Stars and Spokes
The temperature in Arizona could be 53 degrees! And other planning considerations...
Dan here. There is little more that aircrew like more than looking at maps and charts, and working out speed/distance/time calculations. Whenever a chart comes out in a Squadron building, like moths to a flame people gather around it pointing at things. Big planning desks are often called 'the birdtable', as inevitably people cluster around and lean over, like they're looking for tasty treats (they probably are). With this in mind, putting the detail in to our route planning was a task that I was quite comfortable with!
We are following the Adventure Cycling Association 'Southern Tier Route', which gives us a line on a map crossing the continent. This was selected and developed by the ACA based on road quality, traffic density, and linking interesting places and spectacular vistas! That's our start point.
What I have needed to do is translate that in to a daily plan which takes in to account temperature ranges (anything up to 53 degrees is possible...!), hours of daylight and sunset/sunrise times, options for food and water, and of course how far we can realistically expect to get. Then I need to find us somewhere to stay, so our end mileage needs to coincide with either a campsite, wilderness area or motel. If there isn't anywhere suitable at our desired mileage (100 miles/daily), then I need to see whether we can feasibly go a bit further to the next town (ok if it's a flat day in relatively cool conditions, and anything less than 40 degrees!), or we're better off cutting it short. Then of course if we're short one day then the next needs to be a bit longer!
This would be pretty achievable in the UK. We are pretty well packed in on our little island, so the next town is generally only a few miles distant. That is categorically not the case in New Mexico or Arizona! There are some massive stretches between habitation, and scarily few places for water. The biggest distance I've found on our route is about 60 miles of absolutely empty desert, towns with a hotel are often few and far between. Luckily, the more sparsely inhabited states tend to permit 'wilderness camping' in State-owned land. This means Pascal and I will be curling up in the deserts, scrublands and swamps where we can, as it allows us to rest up when there just aren't any other options. Good job we've got a mosquito net, and I'm hoping Pascal is more attractive to snakes and scorpions than I am. I think after a couple of weeks on the road we'll be pretty repellent on our own; either that or they'll think we're roadkill.
The other aspect to plan in is our 4 magical rest days! A day off from grinding 100+ miles in the relentless heat. The chance to sit in Air Conditioning... or heaven forbid... by a pool! What I couldn't do is neglect these days, and leave us sat in the middle of nowhere baking without any shade. I selected a few larger cities where we're compelled to use hotels, and where there's the promise of a bit of sightseeing and exploration as well as refuelling and recuperation!
All of this has combined in to an enormous (currently slightly unwieldy) spreadsheet which gives us the day by day plan. We should be able to pull it up on our phones, and quickly see how far we're going, where we're staying, and where we can stop on the way. Some of the stops are absolutely critical, as without finding them we'll be launching off for potentially hours without a resupply of water. We can also track whether we're behind or ahead of where we should be if our timings change for some reason.
There are 3 main 'high risk' areas that I've picked out: the western side of California, New Mexico and Arizona. The image below sums it up quite nicely!
Arizona in particular is really dry, mostly desert and scrub with some jagged-looking mountainous areas. This is really empty, really hot, and has some big hills! The middle section (basically Texas) is marginally more populated and land is generally privately owned, but still scrub and rolling hills. Everything east of Baton Rouge in Louisiana is incredibly flat, and a lot more built up (comparatively!) but the humidity is through the roof (90%!) along the Gulf Coast and there will be bugs and alligators everywhere!
This planning has taken endless hours, but it has been the most wonderful part of the preparation and project so far. The excitement from seeing all of these amazing places on a map, some photos, and the anticipation is great! It brings it all so much closer and makes it real; seeing the pictures people have put up or even the recommendations for a tiny bar in the middle of nowhere which looks like a film set turns it from an academic exercise to reality. The distances, the scenery, the challenge is just so incredible; parts of it look horrendously challenging, but I genuinely can't wait to get started and have this unique adventure.
Now where did we put that sunscreen and water bottle...