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Do you use Adventure Cycling Association for route maps?

Old 02-17-21, 05:30 AM
  #1  
RichinSC1
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Do you use Adventure Cycling Association for route maps?

Is Adventure Cycling the "go to" for route maps for cross country rides?
Do their maps select roads with a paved shoulder to ride on?
What are other route map options other than Adventure Cycling?
Can you get maps that will download to you cell phone? It rather have electronic version than paper ones.
Thanks

Last edited by RichinSC1; 02-17-21 at 05:32 AM. Reason: need to add a question
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Old 02-17-21, 06:01 AM
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Adventure Cycling maps are great if they go somewhere that you want to go. They don't always choose the roads that I would so I sometimes deviate from them in places. I often pick up a paper map for a state as I pass through. Some states have really good bicycle maps. Some have good regular road maps. Google maps is a good way to supplement or check out a possible alternate route.

The ACA seems to choose to go out of their way at times to either hit scenic roads or roads with less traffic. Often to me it looks more like they go out of their way to climb a huge hill with no real advantage. I tend to avoid some of those and take a more direct route at times.

I tend to like routes with the US designation like US-90 on the Southern Tier. I rode it in places rather than ride the roads that the AC maps chose on the ST. I think a lot of folks rode US-90 for a while east of Van Horn TX because I met other riders doing the same as I was. There were also places where I rode the interstate highways (roads with the "I" designation like I-10) a bit more than the ACA chose to.

I have sometimes thought that riding US-90 for most of it's length wouldn't be a terrible way to go. I think that starting out with the ACA ST maps and being open to trying a bit of both would be a decent way to go.
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Old 02-17-21, 06:14 AM
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Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
There were also places where I rode the interstate highways (roads with the "I" designation like I-10) a bit more than the ACA chose to.
I thought it was illegal to ride bikes on the Interstate. It would make great sense to be able to since the paved shoulder is about 10' wide in most places.
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Old 02-17-21, 06:36 AM
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Originally Posted by RichinSC1 View Post
I thought it was illegal to ride bikes on the Interstate. It would make great sense to be able to since the paved shoulder is about 10' wide in most places.
In general, itís not illegal in many states west of the Mississippi. For example, all Interstate mileage in MT is bike legal. But riding an Interstate is not always pleasant. It can be most noisy. Iíve ridden stretches of busy and Iíve ridden quiet stretches.

And no, not all ACA roads have shoulders. But they arenít always necessary.
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Old 02-17-21, 07:06 AM
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Originally Posted by RichinSC1 View Post
I thought it was illegal to ride bikes on the Interstate. It would make great sense to be able to since the paved shoulder is about 10' wide in most places.
West of the Mississippi in most places you can ride the interstate where there isn't an alternate route. How a cop will interpret that may vary, but cops rode by me in places where it may have been questionable and never paid me any attention. In some places the ACA routes will use the interstate where there is no other choice. In remote places the traffic is light and the ride can be pleasant enough in my opinion. It depends on the specific location. There can be the added benefit of the fact that the hills will not be steep. In some cases the scenery can even be good.
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Old 02-17-21, 07:11 AM
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Rich - Welcome to the touring forums.
I've done routing for many years and can share some general ideas on routes.

ACA routes - especially the well-established ones like the Trans Am and Northern Tier -
have the advantage of roads already checked out, services, and communities familiar with cyclists.
But, as was said above, they may not go where you want to go.
And there is no reason you can't plot your own route. It just requires careful planning.
For many people who have a hard enought time taking 10 weeks off,
having a route already mapped and researched is a relief.

Not to mention that cyclists' preferences for what is a "Good Route" vary.
We'd all like empty roads, free campgrounds, great cafes day after day.
Except that it don't happen that way.
By definition, if there's no traffic, there won't be any services.
And if the scenery is mind-blowing, then you're likely to have company.

I'm one of those cyclists who prefer empty roads to services.
Give me enough water and PB&J sandwiches and I can ride forever.
But there are folks who stop in motels every night and eat in restaurants.
It's all good. But it means that the "perfect route" isn't written in stone.
In fact, for most people it's a mix of the above.

If you want to plan out your own route familiarize yourself with AADT.
That's "Average Anual Daily Traffic" - most start DOTs have maps with the data.
My general AADT ratings for 2-lane roads are:
Less than 500 - Magical
500-999 - Pleasant
1000-1999 - O.K., but pay attention
2000-3999 - Busy, shoulders are helpful
4000+ - Heavy traffic, shoulders essential

500 may seem like a lot of cars, but it is for 24 hours, both ways.
That averages out to 10 cars per hour on your side - or 1 every 6 minutes.
Most traffic is concentrated during morning and evening -
So, the hours between 9a and 4p usually have less.

Remember, also, that it is almost impossible to avoid tough stretches.
You will almost always have to get on a tricky road from time to time.
The goal is to keep these bad stretches to the absolute minimum.

Most people who have toured for a long time have done both ACA and their own routes.
Like anything, route finding comes with experience and becomes second nature after a while.
Thus, for newbies it does make sense to stick to established routes.
Then branch out when you know the waters.
Or just jump right in - your choice.



Back road in the Palouse, Washington state

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Old 02-17-21, 07:14 AM
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RichinSC1
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Thanks for all the replies!
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Old 02-17-21, 07:16 AM
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Originally Posted by RichinSC1 View Post
I thought it was illegal to ride bikes on the Interstate. It would make great sense to be able to since the paved shoulder is about 10' wide in most places.
you might think so, but remember interstate highway routes are
selected for getting from one place to 'nother as fast and efficient
as possible. interstates are dull where back roads are erratic,
meandering and scenic.

charles kuralt once said..

"Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel
across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything."

in addition to lack of scenery, you have more traffic routed through,
driving faster, louder with more pollution.

you have usually at least 100 yards either side clear cut, so no wind
break. and speaking of wind, you get quite a blast from 18-wheelers
rushing past at 80 mph, especially bad when the ambient wind is
from port.
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Old 02-17-21, 07:59 AM
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Just MHO: ACA routes are a great way to start bicycle touring, and a good way to find decent route with minimal hassle.

ACA routes range from inspiring and breathtaking (roughly 20% of miles) through pretty good (70%) down to passable (10%). It's possible to find other routings, especially with the advent of crowd-sourced sites like ridewithgps or Strava. In the west, there's often only one road you can take for 30-60 miles, so once you've picked a couple of towns, routing between them is easy. Routing through Kentucky, OTOH, is more like the old Adventure computer game: you're in a maze of twisty little passages, all different.

If you're going on your first long tour, you've got enough other things to keep you busy, like picking a bike, perhaps, and choosing how you're going to carry your gear, what you'll take for sleeping (or making reservations), how you'll cook, what rain gear and cool weather clothing you'll take, etc. The ACA maps will give you a good route, along with information on where you can get food, water, lodging (either for light loads and every night motels or B&B, or for emergency shelter) or camping locations. The maps make that part of planning easy.

As noted above, some roads have shoulders, some don't. Crossing Kansas turned into a game several days: are we going to cover more miles (say, 20 miles) or see more cars (maybe half a dozen) before lunch? Once you get out of the cities, it's amazing how much "nothing" there is in America! Make sure you've visible with brightly colored jerseys or jackets, focus a bit on holding your line when there is traffic, and odds are you'll be fine.
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Old 02-17-21, 08:11 AM
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I used ACA maps when I did a bit (800 miles) of the OR and CA coast. Their upside is they have bicycle-specific info such as the locations of camping and bike shops. The down side is they have no information for anything that's not on the the exact road you're pedaling on. For that reason, they can never be your only map.

As something of an aside, I was pretty surprised to find how few of those 800 miles of coast had room for bicycles on them. Most of that route (From Tillamook, OR to Bodega Bay, CA) had no shoulder to speak of, and tight turns with high speed limits. A real nerve-wracking route that many other cyclists I met were bothered by, Some even considered abandoning the route altogether.

So don't make the mistake I did of assuming since it's an ACA route that there will be shoulders or other comfortable/safe road conditions.

Also, I learned from that experience that when you ride an ACA route, you run into a lot of other cycle tourists. Which for me was a downside. I prefer to be alone when I tour.

You could buy the maps and consider it a donation to the ACA regardless of how much value you get from the maps themselves. Personally, I won't bother in the future.

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Old 02-17-21, 08:13 AM
  #11  
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I've used two of the ACA routes and thought they were definitely worth the cost. I even recouped half my cost, the last time I bought their paper maps, by selling the annotated set. Often the route will include some tips on free lodging or camping for cyclists only. And if you're traveling solo, there's the benefit of perhaps meeting up with a companion.

On the other hand, I also enjoy making my own routes and exploring a bit, which is what I usually do.

I avoid limited-access roadways like interstates whenever possible, simply because they just suck the soul out of me. The comment about traveling while seeing nothing is spot on.
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Old 02-17-21, 08:47 AM
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I am an ACA life member.

I've used their maps on selected parts of routes, but also made my own variations. I would say they are worthwhile both as a starting point and a relatively low hassle way do cross some of the large cities. For example, if you are doing Southern Tier, they can give some reasonable clues on getting out of San Diego, crossing Phoenix, crossing El Paso and getting across Austin. The maps list a set of services as well as phone numbers, but be sure to also check the "errata list" on Adventure Cycling website since some of those things can change.

I stray off the ACA routes as well as follow them, For those cases, I use a variety of alternatives:
- Google maps auto instructions with an "avoid highways" does reasonably well for me and better than their bicycle instructions
- On route I will occasionally check MAPS.me for offline map, e.g. to sort out exactly where I am
- Strava Heat maps tells me where local cyclists ride and is particularly helpful finding a route into/out of a larger busier city
- I'll look on crazyguyonabike and find journals of other people traveling along similar routes, they sometimes have interesting insights on roads, of places along the way
- I'll check the state highway departments for listings of construction projects since an otherwise perfectly fine road can be a mess when it gets diverted or the shoulder is coned off
- I still like paper state highway maps to give me a better overview
- I used to check yellow pages in phone books along the way to see what bike shops advertised. Now I'll do a brief scan on the internet. Not for immediate use but to know my alternatives if necessary
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Old 02-17-21, 09:17 AM
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I have toured for years with the guy that researched and mapped the Sierra Cascades route for ACA, Bil Paul. The route is based on his book "Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail" written in 1990. According to Bil, they had him do a route that included no dirt roads. We did a section from the Oregon border to Sisters, OR, and the route went up some very steep hills; too steep to ride... This could have been avoided by simply taking a good dirt road alternative (which was in his book). So my take on this that the ACA has their priorities and requirements, and they don't always line-up with they way I want to tour.

I use the ACA maps, and appreciate that they exist, but for me they are another planning tool and not the be all, do all.

As for the digital maps, I used them when I was on the Great Divide route. They were wonderful for this route, as the signage is not always there and they can resolve a "should I go left, or right," or "how do I get back to the route" dilemmas . That said, I did not purchase the digital versions for the Pacific Coast route because I already had the paper maps and find them to be sufficient. Maybe someone else can ring in on using digital instead of paper on some of the easier to follow routes.
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Old 02-17-21, 11:07 AM
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Originally Posted by timdow View Post
As for the digital maps, I used them when I was on the Great Divide route. They were wonderful for this route, as the signage is not always there and they can resolve a "should I go left, or right," or "how do I get back to the route" dilemmas . That said, I did not purchase the digital versions for the Pacific Coast route because I already had the paper maps and find them to be sufficient. Maybe someone else can ring in on using digital instead of paper on some of the easier to follow routes.
I've only relied on GPS for a couple of long-ish day rides. It saved me once, when the guy I was with turned about 100 feet before the correct road, and screwed me up once when I added about 15-20 miles with a "turn right" that persisted around a hairpin, and should have been "stay on the road as it curves and then turn left."

I only was shaky about following the paper TransAm three times. The first was probably user error, to be honest, coming into Charlottesville, VA. The second was "turn right on unmarked road" in Kentucky; I was pretty sure the first three rights were wrong, but missed the correct right turn. Fortunately some locals just up the road, sitting on their porch, possibly watching for stupid touring cyclists, set me right. The third, and I think the classic, was the one in Missouri with the notation, "Turn right on unmarked road. Just beyond turn is a power pole with the following number: " I got off the bike to check, that number was none of the metal tags on the pole, but I turned there anyway, and it turned out to be correct.

FWIW, rechargeable power packs have been a game changer in keeping phones or GPS devices charged in the last 5 years.

So my take is, paper is good 99.9% of the time. Electronic navigation is good 99.8% of the time. Remember it's an adventure, not a race, and take your pick.
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Old 02-17-21, 12:21 PM
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I assume you will have a GPS on your bike with the route or a track to follow and know how to use that GPS. Whether or not you get the ACA maps or the equivalent GPS route files, alternative routing might be required for one reason or another.
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Old 02-17-21, 12:29 PM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
I'The second was "turn right on unmarked road" in Kentucky; I was pretty sure the first three rights were wrong, but missed the correct right turn. Fortunately some locals just up the road, sitting on their porch, possibly watching for stupid touring cyclists, set me right.
Heh. Reminds me of a funny (to me, anyway) incident while doing ACA's Northern Tier tour. The day we rode to Glacier N.P. via the back way I was riding sweep. Caught up to the slowest rider. We got to a point where the cue was "Right at telephone junction box 12345" (or whatever it was). That would take us to U.S. 2. We had no idea what we were supposed to be looking for so, of course, we missed it. We eventually stopped to try to figure out what to do when a local in a pickup coming the other way stopped to help. Turned out we could get to U.S. 2 by staying straight. It would just involve more dirt riding. As we were about to start riding again the local asked us if we had bear spray. We did not. He told us that we were on the main bear route in the area then shook his head and said "Good luck" as if to say "Don't say I didn't warn you."

When we met up with the rest of the group someone explained that the telephone junction box was a small node sticking up out of the ground with the identification number stuck to it. There is now a road sign there.
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Old 02-17-21, 02:25 PM
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Originally Posted by RichinSC1 View Post
I thought it was illegal to ride bikes on the Interstate. It would make great sense to be able to since the paved shoulder is about 10' wide in most places.
State specific. Where I live, no bicycles. But I took the photo below on Pacific Coast, I had to get a photo of the lighted sign.

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Old 02-17-21, 02:31 PM
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One really nice thing about a good GPS with a good basemap is that when you get on one of these obnoxious traffic circles with lots of traffic and your head is on a swivel full time, thus you can't watch the GPS closely, you do find out a couple hundred feet after your wrong turn that you took a wrong turn.

This is not on Southern Tier, but this circle drove me nuts trying to get turned around and taking the correct option.

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Old 02-17-21, 04:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Brett A View Post
I used ACA maps when I did a bit (800 miles) of the OR and CA coast. Their upside is they have bicycle-specific info such as the locations of camping and bike shops. The down side is they have no information for anything that's not on the the exact road you're pedaling on. For that reason, they can never be your only map.

As something of an aside, I was pretty surprised to find how few of those 800 miles of coast had room for bicycles on them. Most of that route (From Tillamook, OR to Bodega Bay, CA) had no shoulder to speak of, and tight turns with high speed limits. A real nerve-wracking route that many other cyclists I met were bothered by, Some even considered abandoning the route altogether.
I guess that is true if you consider your phone another map. Depending on where I am I have bothered to pick up state maps as I go or not. Never found it to be a problem when I didn't

So don't make the mistake I did of assuming since it's an ACA route that there will be shoulders or other comfortable/safe road conditions.
Folks have varying level of traffic tolerance and tolerance for road conditions. I found it pretty comfortable I don't recall specifics about shoulders or lack of them in that section, but remember the coast as a nice pleasant ride.

Also, I learned from that experience that when you ride an ACA route, you run into a lot of other cycle tourists. Which for me was a downside. I prefer to be alone when I tour.
For me it was a plus. I rode alone every day, but met up every evening in camp with a group of folks who quickly became friends. The OP will most likely not have the same experience on the Southern Tier since it is a way less popular route. I only met a few other riders on the whole trip.
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Old 02-17-21, 04:32 PM
  #20  
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Originally Posted by RichinSC1 View Post
I thought it was illegal to ride bikes on the Interstate. It would make great sense to be able to since the paved shoulder is about 10' wide in most places.
In some of the western US states, there isn't always an easy alternative, e.g. took the following photo getting onto the shoulder of I-25 a little ways north of Socorro. I have cycled on interstates in parts of OR, CA, MT, WY, CO, NV, AZ, NM, UT, TX and typically it was the most straightforward route. For example, I believe ACA southern tier uses I-10 coming into Van Horn Texas.

After that it is nice to be back off the interstate again. While the shoulders can be wide, I've found them to also sometimes have an abundance of small wires from disintegrated truck tires. Also in busier parts having vehicle noise gets a bit tiring.

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Old 02-18-21, 08:17 AM
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Rich,

ACA has an app that you can use on your phone that gives the route and the services shown on the map. I think it is called Bicycle Navigator. It only works with ACA routes which must be purchased and can not be resold as the maps electronic and dedicated to your phone. The paper maps can be resold for about 1/2 on eBay. Just be sure to see if they are current and if not, be sure to download the addendum of changes on the ACA website (free).

Tailwinds, John
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Old 02-18-21, 04:36 PM
  #22  
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Sometimes there are no alternative routes. Our goal was to ride US highway 20, the longest contiguous route from Newport, OR to Boston MA. Sometime the route was quiet relaxing riding, some was freeway, and some riding was on good frontage roads.

An 54 mile stretch between Boise and Mountain Home, Idaho.


I am a loyal ACA member, but I take their route maps with a grain of salt. We met an ACA supported tour group in northern Michigan. They were heading in the opposite direction, when we stopped to talk to their leader. He gave us a section of the route map they had just finished. We followed it for a short section heading south along the Lake Michigan shore. It started raining, as the map routed us off the road we were on and up a long hill into a small town. Riding downhill on the other side of town, we were routed back to the junction of the road we just left. Then it started raining harder. From that experience I like to use tools like google map to check some of their route directions. We really did not have to go up that hill.

Last edited by Doug64; 02-19-21 at 12:41 PM.
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Old 02-18-21, 06:54 PM
  #23  
indyfabz
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Originally Posted by Doug64 View Post

I am a loyal ACA member, but I take their route maps with a grain of salt.
Same here. And not to be critical, but it revised two sections of the Atlantic Coast route in NY to add trail mileage. One revision adds nice trail mileage but then requires many additional road miles to get back to the original route, and those miles are not flat or traffic free/lite. I plotted a dirt alternative that eliminated many of those miles. I think it should at least be an alternative on the relevant map. Encountered only one car, and the climbing is manageable. But probably not the best option after prolonged rain. But at least give people the option.

The other adds poor trail mileage and some not nice road mileage to get back to the earlier route, which route was fine to begin with. Some of the added road miles are a bit hairy and have some short, steep hills. If I ever ride it again Iíll go the old way.
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Old 02-19-21, 05:22 AM
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I always got a chuckle out of this ACA diversion. Day 2 of a westbound TransAm at the end of the day when you just want to get to camp in Mineral VA. The ACA map takes you on a "scenic" 15 mile side trip to Lake Anna. You could just stay on rural VA 618 and be in Mineral in 9 miles! In fairness to the ACA mappers there are campgrounds near Lake Anna but most riders are heading for the fire station in Mineral.



VA 618 ^
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Old 02-19-21, 06:02 AM
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Originally Posted by BobG View Post
I always got a chuckle out of this ACA diversion. Day 2 of a westbound TransAm at the end of the day when you just want to get to camp in Mineral VA. The ACA map takes you on a "scenic" 15 mile side trip to Lake Anna. You could just stay on rural VA 618 and be in Mineral in 9 miles! In fairness to the ACA mappers there are campgrounds near Lake Anna but most riders are heading for the fire station in Mineral.
VA 618 ^
I have seen quite a few places where they do that for what seems like the only purpose was to climb a huge hill for no apparent reason.

One BIG advantage of ACA maps is the listing of services, especially places to stay. On well established routes like the TA you get to take advantage of the trail others have blazed wrt little town parks, fire stations, and church yards. A new tourist riding across the plains will quickly get an education in where they are likely to be welcome. I know that I found that after riding the Trans America I was very good at finding free places to stay in the middle of the US when off of an ACA route.
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