couple cycling on bike path
Bethesda, Md., bike path; (photo/Leigh Trail)

Virtual Bike Race: Ride Across America Along Unfinished ‘Rail-Trail’

Teams of four, eight, and 12 will race a virtual ride from Washington state to D.C. this month.

Looking for an excuse to break out the ol’ two-wheel pedal pony a little early? For the third year, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and Sports Backers partner to host the Great American Ride.

This 3,700-mile virtual biking challenge will track the Great American Rail-Trail, a coast-to-coast bike and hike route that’s currently under development. Registration is open now for the ride, which kicks off on March 19.

How the Virtual Race Works

Washington's Olympic Discovery Trail; (photo/John Gussman)
Washington’s Olympic Discovery Trail; (photo/John Gussman)

Beginning March 19, teams will have 2 months to complete the cross-country cycling route virtually. Teams will “depart” from the Rail-Trail trailhead in Washington state.

The first team that, according to mileage data, reaches the trail’s end in Washington, D.C., will win the Great American Ride.

During the event, members of each team will track their mileage and report their progress online. GPS tracking is required to participate, but race organizers accept data from most tracking systems and bike computers — Strava, Garmin, Wahoo, etc.

From there, each team’s location will appear on the interactive Great American Rail-Trail map.

A live leaderboard will display participant standings in real-time, inclusive of co-ed, female, and male divisions. New to this year’s event are virtual badges, which riders can earn for notching various objectives en route.

The Real, Coast-to-Coast Rail-Trail

Great American Rail-Trail map
The Great American Rail-Trail passes through 12 pre-established gateway trails; (image/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy)

The Great American Rail-Trail is a long-term, 12-state project led by the RTC. It’s the largest hike and bike trail organization in the U.S., and the Rail-Trail is the most ambitious project within its TrailNation network initiative.

Once development is finished, it will be the nation’s first cross-country multiuse trail, connecting Seattle to Washington, D.C., via an entirely car-free thoroughfare.

The nonprofit trail advocacy group broke ground on the Rail-Trail in January 2019. The RTC charted the Rail-Trail such that 50% of its length consists of pre-existing off-road trails. Over the years, the RTC has worked with hundreds of state, local, and trail agencies to identify and integrate more than 145 rail-trails and 12 “gateway” trail networks.

Now, 3 years later, the route stands at 53% completion, and the RTC indicated that progress is continuous.

Great American Ride Registration, Swag

All finishing teams will receive a pre-mapped route, Great American Ride shirt, completion medal, virtual finisher’s badge, exclusive access to the Great American Ride Facebook group, and virtual travel experience with destination highlights featured along the route.

Registration costs $50 per rider and is open from now until April 12 at GreatAmericanRide.org.

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Jilli Cluff
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Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing — and life would never be the same. She now works as a contributor, gear tester, and editor for GearJunkie and other outlets within the AllGear family. She is based out of Atlanta, Georgia where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.