WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Consider the following as you plan your cycling adventure:

* Equipment: Most people prefer a touring bike, but mountain bikes equipped with handlebar extensions and road tires are also popular. Front and back panniers will distribute the weight of your equipment evenly, and a handlebar bag is great for keeping maps and snacks handy. (One woman I met on the road used her handlebar bag as a home for her pet rat.) It's important to bring sufficient parts, tools, and mechanical knowledge to handle emergencies. (A duct-tape repair once saved me a 25-mile backtrack.)

* Food: A backpacker's stove can provide cheap, simple, hot meals (soup, rice, noodles), though some cyclists prefer to rely on cold picnic food and restaurants.

* Accommodations: Camping is cheap and opens up areas where there are no motels, but comes at the cost of toting a tent, sleeping bag, and lots of bug repellant.

* Money: I found a credit card, travelers' checks, and cash all handy at times. The total cost will vary, depending on your dining and lodging choices. My trip of 2,563 miles averaged $19 per day over 54 days (including about two weeks staying with friends along the way).

* Clothing: Wear bike shorts, gloves, and a helmet. Layers, including waterproof outerwear, are crucial for adapting to weather conditions as they change; check the seasonal weather along your route, and be prepared for extremes.

* Safety: Bring a bike lock to secure your vehicle at stops. I was able to befriend or outrun the chase-hungry canines I met, but some cyclists tote a canister of dog repellant.

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