Loaded Tour On Tap: Route 66 from Chicago

I’m preparing to head out for a little bike tour. Four of us are planning to ride Amtrak from Kansas City to Chicago, then ride the first third of the Adventure Cycling Bicycle Route 66 back south through Illinois and Missouri, to Joplin. It’ll be about 700 miles, perhaps a bit more if I bike home from Joplin.

I’m planning to ride my Retrospec Amok bike. I debated between that and my Surly Long Haul Trucker. Given that the LHT is an actual touring bike, and the Amok is a cyclocross bike rigged up in touring mode, the decision should have been obvious. But somehow, the Amok is simply more pleasurable to ride. It certainly served me well on the 1000-mile tour I did on it in 2015.

Compared to my 2015 tour, I’ve made a few gear changes:

  • I’ve swapped my old Nashbar ATB panniers for Ortlieb Backrollers. While the Nashbar panniers served me well, the Ortliebs offer a couple advantages: waterproofness and a better attachment system. The waterproof feature means that I don’t need to fool around with trash bags and dry bags to keep clothing and gear dry. So even though the Ortliebs are a bit heavier, overall weight is about the same, and the convenience factor should be higher (even though I’ll miss the extra pockets on the old panniers).
  • I’ll be using a Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite sleeping pad, rather than an inflatable pad. Weight is a wash, but the ruggedness of the closed-cell pad is unbeatable, even though it is far more bulky.
  • I’ll still be using using a Wald 137 front basket, but rather than relying on the stock struts (which put the basket rather too high), I have removed the legs and zip-tied it to a small Sunlite front rack, in the Rivendell style. Yep, it’s “basketpacking”!
  • I briefly tried a Klymit Pillow X inflatable pillow on my recent Kandango trip, but did not like it at all. So it’s back to the good old Magellan camp pillow from Academy Sports. It’s a bit bulky, but it’s comfortable.
  • I’ll carry a large battery pack, a Vinsic VSPB206 with 20000mAh capacity. These days, keeping electronic gizmos charged can be a challenge, so this should provide a couple-day buffer in case we’re unable to get access to electricity for a couple of nights. I’ll also have a Zealot S1 bluetooth speaker / 4000mAH power bank / flashlight as a supplement.
  • I’ve swapped out my old Bushwhacker Tahoe frame bag for a new Jandd Large Frame Pack. The Jandd bag appears to be a huge step up in both capacity and quality.
  • I’ll be wearing new Nashbar Cycling Sandals, and using SPD pedals. I’d considered using flat pedals, and non-cleated shoes, but decided that I preferred to be clipped in. I also debated whether or not to carry an extra pair of off-bike shoes, but determined that the sandals are comfortable enough that the weight and bulk of extra shoes weren’t needed.

Most of my other gear is the same — Alps Mystique 1.5 tent, REI Travel Sack sleeping bag, Topeak Road Morph pump, soft-sided cooler, the normal assortment of clothing. I’ll not be carrying a stove, trusting instead to on-the-road provisions.

One of the things I’m excited about with this trip is riding Amtrak. I’ve never gone on a train trip before, and I’m very interested to see how well their roll-on bike service works.

It’s been a bit of a challenge to arrange all the gear for the Amtrak journey. I wanted to avoid checking any bags, and just use my allotment of carry-on bags: Amtrak permits two “carry-on bags” and two “personal items” onboard. So I’m using my two panniers as the carry-on bags, and my front bag as a personal item. The Amtrak rules about bike bags are a little fuzzy — some places it says that all bags must be removed from the bike, while other places say that only large bags must be removed — so I’m not sure if I’ll need to remove the frame and seat bags, but I’ll do so if necessary, and use them together as my second personal item.

As for Route 66 itself, I’m ambivalent. The “Mother Road” doesn’t really mean anything to me personally, but it should be a decent route. It’ll be my first time on an Adventure Cycling route, so that should be interesting. I purchased the GPS data, while my touring partners have the paper maps, so we should be covered.

US Bicycle Route 66, Section 1 – Chicago to St. Louis
US Bicycle Route 66, Section 2 – St. Louis to Joplin
DirtBum Written by:

I enjoy riding bicycles all over -- city streets, suburbia, rural roads, gravel roads, dirt roads, rail-trails, and singletrack. I love exploring the countryside and finding the interesting and historical treasures hidden in plain sight. You can follow my rides on Strava.