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Sunday, April 23, 2023

Interview With A Bikepacker - Paul Brasby

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.

All three of them offered to share their experience. Here's Paul's perspective on his ride.

Railroad engineer Paul Brasby loving the abandoned Yellowstone Branch Line rail-to-trail in Idaho.

1. The Decision
  • Why the GDMBR? It's been on my Bucket List for some time now. The whole reason I started bikepacking was to ride the GDMBR at some point. I've always wanted to ride across the country since I was a kid. Riding on back roads and along the Great Divide was very intriguing to me.
  • Why self-supported? I love the challenge of self reliance. It's you, your bike, and the route. Not to mention what Mother Nature can and will throw at you along the way. You're totally immersed in the journey this way. The decisions you make effect how smoothly your adventure goes. It's a game of chess with all the factors at play. Whether they work with you or against you is totally up to you!
  • Why not a guided tour? The thought of a paid tour group is not me. I grew up in a backpacking family. Hiking in the mountains for days or weeks at a time with everything we needed just feels right to me. In a group tour setting, you are locked into a time schedule and regiment. No thanks! I'd be okay with a Grand Depart for the start, then settle into my own rhythm. Maybe ride with a smaller group after that.
  • Why south bound? The GDMBR was designed to be ridden South Bound. That's why I rode it that way. I would be open to a North Bound ride at some point.
  • Why with another? For me, the main reason was that a friend of mine (Craig Groseth) had the same goal and timeline as I did. Riding together was the plan for the first half of the trip. For my second half, I rode with my friend Mark Hoffman through most of Colorado before riding solo into New Mexico. Sharing the experience with a friend and safety in numbers in bear country were factors as well.
  • How did your family and friends react? They took it in stride. This adventure was definitely the next step in bikepacking for me. They all knew what I was building towards.
THIS is why I came out here! (An oft-repeated Paul Brasby line throughout Montana).

2. Planning
  • What did you do to plan? Hours of research on the route with ACA maps, books, videos and GPS downloads. Did bear research as well, picked what I thought was the best bear spray for me, and how I planned to carry it on my bike. I also did food research in local C-stores and small grocery stores. Even took food home and made meals with the food I found. It helped me out on the route. I knew exactly what I wanted instead of surfing the aisles.
  • What was your overall approach to the ride? I wanted to have an open mind to daily changes I may encounter. I didn't want to be locked into a schedule. I wanted to listen my body, the route, and the weather and have the ability to adjust on the fly without needing to be at a said location each day. I planned the first few days out on the route and then did a 2-3 day out plan for the rest of the trip. I needed to ride 50-ish miles a day to get to my extraction point in Rawlins, Wyoming. I also tried my best to never go into the red or limit the times if I did. To ride today in a way that allows me to ride again tomorrow (A Craig Groseth quote that rings true for me to this day).
  • What were your biggest concerns? Do I have the right fitness/training for such an adventure? Dealing with bears if that ever came to light. Logistics - how to get to the start and plan for pickup at the halfway point, since I couldn't give my brother a for sure pickup date. Can I carry enough water? Bike breakdowns or catastrophic failure. Body fatigue or crash resulting in rescue on the route. I had my brother on standby and he was willing to drive anywhere to pick me up if need.

  • Now, THIS is why I came out here!
3. Preparation
  • What was the best training to prepare? For two years, I rode 100 miles a week. Craig and I bike packed together off and on to gain the experience and knowledge necessary for such an endeavor. In 2020, we rode the Cloud Peak 500 in Wyoming in eight days, followed by a six day Black Hills Bounty tour in South Dakota. We rode a handful of overnight rides at organized events and several overnighters on our own. I also rode last year with a partially loaded bike and increased the load as the ride got closer. The last three months I rode with an 80 percent loaded bike and the last month with it fully loaded.
  • What training would you do differently next time? Not much, if anything.
  • Do you have a favorite piece(s) of gear? I was very happy with my camp kit. (See, Paul's Great Divide Gear List). My Showers Pass rain coat. My Salsa waterproof Anything Bag where I stored my camp kit. All my Revelate bags!
  • What gear would you do differently next time? From my first half ride to my second half ride, I changed my battery pack to a larger capacity. I also changed my headlight to a brighter one, due to the time of year I was going to ride the second half. I planned to ride at night more in New Mexico to beat the heat. I really like the simplicity of my Big Agnes Fly Creek 1 man tent, but I'm thinking about upgrading to the 2 man Copper Spur for its room and ease of entry.
  • Any bike modifications for next time? On the first half, I rode a stock 2019 Salsa CutThroat with a 34 tooth chain ring and an 11 speed 11-42 cassette. For the second half, I changed my chain ring from a 34 to a 32. I would love to change my rear cassette to a 12 speed Eagle 10-52. May as well buy a new bike instead? If I did, it would be a new Salsa CutThroat with that Eagle 10-52.
Cresting Fleecer Ridge, Paul approaches the long anticipated descent.

4. The Experience
  • Favorite people story? Without a doubt, Paul and Marlene on Day 4. The best Trail Angels I've ever encountered. (See, Trail Angels Marlene & Paul).
  • Favorite camp spot? I have two. On my first half, Clearwater Lake in Montana and, on my second half, Horse Shoe Campground at the base of Ute Pass in Colorado. I also have two special overnights with friends, both taking place on my second half. We stayed with Andrew Miller and his family in Steamboat Springs, sharing stories of our adventures well into the evening and camping in their backyard. We also stayed at the Como Hospitality Bunkhouse, where Craig Groseth met us with a home cooked meal. (See, Como Bunkhouse).
  • Best food? Our steak dinner at Paul and Marlene's home!
  • Most relaxing day? For the first half, Colter Bay at Grand Tetons National Park, our only rest day. For the second half, La Garita Cash Store in Colorado. We arrived early in the day and left late the next morning. We didn't want to leave.
  • Toughest day (first half)? Our day up and over Fleecer Ridge. My most anticipated day of the trip! I was so looking forward to conquering Fleecer on this day! But I woke up with dead legs and spent most of the day in my granny gears with tons of climbing. We made it and I enjoyed the one hour hike-a-bike down the other side and the descent into Wise River.
  • Toughest day (second half)? At the Ranger's Station in El Rito, New Mexico, I found out that my father-in-law passed away, resulting in my departure of the route from Abiquiu on Day 12. I plan to return in 2024 to finish the last 9 days to Antelope Wells.
  • Hardest climb? From Highway 26 to the top of Union Pass, that I could ride. Brazos Ridge, that I couldn't ride.
  • Favorite part of the route? All of Montana!
Spectacular views on Brooks Lake Road.
  • Favorite road? This one took me totally by surprise. We left Colter Bay, rode up and over Togwotee Pass, and shortly after turned left onto Brooks Lake Road. This amazing road overlooks the Pinnacle Buttes Mountain Range. I stopped so many times to take pictures and soak it all in. It was a great way to finish off the day!
  • Least favorite road?  A 13 mile stretch of paved road on County Road 63 northwest of Rawlins, Wyoming in the Great Basin. We fought a 20-25 mph headwind that seemed forever to get across.
  • Best weather? Overall, I was very lucky weather-wise, on both halves of my ride. At Colter Bay, we took a rest day, due to an all day weather event. The first half was amazing and, when we needed a tailwind across the Great Basin, we got it. We made up for lost time to meet up with my brother on my planned departure date. My second half was helped with calm or tailwind days with clear skies for 12 straight days. It only rained on us 3 times with afternoon showers during the second half.
  • Worst weather? We had a close call with a dry lightening strike on the south side of Lynx Pass in Colorado. Mark and I both felt the discharge in our left arms. We also had several hours of cold rain on the south side of Indiana Pass.
Flying across the Great Basin in Wyoming.
  • Best decision? Reading the day! Just because you can ride further or faster on any given day, doesn't necessarily mean you should. Calculated and steady riding helps to increase your chances of making it to Antelope Wells. Body and mind burnout is real on the trail. We saw this happen first hand, where riders quit suddenly and went home. If you push too hard in either category, your chances of finishing greatly diminish.
  • Worst decision? Mailing my rain pants home at Wise River. I wished I had them for an all day rain event at Colter Bay.
  • Posting on social media? During the first half of my ride, I posted on my FaceBook page every day when I had service. I rode longer days on my second half and posting was more difficult. I'll continue to do it in some fashion in the future. It was a great way to share my experience in real time with family and friends.
Paul Brasby atop Boreas Pass in Colorado. (photo by Mark Hoffman).

5. Conclusions
  • Anything different next time? I would ride it continuously in one push. My vacation time is what limited my riding time on the GDMBR and why I had to ride it in sections.
  • Overall thoughts? Riding the GDMBR was one of the greatest experiences/adventures in my life! I highly recommend this route. The call of the wild is real! After leaving the trail, my mind and soul was still out there riding every day and this feeling lasted for weeks!
  • What next? I have a 24 day trip planned for 2023 through the Great Plains, including the BackBone Grande in South Dakota. (See, BackBone Grande).

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