Bill and Laurie Foot’s 1997 bike/hike on the ADT
The American Hiking Society and Backpacker Magazine began planning the ADT in 1989. The ADT idea was a followup to a 1981 project called HikaNation where a group of hikers crossed the nation promoting new and better trails. The ADT was designed to connect many existing trails together and by crossing the major north-south trails (Appalachian Trail, North Country Trail, Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail), it would allow a hiker to travel almost anywhere in the country using trails. It is also designed to include urban areas. One of the issues raised by proponents is the need for trails to be located close to where people live. Thus, the ADT includes lots of rural America, small towns, large towns, Appalachian Mountains, Great Plains, the Rockies, and the high Sierras.
The ADT route passes by thousands of historical and cultural landmarks, such as old forts, monuments to heroic figures, historic homes, and museums. The route roughly parallels US Route 50 all the way across the country. We haven’t measured it in detail, but we suspect that there is no place on the ADT that is more than 100 miles away from Route 50. This is not to imply that the ADT is a direct route. It will take the hiker/biker around 4,800 miles to travel coast to coast on it.
The ADT is designed as a multi-use trail. Most of the route is accessible to horses and mountain bikes. There are, however, many areas where bikes are not permitted because the terrain is too rough or because it goes on trails designated for hiking only. In Nevada, the trail goes through some congressionally designated wilderness areas where bicycles are illegal. A thru- trip on the ADT using more than one mode of transportation creates some interesting problems in logistics.
The ADT starts at Cape Henlopen, Delaware and passes through historic Annapolis on the way to Washington DC. In Georgetown, it follows the C&O Canal Towpath for 160 miles before heading into West Virginia and the highest elevation (hiking) encountered prior to reaching the Rockies. At Clarksburg, the route follows the North Bend Rail Trail for 60 miles before crossing the Ohio River at Parkersburg. In Ohio, the ADT is co-aligned with the Buckeye Trail for 350 miles, 210 miles of which is hiking only. At Cincinnati, the ADT branches into a northern and southern route. We plan to follow the southern route. The two routes rejoin in Denver. The ADT then travels through southern Indiana. There are opportunities for day hikes on the Knobstone Trail and on the Adventure Hiking Trail in Harrison-Crawford State Forest. In Illinois, it is co-aligned with 140 miles of the River to River Trail (hiking), which passes through interesting sandstone bluffs and rock formations.
After leaving the River to River Trail, the route is bikable all the way to Denver. It follows roads up the levees on the Mississippi, it passes through St. Louis, and onto the Katy Trail for 165 miles of rail trail. It then travels rural roads to Kansas City. In Kansas, the trail follows gravel roads along the historic route of the Santa Fe Trail all the way to Canon City, Colorado. At Cripple Creek, we get our first taste of elevation over 9,000 feet. A circuitous route brings us to Denver where it rejoins the northern part of the ADT.
Colorado appears to be the toughest section, at least for bicycles. We climb over numerous mountain passes above 10,000 feet. The ADT is co-aligned with 65 miles of the Colorado Trail (hiking) and 40 miles of the Continental Divide Trail (hiking). The remaining areas allow mountain bikes, but the terrain may be pretty rough going. There may be a chance to ride some of the ADT on horseback in western Colorado. At Grand Junction, there is a 16 mile hiking section through Colorado National Monument.
The ADT follows Kokopelli’s Trail to Moab, a section that we are told can not be biked without support for there are no water supplies for 140 miles. We will seek support help from a bike shop in Grand Junction. From Moab, the mountain bike capital of the world, the route goes through Canyonlands National Park to the crossing of the Colorado River at Hite. It goes through the Henry Mountains and Capitol Reef National Park. Western Utah is arid desert with many miles between towns.
Nevada appears to be the most challenging area on the ADT. The route crosses 9 mountain ranges (most of them not suitable for bikes) and the valleys between are hot, treeless, sometimes very sandy, and mostly without water. Part of the ADT follows the route of the old Pony Express line. This state will certainly require some vehicle support to provide supplies and to permit frequent exchange between hiking and biking. Any volunteers out there?
We get back into the high country at Virginia City and hike around Lake Tahoe on the Tahoe Rim Trail before tackling the 100 mile Tevis Cup and Western States Trails in California. We then ride into San Francisco and hike the last 40 miles to end at Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. Makes you tired just reading about it, doesn’t it?
In 1996, the American Hiking Society and the proponents of the ADT decided it was time to spin off the ADT from AHS so that it could receive more concentrated management. Thus, the ADT Society was born. An Executive Director, John Fazel, of California was selected, and his office is in Orinda, California. The National Coordinator continues to be Reese Lukei of Virginia Beach who has devoted many hours of consultation time to help us in this venture. Either can be reached at ADTSociety@aol.com and RLukei@aol.com respectively.
There are two excellent books already published about the ADT. “The ADT Explorer’s Guide” by Reese Lukei, published by Johnson Books of Boulder, Colorado, gives a fairly detailed description of the route and what you can expect to see in each state.
The second book, recently released, is by Ellen Dudley and Eric Seaborg and is called “American Discoveries”. It is Ellen and Eric’s account of their experiences in scouting the ADT route and defining it on maps all the way across the country. They were funded by the American Hiking Society and Backpacker Magazine. The book is published by The Mountaineers. It makes for very entertaining reading but their adventures have done little to calm Laurie’s anxiety level.
Well, I must draw this to a close. You will be receiving Chapters 2 and 3 shortly. Write us if you have any questions or comments. If there are many questions, we’ll write a special chapter to answer them.