Tiffany and I met several years back while living in Charleston, South Carolina.  Ironically, it was the same time that I was training five days a week preparing to do a cycling adventure in South America.  I would stuff my backpack full of canned beans and vegetables and bike until I could comfortably do 40-50 miles each day.  Then, one day, I went into the Bicycle Shoppe in downtown Charleston to inquire about which equipment to buy.  When I told them about my training, they laughed.  Not because of the distance but because of the fact that I thought I would be carrying such excessive weight on my back.  They said, “let your bike carry all the weight, you just do the pedaling.”

It was in that moment I realized I knew absolutely nothing about how to do a long distance cycling adventure.  I spent hours upon hours reading, watching videos and learning about all the latest gear.  However, the best way to prepare for a cross country cycling tour is by talking to someone who has personally done it.  Enter Tiffany Pretlow – She is a solo female biking across America.

Tiffany’s adventure started in Charleston, South Carolina and she is currently cycling until the end of November where she will reach her final destination in the North Pacific Coast.  Below you will find a series of questions that I asked her along with photos and details about her adventure.  She was very enthusiastic to participate and help to inspire others interested in biking across America.  Tiffany provides daily updates on her blog and via Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram etc.  Follow her journey using the links at the end of this article.  Enjoy!

Describe the feeling that you had when the day to start your journey finally arrived

It’s about damn time! I kept telling myself this, ha! I wasn’t really feeling any particular way, really.  I just felt like I was going on a bike ride like I do every day.

How many months/years of preparation did this take?

A really long time, I guess it’s been six years!  It took a long time for me to recover financially after staying in this one shady apartment during my first few years of college.  This particular apartment was awesome in the beginning, but it just progressed into this filthy, party house where I just didn’t want to be or spend an ounce of my time.  I was living in complete squalor.  I was also spending ALOT of money at this time, because I just needed to get away from the house.  Once I finally did move into another apartment, I got jipped almost $1500 in supposed late fees that weren’t my own and I never got my deposit back- so that was really rough.

Once I finally moved to a new and stable location, with super affordable rent.  I was finally able to save money and work towards putting money into the trip.  I also had to wait until I graduated, which took a really long time.  I was definitely the definition of a super senior.  But yea, I had absolutely nothing gear-wise for this tour so I bought everything as the holidays rolled in.  Black-Friday has been really good.

What kind of gear are you using and how did you decide on it all?

I’m riding a Velo Orange Camper with VO Campeur front and rear racks to hold my panniers.  The bike and build is a total beauty and has a retro appeal that I really love about it.  This is a huge part of why I chose this bike over the more popular touring bike, the Surly Long Haul Trucker- solid bike, but it just looks really intense.  I feel a little shallow for saying that I appreciate aesthetics, but I do.  VO just suits my style to a tea.  So that’s the bike.

Velo Orange Camper biking america

I’m using Ortlieb high-vis panniers. Ortlieb is well known in the market for making great quality bags for bikes.  They’re waterproof and can really take a beating.  The high-vis model is especially great because the entire bag is essentaily a reflector, so if you find yourself caught in the dark riding you can ride a little easy knowing that you WILL be seen, because your bags will literally glow once light hits it- it’s really neat!

Even in the day time, the bags are a neon yellow, so you stick out like a sore thumb out on the open road. I’m carrying four bags total with me and a ortlieb handlebar bag.  Each bag is categorized according to content and accessibility.  So, in the first two bags in the front of my bike, i’m carrying food/snacks.  My cookset (which i’ve hardly used), journals, more snacks, emergency kit, etc.

Ortlieb Panniers

On the rear of my bike are the two panniers, and resting on top of them both are my tent, which weighs near 10 pounds and I totally regret buying the one that I did.  Its sets up real easy, though and it has a nice open screen option, but its definitely the wrong sort of tent for the long haul.  (Its a Poler two-person tent, btw).

On one of the rear panniers, I have my “closet.”  So this bag has all of the clothes that I’m wearing on the road: 3 cycling pants, 3 jerseys (both of which were donated to me by a friend that did a similar trek in previous years), a few normal people clothes and my laptop.  Most people don’t bring this, but i’m doing a lot of video work on the road and I needed a reservoir to store all my footage.  Super heavy, but having the memories in documentation will be worth it in the long run).

The other bag is my “bedroom.”  This bag has my sleeping bag, ground tarp, bike tools, misc electronic things, and toiletries.  My handlebar bag holds all my valuables: wallet, cash, camera, phone, quick access snacks, road maps, etc.

How did you go about picking your route?

I knew that I wanted to leave in the Fall and it really worked out perfect with having a Spring graduation, because it gave me the chance to work for a few months before Fall set in.  I knew that going north during the Fall months would be pretty brutal, so it only made sense to go with a southern route.  I’ve been following maps provided by the Adventure Cycling Association – they’ve created this huge network of maps to follow all around the US specifically catering to cyclists.

So the routes that they show are supposedly the most scenic and safest routes to go by.  Once I got to New Orleans though, I sort of started to create my own route from that point on, only because I REALLY wanted to go to Austin, TX and I really wanted to visit my friend in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He’s the drummer in one of my favorite bands, Broncho, by the way.  You have to check them out!  This particular route just wasn’t available on their maps.

So at the moment i’m in a bit of a detour so that I can make it to Tulsa.  From there, i’ll merge back onto the ACA maps and take Route 66 straight west to LA and then north up the pacific coast to San Francisco, where i’ll end my tour.  Most of the places i’ve been so far, I’d never been before, but have ALWAYS wanted to go, so everything is new to me and its been awesome.

female biking across america

What has been the biggest obstacle so far?

Everything has been pretty smooth sailing until October came along because for an entire week I was experiencing a flat tire every single day in my rear.  The most frustrating part of it all, though, is that neither I nor the two bicycle shops that I checked into could figure out what had been causing the flats.  This week really sucked and as a result set me about a week behind schedule.

female biking across america

This little piece of metal was stuck in my rear tube and caused me to get a flat. This was the beginning of many more flats to come.

I’m on a bit of a time crunch to make it to San Francisco because my brother is getting married in December, so the more time dealing with my flats meant that I couldn’t spend as much time in cooler cities (like Austin, L.A., or Flagstaff)- i’ve really gotta book it!  I just recently managed to fix my flats.  I found three holes that I patched up and filled my tire pressure to 80 psi and thats really kept me going pretty well for the past 4 days.  I’m hoping it’ll hold up for the rest of my tour!

biking across america fixing a flat tire

I rode like this for about 30 miles until I could reach the next bicycle shop en route.

What has been the most enjoyable moment so far?

I never realized how much of a city girl I am until i’ve actually spent a month and 11 days now on the road – having spent a lot of that time in the backroads with nothing but cows and horses for sometimes 8-10 hours a day.  Its beautiful – it really is.  But my happiest moments are spent when I do reach a bigger city. Where there are people around me and life is just happening all around.  I might only feel this way because i’m cycling solo and the isolation of being on the road kinda drives me nuts sometimes, but being in a city brings me back.  It makes me feel like i’m not so alone, when often times I am.

I was in Pass Christian, Mississippi and it was starting to get late.  I was beach-side and saw a coffee shop off just to my right, so I pulled over to rest for a bit.  I asked one of the baristas if there was any camping available in the area.  She replied, no.  So I shrugged it off, it was no big deal.  I told her that i’d sleep out in the open on the beach and didn’t mind the idea of waking up with the sun.  The barista told me to hold on for just a moment.  She runs to the back kitchen to talk to her manager and upon her return she tells me that I would be staying in a MANSION that night!!  This same barista, Victoria, later took me to walmart and insisted on buying me all sorts of road snacks, toiletries, and even a purifying water bottle.  Really sweet girl.

Hillcrest Mansion

I stayed in the jacuzzi for a really long time and ate leftover Burger King and Oreos on the bed.

Her only request was that I reciprocate the kindness when someone else needs it.  She has a true altruistic spirit and there’s been a lot of that on the road.  Cycle touring brings you down to the most human traveling experience you could ever seek out and it really exposes you to the all the kind people there are out there.  It truly restores your faith in humanity.

Female Biking Across America

This is a photo of me and Victoria in Pass Christian, Mississippi. She went out of her way to lend a helping hand. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have been sleeping in a mansion that night!

What advice would you give to someone interested in doing the same adventure?

I’d say, just go for it!  Just remember that you can never take back yesterday, but you can always live for the moment.  Live for the now!  I’m sure a lot of the hold-back for most people is that you think you need a lot of money to do something like this, but believe me, my bank account wasn’t looking so great the day that I left for tour and that is scary to most people – I get that, I really do!  I guess it really just depends on what you want to get out of your tour.  If you want to be really living large, then of course that’s going to require more saving and more time to save.
But if all you want is to just be on the road, it really doesn’t take much at all!  Just know what you want and prioritize it – it will happen.  It will.

What are you doing at this very moment?

I’m in Austin and really loving it here!  This place has some of the most amazing eats i’ve ever had. Charleston really needs to step there game up on the mexican cuisine, that’s for sure!!  I was planning on heading out tomorrow morning, but I think I might try and stay another night?  Or just move here.

biking austin texas

In Austin, I was able to meet up with some friends from back home in Charleston. Keenan (pictured left) was coincidently just passing through while on a road trip across the country and Thomas (far right) made the move to Austin about a year and a half ago. This was a nice little reunion.

Where did your inspiration come from to bike across America?

It’s kinda complicated to explain, really and often times while i’m on the road stopped at a gas station having a quick bite, people will look at me and my bike, curious, and ask what i’m doing and what inspired the journey.  Every single time I find myself overwhelmed and taken aback, because the answer isn’t as easy as, “i’m raising money for this cause” or “i’m in it purely for the adventure.”  So, the short answer that I give most people when they ask me when I pull over is that life doesn’t always go as planned and this is my way of working through it, because to give the real answer in that moment would require a cup of coffee and a few hours to spare – something I think most people don’t quite bargain for when they asked the question to begin with…all they really were in for was a pump of gas and maybe some road snacks to enjoy on their ride home.

But now, since i’m writing the response I am able to elaborate a bit more and perhaps give a little more insight into what i’m doing and what things fueled my motivation for doing it.  So here it goes.  Prior to my tour departure, I sat in my room for a long time pondering ‘the why’ and how I can articulate this mouthful of a story to people in a way that would be coherent enough and concisely enough to grasp someones attention and, if i’m lucky, inspire some sort of positive change in their lives.  So, I am on the road, yes, because life doesn’t always go as planned, but there is more to it than that.  I came up with this metaphor to illustrate this idea and its sort of a metaphysical explanation, if any.  So, to break it down, i’m solving an equation: A+(X)≠C.

The variable, A, represents, to be frank, all the shit that prevents you from reaching C, but only the shit as it relates directly and seemingly indirectly to C.  Let’s use wight loss as the theme of this example.  Your ‘C’ in this case, would be your goal weight.  ‘A’ in this equation would be ALL the things that have occurred in your life to prevent you from or has inhibited your ability to reach the variable ‘C’.

When solving this equation, it is necessary to really break down what the variable A represents as it relates to your situation and really identify all possible deterrents.  So, in this example, ‘A’ could be anyone or all of the following:
-Family setting a bad example on diet growing up
-stress eating
-eating out of boredom
-lack of excercise
-poor diet
The less obvious (seemingly indirect causes):
-being picked on when you were younger added a stress to your life that you weren’t sure of how to deal with, so that caused you to turn to food for comfort.
The variable A is NOT – and this is a really poor example, but you get the idea – dropping your pencil, for example, because the relationship between this event and C does not correspond.
Once all components of the variable A are fully understood, then we can begin to interpret what ‘X’ is.  In the equation, you want to solve for x.  Your known variables are the variables A and C.  What isn’t known is the variable X and this is where you propose a solution to solve the equation.  So, if you take all your shit and add it to your proposed solution, then the variable C should then be realized and you should have reached your goal.  And in the case that your proposed solution doesn’t equal for C- this is why the equation read ‘doesn’t always equal’- then you must rework the equation until the desired outcome manifests.  Like a slot machine, if your proposed solution is proven false, then you must work through the variables of your life until C is reached.
I hope i’m making sense… so, let’s bring this all back home.  What is my equation?  C for me is becoming this creative person.  More specifically, a movie producer.
A is transitioning from a tech school to the College of Charleston, where I realized difference for the first time and how inferior I was academically to my peers.  I was having a hard time coming to the same conclusions as everyone in the class.  I wasn’t able to write a paper at length.  I was struggling with finding the words to communicate my ideas.  And it was in this very moment of feeling lesser than, i guess you could say, is when I really started to get my gears turning, questioning why I seemingly wasn’t as good as everyone else.
“A” is also:  My dad was diagnosed with brain cancer my senior year of high school.  So, I chose to stay in-state for school instead of going to film school in LA (USC) or San Francisco (AAU).  When my dad finally did pass away, I could have branched out and sought out another school, but that would mean leaving my mom all alone by herself.  I stayed at the CofC for the rest of my schooling because I didn’t want that.
“A” is working three jobs and going to school at the same time, it was the sketchy living environment that I was in for basically the first few years at the College, it was the constant reminder by my parents growing up that I should join the military and how difficult life would be to pursue the arts.
Taking into consideration all of these life events. Particularly the one where I just started school at the College of Charleston.  I began thinking to become homeless so that I could spend more time reading.  This was my proposed solution to the way that I was feeling at the time.  I didn’t see that I was making a big enough sacrifice to be a student.  I felt that I could have and should have worked a whole lot less so that I could get the most out of my time in school.  The catch was that I had bills to pay.  It wasn’t until later that I decided that if I was going to take the time off from work, I may as well see some of the country while i’m at it.  Because in my mind, the difference between one person and the next and the likelihood of someone being able to truley succeed in life wasn’t a matter of what GPA you graduated with.
If you were able to communicate and communicate really well, there was virtually no threshold that could limit you in life.  You’re able to make those important connections.  You’re able to leave a memorable impression.  You’re able to seal that business deal.  You’re able to captivate, motivate, and inspire.  These are all things that someone without these talents are absolutely capable of, but there is just this broken link the prevents them from reaching that full potential.  For me, I saw that my link was broken and the liaison that was going to bridge that gap between being a successful communicator and someone that was not was reading.  I saw that, if perhaps I was able to introduce more words into vocabulary by reading, a whole world that I never knew existed would enlighten me.
How was I to become a movie producer if I was unable to interpret the script?
You can follow Tiffany’s adventure with daily updates via social media and be involved in all the action up close and personal.  Find her blog and and check out her video updates via the links below.
Whether you are a solo female biking across America, a solo male biking across America or you plan to go with a partner – learn as much as you can from those that have lived it!  For more information, watch this five minute video on How to Prepare for a Long Distance Bicycle Tour.  Provided by Adventure Cycling Association