By: Honza Faistaver
Where to start…well, let’s go back to January 2022. I was working as a maintenance guy at the St.John's Academy in Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island. While I was organizing some storage units, I found an old map of the US. It was held together by large amounts of clear tape and there was something really fascinating about it. I held on to the patchwork map and hung it on my apartment wall. Days went by and seeing the map everyday got me thinking…damn it would be cool to pedal my bike across the US one day. And the spark was lit!
A few weeks later I was scrolling Facebook Marketplace and a set of 4 ultralight bike bags popped up! I drove down to Victoria to pick them up and was now committed to the project.
A few months went by, I quit my job at the beginning of the summer, I moved into my 2001 GMC Safari, and began living the ultimate mountain biker’s dream cruising around British Columbia while riding bikes everyday! After Crankworx Whistler, some of my friends from Czech came over, I showed them around and suddenly it was the end of the season. I started route planning and discovered that most of the main routes from west to east/east to west would be closed for the winter time or really tough to bike through (especially going over mountain passes)! But then I found the Southern Tier Bike Route.
As the name suggests, this bike route starts in San Diego and goes along the Mexican border through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and finishes in St. Augustine, Florida. According to the guide, you can do this route all year round except the summer months (when it gets too hot in the desert or during hurricane season). The best time of year for this route is early spring or late fall, which was exactly when I planned to ride.
As my route came together, I reached out to Knolly and they agreed to set me up with a new gravel bike! I picked up my new Cache Steel from their office, did two training rides from Whistler to Pemberton, packed up the Cache along with my bike bags/gear and then flew down to San Diego to kick off the greatest adventure of my life!
The trip kicked off at 9am, Friday October 28th. I’m sipping my favorite 12 oz Americano at the Ocean Beach Park in San Diego, while admiring incredible views of the Pacific Ocean. After a mandatory bike-in-the-ocean-dip, I started pedaling towards the countryside of San Diego. I was feeling both nervous and excited and honestly, I did not fully understand what I was about to take on.
The first few days were amazing! The weather was perfect, I got in a lot of elevation, and I had a strong tailwind from the ocean. Going through California was really cool, the route went from desert to farmlands and back. I adapted to my new daily routine…wake up, pack up, pedal, eat, pedal, eat, set up camp and sleep. With some showers, laundry and bike repairs in between.
By Day 4, I went over the Colorado River at a place called Blythe and reached Arizona. This was a huge accomplishment as I could now clearly see my mark on the map and it got me stoked (500 km, 4500 to go!!). The landscape quickly changed and I was pedaling long straight roads with cactus trees everywhere. The days were hot and the nights were freezing cold. I guess this is the desert climate. Over the next two days I reached Phoenix and for the first time, I used Warmshowers (a couchsurfing app for cyclists). I stayed with a super nice couple (Patricia and David- thanks for the hospitality) and for a while, I felt like a human again. Next, I reached Duncan (a 200km ride) and I was about to cross the border of New Mexico.
Coming into New Mexico, cactus trees were replaced by tiny bushes/grasslands and strong headwinds started to appear. I made it to Silver City, which is about 6000ft in elevation and I experienced the coldest night of the whole trip…it was -2 degrees in the morning! The next day I rode over the Emory Pass (9000ft of elevation) and was rewarded with beautiful views of the Sierra County Valley (after a 3 hour climb to the top!). This was also another key moment of the trip as I reached the highest point of the route and slowly started making my way towards the lowlands around the Gulf of Mexico. Next, I made it to El Paso and after 11 days pedaling, I entered Texas (which is 1/3 of the whole trip)! And things started to not go as smooth…
I had a great first day in Texas as I stayed with Michael and his wife (another Warmshowers host- thank you!). I left El Paso fresh and was excited to pedal the second largest US state. I rode a 160km day and late in the night I made it to Sierra Blanca. The next day the headwinds picked up and the next two weeks looked challenging. The western part of Texas is extremely remote and there’s nothing to see. My rear tire was worn and I started to get more and more flats. All these factors together combined with cold weather/rain showers, made this part of the trip incredibly uncomfortable. But I wasn’t giving up! After a huge push, I finally made it to Austin which was roughly half of the trip! There was still 2500km to go but knowing that I did the hardest part with the most elevation and I was ready to continue my adventure.
I left Austin Texas on October 17th and was really stoked to kick off the second part of the trip! I kicked off my day with a tasty breakfast burrito, checked out the legendary East Side BMX trails and hit the road.The first few days were tough due to the headwind, cold weather and elevation (fun fact - I thought Texas was flat, but it's not. It's called Hill Country and getting over thousands of 100-200ft tall steep humps is tough). Over the next 4 days, I finally made it to Louisiana and seeing that blue state sign made me so happy! Texas, the biggest portion on my journey across the US, was finally over and only four (relatively small) states were left!
My first night in Louisiana was a jackpot! I stayed with another warmshower host in Merryville in a cozy rebuilt garden shack. The following day I purchased a fresh rear tire… no more rear flats for me! As I got closer to New Orleans/Gulf of Mexico, everything started to look greener and the weather was encouragingly warmer. The route followed mostly local roads with low traffic and seeing those historical houses with big gardens and old oak trees really took me back in time. On my third day in Louisiana I made it to New Orleans, which was another big milestone on this trip. Unfortunately, with some issues in Baton Rouge the day before and lack of time, I couldn’t see the city in daylight, but there was absolutely no traffic coming through in the night and at around 2am, I set up my camp by Lake Borgne (60km from border with Mississippi state).
Mississippi was tough at first…I battled strong highway winds and rain showers. At least it was relatively warm outside. I made it to Gulfport, found a shelter in a city park and stayed for the night. It was a good call because in the middle of the night I missed pedaling in the strongest rainstorm I had experienced on the trip.
I got an early start the next day, grabbed a coffee and snacks at a cheap gas station and hopped back on my bike. The plan was simple - make it through Alabama in one day! This part of Alabama is incredibly narrow and with good conditions it’s possible. From the first pedal stroke, I was flying on Road 90 with strong winds in the back. I made it in about 3 hours, got snacks and kept pedaling south towards Dauphin Island, where I took the ferry to Fort Morgan. This 30 minute ferry ride goes through Mobile Bay, which has approximately 30 active oil wells. I jumped off the ferry in Fort Morgan and after about 4 hours, 60km and a couple of beers I finally made it to Florida (the last state between me and the Atlantic Ocean)!
On my first night in the Sunshine state, I woke up to a foggy, cold morning. I headed towards Pensacola and then to Crestview but with the upcoming rainstorm, I decided to stay in a small town called Holt. I found a small shelter and after a few hours of absolute hauling wind and heavy rain, I finally fell asleep. The next morning was probably one of the toughest mornings yet, and I was rewarded with an absolutely epic day! I had a tail wind and made it to Chattahoochee (a 200km day!). And because I was stone throw far from Georgia, I stayed there for the night and added another state to the list!
At this point, I was only 500km far from St. Augustine (Atlantic Ocean) and I could not believe I had made it this far. About two weeks ago I set myself a goal to make this 5000km trip within 5 weeks and for the last few days, I was pushing really hard. Now I had 4 days to ride 500km and I knew I would pull it off. The weather was warm, with no wind and I was slowly making my way to the finish. I passed Tallahassee, Gainesville and suddenly I was in small town called Melrose (90km from completing this trip of a lifetime)!
On my very last day on the road, I woke up at the Melrose sports field and started pedaling. With every kilometer I got more excited! For last 34 days, I was focused just on myself, what I’m going to eat and where I was going to sleep.
At about 30 km from the end, I got flat. It was early afternoon and I still had a lot of time. As I was fixing my tire, I realized that I only had ONE patch left (I’ve always carried many of them plus a spare tube). So I hit the local bike shop but it was closed for the day. So I get back on the bike and guess what? After about 20 minutes of riding, in the middle of nowhere, my rear tire is leaking air again. As it was only a small puncture, I was still able to pump it, pedal hard for 2-3 minutes and repeat this process all the way to St. Augustine. And that’s how I finished my 5000km across America!
Once I reached St. Augustine beach, I cracked a beer and did a mandatory bike-in-the-ocean-dip! I was stoked and had a huge smile on my face. I spent the next few days in Jacksonville resting and on December 5th I flew back to the Czech Republic (going home after 2.5 years in North America).
My advice to you? If you ever wanted to do something like this, do it! Don’t be afraid, don’t listen to what people say, just hop on your bike and go. These 5 weeks on the road were definitely the best 5 weeks of my life. You’ll find out that you don’t really need much and the feeling you get after accomplishing something this big is unique.