TransAmerica Touring — It’s Not for the Faint of Heart and My Wife Said Yes


By Lou Melini — Robert Brigance Jr. was first introduced to the readers of Cycling Utah in 2014 as a bike commuter shortly before his retirement. In 2015 he traveled along the Adventure Cycling Association’s (ACA) Western Express bike trail. We will now see how his high school sweetheart and wife of 44 years figured in his bike travel plans in 2016.

Cycling Utah: Robert, bring me up to date. Tell me about the tour across the U.S.!

Robert Brigance: Initially I gave some thought to riding across the U.S. solo, but despite my wife’s support of my goal, I gave it up due to safety issues. It was going to be my first long distance tour. My wife, Linda, was not thrilled about my going solo. So we agreed, I would hook up with other riders.

I was turning 66 in February 2015. I looked on the Adventure Cycling Association website for another rider or two close to my age to join me. I was not interested in going on a group tour. My goal was a TransAmerica tour starting in May with the completion of the ride in August. I found two guys who were starting in San Francisco, CA and ending in Yorktown, VA.

My desire to ride cross-country was to celebrate life—great health, a wonderful wife and two sons, married with families. As I continued to work toward this goal, I began to entertain thoughts of riding for a reason or a cause, something besides celebrating my retirement. My wife reminded me that we had a need within our own extended family. So I decided to raise funds for Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. I shared my plans and goal with friends and family, raising an interim $900.00. I intend to keep my goal of $1,500.00 alive going forward by completing my cross-country tour.

Robert Brigance at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, California at the start of the Western Express route.

C.U.: You rode with 2 other people that you did not know! How did that affect your ride?

R.B: We left San Francisco, May 25 but I separated from them in Cimarron, CO. Unfortunately I had not been getting along with one of my fellow riders. It was disappointing to say the least. For anyone considering riding with strangers make your goals and expectations very clear at the outset. My biggest unmet need was not camping more and having to stay on a mileage schedule. We had one rider (who I will call Joe) who would just do whatever the majority decided, so he was easy. Joe and I agreed that we needed to camp more as we all had camping gear. However my problem rider (who I will call Sam) wanted a shower, a bed and three square meals a day. Sam’s idea of camping was only when we could not get a room somewhere. He was a credit card tour cyclist who packed a bit more gear for camping. I just failed to ask, how many days a week do you need a diner and motel?

I wanted to ride with an experienced long-distance cyclist and Sam met this need. We spent weeks planning our tour with online video chats and emails. Most of our disagreements had to do with communication early on while riding. One of my top concerns that I did not share online was, “If you can’t see the rider behind you, pull over and wait to be sure he was OK.” During our planning time prior to our tour, Sam would constantly comment, “You guys will have to hold me back.” More often than not, Sam would disappear, leaving Joe and me miles behind. It did nothing for camaraderie. He and I had two major shouting incidents, which is NOT my nature, dealing with road safety and riding pace. Obviously, Sam and I had not gotten off to a good start. When I decided to go solo, a palpable, huge weight came off my shoulders, like a bird being released from a cage. I did not see our mismatch coming to a head. Safety in numbers is important, but it was not working for me.

I rode solo from Cimarron for 5 days and 4 nights, arriving in Pueblo, Colorado on July 3rd. I found that as at the miles increased, I became more confident about completing my TransAmerica tour solo. The freedom to be responsible for myself was wonderful! However, I decided to end my TransAm ride in Pueblo after a budget review, among other concerns. Tracking my daily expenses, I was staying at way too many motels with my fellow riders that would cause me to exceed my $3500 budget for the trip. My budget was set on campgrounds, WarmShowers, some camping in the wild, and maybe a motel once a week. Additional factors were boredom of riding everyday, thinking about Linda at home by herself, and the money I could save and use later. I wondered if I could talk her into joining me in Pueblo later in the summer to continue with my cross-country quest. Given my riding experience to Pueblo, I felt that if she and I took it easy and did not push it, she could ride 30 to 50 miles a day. We of course decided not to embrace this idea until I got back home to discuss it further.

I had communicated with Linda during the ride by phone, depending on cell connection about every two days from the start. Linda was positive about my cycling with the other two fellows. However, in retrospect she had some concerns about how the three of us would get along, but chose not to interfere with my plans, hoping the three of us would work out any issues on the ride.

C.U.: I read much of your journal. Great pictures and overall it sounded like a good trip other than what you wrote above.

R.B.: It was a very good tour all things considered. I had neither saddle or bike issues, no sickness, no accidents, nor thefts. However, I lost my winter riding gloves on the ferry from San Fran to Vallejo when I carelessly placed them on my saddle to secure my bike to the ferry railing, just as we picked up speed. The wind blew them into the water, so I pulled out my back-up pair!

My abbreviated tour did accomplish one important milestone, that being the completion of the most challenging part of my planned cross-country tour. The Western Express (WE) route is extremely difficult and crosses some of the most barren parts of the U.S. If I remember correctly, our elevation gain from San Francisco to Pueblo was 66,000 ft. plus or minus.

We had really good weather for the initial California portion of the tour. We also lucked out crossing Nevada. There were only two cool, rainy days with thunderstorms and strong headwinds. One day, I had to throw all of my foul weather gear on and lie in the sagebrush to stay warm, while waiting out a mid-day thunderstorm! In southern Utah, the weather was hot (90+), so keeping tabs on hydration and electrolytes was critical.

C.U.: After finishing the ride in Pueblo, you did a short tour with your wife in late September. It sounds like you started putting the touring bug in Linda!

R.B.: After my return home, Linda and I chose a late September multi-day tour. She would have July and August to prepare and train. My wife shared with me that as much as it was nice to have me home, she was learning to be a more independent cyclist by finding new, local roads to ride from our home in Springville. That experience really helped strengthen her self-esteem, determination, experience and strength!

Robert and Linda in Manti, Utah on their 190 mile tour of central Utah.

She had tried to find other women her age to ride with but finding 60+ year old women to ride with was a challenge, and riding with a local riding ‘club’ proved difficult. So she ventured out alone and like me, rather enjoys the solitude of riding. Our neighbors knew where she was riding in case of an emergency.

We spent most of July and August just day riding, averaging 30 – 50 miles about three days a week. After a month of our riding together, I told her it was time to launch our multi-day tour. Linda was pretty well convinced, yet a bit hesitant. She was stressing about long grades and steep kickers that could be part of our planned route. Fortunately, we had the chance to ride up Hobble Creek Canyon from home and camp for a night with friends from the Utah County Presbyterian churches. We rode fully loaded minus food, 14 miles round-trip from our home. My wife enjoyed the challenge and the experience since she knew the roads and what to expect from traffic, road shoulders and grades.

Robert Brigance on Highway 132, Fountain Green to Nephi Utah.

With that very positive initial experience, our 4-day, 3-night tour was epic for Linda. One decision that we made was to ride the route ahead of time on my motorcycle. She needed to see what she was in for and it sealed the deal! She was very proud of touring 190 miles round-trip, with wonderful weather, minimal headwinds and comfortable nights. A major achievement was mastering the grinding ascent on Route 132 from Fountain Green to Nephi at 6,387 feet. Afterwards, I told her she was a bona fide bicycle-touring chick. She laughed and said, “Okay!”

The key for Linda was frequent breaks after two to three hours riding. We both realized the15 minute breaks to walk around, look at scenery, historic sites, and enjoy a snack were a must. If we were passing through a town, we always looked for an ice cream opportunity! Back on the road, we averaged 30 to 50 miles a day with an average of 6 hours on the road with breaks, etc.

Robert Brigance enjoying breakfast in Manti, Utah on Highway 89

We camped in Levan City Park for free. It has very nice bathrooms and the park was empty with kids back in school. We stayed at the Temple Hills Resort in Manti on Day 2 and in Nephi at Hi-Country RV Park located at the south end of town for Day 3. With only 5 tent sites, it was not the best campground with poorly kept bathrooms and no fire pits for tent camping. It was noisy being very close to the highway and no one was in the office day or evening. There was no phone number to contact anyone for information; the only person to ask anything of was the young college student cleaning the bathrooms.

C.U.: You are contemplating completing your cross-country trip with your wife in 2016. Is she excited about that? What are your thoughts about this?

R.B.: We are giving a cross-country ride some very serious thought and we are cautiously optimistic it will be a GO. We are looking at a mid-April to May 30 timeframe. Linda is looking forward to the challenge, but still concerned about long grades and steep kickers. Life can be much more simple on the road, but there are tradeoffs. I have shared my experiences with her regarding WarmShowers, stealth camping and RV campgrounds from my summer tour experience. She knows what to expect. We both want to get this behind us and hopefully marvel in the achievement, while we still have what it takes. Even if we only make it to Memphis, we will have the last third of the U.S. to look forward to in 2017!

Linda rides with confidence on a Novara Safari 29er that she finds very comfortable. I did a test ride a 36v battery pack for $800.00 at JigaWatt Cycles in Provo. Linda is looking forward to giving it a try! It has a range of 20-30 miles with a recharge time of 6-8 hours. It’s a front wheel drive hub, the battery pack attaches to the down tube. It comes with a handlebar throttle attachment. She anticipates using this when she is just beat and would have to dismount to keep going. We still need to make our final choice of power packs.

We will start in Pueblo where I left off and ride towards Kansas and Missouri on the ACA TransAmerica route. At Centerville, MO, we plan to go off-route to Fulton, MS and pick up the Underground Railroad route to Mobile, AL. From Mobile we’ll follow the ACA Southern Tier to St. Augustine, FL, but go off-route to Jacksonville, FL our final destination. We will visit with my sister for a week or so, ship our bikes and gear, and fly home.

C.U.: What are your thoughts or perhaps advice regarding bike touring as an older couple?

R.B.: As a married couple cooperation is something we know well, and will need to practice daily. We enjoy the outdoors and are low-maintenance people. Self-supported touring requires grit, sacrifice and a proven endurance. From my recent Western Express tour experiences, we know that the road will dictate how our days will go. But make no mistake it will take a lot of effort, patience and perseverance from both of us. We are both early birds and like to get an early start.

We plan to take one day at time, enjoy the moment and practice tolerance with our differences and celebrate our individual strengths. Completing a long tour is like going to work each day, except you don’t care what day it is. You’re hopefully enjoying yourself, but it is work. You ride a good 6 hours, stop for meals, to rest, sight-see, make camp, talk with locals and maintain your bikes. You hit the hay, wake up/eat, plan the daily route, break camp, pack/load panniers, complete bike safety checks and head out. And you get to do this every day for 6 weeks or more. We have also taken a Basic First Aid class. And we have our affairs in order for the unexpected that is always out there with an adventure of this magnitude.

Special accommodations due to our age are minimal. We honor each other’s requests and needs. We make sure we stretch prior to riding, during and after our daily rides. Depending on the day, we take frequent rest stops every 20-25 miles. I know that late afternoons is when Linda will tire and her patience becomes short, so we plan accordingly. We might reduce daily mileage if the route is strenuous—headwinds, rolling hills, hot weather and/or high humidity. We try to keep our rest breaks short (15 min. max) and always have ample fluids, drinking every 20-30 minutes. Extra creature comforts are: ultra-light folding camp chairs, Therma-rest (full body) mattress, 3 season down bags and foam pads (two 4” lengths of swimming pool noodles cut lengthwise to fit over our handle bars) for really rough roads. We use a Marmot Limelight 3 person tent with vestibules on both sides for extra space and comfort. We have not made any modifications to our bikes other than the battery pack for Linda’s Novara.

Spring 2016 Update

Robert and Linda have resumed the TransAmerica tour, starting in Pueblo, Colorado on their way to Jacksonville, Florida.

A short update from Robert on this section of the tour is below:

We have started our tour from Pueblo, CO to Jacksonville, FL

We have started Part 2 our my cross-country tour and the “we” includes my wife, Linda.

April 28 was our start date from Pueblo, CO after good friends drove us down to stay with Dave and Susan, our hosts. We have been on our tour now for almost five weeks. Our final destination is Jacksonville. FL, sometime mid-to-late June where we will visit my sister.

Robert and Linda Brigance at a cyclist-only hostel in Ash Grove, Missouri on their 2016 tour.

As of June 1, we are half way. The estimate was a total of 2,056 miles. We have logged 1,084 miles through CO, KS, MO, AR, TN and MS. We are now in Olive Branch, MS and will travel through AL and FL in the next two to three weeks via the ACA Underground Railroad and Southern Tier map system. We have been off the Transamerica maps since Bendavis,MO and will be until Fulton, MS. We expect to ride longer daily distances now that we have passed through the more difficult terrain of the Ozarks.

Our tour has been quite an experience both physically and mentally. My wife has her tunes to keep the boredom to a minimum. Eat, sleep and ride can be monotonous for some of us.

It has been hard at times and being the stronger rider, I allow Linda to ride at her pace and comfort level. We stress having fun, being honest about our feelings and thankful we are in shape to take this tour on. We take frequent, short breakers and are both trying to maintain weight.

We have camped a lot at city parks and asking farmers for a spot on the back 40. Motels when needed and rest days every 4-5 days have worked out well. Warmshowers hosts have been the best when available and when they work with our schedule. We have enjoyed not adhering to a set mileage each day and have stopped many a day just because we could. We are self-supported with food, tent and water, especially across the more rural states where convenience stores are sparse.

We have made time to visit family members grave sites in MO and MS, which were special for us both. Everywhere we go, strangers reachout to us and are quite friendly and willing to help as they can. Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency is part of our “reason to ride,” and we are creating awareness we those we along the way.


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