The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route calls.
With summer fast approaching, I see a steady stream of new views of my blog posts about riding the Great Divide. It looks like many bikepackers are out there preparing for their own adventure.
There are many ways to answer this call.
In 2022 alone, three cyclists I know rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in three very different ways. Local fast guy Colin Schindler raced the Tour Divide from the Grand Depart in Banff to Antelope Wells to finish in 19 days. Endurance athlete Kate Geisen rode North Bound with her adventure racing teammate Chuck Vohsen on a self-described "Choose-Your-Own Adventure" tour. Cycling buddy Paul Brasby rode the GDMBR route south bound from Rawlins to Abiquiu, as he continued his journey of riding sections as his time allows.
Colin, Kate, and Paul answered a lot of questions to share their Great Divide with me and to encourage others to create their own Great Divide experience. I appreciate that and told them that I would so the same. For reference, I toured the ACA GDMBR route from Roosville, MT to Antelope Wells, NM in 7 weeks in 2021, the first half with Paul Brasby and the second half solo.
1. The Decision
- Why the GDMBR? The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route appeared on my long term radar when it was first announced in 1998. What a grand adventure to ride on remote gravel and dirt roads, through the American West, along the Continental Divide, self-supported, for 2,500 miles! Bikepacking the GDMBR. Twenty three years later, I lived that dream.
- Why self-supported? I backpacked during college/grad school and always enjoyed the challenge of carrying what I needed, or finding it along the way.
- Why not a guided tour? I love the freedom of deciding when, where, and how long to ride, and everything else that comes with it, including all the logistics. For example, one day I stopped at 10:00 am to stay at Brush Mountain Lodge, but another day rode past sunset to camp on the Continental Divide atop Marshall Pass. That freedom raises the stakes to prepare thoroughly, remain attentive, and make solid decisions, but is immensely fulfilling.
- Why south bound? Mike McCoy designed the route to be ridden south bound. That spoke to me.
- Why with another? I planned to ride the entire route solo, but was excited that cycling friend Paul Brasby joined me for the first 1,300 miles. So, I enjoyed both a memorable shared experience with a friend on the first half and a cherished solo ride on the second half.
- How did your family and friends react? My immediate family and closer friends were not surprised, as I had been talking and writing about this for several years.
|So, this is part of a dream ride? Absolutely.
(photo by Paul Brasby)
- What did you do to plan? Analyzed every detail on the ACA maps and cue sheets. Read Mike McCoy's book thrice. Studied the Project 1 of 7 Data Sheet. Read every article and journal on the Great Divide that I could find. Watched every video I could find. Listened to those who had previously ridden it. Anticipation.
- What was your overall approach to the ride? On the morning of the start, I realized to my chagrin that I had not sorted that out very well in advance. It became this. Enjoy the day, with everything that comes with it, and give yourself a chance to ride the next day. Living A Dream; Give Yourself A Chance.
- What was your biggest concern? The unknowable unknown. The biggest was how I would respond, physically and mentally, to the demands of riding a loaded bike, up and down mountains on remote rough roads, 10-12 hours a day, every day for weeks, while being on my own for navigation, water, food, shelter, maintenance and repair of both bike and body. I eventually realized that I could not prepare for all that. I just had to do it.
|On local M-Hill single track for a final check of my loaded Jones 29+.
- What was the best training to prepare? Many short bikepacking rides to dial in bike and gear, body and mind. Many hours pedaling a fully loaded bike. In 2019-2020, I bike packed over 20 overnighters, several two nighters, and a weeklong ride of the Cloud Peak 500 with Paul. In the first 6 months of 2021, I rode my Jones 29+ mountain bike over 500 miles unloaded and another 1,000 miles fully loaded, mostly in chunks of 40-60 mile days on rolling gravel roads.
- What training would you do differently next time? Not much. Perhaps more focus on the mental.
- Do you have a favorite piece(s) of gear? SmartWool base layers, Showers Pass Refuge rain jacket, Big Agnes Copper Spur 1 UL Bikepack tent, Revelate Design bags, Oakley M-frame prescription sun glasses, Beadreaux's Butt Paste.
- What gear would you do differently next time? Not much. Great Divide Gear List & Changes.
- Any bike modifications for next time? No. Great Divide Bike & Changes.
|Crawling up the final pitch of Fleecer Ridge, I gather myself in a lonely patch of shade.
I'd like to say this picture was staged. (photo by Paul Brasby)
4. The Experience
- Favorite people story? Many Trail Angels brightened many days. But Marlene and Paul Fifield of Condon, Montana impacted my experience most profoundly. Trail Angels Marlene & Paul.
- Favorite camp spot? Practically every dispersed campsite was memorable. Some that stand out are Clearwater Lake in Montana, an aspen grove high above Radium, a small clearing next to the Continental Divide Trail atop Marshall Pass in Colorado, and a rare dry spot in the midst of a patch of wild flowers on the Continental Divide in New Mexico.
- Best food? The steak dinner hosted by Trail Angels Marlene and Paul was unbelievable. My best burger of many was a Green Chili Cheeseburger at Pie Town Pies. My most satisfying meal was a room temperature can of Bush's Original Baked Beans and a bag of Frito's at the La Garita Cash Store, with an ice cold, fully loaded Coke chaser, followed by a mountain of hand scooped, homemade ice cream.
- Most relaxing day? My day at Brush Mountain Lodge, where I stopped at 10:00 am and simply decided to share the day with Kirsten and whoever happened by. Every cyclist stopped, even some day riders from Steamboat Springs. Her blueberry pancake breakfast was heavenly.
- Toughest day? Day 12 out of Wise River. Hands down. Mind and body were toast. After 34 brutal miles, I stopped for the day at Elk Horn Hot Springs. Needed a serious re-set. Thereafter, all good. A Hard Start.
- Hardest climb? Of many difficult climbs, the hardest for me was the 27 mile climb up Polvadera Mesa from Abiquiu, NM. And the descent was no carefree cruise. The Toughest Climb.
- Favorite part of the route? New Mexico. By then, I had sorted out all sorts of physical and mental issues and worked through many challenging days. Across the wild remoteness of New Mexico, I rode further, faster, longer, higher, and more comfortably every day, even as the roads and conditions deteriorated significantly. There I fully realized that I belonged out on the Great Divide. Three Days Of The Gila.
|A late monsoon season brought daily rain, but one reward was the desert in full bloom.
Yes, this is southern New Mexico in the first week of September 2021.
- Favorite road? USFS Low Standard Road 665 southwest of La Garita, Colorado. A dusty, two track dirt road winding between rough rocks through a desert valley. Straight out of a John Ford Western. Ennio Morricone theme songs playing in my head. Enchanting.
- Least favorite road? 10 miles on paved Colorado State Highway 9 into Silverthorne. Narrow two lane road filled with a continuous torrent of fast, rude, distracted drivers. Worst road, worst drivers, worst 10 miles of my entire ride. The best part of that experience was the stiff headwind that brought afternoon showers to cool my discontent.
- Best weather? Three days of massive tailwinds from Strawberry Safety Shelter atop Union Pass to Boulder, to Atlantic City, and to A&M Reservoir. A flat out joyous crossing of the Great Basin. Into The Great Basin.
- Worst weather? My most challenging weather day was my second day in Gila National Forest, where I was in the wrong place at the wrong time for the impetuous arrival of an ill-mannered monsoon that turned my road into a river. Three Days Of The Gila.
|USFS Low Standard Road 665 rides into the Old West.
- Best decision? To take a Zero Day at Grand Teton National Park. As forecast, a first thunderstorm blew in late morning with lightening and heavy rain. After a short respite, a second thunderstorm blew in late afternoon with more lightening and heavy rain. If we had left Grand Teton that morning, we would have been riding up a long, exposed, rain-soaked Togwotee Pass and setting up a dispersed camp in lightening and cold rain at altitude. Instead, we were warm and dry inside a laundromat eating pizza and ice cream. A close second was our decision to stop early after cresting Union Pass to stay in the Strawberry Creek Safety Shelter, rather than tacking on a few miles to disperse camp in active grizzly country at the aptly named Mosquito Lake.
- Worst decision? Starting the climb up Polvadera Mesa at 10:30 am. Although I did help another bikepacker with a mechanical in Abiqui that morning, I really just let time slip away while devouring breakfast burritos and coffee at Bode's. That climb is hard enough without riding it in the heat of the day. The Toughest Climb.
- Posting on social media? Nothing at all during the ride. Plenty afterwards. Here's a page with links to all my social media and blog posts. Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (2021).
- Anything different next time? I would love to ride the Great Divide north bound, just because.
- Overall thoughts? An unforgettable experience that I highly recommend. Living A Dream. A part of me is still out there, and likely always will be.
- What next? Bikepacking with friends, including a new bikepacking route that I created that crosses the State of South Dakota on some favorite roads through the Black Hills. The BackBone Grande.