Larry - Having decided that we were doing THE BIG RIDE, the next question was where were we going on THE BIG RIDE?
I've used Adventure Cycling Association maps/routes for several tours and have always found them to be excellent. ACA is a small outfit based in Missoula, MT that maps bicycle friendly routes all across the country. 40,000 miles of routes and still expanding! ACA is really much more than just a mapping service. It is an advocate for bicycle touring. They have a quarterly magazine and a cracking good website (adventurecycling.org).
If you check out the ACA Route Network (http://adventurecycling.org/routes/network.cfm), you immediately see they have three main transcontinental routes: The Northern Tier, The Transamerica Trail and The Southern Tier. The names are pretty intuitive, the NT stays mainly in the northern tier of states, the ST in the southern tier and the TA goes right across the middle of the good ole U.S. of A. We decided that the NT, with significant modifications, would suit us best.
The next fundamental question was West to East or East to West for direction of travel? We first thought we'd go in the traditional West to East direction, but Martha correctly pointed out that if we did that we'd almost certainly miss out on one of the anticipated highlights of the trip, same being the famous Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, which isn't usually cleared of snow until mid-June. A little internet research revealed that the prevailing wind theory which mandates cycling W to E is more myth than fact. So we flipped the route around so's to ride west, keeping the morning sun out of our eyes and making the Sun Road being open a virtual certainty.
As mentioned, we're heavily modifying the NT route. The NT runs from Bar Harbor, Maine to Anacortes, WA. We're going to start in Washington, D.C. and ride the first 380 miles or so of our journey on the C & O Canal/Great Allegheny Passage trailways. These are trailways open only to hikers and bikers. We did most of these routes a couple of years ago (West to East) and had a great time. The GAP will take us into Pittsburgh. From there it's the Pittsburgh Spur to the south shore of Lake Erie where we will first catch a short section of the NT before jumping onto the ACA Lake Erie Connector route, which will take us through Detroit and on to Ludington, MI where we'll ferry (on the S.S. Badger!) across Lake Michigan. Then we'll be on the North Lakes route until we get near Minneapolis where we'll finally get on the NT for good, taking us across 5 states to journey's end at Anacortes (We'll touch 12 states, total, along the way).
That'll be a lot of pedalin' We haven't ordered all of the ACA maps just yet. Once we have those in hand, we can figure out exactly how many miles our trip will be .
More on that later.