athletes in college (Alan boxed and Mo was a dancer), so we figured, how hard could it be? The first three weeks were pretty brutal and consisted of a lot of walking our bicycles up hills.”
In this article, Alan and Morrigan answer 10 Questions about bicycle touring around the United States.
1. What was the original idea behind this trip?
We were both professional photographers living in New York City. In newspapers and on TV, we kept seeing polls about Americans and their views on the environment. We wanted to know what Americans really thought: not just the answers to poll questions, so we decided to travel and document through photographs and audio interviews, the feelings and opinions of people all over the country. It started as a plan to drive across the country and turned into a plan to bike across the country (you have to walk the walk, right?). Then we figured, if we could bicycle across the country, surely we could bicycle all the way around it and… Project Tandem was born.
2. How much planning did you do beforehand? And did you sketch out your route in a relatively fixed way or did you just “go with the wind”?
We were lucky enough to be sponsored by Adventure Cycling, so we used their maps and routes for most of the way. We tried to plan roughly to be in certain parts of the country to avoid the worst weather (snow, intense heat, etc), but we didn’t want to take big breaks to wait for the weather, so we ended up hitting tornado season in “tornado alley” and summer in the Midwest. On a daily basis, we would wake up, study the maps and choose a rough goal for the day. You have to be flexible bicycle touring. You never know what the day will throw at you.
3. What were 1-2 highlights that you experienced?
The top three most beautiful places we rode through were: Delaware Water Gap in New Jersey during the fall (beautiful trees, rolling hills and great campgrounds); the California coast (camping under the Redwood trees); and Jackson, Montana in spring (dropping down from snow-capped peaks to lush, green ranch-land that looked like a movie set). The best part of the trip though, hands-down, were the incredible people. Americans were so friendly and generous all over the country.
4. Was there any part that you would skip, or that was less compelling, if you had to do it again?
If we had to do it again, we’d probably take the inland route in North Carolina rather than the Outer Banks. The riding was dangerous on the way out there (aggressive drivers), we had intense head-winds the whole time and the scenery was obstructed by huge houses most of the time.
5. The U.S. doesn’t have a great reputation for cycling infrastructure. Some states have a reputation for being quite hostile to cyclists. What was your experience?
The Adventure Cycling routes go our of their way to put you on good roads with minimal traffic, but of course, it can’t be that way all the time. For the most part drivers were courteous, but there were definitely aggressive ones, particularly around major cities.
6. Were there any particular challenges, aside from traffic, that you faced?
Dogs were a bit of a problem in certain areas, particularly the southeast. We met a couple in St. Augustine, Florida though, who gave us a device called The Dazer. It’s an ultrasonic dog deterrent, so you just point it at the dog and it emits a super high-pitched sound that they hate. It worked like a charm and is way more humane than many other dog deterrents.
7. What about budget? Is it possible to bike tour in the U.S. with limited funds?
You can definitely bike tour America on a limited budget. If you cooked your own food (we brought backpacking food and a JetBoil), mostly free-camped with permission (town parks, farmers fields, etc) or used Warm Showers, you could probably tour on something like $15 U.S. per day, per person. Adventure Cycling’s Trans-America Route would probably be the cheapest. It has lots of free camping at town parks and tons of Warm Showers hosts.
8. Did you have any trouble finding places to sleep?
In the whole trip, we only had one night where is was difficult to find somewhere to stay, and that was just because we were being stubborn about our budget. Almost every time we asked someone nicely to tent on their property, they agreed. Americans really are very friendly!
In terms of camping on other people’s land, we generally picked places where there was a fair amount of land, just because we didn’t want to camp right next to someone’s house. But most of the time the owners would agree to let us camp. While we were setting up the tent, they would usually go inside, look at our blog and then come out later to offer either dinner with their family, showers, or a place to sleep inside. Sometimes all three! If, for some reason we really needed to use their bathroom and they didn’t invite us to, we would usually ask if we could fill up our water bottles. That seemed to get people thinking about what our basic needs might be.
Americans have a reputation for being sort of cold to strangers but we found that nothing was further from the truth. People were hospitable and generous in all parts of the country. There is something about bicycle touring that makes you vulnerable, and when Americans see that you are really putting yourself out there, they respect that.
9. Were you able to keep in touch easily with friends and family? How did you do this?
We kept a blog, so at first we thought we could update it using internet cafes and public libraries. It soon became clear that outside of New England or California, internet cafes were few and far between. We ended up getting a wireless card from Verizon for a monthly fee. That way we could use the internet almost everywhere and update our blog or email at night wherever we were.
10. What’s one thing everyone cycling around the U.S. needs to have in their panniers?
A tent! The majority of the US is actually pretty rural. In order to have the flexibility to see what you want and experience the incredibly beautiful spots the US has to offer, a tent is the best way to go.
Thanks to Alan & Morrigan of Project Tandem for answering 10 Questions about bicycle touring around America, and providing the photos.
In addition to their blog, you can see more about the Project Tandem trip on their YouTube channel, including this video about the weather cycling across America: