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Crossing Rockies in September/October?

Old 06-28-21, 05:31 PM
  #1  
apkramer2021
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Crossing Rockies in September/October?

I'm planning on biking across country fully self supported, starting mid-August (one of my childhood best friends is getting married so can't miss or start earlier =)

My current plan is to do the Transamerica route with some small modifications, going East to West (partly because of some wanderlust to reach the West).

I think I'll end up averaging 60-80+ miles a day, allowing me to hit the West coast in probably 60 or so days.

My biggest concern is crossing the Rockies in September. Do people think this is a terrible idea or worth the adventure? Any experiences about crossing the Rockies later in the fall would be super helpful!
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Old 06-28-21, 09:53 PM
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Are you 20, 40, 60 or 80?
Do you have much touring experience?
Because it is way different riding a bike with 50 lbs of gear.

It sounds as though you have little experience in the West.
Learning to deal with highly changeable fall weather in the Rockies as a first-timer is iffy.
And you will not be hitting the Rockies in September, but October.

People die in the autumn in the Rockies every year.
They are usually from back East - and inexperienced.
Even experienced people can be caught in a fast-developing fall blizzard.
https://apnews.com/article/a55805fab...617fa3d8576de7
A friend of mine quit the search & rescue squad -
because he was depressed from searches turning into recoveries.

You probably won't die - but you will be plenty miserable.
Not to mention that most services close by late Sept.
And roads in Yellowstone will be long closed.

I live in Wyoming and have taught in Montana.
I've biked, hiked and skied throughout the region.
Our first snow is in early Sept, then late Sept, then early Oct.
The next one, usually, more intense.
There are gorgeous days in between.
But temps can go from 75F to a wind chill of 0F in six hours.

If you absolutely have to wait to start until mid-August -
then - really - you should ride west-to-east.
In fact, it will be ideal all the way across if you start in the West.

Why try to force a square peg into a round hole?

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Old 06-29-21, 03:45 AM
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Originally Posted by apkramer2021 View Post
I'm planning on biking across country fully self supported, starting mid-August (one of my childhood best friends is getting married so can't miss or start earlier =)
If I understand correctly and the wedding is in the East before you go, I'd forget going E-W and start in the West. Jama knows what he is talking about take his advice.
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Old 06-29-21, 07:37 AM
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You might want to read about the experiences of the Lewis and Clark expedition near Lolo Pass, one of the crossings on the TA route. They were there in mid-September and had a tough time of it. And they weren't exactly delicate flowers.

You not only have the many passes in the Rockies, you'll see the Cascades and Coastal Range in Oregon, which Lewis and Clark avoided with a treacherous white water canoe trip.

But L&C didn't have towns and pavement and weather forecasts. Storms out here are generally forecast days ahead of time, and you can plan your time on the passes. But are you prepared to hole up for several days in a motel in a small town waiting for good weather? That gets tedious and expensive.
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Old 06-29-21, 08:24 AM
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I remember getting caught in a snow squall late August in the Wind River Range :-)

You could just go and see what happens. There is no shame in taking a ride in a vehicle for a stretch if it is snowed in...or buying studded tires just for the crossing.

... and btw, no disrespect, but people from the west die in the White Mountains every year, mostly by underestimating the conditions we get above the tree line. Having said that, yeah, ... don't try to be a hero and watch the weather, be dressed for it and get a transport if your gear is not up to it even if it is for a very brief stretch
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Old 06-29-21, 08:40 AM
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Depending on the route, and how you intend to re supply, check to make sure services will still be open when you cross.

In 2016 I crossed the Canadian west in September. I'd hoped for an Indian summer (extended into sept) but got rain and cool across most of the prairies. Apparently the remnants of a hurricane off of Hawaii in the Jetstream. Once in the Rockies though, I had good weather.
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Old 06-29-21, 08:48 AM
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Originally Posted by PedalingWalrus View Post
I remember getting caught in a snow squall late August in the Wind River Range :-)
I remember ~2 inches of snow on a backpacking trip in Colorado in August. At high elevations you can get this even in summer. However, by September you start to get into shoulder season. Storms can come through or it can be nice, somewhat unpredictable.

While crossing the Americas in 2016/2017, I left Banff on August 18th and came across Yellowstone September 7th and then back across Fremont Pass in CO on September 24th. I delayed my trip across Fremont Pass for a day to let an early snow storm pass. Photo below shows it was still cold, but fortunately clear again.

Overall by September, you'll have more probability of storms you likely want to avoid, perhaps with a delay. October will make it more likely.

If it were me, I'd probably start in the west first to get across the Cascades and Rockies earlier...
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Old 06-29-21, 08:54 AM
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thanks everyone :)

Pretty consistent advice here to start west and go east ... makes total sense. I'll plan on flipping the route, starting as soon as possible after the wedding, and getting past the Rockies as fast as possible

Thanks everyone! Am sure I'll have more questions soon as I continue to get ready
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Old 06-29-21, 01:57 PM
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Note: after labor Day, some stuff starts closing. Just something to be aware of.

The TransAm - there's quite nothing like it. The history of the country...and the history of the route itself. Services. The other cycletourists.

Okay, with that out of the way, just a random thought. Does it have to be the Trans Am? You could ride the eastern Trans Am and then pick up the Route 66 or even drop down to the Southern Tier.

Riddle me this, fellow forum denizens: raise your hand if you know why the Trans Am takes a ~400 mile detour north to Missoula. Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
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Old 06-29-21, 04:18 PM
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APK -

Leaving from the west coast, you will have plenty of time to get through the Rockies without the need to rush.
Why rush, anyhoo? You are having dessert first.

Everything that was already open in a semi-Covid year will still be open in Yellowstone.
Please go the extra few miles to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. It's really worth it.
You might have one litte snow - maybe a day off. You will have some chilly nights.

You will have more moderate temperatures in the Great Plains - way more enjoyable.
Then you'll hit the Appalachians in early to mid fall.

<<<>>>

60 days is pushing it.
90 is slow, 80 is moderate, 70 is quick.
75 days would get you back easy by the end of October.
Which is about when the good touring days start to fade away.

Have a great trip! - J
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Old 06-29-21, 06:52 PM
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Originally Posted by jamawani View Post
APK -

Leaving from the west coast, you will have plenty of time to get through the Rockies without the need to rush.
Why rush, anyhoo? You are having dessert first.

Everything that was already open in a semi-Covid year will still be open in Yellowstone.
Please go the extra few miles to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. It's really worth it.
You might have one litte snow - maybe a day off. You will have some chilly nights.

You will have more moderate temperatures in the Great Plains - way more enjoyable.
Then you'll hit the Appalachians in early to mid fall.

<<<>>>

60 days is pushing it.
90 is slow, 80 is moderate, 70 is quick.
75 days would get you back easy by the end of October.
Which is about when the good touring days start to fade away.

Have a great trip! - J
Are the US national parks back to pre-covid openings and regulations yet?

Not that it matters to me, as it is extremely unlikely that the border will re open in time to do Going to the Sun.

I think most things are open in the Canadian Parks, although I am never sure with those guys. Last year they shut most of the campgrounds in September.
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Old 06-29-21, 08:12 PM
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St. Mary, Rising Sun, and Cut Bank campgrounds are all closed this year - -
And Many Glacier Rd. is under major reconstruction - -
So the east side is really problematic.
Which makes riding Going to the Sun tough.
Plus, there no shuttle this year.
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Old 06-30-21, 05:42 AM
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Originally Posted by tcs View Post
Okay, with that out of the way, just a random thought. Does it have to be the Trans Am? You could ride the eastern Trans Am and then pick up the Route 66 or even drop down to the Southern Tier.
FWIW, I didn't find that the ST had much going for it other than that 1- it can be ridden in winter, 2- it is the easiest way over than the mountains, and 3- the food and people were interesting, Still the scenery was pretty uninspiring most of the way and there were day after day of endless dry brown sagebrush punctuated by nothing. Maybe you'd miss the most boring parts depending on where you headed south, but why? Much better to just do the TA W-E.
Riddle me this, fellow forum denizens: raise your hand if you know why the Trans Am takes a ~400 mile detour north to Missoula. Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
Because Adventure Cycling is headquartered there? To be fair it was a pretty nice section and probably better than the shorter route. I really enjoyed that section it has some of the best memories of the trip. We met some nice folks who hosted us in a couple places, we went rafting on the Salmon, we rode along the beautiful Lochsa river up to Lolo pass and enjoyed Jerry Johnson Hot Springs on the way up, we saw a herd of bighorn sheep, Big Hole Battlefield was a great stop, we spent the 4th of July with a group of motorcyclists who gathered in Jackson Hot Springs, and while it wasn't there yet for us there is now a nice bike camp in Twin Bridges (we stayed in the fairgrounds).
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Old 06-30-21, 07:54 AM
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Last year, winter cold and snow started record early Sept. 8, in the Rockies, all the way south past Denver.
In 2019, I was out driving mid Aug. to mid Oct. I didn't get snowed on, but saw lots. It had snowed 6+" in Helena MT, West Yellowstone, S Alberta, etc. around Oct. 8.
In 2018, 3 weeks after I got home from my 13 week NW tour, we had a crazy early big snow Sept. 17. Over a foot in places.
And oh, I just remembered, it dropped 70 to 80F in hours, in many places Sept. 7 - 8th. Butte MT lost a thousand trees because of this. The too soon cold, froze the sap and exploded the veins.

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Old 06-30-21, 08:45 AM
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Originally Posted by skookum View Post
Are the US national parks back to pre-covid openings and regulations yet?

Not that it matters to me, as it is extremely unlikely that the border will re open in time to do Going to the Sun.

I think most things are open in the Canadian Parks, although I am never sure with those guys. Last year they shut most of the campgrounds in September.
I'm in the NP system right now. Paddleboard and mountain bike road trip. So far Jasper, Banff, Waterton, today in Fernie then up through Kootenay to Yoho. Everything is open as far as bike camping is concerned. Some car campsites are half occupancy but they fit bikers in. Whistlers campground in Jasper is closed for major renovations a second year in a row but Wapiti is open. There is a major easing of restrictions come July 1st.

Feeling thankful I chose a van trip rather than a bike trip this week. Heat wave all week long with Temps 95-100f and above. Would have been a horror show trying to cycle during the day.
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Old 06-30-21, 10:58 AM
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Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
FWIW, I didn't find that the ST had much going for it other than that 1- it can be ridden in winter, 2- it is the easiest way over than the mountains, and 3- the food and people were interesting, Still the scenery was pretty uninspiring most of the way and there were day after day of endless dry brown sagebrush punctuated by nothing.
Yes, your disappointment and regret over your ST tour has been noted here many times, and your one-man campaign to prevent others from wasting their own tour opportunities is commendable.

Because Adventure Cycling is headquartered there?
Crazy, isn't? A national bike touring organization has their headquarters in a small, out-of-the-way town with short summers and long snowy winters. Go figure.

Co-founder Dan Burden had been going to University of Montana in Missoula. Bailing on Hemistour due to hepatitis, he returned to Missoula to attend university part time while making BikeCentennial happen. While most of the TransAm route was planned by Lys Burden driving a VW van across country in 1973~74 with an eye towards safety and history, she naturally wanted to reunite with her husband in Missoula.



I've wondered how Adventure Cycling and their route network would be different if Mr. Burden had been attending University of Ohio or University of Texas a half century ago!
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Old 06-30-21, 11:43 AM
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Originally Posted by tcs View Post
Yes, your disappointment and regret over your ST tour has been noted here many times, and your one-man campaign to prevent others from wasting their own tour opportunities is commendable.
I wouldn't say I regretted it at all. It was the best choice for the time frame of when I wanted to go. I am not even sure I'd say I was disappointed, since I pretty much knew what to expect. I was looking to get out in February and crank out long days. It was okay. I definitely wouldn't go for the scenery though. I also definitely wouldn't ride it when it was hot. That would be my idea of hell. The people and food were redeeming features that offset the lack of scenery most of the way. You do need to be mentally prepared for the long miles of nothingness so I tend to think folks ought to be warned what to expect. I could see someone being put off of touring if their first tour was the ST. Mine was the TA, but if it was the ST in warm weather I might not have gone again.

I do know one guy who has done all three AC routes at least once and the ST is his favorites. So not everyone shares my opinion.
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Old 06-30-21, 11:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Happy Feet View Post
I'm in the NP system right now. Paddleboard and mountain bike road trip. So far Jasper, Banff, Waterton, today in Fernie then up through Kootenay to Yoho. Everything is open as far as bike camping is concerned. Some car campsites are half occupancy but they fit bikers in. Whistlers campground in Jasper is closed for major renovations a second year in a row but Wapiti is open. There is a major easing of restrictions come July 1st.

Feeling thankful I chose a van trip rather than a bike trip this week. Heat wave all week long with Temps 95-100f and above. Would have been a horror show trying to cycle during the day.
Yikes, you picked a hot week for it!

I was in the Columbia Valley on the weekend, but drove back before the heat wave as it would be way too hot in my yurt.

Last summer it was hard to work out what was open and what was closed due to covid. It was a big disappointment to see campgrounds closed after Labour Day, as it put a damper on spontaneous car camping trips. Doesn't really matter for bike camping as you can just wheel in and camp anyway. As long as the toilets arent locked.

Have a great trip, mind the heat!
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Old 06-30-21, 03:55 PM
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I'm so glad Dan Burden was in Missoula and not Austin, Texas or Athens, Ohio.
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Old 06-30-21, 11:09 PM
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Originally Posted by skookum View Post
Yikes, you picked a hot week for it!
Really!

Mountain biked at Alpine Ski Resort today in Fernie from 9am till 2:30pm and Temps hit 99f (the hill closed at 3 due to heat).

Despite the heat, which during the day is just oppressive, tomorrow if all goes according to plan I will have visited 5 NPs (Jasper, Banff, Waterton, Kootenay and Yoho) and crossed the continental divide 4 times (Yellowhead, Crowsnest, Vermilion and Kicking Horse passes) in one week

Pics when I get home.


As far as booking campsites goes, I have given up. The system is a mess. I just show up and usually they fit me in. In the rare case there is no site each park has an overflow area where you can sleep for free so I just park there. They won't turn a cyclist away though.

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Old 07-01-21, 05:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Happy Feet View Post
As far as booking campsites goes, I have given up. The system is a mess. I just show up and usually they fit me in. In the rare case there is no site each park has an overflow area where you can sleep for free so I just park there. They won't turn a cyclist away though.
Not specifically there, but in places where options were limited I have sometimes cruised the campground and found someone willing to share a site. I only resort to that in a pinch, but it has been an option when there weren't many other options.
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Old 07-01-21, 10:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Happy Feet View Post
Really!

Mountain biked at Alpine Ski Resort today in Fernie from 9am till 2:30pm and Temps hit 99f (the hill closed at 3 due to heat).

Despite the heat, which during the day is just oppressive, tomorrow if all goes according to plan I will have visited 5 NPs (Jasper, Banff, Waterton, Kootenay and Yoho) and crossed the continental divide 4 times (Yellowhead, Crowsnest, Vermilion and Kicking Horse passes) in one week

Pics when I get home.


As far as booking campsites goes, I have given up. The system is a mess. I just show up and usually they fit me in. In the rare case there is no site each park has an overflow area where you can sleep for free so I just park there. They won't turn a cyclist away though.
You are braver than I am. My plan is to be off my bike by 10 AM.

Yes, they won't turn away a cyclist, but sometimes there is nobody there to tell you where to camp when everything is full, and you get dirty looks from the motorized campers when you set up on the margins. If you have a vehicle, you can always go to an overflow, but they can be a long way from where you want to be.

Hope the rest of your trip is good, and I admire your stamina.
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Old 07-19-21, 10:16 AM
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Originally Posted by jamawani View Post
APK -

Leaving from the west coast, you will have plenty of time to get through the Rockies without the need to rush.
Why rush, anyhoo? You are having dessert first.

Everything that was already open in a semi-Covid year will still be open in Yellowstone.
Please go the extra few miles to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. It's really worth it.
You might have one litte snow - maybe a day off. You will have some chilly nights.

You will have more moderate temperatures in the Great Plains - way more enjoyable.
Then you'll hit the Appalachians in early to mid fall.

<<<>>>

60 days is pushing it.
90 is slow, 80 is moderate, 70 is quick.
75 days would get you back easy by the end of October.
Which is about when the good touring days start to fade away.

Have a great trip! - J
jamawani just wanted to follow up with a couple of questions ... were those estimates for TransAm specifically?

Based on all of the feedback on this thread, it sounds like as long as I'm prepared for a couple of cold nights and a day off or two for snow (and not being a hero, taking a transport as necessary), then the timing should be fine leaving from Astoria OR on August 17th ... It's still nearly 1500 miles to Colorado on the route, so probably ~25 days to get through the hardest / most variable parts.

Does that sound right?
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Old 07-19-21, 10:30 AM
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I know you directed this to Jama, but I'll chime in to say that you will still be at elevation for a week or so in Colorado (maybe less depending on daily mileage, but at least a few days). From Astoria you will be about 2000 miles or a little more before you are out of the higher elevations. Your 25 day number sounds a little optimistic. You'd need to average the high end of your estimated mileage with no rest days, half days, waiting out snow, mechanical problems or other setbacks. I would suggest allowing more like 35 days and if you manage 25 so much the better.
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Old 07-20-21, 10:59 AM
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I don't understand this thread. I toured through the Rockies in Sept/Oct and thought it was great. Sure, the weather was occasionally chilly, especially the nights, but the traffic was much lighter.
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