From start to finish, the greatest summer of your life.
This trip is hard. Really hard. But it’s simple, too. Just wake up every day for six weeks, get on the bike and head west. It’s no more complicated than that.
Sharing the experience with your group and your Overland leaders makes all the difference. We can promise you this: you have never relied on the support and encouragement, the friendship and fun of any group of people as much as you will on the American Challenge. That is what makes it so great.
There are markers all along the way of our steady progress toward the Pacific. Reaching the Mississippi. Rolling across the Great Plains. Climbing the Rockies. Marveling at the desert. Riding up and over the San Gabriels and into Los Angeles.
On the last day of the trip, we’ll reach the coast. We’ll sprint across the sand, front wheels in hand, and dive into the crashing waves. Surrounded by trip mates with whom we have shared every day, every mile and every moment of these past six weeks, we’ll scream, yell, shout and hug. And you’ll know then how hard, how simple and how wonderful the American Challenge is.
This was an amazing, life-changing trip that I will never forget. I made my best friends for life!
- Delia McCarthy, Princeton, New Jersey
The Atlantic and the South
We’ll meet in Charleston, South Carolina. On the first day of our ride we’ll watch the sun rise over the Atlantic, dip our front wheels in a gentle breaker and look west to begin our trek to the Pacific. This first section of the trip will bring us to the heart of the South as we make our way across South Carolina toward Georgia and our first state line.
Alabama to the Mississippi River
From Alabama we’ll continue west to one of America’s greatest rivers, the Mississippi. The terrain is generally forgiving as we skirt south of the Appalachians. Building to an average of 85 miles per day, we’ll grow accustomed to waking up early, riding with weight and living together as a group.
Arkansas and the Ozarks
We’ll triumphantly cross the Mississippi River, the first major landmark of our trip, and enter Arkansas. Here, the rolling hills of South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi slowly give way to short but steep climbs through the beautiful Ozark Mountains.
The Great Plains
We’ll hit our stride as we meet the sparse beauty of the Great Plains and ride through golden fields. The Rockies slowly rise above the horizon as we pedal west.
With green, rolling hills, the Ozarks and wide open plains behind us, we’ll face our biggest challenge yet: the Rockies and the Continental Divide. High passes and snow-capped mountains, steep climbs and exhilarating descents will lead us into the heart of the American Southwest.
The Southwest and the Grand Canyon
Arriving in vast painted deserts, we’ll make our way to the Grand Canyon, pausing to spend a night on the South Rim. We’ll wake up and head south toward Arizona’s Black Hills.
As the final days of the trip approach, red sandstone gives way to sagebrush-covered plains and the deserts of eastern California. We’ll challenge ourselves with a 111-mile ride across the Mojave Desert from Parker, Arizona, to Twentynine Palms, California.
The San Gabriel Mountains
In California’s San Gabriel Mountains we’ll climb out of the desert to an elevation of over 7,000 feet. The night before riding to the Santa Monica Pier we’ll camp high above the lights of Los Angeles and look back on six incredible weeks of adventure, camaraderie and challenge.
On our final morning we’ll work our way down and out of the mountains, through Los Angeles and all the way to the Pacific. When we reach the coast we’ll sprint across the sand, front wheels in hand, and dive into the crashing waves. After a celebration at the Pier we’ll go to our accommodations, pack up our bikes and enjoy a final, celebratory dinner before saying goodbye.
We invite friends and families to join us in welcoming groups to trip end, and we encourage parents to make plans to be with us at the Santa Monica Pier. Groups arrive around noon on the second to last day of the trip, and we spend an hour together on the beach celebrating the group’s achievements. In the afternoon groups head to the Santa Monica Youth Hostel to box their bikes, pack their gear, and spend a final evening together.
Student pick up is on the last day of the trip at 5:00 a.m. at the Santa Monica Youth Hostel. All student flights should be scheduled to depart LAX between 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.
All bikes will be shipped to students’ homes via FedEx. A $100 bike shipping fee will be added to your final balance.
The group will spend about a third of the trip camping at front country campgrounds. Campground facilities will vary and may include flush toilets and/or showers. The remaining nights, the group will spend indoors. Indoor accommodations include churches, community centers, motels and a hostel in Santa Monica. Indoor facilities will vary and may include showers and laundry.
Itinerary may vary by group and is subject to change.
Panniers are saddlebags sold in pairs that attach to either side of your rear rack. You should have large panniers, 2,400-3,000 cubic inches total (for the pair), designed for touring. One large pannier has internal dimensions of approximately 17" x 13" x 7". You should be able to fit all of your belongings, besides your sleeping bag and pad, into your panniers and have some space left for group gear.
- Navy Overland T-Shirt (1)
We will send every student an Overland T-shirt prior to the trip. Please wear this T-shirt to trip start.
- Synthetic High-Visibility T-Shirts (3) & Vest (1)
A high-visibility outer layer is required at all times while biking (high-visibility is a neon or fluorescent color, typically yellow, orange or pink). On warm days a high-visibility T-shirt will be sufficient. The vest should be large enough to wear over warm layers while riding on cooler days. Please visit the Overland Store if you need to purchase these items. High-visibility bike jerseys are acceptable but not necessary.
- Bike Shorts (2)
Biking-specific shorts with a padded seat.
- Shorts (1)
Comfortable shorts to wear around camp.
- Athletic Socks (5)
- Wool and/or Synthetic Socks (1)
- Synthetic T-Shirt (1)
- Underwear (4)
- Swimsuit (optional)
If we swim, many students will wear shorts (and a sports bra for girls).
- Waterproof Raincoat
Choose high-visibility if available.
- Lightweight Fleece Jacket or Pullover
- Water Bottle
A 24-ounce bike bottle is ideal (on arrival you will receive a second bottle from us).
- Hydration System
A CamelBak or Platypus (or similar) with a 2- or 3-liter capacity. Must be a high-visibility color (if it is not hi-vis, you must cover it with hi-vis fabric or tape). The hydration system should be designed to primarily carry water (if it is too big it will be uncomfortable to wear all day).
- Sleeping Bag
A lightweight, compact sleeping bag rated to 30 degrees Fahrenheit or less. We recommend either synthetic or treated down material. Your sleeping bag should compress into a stuff sack no larger than 20" in length.
- Sleeping Pad
¾-length or full-length closed cell foam (thin and firm) or self-inflating.
- Bowl, Mug & Utensils
6" to 8" plastic dish or bowl with top, insulated plastic mug, spoon, fork and knife. These don't need to be special camping utensils (a Tupperware dish and regular utensils are fine).
- Touring Bicycle & Rear Rack
One of the following bikes is required: Trek 520, Surly Long Haul Trucker, Fuji Touring or Salsa Marrakesh. These bikes must be in excellent condition and must have been purchased in the past 48 months. Other bicycles are not acceptable. Please see the Right Bicycle for Your Overland Trip for more information.
- Bike Helmet
If you are flying to trip start, carry your helmet on the plane with you.
- Bike Lights
Bike lights (front and rear) are required—both when you train in the spring and once you are on your Overland trip. The lights should be USB powered with a variety of mounting options (clipping onto a pannier or a rear rack, for example). For front lights, we recommend either the Bontrager Ion 100 or the Bontrager Ion 120. For rear lights, we recommend the Bontrager Flare R or Flare RT. These lights are available from Trek bike dealers and on the Trek website.
- Bungee Cords (4)
These should be 18-24" in length. Bungee cords are included with an Overland bike rental.
- Spare Bike Tubes (4)
Four spare tubes that match your bike's tire size and valve stem.
- Spare Set of Brake Pads (1)
- Spare Bike Spokes (4)
Spare spokes that fit your wheels (two front and two rear) including the spoke nipple. Ask your local bike shop for guidance.
- Tire Patch Kit
- Spare Bike Tire (1)
One spare tire that matches your bike's tire size and valve stem.
- Set of Tire Levers
- Hex Wrench Multi-tool (1)
- Water Bottle Cages
Two cages, attached to the bike frame. Some smaller-sized bike frames cannot accommodate two cages. If this is the case, you will be able to carry water bottles in your panniers or on your rack. All Overland rental bikes come with two water bottle cages.
- Bike Gloves (optional)
Well-padded for comfort.
- Chamois Cream (optional)
Special cream to reduce chafing and saddle sores. You can purchase chamois cream at any bike shop.
- Handlebar Bag (optional)
Great for snacks, sunscreen and bike tools.
- Shoes for Biking
Bike touring or mountain biking shoes with bottom treads and "clipless" recessed cleats. A popular style of clipless shoes and pedals are SPDs. You may also ride in running shoes and bring toe cages to attach to your pedals. Please do not bring racing shoes as they have hard soles that are uncomfortable to walk in.
- Camp Shoes
Closed-toe shoes to wear around camp. Crocs or lightweight tennis shoes are ideal.
- Pre-trip Training Calendar
Please bring your completed and signed calendar to trip start.
- Synthetic Camping Towel (1)
A medium-size synthetic camping towel (synthetic camping towels dry much faster than regular towels).
- Gallon Sized Ziploc Bags (10)
To organize and waterproof your gear and small items.
- Large Trash Bags (5)
To waterproof your gear.
- Travel Size Toiletries
- Sunscreen (SPF 15+) & Chapstick (with SPF protection)
- Insect Repellent
- Camera, Charger & Extra Batteries (optional)
A digital or disposable camera.
- Personal Journal or Book (optional)
- Health Insurance Card
Please bring an original or copy of your health insurance card.
- Photo Identification
If you are not flying: Overland does not require photo identification. If you are flying within the U.S.: The TSA website has two relevant pieces of information. (1) “TSA does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States.” This language indicates that TSA staff can insist that an under-18 year old who does not have a companion (we interpret this as a companion who is 18 or over traveling with them—not just checking them in) must have TSA-compliant identification. Our experience is that this requirement is inconsistently enforced but, since it might be enforced, we recommend that all Overland students who are flying to/from their trip have TSA-compliant identification. (2) “Contact the airline for questions regarding specific ID requirements for travelers under 18.” This is always smart to do as airline policies vary widely and change frequently.
- Spending Money, Bike Repairs & Miscellaneous Expenses
Each student should bring a debit card, an ATM card or a prepaid Visa card to cover spending money, bike repairs and miscellaneous expenses. Spending Money: While all meals and activities are included in the trip fee, we recommend $25/week for spending money (for example, for souvenirs or an occasional drink or snack beyond what is provided to the group as a whole). Bike Repairs: Over the course of long distance bicycle tour, every bicycle will need replacement parts and most bikes will need repairs. Please add $100 to the debit/ATM/Visa card (in addition to spending money) to cover these expenses. Miscellaneous Expenses: Most Overland students will incur some expenses while traveling (for example, to replace a worn or lost clothing item). Please add $100 to the debit/ATM/Visa card (in addition to spending money and bike repair money), to cover these expenses.
Things to know
- We travel light at Overland; please only bring the items on your packing list.
- Your group will have access to laundry periodically.
- Please do not bring your smart phone (or any other electronics).
Please visit the FAQ tab for more information on our cell phone and electronics policy.
- Do not bring any type of knife or multi-tool (such as a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool).
- A high-visibility outer layer is required at all times while biking. See packing descriptions for more details.
- If you are flying to your trip start, pack your sleeping pad and bike shoes in your bike box or checked bag. Take your helmet and sleeping bag with you on the plane as carry-on items, in case your checked luggage fails to arrive on time. Pack all remaining items in your checked duffel bag or in your checked panniers. You can tape or strap your panniers together to check them as one piece of luggage; see luggage description for more details.
- There are no reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen items.
Please schedule expensive items—phones, cameras, bicycles, etc.—on your homeowners insurance policy.
- Please wear the navy Overland T-shirt that you receive from Overland to your trip start location.
- What is the weather like on the American Challenge?
The southeast is hot and humid, the southwest is hot and dry, and in the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado temperatures range between the 50s and 80s during the day, and cooler at night. Sometimes it is warm and sunny, other times it is rainy and cold. Our packing list takes these factors into consideration.
- What is a typical day like on the American Challenge?
On the AC, you'll get up early—4:00 a.m., and you'll get on the bikes early—5:00 a.m. (near the end of the trip, in the California desert, you'll get up earlier, and start riding earlier). Depending on the day's route and mileage, wind and weather, and delays and breakdowns, you'll get off the bikes in the afternoon or early evening. While riding, we're as efficient as possible: we ride at an average speed of 12 mph, we take short breaks, and we hydrate, snack, and eat lunch on the bikes. Once we're off the bikes, we enjoy group life as we have fun and make friends, rest and recover, and repair and tune the bikes. Days end with dinner and dessert, then we get to bed early (typically between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.—sometimes earlier).
- What if I have difficulty keeping up?
Given the AC's long daily mileage, every student must maintain an average speed of 12 mph. If you complete the pre-trip training as required at 12 mph, then you should have no problem keeping up once the trip starts. If, however, you have difficulty keeping up, then your leaders will contact the Overland office and your folks. Together (you, your folks, your leaders, and Overland's directors) will discuss the situation. After those conversations, you will have to improve your speed to 12 mph. To help you do so, your leaders will check over your bike and observe your riding technique, they will work with you and encourage you, and they will coach you and cheer you on. But, in order to stay on the trip, you will need ride at an average speed of 12 mph.
- What are the arrival and departure airports for my child’s trip?
You will need to arrange transportation to Charleston International Airport, CHS, at trip start. At trip end, most students are picked up by their families at the youth hostel in Santa Monica (students who fly home from L.A. fly out of Los Angeles International Airport, LAX). We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed your child on the trip.
- How often will my child have access to showers and laundry?
We have frequent access to showers (most students shower once or twice a week). Our AC groups do laundry once a week.
- Do families travel to Los Angeles to see the group finish at Santa Monica?
Yes! It's an exciting day... and a powerful moment—for our students, and for their families. Please join us!
- Please tell me about safety at Overland.
Safety and risk management are at the forefront of our decision-making–from trip planning to leader training to supporting our groups in the field. We cannot guarantee absolute safety–no program can. All recreational activities include inherent risks. Therefore, we strive to manage the risks that we can, knowing we cannot eliminate them. We work hard to recruit, train and support our trip leaders so they can create the kind of trips that have made us successful for over 30 years. Please click here to read more about our approach to risk management and our accreditation by the American Camp Association.
- Does my child need to have previous experience?
While no previous experience is required, we have high expectations of our students. We expect your child–with your help–to select a trip that is appropriate for his or her interests and abilities. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the details of the specific trip and help your child understand what to expect. We also expect our students to prepare ahead of time: to review the packing list, gather clothing and gear and complete whatever training the trip requires (for recommended training please see the Before You Go tab). Once the trip begins, your child should be ready–and excited–to contribute to a wholesome and enthusiastic group where each group member feels welcomed and valued.
- Please tell me about Overland's admissions process.
When we receive your application, if your first choice is available, we will: (1) call you to acknowledge our receipt of your application, (2) send you an email with a link to our Admissions Review Forms, and (3) charge a deposit of $795 to your credit card to hold your place in the trip pending a favorable admissions review. If your first choice is not available, we will call you to discuss your second choice, third choice or other options. For more information, and to access our application, please visit our Apply page.
- What are Overland’s policies on phones, electronics and communication?
To maximize independence and self-reliance, we do not permit phone calls, emails or text messages to or from our campers. Your child will call home on arrival and departure with our phones and assistance, and in the case of an emergency. If your child brings a phone for use while en route to Overland, please do not send an expensive smartphone, instead, an inexpensive prepaid cell phone will do. All phones will be collected on arrival and returned at departure. While we will take reasonable steps to prevent damage, theft or loss, we take no responsibility for phones and we will not make any reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen phones.
Cameras are welcome but please do not bring any other electronics (e.g., iPods, iPads, Kindles or other readers, GPS or similar devices). All electronics (except cameras) will be mailed home on arrival (at your risk and expense).
We are committed to providing extraordinary support to you and your child; to that end, the Overland office is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week during the summer. Outside of office hours our answering service provides emergency coverage. Our leaders in the field are in touch with our office regularly; they carry cell phones (and in some cases satellite phones). Anytime a camper is treated for an injury or illness by a doctor or other medical personnel, parents are notified by our office. A director will call the parents to explain the nature of the injury or illness, the sequence of events leading up to the injury and/or the steps leading to the treatment. Parents are typically able to speak with the medical personnel, with the leaders and with their child.
- Can I send mail to my child during a trip?
Getting a letter, card or postcard while on an Overland trip is always exciting. Please keep in mind that sending mail to your child on an Overland trip is different than sending mail to camp because your child will be on the move. Our experience has been that mail often does not arrive on time, and, sometimes, even when it does, post offices, campgrounds and other mail stops do not reliably deliver mail to our groups. For these reasons:
1. Please do not send anything valuable – please send letters, cards or postcards only. If mail is late, lost or misdirected, Overland’s leaders and staff are not able to return to the post office (or other mail stop) to collect it.
2. Please use the US Postal Service first-class mail only; do not use UPS, FedEx or DHL (many of our mail stops accept US Postal Service mail only).
3. Please do not send overnight letters: many overnighted letters arrive before or after we arrive and are then sent back. For this same reason, please do not send mail that requires a signature upon delivery.
4. Please allow one week for postal delivery to U.S. mail stops.
5. Please allow two weeks for postal delivery to international mail stops.
Bike across the continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific—through the Deep South, across the Great Plains, and over the Rockies. Celebrate in the surf at Santa Monica—cheering, laughing, crying, and hugging. The American Challenge is at once both remarkably simple and extraordinarily epic. Interested? Here's what you need to know.
Students going on American Challenge should prepare for:
- 3000+ miles of riding led by two caring Overland leaders
- Biking full days through a wide range of terrains
- Camping out and cooking meals as a group
- 39-40 days of biking with an average of 85 miles per day
- A fun, supportive and wholesome Overland experience
We expect you to arrive to your trip fully prepared for all activities.
Preparing for the Biking
The American Challenge is Overland's most challenging bike trip: you'll ride an average of 85 miles a day for six weeks across a continent.
Completing all of the pre-trip training is essential. There isn't a gradual build to the miles, nor is there a settling in period—you'll ride long, hard days from the very start of the trip.
Over the course of the six weeks there are ten days over 90 miles (and six of those days are over 100 miles!). You will encounter challenging terrain: the Ozarks in Arkansas; the wide-open and windy plains of Kansas, eastern Colorado or Oklahoma; and long mountain passes in the Rockies, Arizona’s Black Hills and the San Gabriels east of Santa Monica. You will experience high temperatures (hot and humid east of the Mississippi; hot and windy across the Great Plains; hot and dry across the desert) and some rainy stretches. You will wake before dawn (typically at 4:00 a.m.), take just a handful of short breaks during the day (most breaks are less than five minutes long), and complete the day's ride in the afternoon or early evening. There are five buffer days to allow for delays en route (most groups spend these days partially or completely off of the bikes).
The American Challenge is self-contained—there is no van support. You will carry all of your belongings, plus some group gear and food, on a sturdy rack mounted over the rear wheel of your bike. You will hang panniers (these are saddlebags, pronounced “pan-yers”) off the rack and attach gear like your sleeping bag and sleeping pad to the top of the rack using bungee cords. On average, you will carry about 40 pounds of equipment on your bike (not including the weight of the bike).
You must come prepared for the demands of long-distance bike touring. Once on the trip, you will need to recognize that some days will be more difficult, more challenging and longer—both in terms of miles and hours on the bike—than others. Delays occur due to a wide range of variables—weather patterns change and road conditions vary. You, or someone in your group, might get a flat tire or encounter another mechanical issue that could delay your group. On some days your group will complete the day's riding in the early afternoon, with plenty for rest and recovery, while on other days your group will spend more time on the bike.
Every American Challenge participant must complete all of the spring training rides, and, once on the trip, must be able to maintain 12 mph over challenging terrain on a fully loaded bicycle. We've designed the early weeks of the training so that most of the riding can be completed on the weekends. As the trip draws closer, there are more rides, so you will have to make time during the week to ride. Be sure to plan your training rides on consecutive days so that your training more closely approximates the riding that you will do on the trip. Please keep the following responsible riding practices in mind as you complete your spring training.
Responsible riding practices
WEAR A HELMET AND CLOSED-TOED SHOES
Always, no exceptions.
DESIGN A GOOD TRAINING LOOP
To the extent possible, ride on bike paths, bike lanes, and bike routes.
FOLLOW THE LAW
You have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers. Obey traffic signals and stop signs. Ride with traffic; use the rightmost lane headed in the direction you are going.
Make your intentions clear to everyone on the road. Ride in a straight line and don’t swerve between parked cars. Signal turns, and check behind you well before turning or changing lanes.
Ride where people can see you and wear a hi-vis top. Ride with your rear light on and flashing. Make eye contact with others and don’t ride on sidewalks. When possible, ride with others.
Watch for turning vehicles and ride outside the door zone of parked cars. Look out for debris, potholes, and other road hazards. Cross railroad tracks at right angles.
Check that your tires are sufficiently inflated, brakes are working, chain runs smoothly, and quick release levers are closed. Carry tools and supplies that are appropriate for your ride.
- 8 weeks before your trip: two rides a week (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers of two hours each (24 miles over varied terrain); try to ride for two hours without stopping to rest.
- 6 weeks before your trip: two rides a week (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers of three hours each (36 miles over varied terrain); try to ride for three hours with one five minute stop for rest after 20 miles.
- 4 weeks before your trip: three rides (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers of three hours each (36 miles over varied terrain); at this point in your training, you should be able to ride for three hours with just one five minute stop for rest after 20 miles.
- 3 weeks before your trip: four rides (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers: three rides of three hours each (36 miles over varied terrain), and one ride with loaded panniers of four hours (48 miles); complete each of these rides with one five minute stop for rest every 20 miles.
- 2 weeks before your trip: five rides (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers: three rides of three hours each (36 miles over varied terrain), and two rides with loaded panniers of four hours each (48 miles over varied terrain); complete each of these rides with one five minute stop for rest every 20 miles.
- 1 week before your trip: six rides (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers: three rides of three hours each (36 miles over varied terrain), two rides with loaded panniers of four hours each (48 miles over varied terrain), and one ride with loaded panniers of 60 miles (five hours over varied terrain); complete each of these rides with one five minute stop for rest every 20 miles.
All training rides must be completed using the bike, pedals and shoes you will use on the American Challenge (training exclusively on a stationary bike is not sufficient—the majority of your rides should be completed outside on your loaded touring bike). All training rides must be at an average speed of at least 12 miles per hour. You must be able to maintain (or exceed) 12 miles an hour fully loaded on terrain that includes hills. Groups typically average between 12 to 14 miles per hour while riding. You will start riding at first light, taking short breaks during the day, and complete the day's ride in the late afternoon / early evening. A 12-mile-per-hour pace makes it possible for the group to get each day's miles done and have time for snacks, lunch, delays, breakdowns and essential rest and recovery.
Please refer to the Pre-Trip Training Calendar where you will record your training in the months leading up to trip start.
Preparing for an Overland Experience
Overland trips are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. You are expected to be enthusiastic, positive, helpful and supportive of your trip mates and your leaders. We ask that you leave your cell phone and electronics at home (cameras are always welcome), so you can fully engage with your group and your trip. Arriving ready for a challenge—and being prepared to contribute enthusiastically to your group—will go a long way toward creating a successful trip—for you, for your trip mates, and for your leaders. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss preparing for the American Challenge.