There are several schools of thought about how to set up your touring bike, but generally you want to balance weight and keep stuff dry. Past that, there are enough options that I felt overwhelmed for days back in May when I was trying to order bags, clips, racks, dry sacs, bottle holders, etc. Most of the serious stuff is only online, so you can’t really see it and try it out without buying it first. So I did my best in Boston by picking the brains of a lot of people, wrestling with conflicting advice, and comparing vague specifications on websites. From the beginning, I decided I would do my best in Boston, then fix everything that was wrong once I got to home base in Cleveland.

The First Try


This setup got me the first 750 miles. Weight = 65 lbs. My bike is a 2017 Trek 520 with disc brakes.

  • Trunk-shaped handlebar bag: electronics, food, toiletries, wallet, sunglasses
  • Food pouch: used as bottle holder
  • Top bar bag: bike tools and tubes with slot on top to hold cell phone
  • Tire pump clipped to frame
  • Fenders
  • Frame bag (the triangular one): rain gear and tent poles
  • Bottle holder on the bottom of the down tube
  • Side panniers: clothes, another water bottle, camping gear, kindle, solar panel
  • Fenders

In some ways my first setup was the conservative choice. Side panniers are classic, they hold a lot, they’re durable, and they keep the center of gravity lower for better balance. But they’re heavy and they stick out to the sides and create extra drag in the wind. I also came to abhor the handlebar bag because, though it was highly useful, it’s crazy heavy, and it blocked my view to the front tire and some of the road immediately in front of me, so somehow I felt like I was driving a minivan. I also didn’t have easy-enough access to water bottles.

Take Two


Weight = 63 lbs (2 lbs less!)

  • Front pouch: wallet, sunscreen, eye protection, kindle
  • Front dry bag: all camping gear other than my tent
  • Harness to hold those two front bags
  • Top bar bag: food on the inside, cell phone on the top
  • Tire pump clipped to frame
  • Fenders
  • Three mounted water bottles: two with easy access!! (new!)
  • Safety reflective decals, red (new!)
  • Extra duct tape and electrical tape wrapped around the seat tube (new!)
  • Homemade board on the back rack to support the duffel bag
  • Duffel bag: tent, clothes, rain gear, tools, toiletries, solar panel, extra capacity

This setup is much closer to what I really wanted to create initially, but in Boston, I found that I couldn’t affix the duffel bag to the back rack securely enough to prevent it from sliding around when I turned, which presented a safety problem. Reasons for a duffel bag: it sits directly behind me so there is no extra wind drag, it’s lighter and easier to keep organized than panniers, and it has extra space for when I’ll need to carry more food and water with me out west. The top of the duffel provides a great surface to support my solar panel or drying clothes while I ride during the day too.

The front bags by Revelate Designs are just plain awesome and a lot lighter and more sleek than the trunk-like thing I had before. Finally, I’m glad to be rid of the frame bag because it didn’t quite stay centered between my legs, and I think the asymmetry affected my peddling and contributed to a budding injury I have in my left knee/shin. And easier access to water, I think, will be invaluable.


So the real story here is how much my step father Kert and my mom helped me with the redesign. Kert and I (mostly Kert) worked on two prototypes for the back rack to support the duffel bag. Features include very secure connections to the existing rack, holes to accept the hooks of bungee cords, and larger holes in the middle to reduce weight. And since the duffel bag will block the seat post, Kert added a small dowel in the back for me to affix my blinky red light (easier seen in the image above these two). And Mom made me new straps with buckles to keep the top bag more tightly fixed so it doesn’t flop over and hit my legs while I peddle. Thank you to you both.

Several test rides prove that the new setup feels much better than the original configuration. A fully-loaded touring bike can’t feel like a sports car, but it’s at least a Subaru, and decidedly not a minivan. The new setup feels like something I can cross the country with!



Part 1: Boston to Cleveland

In a perfect world, I would have been able to represent the first 20% of my trip in more than one post, but I didn’t have the time (see: Logistics) to make this blog until I got to Cleveland. So here’s the first 750 miles in a Reader’s Digest version.


My trip started unofficially at 1am on June 13, when I took a short ride to Boston Harbor by myself for my own little moment, and I dipped the back tire in the Atlantic, anticipating that, should I make it, the front tire will hit salt water at Ocean Beach in San Francisco in August.

My tour started officially at 8am that day at Copley Square in Boston, and I was incredibly lucky to have a few close friends get up early and my parents make the trip just to send me off. It was a very all-of-a-sudden kind of affair. Maybe we were there for 10 minutes, and then like a shock, it was just me.

The first day was 101℉, with an advisory that it felt like 111℉. Drivers and people I met were unusually nice, probably because they felt bad for me. But I didn’t have trouble finding water, so it was all just part of the journey. I didn’t readily volunteer what I was really up to during the day, though, because how did I know I’d even make it to New York?! But I was happy to meet a nice man who passed me on a road bike somewhere west of Concord. He asked me out of sheer curiosity where I was going, to which I could only reply “San Francisco.” He followed me for a bit just to chat. We forgot to exchange names, but he found me later through Facebook from some clues from the conversation, and I hope he’ll still be able to follow me along the way via this blog. Shout out to Pierre!

On the second day in Massachusetts, I learned that not all 78-mile stretches are made the same of course. My title for the day’s ride on Strava was “A little too ambitious,” but I made it to my campsite just east of Pittsfield by nightfall. The scenery in Western Mass is gorgeous, but I’m afraid I was on a mission to get some distance behind me and reach the NY state line. It felt really good to achieve that first milestone.

It took me 6 days to cross New York. Three nights in cheap hotels, two camping, and one with my friend Lars Schumann, his wife Tamar Carroll, and their beautiful daughter Sabina in Rochester. It hadn’t occurred to me until I saw Lars in Rochester how much of a relief it was to see a friend! In a lot of ways, while I’m on my bike trying to make 80-or-so miles each day, it’s so all-consuming that it feels like I am in another, physically separate, constantly changing world. It’s really cool actually, but man is it awesome to see people I know and like from time to time too!

I followed the Erie Canal for almost its entire length. I really wanted to include Ithaca in my trip, but by the time I passed Albany, I redirected my trip because I was already starting to feel some pain in my upper left shin, and more, unnecessary hills just didn’t seem like a good idea. So re-framed, my trip through New York was more properly a terrific chance to appreciate the engineering marvel that is the Erie Canal. I honestly had no idea how impressive it was until it was my life for days. It would be a feat today, and it’s about 200 years old. Working locks, aqueducts, ruins, old tug boats, mule towpaths,… seriously awesome, and I can’t imagine a better way to experience it than by bike.

I first saw Lake Erie just south of Buffalo. Especially as a son of the Great Lakes, that was pretty freakin’ cool. But, ohhh, the head winds. I only made it 50 miles that day, and it was far more difficult than the Berkshires in Western Mass had been. I had to stop 30 miles short of the camp site I had paid for to get a motel room so I wouldn’t hurt my knees any more. And I resolved that I had to figure out how to get rid of my side panniers that made headwinds so much worse to deal with.

The next day I made a little over 80 miles to just East of Erie, PA, and something about that day just made it simply the best. It was beautiful weather, and I got to ride along my favorite lake and complete my then six-day project called Upstate New York. I also started singing and whistling to no one as I rode just ’cause I could. That night I stayed at a campground on the lakeshore just 10 miles from the Ohio border, so I got to fall asleep knowing that my biggest achievement of really, actually making it home was waiting for me before breakfast the next day.

I was alone at the campsite save for one other guy, and he offered to have me join him at his fire. Cool dude for sure, and we had a good conversation. He was heading from Chicago to a buddy’s wedding in Vermont, and he happened to love any chance he got to camp. I remember he asked me: “so why are you doing this?” I admitted that I didn’t really have a good reason, just a bunch of little ones, plus why not. I told him a bit about the trip and moving, and I’ll remember his line forever: “yeah, there’s a motivation in there somewhere.”  ‘Nough said.

I made it to my friends’ house in Cleveland Heights in exactly 10 days from Boston. I had a terrific night with Julia Weiss and Jeremy Riedel, and they were gracious hosts as always. The next day was all thunder storms, so I took my parents up on their offer to pick me up. I left my bike in Cleveland Heights for a couple of days and then returned to it, which set me up for what I had been hoping to do: to ride across Cleveland with my adventurous cousins Kelly McCrone and Kevin Peacock. They were only available one day, and I had arrived a few days earlier. That ride, their longest to date, ended at my parents’ house in Oberlin, where I got to spend time with a lot more family 🙂

So if Montreal was the learning phase, Stage 1, and Boston to Cleveland is the proving-it phase, Stage 2, now with some rest and retooling, I’m finally ready for Stage 3: the BIG journey.

The Logistics

No account of my bike ride would be complete without mentioning how much work it took to make this happen. It’s certainly more ridiculous than I knew how to appreciate going in, and I’ve come to accept that this, too, is part of the journey. Whatever it takes.

All that other stuff

I had been thinking about making this journey for a while, but in the perfect world, I would have had a year or two to learn, plan, and train for it. That was my plan, at least, until it became suddenly obvious in January that I needed to leave my job in Boston. At that point, my new job became make Plan B better than Plan A. My parents will probably always remember that phone call: “I’m going to quit my job in the spring and move back to San Francisco. By bike.” And: “I’ll find a new job sometime before I get there.”

I really didn’t know anything about anything other than: that one time last fall, I did my first century (a 100-mile bike ride) around Cape Cod Bay by myself and I loved it. But I had the drive to make this happen, and that’s gotta count for something, right? All of the experienced cyclists I know gave me that same look you’re making right now. So, you know, whatever it takes…

In February, I signed up for an 8-week bike maintenance class at Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge, MA on the advice of my good cycling friend Jon Ramos, which was the perfect way to demystify bike mechanics and help me keep momentum through the doldrums of a Boston winter. I started talking to people about jobs in SF, and I carefully laid out a calendar to choreograph the all the things that had to happen in between.


It was a lot. My last day of work was April 21, and I didn’t leave for the bike ride until June 13, but in between, I traveled to San Francisco (twice), Los Angeles, Chicago (twice), New York City, New Hampshire (twice), Rhode Island (twice), Toronto, Kentucky, Columbus, and Montreal. All the while, I had to move out of my apartment, say goodbyes to a lot of great people in Boston, teach two professional workshops, deliver a professional talk, go to three weddings and two bachelor parties, finish some consulting, plan and record a class for, talk with a lot of people about several jobs, convince those job offers to let me disappear for 3 months first, go on a 400-mile training ride, and, oh,… plan the big ride. In May I was only “at home” in Boston for 8 days, and all of that was every bit as stressful and exhilarating as it sounds. I mention all of this to give you some idea of what it takes for a 32-year-old to carve out 2 ½ months for a bike ride while also changing jobs and moving from coast to coast. Whatever it takes!

Huge thanks, once again, to my parents who helped me move out of my apartment and then drove my stuff to Ohio for safe keeping. (Good thing I’m an only child!) Big thanks to Hanna Jin and Jake McOwen for hosting me for a week in their Beacon Hill apartment after my lease ended but before my ride began. And many, many thanks for my friends on all three coasts—East, West, and North (a.k.a. Cleveland)—for your support in uncountable ways. I’ve found myself thinking more than once, that just for this crazy bike trip, “it takes a village…”

And shameless plug for that class I created in the midst of all of this! I was even doing some trouble-shooting before the launch during my ride through Upstate New York!

Learning: Boston to Montréal

So back to the bike riding, I had to learn how to do that somehow too of course. And my friend Jon Ramos, once again, swooped in to give me the answer. 400 miles in 5 days with 30 people. Bos/tréal 2017 with the Boston Cyclists Union is a supported ride and an annual fundraiser at the end of May for a small yet effective non-profit that works hard to advocate for safer streets in greater Boston. It’s a great group of people a great cause, and a perfect way to learn how to tour on a bike. I mean, check out how cool the logo is.


So this was my big personal test: could I really do this? I knew I could do 50 miles whenever I wanted, but what about 80? Every day? It turns out yes, but it was really hard. I used my brand-new touring bike so we could get used to each other. I was one of the slowest riders among the group, but not to an embarrassing degree. I learned that I can be steady riding up mountain after mountain, and I learned how to ride through days of cold rain. Several cyclists, especially Glen Cunningham (fellow Cornellian!), eagerly shared their knowledge and experience with me, and all I had to do was ask. How do you deal with laundry, what type of bags do you use, how do you find good routes, what do you eat, or even just: what am I probably not thinking of?

The end of the tour, in Montréal, was steeped in personal meaning for me. First, obviously, it meant I really could do this ride that I had already committed to. I also speak French and I had never been to Quebec. But most importantly, the tour ended right near Habitat ’67, which is the signature and seminal work of architect Moshe Safdie, for whom I was privileged to work for a year as Director of Design Technology in Boston. I have great respect for Moshe’s work and for Moshe personally, and it remains a kind of sadness for me, at least for his sake, that I could not work for him longer. As luck would have it, the end of the bike tour happened to coincide with the start of the 50-year anniversary celebration, and I owe a huge thanks to Christa Mahar, Director of Communications for Safdie, for sneaking me into an exclusive press-only tour of the building, even as a recently-former employee!

Finally, thank you to my friends who helped support me in this: my parents, Daniel Hurtubise, Diana Tamir, Jen Andrews, Charlotte Harrison, and others.


So if you’re a cyclist in New England or if you want to learn how to tour, consider doing Bos/tréal next year. The group is great; they’re all rock-stars.