Couple Embarks on Trans-USA Bikepacking Odyssey

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Is it possible to piece together an unpaved bikepacking route across the US, primarily on gravel and dirt? Apparently it is, and these two cyclists are on a mission to prove it…

How do you get across the country on mostly unpaved roads? You take the long way. The TAT, or Trans-America Trail, is a 5,000+ mile dirt and gravel route across the US, from Morehead City, NC to Port Orford, Oregon. The route was initially designed for dual-sport motorcycles and follows a hearty elevation profile that gains more than 300,000 feet of climbing. The TAT isn’t to be mistaken for the Adventure Cycling Association’s route of the same name, which is a mostly paved route that runs from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, VA.

On August 1st, Sarah and Tom Swallow set out from eastern NC to pioneer the TAT route via bicycle. The Swallows are the owners of Swallow Bicycle Works, a small bicycle shop located in the city of Loveland, in Southwest Ohio. The Swallows have completed several big bikepacking gravel grinders, including the Oregon Outback and the Ohio Buckeye Trail, but nothing of this caliber.

Swallow Bicycle Works - Tat

The Rhododendron lined gravel roads that led them to find the TAT. Photo by Swallow Bicycle Works.

Tom and Sarah stumbled upon the route while exploring the twisty rhododendron-lined gravel roads of North Carolina and Tennessee. They immediately began researching the route and decided it could be the ultimate cross-country bikepacking quest. Throughout the next few months, the Swallows will be exploring the route while recording necessary information such as campgrounds, impassible sections, and necessary resupply points.

Tom and Sarah Swallow - Swallow Bicycle Works

Tom and Sarah at their shop in Loveland, Ohio. Photo by Cody Sowers
We believe that this route is equally ideal for bicycle travel, at least most of it, and will use it as our guide, while we cross the U.S. on our bicycles on as many dirt roads as possible. – The Swallows

Swallow Bicycle Works

I had the opportunity to ask the Swallows a few questions about their trip and here’s what they had to say:

How did you originally find out about the TAT?

We were about to go down to North Carolina to ride gravel roads with some friends and I was looking for a place we could stay. I visited the site for The Lodge at Tellico which listed a dual sport motorcycle route across the country as a ride near them. We had always wanted to cross the country by bicycle, and this seemed like the best option for us.

How long have you been preparing for the journey?

We decided we would do this ride 6-months ago. Most of the riding that we do is long distance on gravel roads. Over the past couple years we have picked up bikepacking, as an alternative to randonneuring style rides.

Prior to TAT, what’s the biggest off-road route you’ve ridden?

We followed the Buckeye Trail from Cincinnati to Lake Erie along the East side of the state. That was 650 miles, not so long compared to the TAT.

Which section(s) of the TAT are you most looking forward to?

The Smokey Mountains, Colorado, Utah, and all the unexpected.

Are you worried about any areas?

I’m interested in seeing the ratio between paved and gravel roads. Based on my research, there will be plenty of gravel linked up by paved sections. I’m skeptical of state routes in certain areas of the country. Water availability out West is also a concern of ours.

When are you expecting to complete the route?

Sometime in October.

Trans America Off-Road Trail - Porcelain Rocket Bags

The TAT isn’t a web of singletrack trails, it’s a route made up of dirt roads, gravel, jeep tracks, forest roads, abandoned railroad grades, and farm roads. Based on the bit intel that’s out there, generated by motorcyclists, there are rocky sections, technical dry creek beds, and tough sections of mud, sand, and snow. Tom and Sarah are tackling the TAT on 700c custom built bikes and 43mm Bruce Gordon Rock ‘n Road tires. Here’s a little more about their gear:

Tom’s Bike

  • Frame: Swallow Bicycle Works All Road
  • Wheels: Specialized Roval Control SL 29
  • Handlebar: Ritchey WCS EvoCurve 44cm
  • Stem: Ritchey WCS 100mm x 6 degree
  • Brakes: Avid BB7 with centerline 160mm
  • Shift/Brake Levers: SRAM Red Ergodynamic 10 speed
  • Rear derailleur: SRAM X9 Medium Type 2.1
  • Front Derailler: SRAM Force 22 Yaw
  • Cassette: SRAM PG1070 11/36T
  • Chain: SRAM PC1051
  • Crankset: SRAM Rival GXP 175mm 46/34T
  • Bottom Bracket: Chris King
  • Pedals: Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3
  • Tires: Bruce Gordon Rock ‘n’ Road 700 x 43mm, tubeless 25-35 psi
  • Saddle: WTB Volt Pro
  • Seatpost: Thomson Elite Setback 150mm

Sarah’s Bike

  • Frame: Specialized Awol Comp
  • Wheels: Specialized Roval Control SL 29
  • Handlebar: Ritchey WCS EvoCurve 40cm
  • Stem: Thomson X4, 70mm x 10 degree
  • Brakes: Avid BB7s with centerline 160mm
  • Shift/Brake Levers: SRAM Red Ergodynamic 10 speed
  • Rear derailleur: SRAM X0 Medium Type 2.1
  • Front Derailler: SRAM Red Yaw
  • Cassette: SRAM PG1070 11/36T
  • Chain: SRAM PC1091R
  • Crankset: SRAM Force 22 GXP 170mm 46/34T
  • Bottom Bracket: Chris King
  • Pedals: Shimano XT
  • Tires: Bruce Gordon Rock ‘n’ Road 700 x 43mm, tubeless 25-35 psi
  • Saddle: WTB Deva SLT
  • Seatpost: Thomson Elite Setback

Trans America Off Road Swallow Bicycle Works

The start of their trip in 100 degree North Carolina August heat. Photo by Swallow Bicycle Works

Bags (both bikes)

  • Front Bag: Porcelain Rocket MCA with Porcelain Rocket cuben dry bag
  • Cockpit Bags: Revelate Designs Gas Tank, Carsick Designs Goodie Bag, Fuel Belt Aero FuelBox
  • Frame Bag: Porcelain Rocket custom El Gilberto, cuben
  • Seat Bag: Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion

Sleep and Shelter

  • Tent: Tarptent Double Rainbow two-person tent with carbon fiber poles
  • Tarp: Tyvek tarp
  • Ground Cloth: MUSA Vapor Barrier (2)
  • Bag Liner: Sea-to-Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Liner
  • Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest Neoair
  • Pillow: Z-Pack Stuff Sack Pillow

Trans America Off-Road Trail (TAT)

Buy a TAT patch from their website.

Cookware

  • Mug: MSR Ti Mug (2)
  • Pot: MSR Kettle
  • Silverware: Ti Spork, Ti Spoon
  • Stove: Vargo Ti Hexagon
  • Stove: Vargo Ti Triad
  • Coffee: MSR Coffee Filter
  • Fuel Bottle: Trangia Fuel Bottle
  • Emmergency: Esbit Fuel Tab (2)

Water

  • Platypus Hoser Reservoir 3.0 L (Tom’s Frame Bag)
  • Platypus Hoser Reservoir 2.0 L (Sarah’s Frame Bag)
  • Swallow Bicycle Works 26oz Purist Waterbottle
  • MSR HyperFlow microfilter
  • Extra Water Storage: Platypus 1.0 L Softbottle, Platypus 2.0 Platy Bottle
  • Emmergency: MSR Aqua Tabs

See the rest of their pack list, down to the dental floss, here… and follow along with Tom and Sarah’s journey at: http://sbwxtat.swallowbicycleworks.com/

More Trans America Trail Posts

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  • Darren McElroy

    This is so rad! I have wondered about doing something like this ever since I rode across the country without any maps (yay adventure!). I’ve always thought that surely there must be a predominantly dirt route between the coasts. Good on ya Tom and Sarah for giving it a go. Godspeed!

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ bikepacking.com (Logan)

    Agreed. I heard rumblings about the TAT several months ago and forgot about it until I heard about this epic ride!

  • mikeetheviking

    Dang! This looks AWESOME!

  • Robert Grey

    Just don’t know when I’m gonna find the time to do all these rides!

  • Harley Raylor

    I’ve been reading this blog adventure from most current post backwards to this one. Love that she is riding an AWOL. My wife and I both have that bike and ridden it many miles over two seasons and love it. I’d really like to hear her review of the AWOL.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Me too… I’ll see what we can put together.

  • Harley Raylor

    Her review is awesome!

  • Rolf Steiner

    To Sarah & Tom: I would like to know in retrospect if you had to do the ride all over again what trails/roads would you have avoided at all costs and what are alternate routes?

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