Author Andrew Small
If you’re an avid American cyclist, odds are you’ve harbored this dream: a sea-to-shining-sea cross-country bike trek, the sort of epic journey Jerry Cowden took from Arlington, Virginia, all the way to Astoria, Oregon, when he retired from his job at the FCC in 2009.
“I went out my back door, got on my bike, and didn’t stop until I got to the Pacific Ocean, 106 days later,” he says.
Cowden’s path west traced the TransAmerica Trail, a set of cross-country routes on backroads originally mapped for the 1976 Bikecentennial ride, and the Katy Trail, a recreational rail-trail in Missouri. That helped him minimize his encounters with motor vehicle traffic. But he says he did have to deal with a few sections of roadway he had to share with motorists. “They tried as much as possible to route you on roads that are low stress and low traffic, but sometimes, it’s unavoidable.”
If you’re in a car, you’ve been able to motor across the United States since 1913. (Thanks, Lincoln Highway.) But on a bike, it’s been more of a challenge—there’s no single unified route made for cycles that spans the continent. That may soon change: On Wednesday, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy gave the grand reveal for an entirely car-free way to get across the country—the Great American Rail-Trail—that would connect Washington, D.C., to Seattle. The path runs through 12 states: Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.