The great trans-continental bike journey

An Overview

What made me do it?

The idea of cycling across the U.S. developed, for me over a few years. I had done a trip of 500 odd miles from San Fransisco to L.A. in 1985, and 4000 km around Europe in 1987. After the European trip I realized that if you strung all those miles out, it would stretch across the country (Australia that is). When I moved to the U.S. in 1988, I thought about a ride along Rt 66 from Chicago to L.A.. Early in 1995, I read an article in the Washington Post by an L.A. Times writer who had traveled from Virginia to L.A.. This set me thinking again about a ride.

Three things needed to coalesce for the idea to get moving - motive, means and opportunity. Opportunity was not a problem, since John, my partner kept proding me to take a vacation. As I found out more about Rt 66 I realized that I could chart a plan that would avoid the interstates, and take advantage of a number of state parks for accommodation. Thus I had the means of getting there. After a short time away from San Diego, where I'd spent some time with the Americas Cup, I was really missing my friend Sybil. So this was a big incentive for me to return. The time was right!

Why this route?

I wanted to start and finish on the bicycle and I wanted to see old Rt 66. This was pretty much a direct route, although not one favored by other cyclists. The organization Bikecentenial has three planned out trans-continental routes, but they are south from Florida along the gulf coast, central through Colorado and North into Washington. For reasons that became plain to me later, the overwhelming number of riders go west to east. Despite this I wanted to GO somewhere, besides I always think of people moving east to west on Rt 66!

The route that I settled on was west from Washington DC on US Rt 50 to St Louis (although I actually took US Rt 32 through most of Ohio). Then along what was US 66 to California, following the pre-1932 alignment through Santa Fe, New Mexico. Once in California I had to navigate through the desert and mountains to San Diego. It was not till a few days before I got there that I chose a path south along the Colorado river to Parker, south-west across the desert and then through the Anza-Borrego state park.


My bicycle is a Raleigh "Technium", modified racing bike. It has thin 1.25 inch tyres (actually 1 inch on the rear), and is fitted with a rear rack. I took two rear paniers for storage, a two man tent, thermo-rest and sleeping bag. Initially I carried two spare tubes, but later picked up a third and a spare tyre. I also carried spare spokes and one water bottle.

Much to my friend Jim's horror, I didn't wear any fancy (or was that nancy) cycling clothes. Just a pair of "King Gee" shorts, jeans (for the cold weather), and short sleeve shirts. I also carried a woolen navy pullover and Gore-Tex jacket.

I carried a 2m amateur transceiver and a walkman type FM receiver but seldom used either.

I used the state government issued maps for navigation, but the book Antique Roads of America, bicycle guide to Rt 66 by Dan Mahnke was invaluable!

What was it like?

As anyone how has done touring on a bike knows, there's a feeling of awe at what one can do with such a simple instument. Using only ones own resources to propel across a continent still amazes me. That is not to say that its for everyone. Keeping up a 90 mile a day schedule takes a small amount of disipline but it is really not very physically demanding. I did very little preparation and was none the worse for it.

Seeing the country up close and at a leisurely pace is very rewarding. The changes in terrain kept surprising me and I have gained a unique feel for the geography and layout of this cross section of America.

The most interesting sections were the California desert, Rt 66 from Seligman AZ to Kingman, Las Vegas NM to Santa Fe, and West Virginia. The hardest parts to get through were not mountains but those really windy days where it seemed to take hours to get nowhere. Many days, though, when it was warm, sunny with light breeze I felt I could ride forever.

For more detail see the day by day description

Dan Mahnke's book "Antique Roads of America, Bicycle Guide for Route 66" is available from the author. The retail price is $9.95 plus $2.50 S/H, outside of the US the S/H is $5.05, and CA residents need to pay $0.82 tax. The mailing address is Dan Mahnke, P.O. Box 4203, Panorama City, CA 91412-4203, USA.

Email Dan at

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