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Questions about Roads in the Deep South, for Coast to Coast Southern Tier Route

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Questions about Roads in the Deep South, for Coast to Coast Southern Tier Route

Old 05-28-19, 09:14 AM
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3949dxer
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Questions about Roads in the Deep South, for Coast to Coast Southern Tier Route

I’m seriously considering a coast to coast ride from the L.A. area to Jacksonville.

I began by studying temperatures, winds, and rainfall at 12 points along the way to choose a time of year to start, and the direction of travel. The conclusion was: ride west to east, and start in mid to late February. Other plans conflict with doing this next February, but I have it penciled in for early 2021, about the time that I’ll be retiring. I wish I didn’t have to wait that long, but at least I have a lot of time to prepare!

Much of that preparation, of course, is choosing the exact route. I’ve seen the Southern Tier route that Adventure Cycling has mapped out, and plan to buy their big map set, though I’m sure I wouldn’t follow it exactly. I might just use 40-50% of it, though I think I’d always be within 100 miles of it.

I’m a planning fiend and as I piece together the route, will probably “drive” much of it in Google street view to preview road conditions and traffic. I want to take quiet back roads wherever possible, and I hope to include a lot of quirky and historical places along the way. This will be “credit card touring”, not camping, with my wife (who’s very supportive of the project, bless her!) and/or a friend in a car, supporting me.

My main questions at this stage concern the roads in the Deep South. Route-wise, there are many options. I’ll start by Google driving the ones that Adventure Cycling has chosen, and then see if there are nearby options that I prefer, due to traffic, shoulders, or points of interest.

To anyone who has done this route or has cycled in rural areas of the South:

Did you follow Adventure Cycling’s Southern Tier road choices, and how were they, in terms of shoulders and the amount of traffic? Do you think the person(s) who chose those roads looked at different options in the South and chose the safest and most comfortable ones for cycling (which is what I would do), or do you think they just sort of plotted a line across the South without giving a lot of thought to choosing the most bike-friendly roads?

In general, do the smaller rural roads through LA, AL, GA, and FL tend to have decent shoulders, or not really?

And, if you have any links for east-west routes through the Deep South that you like, please post them.

I’ve done several long road trips through Texas and the Deep South (and enjoyed them immensely!) but wasn’t thinking about the bike-friendliness of the roads at the time. So, while I feel that I know those places fairly well (and like them a lot), I’m not sure what it’s like to cycle through them.

I’ve done lots of longish rural rides, but mostly in California. I’m safety-conscious, use my rear view mirror a lot, and seem to do pretty well around cars and traffic, but I want to get a better idea of what I’m in for when I get into the Gulf states.

Thanks in advance!

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Old 05-28-19, 09:54 AM
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Originally Posted by 3949dxer View Post
In general, do the smaller rural roads through LA, AL, GA, and FL tend to have decent shoulders, or not really?
Road shoulders seem to be present mostly on larger roads (U.S. highways, for instance) or urban areas.

It doesn't mean smaller roads are un-rideable. To the contrary, I'd rather take a small scenic road with one or two motorized vehicles every few miles than stay on a shoulder and get to listen to a steady stream of trucks and cars whizzing by.
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Old 05-28-19, 11:11 AM
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Originally Posted by 3949dxer View Post
...I want to take quiet back roads wherever possible, and I hope to include a lot of quirky and historical places along the way. This will be ďcredit card touringĒ, not camping, with my wife (whoís very supportive of the project, bless her!) and/or a friend in a car, supporting me.

My main questions at this stage concern the roads in the Deep South. Route-wise, there are many options. Iíll start by Google driving the ones that Adventure Cycling has chosen, and then see if there are nearby options that I prefer, due to traffic, shoulders, or points of interest.
1) "The Deep South" is a very large category and includes everything from ideal cycling roads to hellish nightmares. Roads vary from state to state, county to county, and community to community.

2) While I'm not specifically familiar with the Adventure cycling map, it is presumably based on cycling experience, so that's a great start. You should supplement that with the Strava Heat Maps to find roads that see cyclist traffic on a regular basis.

3) Don't get hung up on shoulders. Many rural areas in the South (and the Midwest, for that matter) are full of two lane roads with no shoulders that are still fine roads to ride. Local drivers are frequently used to farm traffic, and reasonable precautions (situational awareness, lane position, bright colors, flashing lights, etc) will avoid most potential problems.

4) Although the quality isn't universal, most southerners are polite and friendly if you are. Introduce yourself, ask directions, show some interest in the local culture, and you're very likely to end up a minor local celebrity for a day and should get lots of invitations to farm tours, lunch, places to camp, and other local amenities.

5) In late February, you'll be traveling during the start of planting season in many areas. This will give you a lot of opportunities to learn about Southern agriculture. Take advantage of the opportunity. Also worth noting is that most tractors travel at 20-30 mph, making them ideal to draft. Just watch out for potholes.

Enjoy the trip!
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Old 05-28-19, 11:45 AM
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Mostly followed Southern Tier routes until LA or so where I switched a bit more to following US 90 closer to the coast. I've also made a few other trips through parts of the south. I made my Southern Tier trip in March/April and that was a good time of year.

These are overly broad generalizations, but I tend to find more shoulders in West of US than East and in North of US than in South. So I've been on a few US highways (US 67 in MS coming into Memphis comes to mind), with high speed traffic and not much in way of shoulders. I also had an instance where road construction on I-10 diverted a lot of truck traffic onto nearby US-90. With those issues aside, I found the smaller roads in LA, MS, AL and TX and the choices made by Adventure Cycling routes to be reasonable.
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Old 05-28-19, 12:10 PM
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Although I have lived in Wyoming and elsewhere in the West for the past 30 years, my Southern roots go back 350 years.
Before I move out west, I biked all over the South and did a 2008 tour across the Deep South - not on the Southern Tier.

https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=1mr&doc_id=3402&v=Jp

I've also biked throughout other parts of the U.S. and Canada.

<<<>>>


I have found wonderful hospitality in the South - amazing encounters in out-of-the-ways places.
One of my fondest memories was in Camden, Alabama at the courthouse.
Wilcox County is a majority African American county in the Black Belt - and pretty poor.
So I go into the courthouse to use the facilities and fill up my water bottle.

It was the perfect time for folks to take a mid-afternoon break and come out with me.
One woman was astonished I was from Wyoming and asked me if there were bears in Wyoming.
I said, "Yes, ma'am." (You ALWAYS say "Yes, ma'am.") "We have black bears and we have grizzlies."
She asked me if I was scared all the time and I said, "No, ma'am - - they don't bother me."
She said she wouldn't ever even step outside if she lived in Wyoming.
And we all laughed so hard we almost cried.

<<<>>>

But cycling in the Deep South is tougher IMO than other regions. Why?

1. Dogs. Dogs everywhere on rural back roads. Sometimes packs of dogs.
In southern Alabama I asked a deputy what to do and she said, "Jus' shoot 'em."
I had people on their front porch laugh as their 3 or 4 big dogs came after me.

Which leads me to 2. Many Southerners think adults riding bicycles are weird.
I mean, why wouldn't you drive a Corvette unless you've lost your license?
When I told a store clerk in eastern N.C. I was riding to the Outer Banks,
she said, "Why would you do something stupid like that?"

Now, not all people are like that.
But there is less support for cycling in Macon than in Missoula.
(And the weather is far more conducive to cycling in Georgia than Montana.)

3. Camping and such is harder to come by - fewer parks, very little public land.
For Southerners who grew up poor, the idea of tent camping is not appealing.
Long ago, one friend who grew up without indoor plumbing until he was 12 said,
"Why on earth would I spend good money to sh1t in an outhouse?"

My experience is that rural paved roads in the Deep South are as good as anywhere else.
But - - the Deep South is poorer and so there are not as many paved roads.
30 years ago country drivers drove slower and waved as they passed.
Also, like elsewhere in the country, everyone seems in a hurry now.

The country corner store is mostly a thing of the past now.
Replaced by a C-store at the junction of Highway 47 and Sharps Mill Rd.
They used to be great refuges for cyclists - RC Cola and a Moon Pie.
(Which is about 2000 calories and explains why Southerners are of the large variety)

So, yes, for me it is a little more challenging to tour in the Deep South.
I would suggest something 100 miles north of the Southern Tier - the real Deep South.
The Florida panhandle has been increasingly transformed by tourism and growth.
But the Black Belt is the real thing.

Also, the ACA route in Louisiana doesn't take you through Cajun country.
The bayou country of Louisiana is another world - not to mention the gators and the skeeters.
But the food is to die for and the folks are simply the best.

Happy trails. - J

Last edited by jamawani; 05-28-19 at 12:15 PM.
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Old 05-28-19, 01:05 PM
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Recently rode from Pensacola to Jacksonville along the Panhandle coast and then across the state. The state and national parks for camping are plentiful along the way, but you may need reservations during the busy months. The ACA route is more inland, but there is no reason to avoid the congestion along the beaches. Really only a couple areas that were bad, and the rest was pretty light traffic. Not sure what long term damage occurred from the hurricane, so you would want to look into that.
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Old 05-28-19, 01:38 PM
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I rode the Southern Tier (mostly) a few years ago. I did deviate from the ACA route as I wanted to visit New Orleans for Jazz Fest (Great Fun!!). After New Orleans, I think I was on Highway 90 most of the way to the Atlantic. Roads in Alabama were terrible, but Mississippi roads were good and Florida provided some of the best roads of my entire trip. Fortunately, Alabama is over in a day. Saw more dogs in Texas than anywhere else. YMMV.

Have fun!
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Old 05-28-19, 04:44 PM
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Shoulders are very rare in Georgia and those which do exist are covered in ruble strips. Having said that, the roads are very good and I rarely have trouble with motorists once away from the urban centers. Georgia is a great place to ride.

Try the Silver Comet Trail from Anniston, Alabama into Atlanta if you are that far north.

https://www.bikeforums.net/southeast...il-photos.html


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Old 05-28-19, 05:59 PM
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I live in the Deep South but have not biked cross country. One poster had a link to crazyguyonabike.com: Bicycle Touring: A place for bicycle tourists and their journals There are many journals of people doing what you want to do. Read them and see what they experienced. I have to agree about the dogs. On back roads they can be a problem. NEVER believe someone who says their dog doesn't bite.
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Old 05-29-19, 05:38 AM
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Your proposed time frame is about when I went and I found it ideal.

I don't want to rain on your parade, but will say that I found the ST pretty dismal scenery wise. It is a long ways between points of interest and a lot of brown nothing for miles and miles and miles. It does have some redeeming qualities though. The biggest of those are :
  1. It is the only coast to coast route that I'd consider doing in the winter.
  2. It is the easiest way across wrt to crossing the mountains.
  3. It is a relatively short coast to coast route.
  4. You will meet an interesting mix of people including a variety of misfits, mostly transplanted from somewhere else.
  5. There is an interesting variety of different types of food as you cross the country.
  6. The people are very hospitable.
I don't think it lends itself particularly well to moteling with sag support with a car for a couple reasons. I generally don't think moteling with sag support is a great idea but think it is even less so on the ST. Just my opinion though, but I'll say it as food for thought. I saw quite a few sagged riders on other routes like the Trans America or the Pacific Coast (most were camping), but interestingly I don't recall seeing even one on the ST. That may be because there were fewer rider on the ST.

First given the locale a lot of the time it will be exceedingly boring for the sag driver. They will be stuck in tiny towns with pretty much nothing a lot of the time. The distances a bike will go daily will not get you between interesting places for your sag driver quickly at all. Even on the TA a lot of the time the sag drivers, usually wives, seemed to be hating life.

Having sag and staying in motels will insulate you from meeting interesting people to some extent. I found that a lot of the high points of my trip were associated with meeting people who offered hospitality, offering a place to camp, or sometimes feeding me a meal.

You will inevitably need to be shuttled longish distances from where you stop riding for the day to where you stay for the night and back in the morning. That would take away from the experience of riding across the country for me if it happened too often and on the ST I think it would probably be pretty often.

Having a motor vehicle involved in a bike trip changes the trip in some very fundamental ways and usually not for the better IMO.

As far as the AC route goes, it is pretty good, but I did improvise and depart from it a good bit. Personally I preferred to do that more on the fly. I picked up US90 in Van Horn TX for a while and enjoyed riding an empty highway (almost zero traffic all day). US90 goes from Van Horn TX all the way to Jacksonville Beach, Florida I have ridden or driven various sections of it and from what I have seen it looks like a great option for a route maybe the whole way. I think if I were to ride the southern corridor again I'd consider it.

However you go I wish you success. I am presenting the negatives that I have seen so that you can consider them in your choices and maybe forearmed against them. They may or may not apply to you, but I figured they were something that should at least be factored in.
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Old 05-29-19, 08:24 AM
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Originally Posted by texbiker View Post
I live in the Deep South but have not biked cross country. One poster had a link to crazyguyonabike.com: Bicycle Touring: A place for bicycle tourists and their journals There are many journals of people doing what you want to do. Read them and see what they experienced. I have to agree about the dogs. On back roads they can be a problem. NEVER believe someone who says their dog doesn't bite.
Dogs are simply part of rural life. With practice, you get better at distinguishing between dogs who want to chase, dogs who want to play, and dogs who think your leg would make a tasty morsel. With practice, you also get better at dealing with each of these. It's no different from riding in the city and learning to deal with traffic and bad neighborhoods.

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Old 05-29-19, 10:55 AM
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Many thanks everyone for the detailed and very thoughtful replies. This was much more info and helpful commentary than I'd expected and I really appreciate it!

I agree that a road without a shoulder is not a deal breaker. I ride them here in California sometimes and yes, if traffic is light, itís no big deal to keep your eyes open and just pull over to let someone pass when they approach. Part of the reason I asked about this was that it will take a lot of time to Google-drive and compare different roads. If a decent percentage of roads had shoulders Iíd seek them out and maybe prioritize that over other factors, but if shoulders are just plain scarce, Iíll choose roads that are scenic and more interesting, without worrying about whether they have shoulders.

jamawani, thanks for the heads up about dogs! I hadnít thought about that. I guess thatís not much I can do to avoid it. I do a lot of riding in Thailand and sometimes get chased by a single dog, but have never been bitten. Maybe if it happens I can just outrun them, unless Iím going uphill.

I donít plan to camp at all, but our vehicle is fairly comfortable for sleeping, so we might do that once in a while.

I totally agree that Southern hospitality is alive and well, and is a great joy to experience. My wife and I have done several road trips through the Deep South, much of it in the Black Belt and Cajun country. Those places are totally unlike any other part of America, and are a real pleasure. One afternoon we stopped at a supermarket in a small Mississippi town because my wife wanted to buy some fruit. I was waiting outside for her over by the shopping carts and I swear, every single person that walked by, and many who drove by, stopped to smile, wave to me, or stop to chat. And there were many, many other times that people went out of their way to be friendly and hospitable. Itís another world down there, and itís great.

I hadnít noticed that the ACA route bypasses Cajun country but in that case I would alter the route to see some of it. Southern Louisianaís great.

Tim, thanks for mentioning the Silver Comet trail, and nice pics on your link! I have friends in Atlanta and was considering a more northerly route so I could stop there. That might be a good option. It might be nice to get away from cars and highways for a while.

staehpj1, thanks for the warnings. Itís good to consider the downsides of things along with the good. I know that in general, this route isnít the most interesting option for me or my wife in the car. With due respect to the people of Texas, a part of me feels that the Texas stretch would, in a way, be 1100 miles of nothing. I know thatís not strictly true, and that there would be some scenic and historical places to enjoy, but I realize that there would be weeks of long almost featureless stretches with little shade. Iím sort of resigned to that, and am trying to think of it as an exercise in patience, as well as simple exercise. Iíve asked my wife over and over ďAre you sure youíre ok with this?Ē She has a small business that she can operate remotely from a motel room, so sheís have things to do, but Iím sure it would be an exercise in patience for her to, with less reward. A friend has tentatively offered to relieve her during part of the Texas section, so she could fly home for a while and take a break.

But one advantage to the route is, Iíd be interested in following the U.S./Mexico border, seeing the sites of the proposed wall, and hearing the opinions of people in the border towns. And my brother suggested dipping down into Mexico for a day or two on the way to Yuma, which could add interest.

Again, I really appreciate all the replies. Itís great input.

Last edited by 3940dxer; 05-29-19 at 11:02 AM.
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