Tristan and I took the opportunity this last December to take a two-week tour while our shop was in transition of moving to a new location.
We started by looking at the Adventure Cycling Association routes and decided on Austin to New Orleans for a couple of reasons. One- we knew folks in Austin we could stay with and flights are pretty affordable. Two- the weather looked to the coldest at 35 and highs into the 70s. Perfect for midwest folks like ourselves even if they thought we were nuts for cycling in 35 degrees and rain (you know like October in Wisconsin). Three- the route looked manageable to do in our time frame and we could easily take the train back to Milwaukee.
How the hell do you get your bike to Austin?
We’ve never tackled a long bike tour before and had to one figure out how to get our bikes to Austin. Tristan has a Surly Travelers Check with couplers so he brought a bike case and packed his bike. By keeping it under 50 lbs (we were at 50.5 lbs so just had to remove one thing at the airport) and using our panniers as our “carry-on” luggage- one personal and one carry one- it was easy to get everything there for $25 checked baggage fee. We found it’s important to make sure the bag doesn’t look like a bike and it’s a “art display piece” or “trade show display” so that they don’t charge anything extra for the bike.
PHOTO OF TRISTANS BIKE IN LUGGAGE
My Soma Wolverine doesn’t have couplers so we shipped my bike via bikeflights for $60 for 75 lbs. Bikeflights uses Fedex and is MUCH cheaper then even commercial accounts so we often use this in the shop already. We packed our racks, sleeping bag and tent as well as items the airport won’t let us carry on- you know like those cooking knives and camp stove- so that way we can get them there. We shipped the bike to a friends shop, Streamline Cycles to assemble both bikes once we got to Austin.
We had to haul our stuff via bus to Amtrak. Amtrak to Chicago. Take the Blue Line to O’Hare and all in a snow storm- so while awkward we ca say the bike case was a success and keeping our panniers small in getting our stuff arrive in one piece to the airport to Austin without killing our backs…mostly.
Prepping for the trip
We’ve done several bike overnights to local campgrounds here in Milwaukee which gave us an idea on what to pack and how our gear works before going to the wild rural area of Texas. We’ve also both done three day tours here in Wisconsin individually and both used the knowledge and experience in this longer trip. Any new bike tourist- it may be wise to do some shorter trips locally to get ready for being so far away from home. I always do a before/after packing list so that each trip I pack a bit less and something more on what I needed. This list has helped me be faster and more effective on using my panniers well and keeping my weight down to under 45 lbs between all four panniers.
We did a route map plan before leaving, during the 1st day of Austin and honestly every day of the trip was spent redoing all that planning. We learned that being adaptable and flexible on your mileage, where your staying and where your eating may change on many factors and being able to adapt allowed us to have a much more enjoyable and well interesting trip.
Day One- Traveling to Austin
Our 1st day- we had a massive snowstorm in the midwest. Our flights were canceled to Austin and so right away we had to figure out a new plan. We got lucky and a flight was leaving from O’Hare that night so we re-booked our flight and got our luggage and bike case to Chicago to fly out of O’Hare instead. We took a bus, then train, the subway, then plane, then Taxi to my friend’s Chelsea’s place in Austin and finally got there 1am in the morning. It was a crazy day of traveling via every mode of transport (and we went for a fat bike ride that morning) but we made it there in one piece including Tristan’s bike.
Day Two- A Day in Austin
We took this day as a day to spend in Brian’s shop Streamline Cycles putting together our bikes and checking out a bit of Austin. Having a space to get the bikes together was useful in making sure the bike were ready to go. We found some local food and checked out the Festival of Lights with our wonderful hosts. Austin is a fun city to bike around with great weather. The food and drink were delicious and we’ll be back for a longer visit in the future! We also re-plotted our route since we lost some time with the delayed flight- and were aiming for 70-80 miles per day.
Day Three- Austin, TX to Smithville, TX- 60 miles
We started out of Austin later then we wanted- around 9. We were aiming to get to Lagrange, TX- however found with three hours less sunlight and a late start the furthest we got was Smithville, TX to a State Park we rode through. We set-up camp at night in the dark- noted to ourselves to remember headlamps the next tour as this was a common occurrence. We found using Google Maps and the Adventure Cycling Association maps together was useful. The much calmer State Campground road we used is not on Google Maps since it costs $3 per each person to ride through but much preferred over the busy highway and directly takes you to the campground outside Smithville. The campgrounds had amazing showers and looked new. Overall- a great state park to camp in but did cost $25.
Day Four- Smithville, TX to Bernast, TX- 57 miles
Late start again. 9:45a start after a wonderful breakfast in town. We changed our route to go around Lagrange, TX. We veered off the ACA route to make a more straight forward route- but used Google Maps instead. Due to this change we rode mostly highway- but found it’s legal to ride on them in Texas. That being said- busy road but had a seven foot shoulder to ride in. Not fun- but felt safer then one would think. We tried to hitchhike to Richards where we were heading that day to make up miles and the highway looked really scary with no shoulder. We had to no success and while friendly, the local Texans were mistrustful. We saw lots of oil this day. Thank god for podcasts to district one from highway sounds. We got to Bernast, TX around 5 with it getting dark and the nearest campground was 20 miles. After much debate- we decided getting a motel that room that night was safer and much more comfortable. Now we understood why credit touring is not a bad idea. Considering camping the night before was $25 and the motel room $55- not that much more for a warm shower. We got ribs. Totally worth it.
Day Five- Bernast, TX to Richards, TX- 50 miles
Left at 9:30a- we’re not morning people but had continental breakfast- another perk of motels. We were riding to Checkpoint Harley- which was a must visit list for places to stay while in TX. We were glad we waited until daylight to travel the highway to Richards as we were riding on small rural roads with high seed traffic with no shoulders. Once we got to Richards late afternoon- we found an oasis at Checkpoint Harley. Doris & Ernie own a dairy farm they have turned into a bicycle-only overnight camp that they built over their “vacations” when they lived in Germany. There’s not much in 100 miles to stay at, so having a place to camp or stay in cabin, which we did; with showers and a salt-water pool was priceless. One of the highlights of our trip!
Day Six- Richards, TX to Coldspring, TX
We had breakfast at Kotts Kottage in Richards, TX in which the local bartender brought us breakfast. With a solid start in our stomachs, we rode off with excitement through the Sam Houston National Forest. While pleasant during the first half, the second half sucked with no
Day Seven- Coldspring, TX to Cleveland, TX
Day Eight- Baton Roque, LA to Lutcher, LA
Day Nine- Lutcher, LA to New Orleans, LA
Day Ten- New Orleans!
Lessons We Learned
- We like to get up late and have a solid breakfast.
- Winter means less sunlight and plan for that. We wish we brought headights.
- 50 miles is fun. 80 miles is not fun.
- Yoga mat was more useful then we thought.
- A car rental can make the difference in making a long trip less stressful- shop around they vary alot in price.
- Warmshowers can make a difference in your budget
- Being flexible with your day to day plans is important- however where your staying determines your entire route for the day
- Did not need a swimsuit- despite access to a Salt Water Pool at 68 degrees at Checkpoint Harley.
- Long underwear and wool was used much more then we thought. We used ALL the layers.
- Arrive 30 minutes to Amtrak if they are taking your bike. Don’t stop for the rum even if it seems like a good idea. Amtrak allowed us to have a decompressing day traveling and resting after the trip.
- Spending an entire day in New Orleans was worth every penny of the car rental- We found the importance in having our end desentation be as much as an adventure as riding was.