2020 was a shock for everyone, and I was of no exception. 2020 was a year I was very much looking forward to. The start of a new decade (for me too – hello 30s!), plans for big trips, and new excitement for adventure yet to be discovered – I looked forward to 2020 with optimistic enthusiasm. And so when the world shut down so early on in the year, so did all my hopes and dreams. I was temporarily furloughed, which I took advantage to the best of my abilities by running and getting acquainted to my new road bike, baking bread, trying out new recipes, and even picking up needle point (and maybe a month long vacation to Florida). But this was nothing compared to what I was hoping and dreaming for. With so much heartache affecting the entire world, I felt selfish pining away for the lost trips and potential adventure left undiscovered because of COVID-19. This, along with a slew of unsavory events life threw my way this year left me in a pretty blue mental state that could only be brightened by a drastic change involving an epic quest.
The Southern Tier Bike Route (STBR) has always captured my attention, even before completing the TransAm. I was very much enthralled by the landscape that lends itself to this route – the desert Southwest. Call me crazy, but I love the romanticism found in the unforgiving vast environment, the red rock sunsets, and the resilient cacti that litter the barren, unforgiving terrain. Heat has never been an issue for me and I was never intimidated by the brutal rays of the sun. The only issue is finding someone to ride this route with me. Sheena, my ever trusting “yes man” dug in her heels at the mere mention of riding the STBR. Unlike me, Sheena does not take kindly to heat and I was lucky she was even willing to ride down the pacific coast in the summer of 2018.
But these are COVID times. And people have been known to do crazy things in COVID times. Like the one and only Sheena Sanchez asking ME if I was still interested in cycling the STBR. When an opportunity like that arises out of the blue, you don’t hesitate or question. It was my turn to be a yes man. So I said yes. And the planning began.
The shortest established route across the United States, the STBR (for our purposes) starts in San Diego, CA and travels 3022 miles East to St. Augustine, FL. It passes through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama. Being in the deep South of the US, timing is pretty critical. The western portion is high(ish) in elevation and some of the passes can experience snow as early as fall and can run into early Spring. On the flip side, the desert gets pretty darn hot in the summer (shocker) and can place an already overworked cyclist in a very dangerous position and risk for overexposure/overheating. Additionally Florida’s hurricane seasons keeps getting longer and longer. Not one who wants to get caught in a hurricane on a bicycle, avoiding FL during this season is also of high importance. The best bet, for us at least, is to start out in early March and just see where that takes us.
But not so fast! Sheena proposed another brilliant idea. Why not start out where ended in 2018? Since we ended 300 miles North of San Diego on our Pacific Coast tour, Sheena suggested starting in San Luis Obispo and complete the Pacific Coast as a warm up for the STBR. Without much arm twisting, I told her that was a great idea and so it was established. We would ride from SLO to San Diego and turn left and head East all the way to St. Augustine! With a pit stop at the Grand Canyon, New Orleans, and Panama City Beach FL, the trip was starting to really take shape.
Is it selfish to ride a bike tour during COVID times? Maybe. But traveling on a bike where you spend most of the time alone and camping at night void of crowds seems like a fairly socially distanced activity. Sure, we will have to go grocery shopping (where precautions will be taken to ensure safety), but I have to go grocery shopping in NJ as well. In fact, being on a bike I will encounter less people than I do daily with work. Being a physical therapist and working during the majority of 2020, I have become somewhat desensitized to COVID. I have worked with a multitude of patients who actively had the virus or who conquered it. While I am sympathetic towards the hundreds of thousands who have succumbed from the virus, my mental health needed a break. And because of that, I will likely make very little commentary on COVID in the following posts during this trip. I am riding to clear my mind, not focus on what derailed life for so many of us.
And so here is the plan. I have already gratefully received a leave of absence from work and my trusty steed Ol’ Bessie is already in California and reassembled. I will be flying out to Colorado the first week of March to meet up with Sheena and catch up. A few days later we will fly out to SLO, reunite with our bikes, and set off back down the coast either 3/7 or 3/8. We plan on stealth camping on BLM for the majority of this trip, or stay with carefully screened Warm Shower hosts. When all else fails, hotels are a last ditch option.
While I’m excited for this trip, it doesn’t come without reservation. Of course, there is a pandemic still continuing throughout the country. But I’m optimistic that with falling number of cases and herd immunity picking up with vaccination, we will be safe in that regard. Texas is a big state. Like huge. I’m planning on it taking up to 4 weeks to cross this massive state. Based on past tours, crossing over state lines is such a feeling of euphoria. Holding off on the gratification for nearly a month is going to take a huge mental toll on me. Third, but certainly not least, the South doesn’t have the greatest reputation for respect for cyclists. While Southern hospitality is something I have definitely read about in other blogs, I am leery of distracted drivers or opportunistic thieves. But I was worried about that in California as well, and look how great that trip turned out.
The bags are packed and the flights are all made. The Southern Tier Bike Route will begin just a short week from today and I cannot be more excited!