Taking to the TAC: Cycling Across the U.S.A. to Port Orford, Oregon

Riding x-country is a dream for many cyclists. A few years ago I realized that dream when I rode my bicycle with Crossroads Cycling Adventures 3,415 miles across the US on a paved route from Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County, CA to Boston, MA.

Let me tell you, you haven’t lived till you’ve cycled in the 118 degree heat of the Mojave Desert:

Pedalled on the fabled Route 66:

Taken a break to do a little Standin’ on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona to commemorate the Eagles’ song:

Rolled through New Paris, IN, home of a world champion arm wrestler:

and cruised along the historic Erie Canal:

A stop in Lock Springs, Missouri on my x-country ride

A lot of cyclists also know about a different route, the 4215.5 – mile TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, a classic paved route from Yorktown, Virginia to Astoria, Oregon.

TransAmerica Bicycle Trail

But I recently learned Oregon is also the terminus of another x-country cycling route, this one the much more challenging, mostly unpaved  5,273 – mile TAT (also the Trans-America Trail) . The TAT starts in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and ends at Port Orford, OR.

The TAT route across the United States

Sam Correro, a motorcyclist, originated and mapped out the TAT and most of its users are still motorcyclists, but bicyclists are increasingly making their way across America on the route as well.

Instead of sticking to paved roads, the TAT follows mostly dirt, gravel and forest roads, jeep trails, and sort-of-paved backroads. 

The Adventure Cycling Association, a non-profit member organization I’m a member of that is focused on travel by bicycle, recommends riding the TAT east to west. Either way, the route is more challenging and remote in the West, with fewer towns, some as far as 160 miles apart.

When cyclists on an east-west trip hit Port Orford, they usually head first to Battle Rock Beach, a bit south of downtown.

Most exuberant riders celebrate their accomplishment there by dipping their front wheels into the Pacific Ocean, a long-established tradition of x-country cyclists.

The Pineapple Express cycling shop in Port Orford is often the next stop for finishers. “We do see cyclists, but the TAT can be such a tough trail we probably see more motorcylists,” said Erin Kessler, the shop’s owner and mechanic.

Erin Kessler, owner, at her Pineapple Express cycling shop in Port Orford

Kessler moved to Port Orford from Palmer, Alaska in 2017. She initially established Pineapple Express as a fat bike rental and tour company. Then, seeing the need for a brick-and-mortar bicycle sales and repair business, she opened the current shop on Oregon St. (Hwy 101).

Sarah Swallow, of Durango, CO, who has ridden the TAT on her bicycle with her husband, Tom, described the route for Adventure Cycling.

The TAT begins in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, she said, and travels west across coastal Carolina and over the Great Smoky Mountains. From the Smoky Mountains, the route follows the backroads of the lush, humid river valleys and forests of southern Tennessee and northern Mississippi. 

The route travels over the Mississippi River and into the rugged Ozark Mountains of Arkansas before it begins an ascent through the prairie grasslands of northern Oklahoma and the No Man’s Land of the state’s remote panhandle. 

The route then travels through northeast New Mexico before navigating northwest into the Rocky Mountains and over the high alpine passes of the San Juans. The red rocks of Moab lead to a long stretch across the high desert of Utah, the Great Basin of Nevada, and eastern Oregon.

The route finally leaves the desert and drops into the greener land of Surprise Valley, California, over Oregon’s Cascades and to Battle Rock Beach.

Sarah and Tom Swallow reviewed their trip in a video on PathLessPedaled.com

If you’re looking for an exciting x-country bicycle trip, try the TAT. It’s a long, challenging ride, but as Tom Swallow said, “If it’s fun, it’s easy.”

Not ready for a x-country ride yet? Stick to Oregon.

Oregon was the first state to develop a statewide Scenic Bikeway Program in 2009. According to Travel Oregon, the program now consists of 17 designated bicycle routes that showcase Oregon’s breathtaking landscapes, cultural treasures and western hospitality.

One of these routes is the 61 mile Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway which starts and ends at Battle Rock City Park in Port Orford.

“Scenic Bikeways are Oregon’s best-of-the-best bicycle rides for exploring this beautiful state,” says Travel Oregon.

By the way – I just learned about another challenging long-distance cycling route, the Eastern Divide bikepacking route that stretches 5,900 miles from Cape Spear, Newfoundland to Key West, Florida. a meandering chain of dirt roads, pavement, and singletrack first imagined back around 2014 or 2015. Check out this story by a fellow named Eddie O’Dea who in September 2022 was attempting to Become the first to bikepack the entire route.

At the border that divides us: Friendship Park

“So near and yet so far,” sang the divine Ella Fitzgerald in her vibrant rendition of Cole Porter’s song.

“My condition is only so-so, ‘Cause whenever I feel you’re close, oh, You turn out to be, oh, so, Far.”

I know the feeling.

I completed a cycling trip down the Pacific Coast last week.

journeysEnd copy

The last day was to be the big one, the penultimate, the big cheese in my ride to the Mexican border. In San Diego, I boarded a ferry to Coronado, then rode through Silver Strand State Beach to Imperial Beach on the border with Mexico. I headed out into the countryside on deeply rutted roads, following a route meticulously laid out by Adventure Cycling Association. Then, at mile 98 there it was….nothing.

What appeared to be the border was a simple wooden gate.

friendshipparkend of the line

The end of the line?

I had ridden so far to be here? This is it? This is the fabled wall? Incredulous, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was getting dark, so, disappointed as hell, I just turned around and headed back.

But it turns out I quit too soon.

Had I ridden around the gate and gone just 1.5 miles further on the rutted, often flooded, road, I would have come to a U.S.-Mexico border wall.


If I’d looked out to sea, I would have seen that the wall even extends into the Pacific Ocean.


I would also have come to Friendship Park, where members of separated families visit with people on the other side of the border wall in Tijuana.

Friendship Park / El Parque de la Amistad overlooks the Pacific Ocean.  In the U.S., Friendship Park is located atop Monument Mesa, inside California’s Border Field State Park.  In Mexico, El Parque de la Amistad sits beneath a lighthouse (“El Faro”) in Playas de Tijuana.

Some research revealed that for most of its history the U.S.-Mexico border here had no formal barrier separating the two countries. People moved freely from one side to the other. According to Friendship Park’s website (friendshippark.org), it wasn’t until sometime after World War II that U.S. officials stretched barbed wire across Monument Mesa. To this day locals will sometimes refer to the border as “el alambre” … the wire.

But even then, enforcement of border restrictions was minimal. Old timers in San Diego still recall hauling their bikes through the gaps in the barbed wire, riding around Tijuana for the afternoon and returning by the same method at sunset.

In the early 1990s, U.S. government contractors built a durable fence of hard metal grate and Spanish-speakers began to refer to the border as “el cerco” or “la cerca,” or “fence” .

Beginning in 2007, Department of Homeland Security contractors built an 18-foot high security wall along the international boundary line at Friendship Park. In 2009 they completed a second wall, running parallel to the border about ninety feet north of the primary wall, defining a security zone over which U.S. authorities could exercise complete control.    Two years later, in 2011, U.S. government contractors completed a “Surf Fence,” a new extension of the primary wall into the Pacific Ocean.

The park is open every Saturday and Sunday from 10am-2 pm. With regular hours posted and a commitment from Border Patrol for staffing the gate, dozens of people come to the park every weekend to visit. There’s even a Border Church that meets every Sunday at the park and volunteer attorneys regularly come to provide legal advice to deported people and others looking for some help on the Mexican side of the fence.

Meanwhile, Friends of Friendship Park, a non-profit volunteer organization, says it works “…to maintain public access to the park on the border where friendships can blossom and families separated by deportation, by mixed immigration status, and by the injustice of border militarization can come together and maintain family bonds.”

In 2015, “The Polaroid Project” was started by América Martinez, of Si Se Puede. Combining video and audio recordings, América documents visitors’ experiences at Friendship Park then gives the families a Polaroid photo of their visit.

Friends of Friendship Park also started a blog in 2015 to feature the stories and Emily Packer, a film student from Hampshire College, came to San Diego to create a film about the park, El Parque de la Amistad. (Read more at: https://elparquedeamistad.wordpress.com/)

Packer also created a short film “La Tierra Chingada” that, according to Friends of Friendship Park, “…explores the breaks and ruptures produced by the border walls and our obliviousness to this pain and anguish.”

I guess I’ll have to go back and finish my ride. I have a lot to learn at the border.