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Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Great Divide - The Bike & Changes

Some folk built like this, some folk built like that
But the way I'm built, don't you call me fat
Cause I'm built for comfort, I aint built for speed
Built For Comfort, Willie Dixon (1960)

Approaching the notorious drop off Fleecer Ridge near Wise River, Montana.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

For the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, I rode my Jones 29+ LWB, set up with a Shimano XT 2 x11 speed drivetrain and Bontrager 2.60 XR2 Team Issue tires, outfitted with Revelate Design bags (How I Packed) to securely carry all my gear (My Gear List). It's a rigid steel mountain bike well suited for loaded touring on rough roads and single track. For me, it was a great bike for the Great Divide.

From my original build in 2018 (Jones 29+ LWB Build and Jones 29+ LWB What It Is), I made just two significant changes to the bike before starting the Great Divide.

Back in early 2018, Jeff Jones built up this bike for me with Shimano XT hubs hand laced to WTB Scraper 45 mm rims for meaty 3.0-3.25 tires for single track riding and touring. I love those big tires on single track, but not so much for the long stretches of gravel roads on my Cloud Peak 500 bikepacking ride in August of 2020. See Cloud Peak 500 - Feeling Good. So, last winter I built up a similar wheel set with lighter, narrower rims (30 mm) to run 2.2-2.6 inch tires for gravel touring routes like the Great Divide. See Jones 29+ LWB - Next Time.

I also added a pair of Ergon GP3 grips, which I greatly enjoyed. That's it. Everything else was my original 2018 build.

If I were racing the Great Divide route, I would likely make a few changes to the bike, like dropping the tires down to the 2.2-2.4 range, adding aero bars, and switching to a bigger chain ring for higher gears. However, as I have no plans to race any bikepacking event, I would not change a thing.

Many people ask what bike to ride on the Great Divide. I suggest starting with a bike that you are comfortable riding 10+ hours a day, day after day. Then add the elements of riding loaded on rough roads to see what you like. In my early field tests in 2014-2017, I found my outer limits of fun on my Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross with 40 mm tires when riding loaded all day on rougher roads and trails. My desire for more mountain bike handling, more control, more comfort, more capacity, and lower gears eventually led me to the Jones 29+ for bikepacking the Great Divide.

My friend Paul rode the Great Divide from Roosville to Rawlins on a stock Salsa CutThroat 1x11 with Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge 2.2 inch tires. I also saw many others on CutThroats or similar drop bar bikes with similar sized tires. That is a much lighter and faster setup than mine on most all of the miles of the Great Divide. However, those gears clearly made him work much harder on the steeper climbs and those relatively narrow tires provided less control and comfort on the occasional rocky sections. We'll see what he thinks after riding the roads in New Mexico this summer.

Relaxing at Antelope Wells, after comfortably and securely carrying me for 2,651 miles.

Here's a copy of my original 2018 build sheet, as I posted in August of 2018.

Frame Set 
Frame - Jones Steel 29 Plus LWB, Medium (black)
Fork - Jones Steel Truss (black)
Headset - Jones Sealed Cartridge Bearing H-Set (black)
Seat Post - Thomson Elite Zero-Offset (black)
Seat Post Clamp - Paul Quick Release (black)

Rear Wheel  (hand built)
Hub - Shimano XT Boost with CL Adaptor (black)
Rim - WTB Scraper i45 29er (black)
Rim Tape - tubeless tape
Spokes - DT Swiss Competition (black)
Nipples - DT Brass (silver)
Thru-Axle - Jones TA bolt
Tire - Vee Tire Bulldozer 29x3.25
Tube - WTB Tubeless valves, Stan's Sealant

Front Wheel  (hand built)
Hub - Jones 150-F (black)
Rim - WTB Scraper i45 29er (black)
Rim Tape - tubeless tape
Spokes - DT Swiss Competition (black)
Nipples - DT Brass (silver)
Thru-Axle - Jones TA bolt
Tire - Vee Tire Bulldozer 29x3.25
Tube - WTB Tubeless valves, Stan's Sealant

Stem - Thomson X4, 70x10 (black)
Spacers - Aluminum, 50 mm (black)
Handle Bar - Jones Butted Aluminum Loop H-Bar 710 (black)
Grips - Jones Kraton H-Grips for 710 mm H-Bar (black)
Tape - Jones B-Tape, rear crossbar (black)

Front Brake - Avid BB7 200 mm Rotor
Rear Brake - Avid BB7 180 mm Rotor
Brake Levers - Avid Speed Dial 7
Brake Cables - Jagwire Stainless Slick
Cable Housing - Jagwire Ripcord, compressionless (black)

Crankset - Shimano M-8000 170 mm, Boost, 34/24
Bottom Bracket - Shimano MT-800
Cassette - Shimano XT 11 Speed, 11-42
Front Derailleur - Shimano XT Down Swing, top pull
Rear Derailleur - Shimano XT Shadow+ SGS
Shift Levers - Shimano XT Rapid Fire, 11 Speed
Chain - Shimano 11 Speed
Cable & Housing - Shimano SP-51
Chain Stay Protector - Jones
Pedals - Time ATAC MX-4

Built For Comfort, Howling Wolf with Eric Clapton (1971).

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The Great Divide - How I Packed & Changes

I'm going to pack it up
I'm going to give it up
I'm going to put you right out of my mind
I'm going to pack it up
Pack It Up, Freddie King (1974) 

Loaded Jones 29+ bike taking a break at the TLC Ranch on the Great Divide. 

A different view of my loaded Jones 29+ bike.

How do you pack all that gear, and what would you do differently?

Last week I posted a Gear List of what I carried on my 2021 ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, as well as changes I might make if I were to ride it again the same way.  See My Gear List & Changes. Tour Divide racers identify things that I could leave home and Great Divide tourers identify things not on my list that I could bring. I appreciate the input and will continue to experiment.

This post describes on how I packed all that gear on my bike, with possible changes noted in blue type. Every bag had some extra space, providing easy and flexible packing during the ride.

Truss Fork Bags (fork):  In addition to being light and strong, the Jones truss fork provides a built-in structure to support a pair of bags. Recognizing this potential, Jeff Jones teamed with Revelate Designs to create these bags, each offering nearly the capacity of a seat post bag. For quick access in inclement weather, I pack the tent and rain jacket in the left side bag, along with the Spot X tracker in an outside mesh pocket. I pack the sleeping pad, sleeping bag liner, pillow, and rain pants in the right side bag. 

    No change.

Harness + Salty Roll (handle bar):  I pack the sleeping bag and down hoodie in the middle third of the Salty Roll bag, leaving more than a third of the bag on each side for all the clothes, except liner gloves, skull cap, and wind jacket. On the left side I pack camp shorts, camp shirt, extra pair of socks, stocking cap, arm warmers, and leg warmers. On the right side I pack the extra shorts and jersey, and a stuff sack of extra layers (waterproof gloves, waterproof socks, head band, buff)

    No change to packing what I bring, but I might not bring a second jersey and likely would not bring the waterproof gloves and socks. That would leave more extra space in that bag.

Egress Pocket (handle bar):  Strapped to the Harness and atop the Salty Roll bag, the Egress Pocket holds the ACA book and related notes, sunglasses/glasses, Bible, journal, paper, toilet paper, chain lube, and a bag of some medicinals. In the left side outside mesh pocket I pack a pair of liner gloves and in the right side outside mesh pocket I pack a skull cap.

    No change to this list, although I sometimes put other things in this readily accessible bag.

Adventure Cycling Map Case (handle bar):  This map case holds an Adventure Cycling map, is water resistant, sits atop the Loop Hole H-Bar bag, and doesn't move at all in use. Perfect.

    No change.

Loop Hole H-Bar bag (handle bar):  This bag sits under the map case, tucked into the space between the lateral tubes of the Jones handle bar. It's bigger than you think, is a great use of space, and is on the bike full time. In it I carried a pump, sunscreen, insect repellant, water filter, and head light.

    The pump barely fit into this bag and I plan to replace it with a larger one, so I'll find a new place to put the new pump, probably in the main triangle frame bag. If the Loop Hole H-Bar bag no longer holds a pump, I would move the chain lube and Bible from the Egress bag into this bag.

Mountain Feed Bag (handle bar/stem):  In the left side bag, I carry a 26 ounce water bottle, as well as lip balm in the outside mesh pocket. In the right side bag, I carry bear spray, just a few inches from my right hand for a quick draw.

    No change.

Mag-Tank 2000 bag (top tube by the handle bar):  This handy bag with a magnetic closure allows easy, one-handed access to 2,000 calories of on-the-fly food. I often put my camera in there, too.

    No change.

Jerry Can bag (top tube by the seat post):  This sneaky little bag holds an entire tool kit, including a tubeless repair kit, patch kit, tire plugs, CO2 cartridges, valve cores, valve stem, extra chain links, quick links, spare derailleur hanger, multi-tool, tire irons, and LeatherMan tool.

    I might substitute individual 2.5, 3, 4, 5, and 6 mm Allen wrenches and a chain breaker for the heavy multi-tool. Although I never had to use the multi-tool Allen wrenches on my ride, they can be hard to work with. The other tools in the multi-tool are pretty much covered by the LeatherMan Skeletool. 

Terrapin bag (seat post):  This modular setup comprises a harness that attaches to the bike and a 14 liter dry bag that easily removes from the harness. I pack this dry bag with food, so I can readily remove the entire bag for overnight storage away from my sleeping area. Think grizzly. In addition to 1-3 days of food, the Terrapin bag also carries the First Aid kit, two spare tubes wrapped with some duct tape, tire sealant, the ACA maps not in use, two 34 ounce collapsible water bladders, a spares stuff sack with zip ties, straps, and rope to hang a bear bag, a hygiene stuff sack with soap, razor, toothbrush/paste, zinc oxide, wipes, and hand towel, and a kitchen stuff sack with spork, salt/pepper, collapsible cups, can opener, spare matches, and iodine tablets. I also attached a bungee cord net atop the Terrapin bag to hold a Nemo seat pad and a wind jacket.

    No change, other than perhaps removing one of the two spare tubes and adding a third 34 ounce collapsible water bladder for the Great Basin and New Mexico. 

Frame Bag (main triangle):  The frame bag is divided into top and bottom compartments. The right side of the top compartment holds a 38 ounce water bottle and a 26 ounce "dirty" water bottle (used to draw and hold unfiltered water), as well as peanut butter, honey, tortillas and a spork for easy access for lunch. The left side of the top compartment is a relatively thin sleeve that holds wallet, flip phone, charger, electric cords, and mud scraper. The bottom compartment holds the top and bottom SmartWool base layers and a pair of aqua socks.

    No change, although I might leave the bottom base layer at home.

Down Tube Cage:  Strapped to a Salsa Anything Cage on the bottom side of the down tube is a stuff sack containing my Jet Boil MiniMo stove, fuel and cook pot.

    No change.

Rear Axle Cages:  Bottle cages near the rear axle hold two 38 ounce Soma Further water bottles, secured with a flexible tie-down.

    No change.

In addition to the bags and their contents, I mounted a CatEye cyclocomputer, CatEye head light, a Timber bear bell, a Knog Oi bell, a Stem Captain compass, some old stubby bar ends near the levers, and Ergon GP3 grips. The crowning touch is the Slow Moving Vehicle sign strapped to the back.

    No change.

That's it, for now. As you can see, I liked how all this gear packed on the bike and would not make any major changes. Like packing for the Cloud Peak 500, each bag has some extra room remaining, so I have some flexibility to change on the road, as needed. You never know when you want to carry a new Great Divide Cyclery water bottle or an Ovando Jail t-shirt.

Next up - What changes, if any, to the Jones 29+ for next time.

Pack It Up, Freddie King (1974)

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Great Divide - My Gear List & Changes

I don't need a whole lots of money
I don't need a big fine car
I got everything that a man could want
I got more than I could ask for
Some Kind Of Wonderful, John Ellison (1967)

Shelter, clothes, food, water, kitchen, first aid, hygiene, tools, parts, navigation, documentation.
It's all in there. For 7 weeks, I lived out of this suitcase.

Here's my gear list from my ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, along with a few changes I might make if I were to ride that route again the same way. If I were racing, this gear list would likely look different.

This gear list is not copied off some "What To Pack For Bikepacking" YouTube video. I developed it by experimenting with gear, packs, and bikes over several years of local overnight and multi-day rides. For example, in 2019 and 2020, I bike packed 20+ overnighters, several 2 nighters, and a big shakedown 7 day ride in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. Cloud Peak 500 - Feeling Good. I also asked many people many questions, read many journals, and watched many videos of others who had actually ridden the Great Divide. I further benefitted from many conversations with my friend Paul Brasby, who conducted his own field research and planned to start the ride with me.

As a result, I believe I had dialed in my gear list, for my planned ride, pretty well in advance. Below in normal type is the gear that I used on my Great Divide ride, followed by any changes in blue type. As you will see, practically everything worked well and I would not make many changes. 

Sleep Kit:  Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack tent, Brooks Range Mountaineering Alpini 30 sleeping bag, SeaToSummit Reactor Extreme liner, ThermaRest ProLite pad, Outdoor Vitals UL Stretch pillow.

    No change. 

Clothes:  2 Voler bib shorts, 2 Voler jerseys, 2 pair SmartWool socks, Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit shoes, Voler arm warmers, Voler knee warmers, SmartWool top base layer, SmartWool bottom base layer, Voler wind jacket, Showers Pass Refuge rain jacket, Showers Pass rain pants, Marmot down hoodie, SmartWool camp shirt, nylon camp shorts, SmartWool liner gloves, Showers Pass waterproof gloves, Bontrager cycling gloves, Showers Pass waterproof socks, Voler skull cap, SmartWool 250 headband, SmartWool 250 stocking cap, buff, Giro Aspect helmet, Oakley M-frame prescription sunglasses, Oakley athletic prescription glasses.

    Subtract the Showers Pass waterproof socks and waterproof gloves, maybe subtract one of the cycling jerseys, maybe subtract the SmartWool bottom base layer.

First Aid/Hygiene/Personal:  Ace bandage, gauze pads, large & small bandaids, butterfly bandaids, alcohol wipes, zinc oxide, Neosporin, hydrocortisone, sun screen, lip balm, insect repellant, aspirin, ibuprofen, Doans, Tums, toilet paper, hand towel, toothbrush/paste, soap, bear spray, flip phone, wallet, Spot X satellite tracker/messenger, battery/charger, cords, Timber bear bell.

    No change.

Tool Kit:  Lezyne Alloy HV Drive pump, Lezyne SV-16 multi-tool, spork wrench for brakes, Lezyne Tubeless CO2 Blaster tubeless repair kit, 4 ounces of extra sealant, 2 tubes, 2 valve cores, 1 valve stem, Park Tool patch kit, 2 tire irons, LeatherMan Skeletool CX, Jones derailleur hanger, 4 chain links, 2 quick links, chain lube, duct tape, zip ties, mud scraper.

    Replace pump with higher volume/stroke pump, with a foot peg. Subtract 1 of the extra tubes. Maybe substitute the heavy multi-tool with individual 2.5,3,4,5,6 mm Allen wrenches and a chain breaker.

Navigation:  Adventure Cycling Association hard copy maps, cue sheets and book, Stem Captain compass, CatEye cyclocomputer, Cateye head light, Mountain Miser thermometer, Gideon's pocket Bible.

    No change, although I saw no other cyclist on the Great Divide without GPS navigation of some sort. Maybe I would add GPS navigation if I returned to the Great Divide. Maybe.

Documentation:  Olympus TG-4 Tough camera, leather bound paper journal, 2 No. 2 pencils.

    No change.

Hydration:   3 x 38 ounce Soma Further water bottles, 2 x 26 ounce water bottles, 2 x 34 ounce collapsible water containers, (total capacity about 7 liters), MSR Trail Shot filter, iodine tablets.

    Add a third 34 ounce collapsible water container for the Great Basin and New Mexico. Maybe substitute the reliable, but slow MSR Trail Shot filter with something faster like the Sawyer Squeeze.

Food (1-2 days):  instant oatmeal/coffee (breakfast), peanut butter/honey/tortilla (lunch), nutrition bars/Snickers/M&Ms/chips/nuts/trail mix (during the day), ramen/tuna/freeze dried entree (dinner).

   Over time, I carried less food and ate more in towns when possible. But I always carried a day or two worth of calories of the above items. Peanut butter/honey/tortillas and snicker bars were daily staples the entire ride. Over time, my biggest change was eating more nuts and trail mix, especially in the morning.

Kitchen:  Jet Boil MiniMo stove and fuel, matches, salt/pepper, SeaToSummit collapsible cup & bowl, Pony Express titanium spork, rope for bear bag.

    Substitute the small (8 ounce) collapsible cup with another large (16 ounce) collapsible bowl.

As you can see, I would not make many changes. My gear worked well for me. 

Next up - The packs I used and how I packed all that gear, along with a few changes I might make.

Some Kind Of Wonderful, Grand Funk Railroad (1974)

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Great Divide - Give Yourself A Chance

You go back, Jack, do it again
Wheel turnin' 'round and 'round
You go back, Jack, do it again
Do It Again, Walter Becker & Donald Fegan 

Another glorious day rolling along the Great Divide.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Every day on my ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, I affirm a mindset to enjoy the upcoming day, with everything that comes with it, while giving myself a chance to ride the next day. See, Living A Dream. The whole live-in-the-moment mantra is pretty straight forward, even though daily challenges make it not so easy to do. But what do I mean by giving myself a chance to ride the next day? 

In general, it means to take care of your bike, your body, and your mind all day today so that you have the opportunity to ride tomorrow. To be blunt, don't mess up something today that takes away tomorrow's ride.

Looks inviting, but no swimming in Upper Whitefish Lake on this cool, overcast day.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

What that looks like, on a daily basis, takes some time and thought for me to work through, particularly after Paul finishes his ride in Rawlins and I ride solo the next 1,300+ miles to Antelope Wells. Riding across Colorado is one thing, but venturing solo into sparsely populated and practically undeveloped New Mexico takes the meaning of self-supported to the next level. That is not a place for mistakes. Not for body, bike, or mind.

For the body, I work to stay on top of food and water.  It's much easier to keep up than to catch up.

After a few weeks on the Great Divide, I realized that when I get a little low on calories, the front of my thighs start to ache, something like a dull version of lactate acid overload during a hard sprint. When that starts to happen, I learned to immediately stop and eat at least 500 fast acting calories. Usually within about 10-15 minutes, that achy feeling goes away and my legs feel good. Before recognizing this and responding this way, I would continue to slide negatively in energy, performance, and attitude. 

Eventually, I also learned that I could start my morning with a few big handfuls of trail mix and ride moderately hard for several hours, while snacking regularly. Then I would stop, maybe for 30 minutes or more, for a substantial meal, e.g., 1,000+ calories of peanut butter/honey tortillas and Snicker bars. That would fuel me until early to mid afternoon, when I would stop for at least 30 minutes for an even more substantial meal. Sometimes, that would be enough riding for the day. More often, I would ride longer until late in the day or even into the evening. I loved the ability to let the day decide its length, rather than my poor decisions or inattention.

Riding in the heated high plains between Montana mountains.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

I also regularly monitor body temperature and respond. Yes, I can still change into and out of a jacket on the fly on a road ride, but here I stop to keep things right. Add layers. Subtract layers. Change layers. Take a break in some shade. Take a break sheltered from the wind or rain. Sit down. Stretch. Lie down. Do what it takes. I want to ride tomorrow.

I govern effort for the long haul, such that I can fully recover overnight. That's easy to say, but hard to do. I really did not know how hard I could go all day, day after day, for weeks, until I did it. It's just not the same as the sustained effort and recovery of one day races. I struggled for almost two weeks before beginning to understand how to balance this type of effort and recovery. The Great Divide - A Hard Start. Once dialed in, however, I rode comfortably (and faster, and farther, and higher) for the next 5 weeks and I know I could have ridden for many, many more. But it took thoughtful attention and time.

The takeaway is simply stated, though not simply executed. Don't dig a hole so deep today that I can't recover to ride tomorrow.

Flying down Cataract Creek Road can quickly get too fast.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

I also ride more conservatively than normal to minimize the risk of crashing. I'm a relatively conservative cyclist anyhow, so that isn't hard. But my Jones 29+ handles great on rough stuff, even loaded, and it's easy to forget where I am during a fun, fast descent. It's also easy to let pride decide whether to ride a sketchy technical section. Out there on the Great Divide, one moment of inattention may end my ride, or worse. Now, think of the added complications when riding solo. 

For the bike, during the day, I occasionally check for anything abnormal. When stopping for water, food, or even pictures, I take a look. An abnormal sound definitely means stop. Figure it out. Make a decision. Fix it. Adjust it. Clean mud and other debris. At the end of the day, I check tires, wheels, brakes, cassette, chain rings, and chain. Clean what needs to be cleaned on the drivetrain and lube the chain. It takes but a minute to stay on top of things. I want to ride my bike tomorrow.

Finally cresting Fleecer Ridge on a 90+ degree day after climbing over 5,000 feet.
A little downhill lies just ahead. 
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Finally, most importantly, I commit to a mindset and diligently work to maintain it. Well before Day 1, I hammered home what I called BP3:  Be Positive, Problem solving, and Pedaling. Yes, I need all three, all the time. And I remind myself daily to be positive, be problem solving and be pedaling. BP3, baby.

Upon hearing this from me, a young Great Divide cyclist chirped, "All you really need to do is pedal!" I asked him how he was going to pedal to Antelope Wells without deciding which road to take. If you're just pedaling, where will you end up? How are you going to pedal without resupplying water and food? What about rest and shelter?What if your bike breaks down? You're constantly solving problems on the Great Divide or, better yet, you're attentive to your situation and acting to prevent a problem from developing.

I certainly was not positive, problem solving, and pedaling every minute of every day. But it was a mindset I committed to before the first pedal stroke and worked at until the last. I know it helped me to successfully ride the Great Divide, and have a lot of fun doing so.

Steady Freddy single track through Grizzly Basin.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

So, enjoy the day, with everything that comes with it, and give yourself a chance to ride the next day. What that looks like for you, you get to work out yourself. 

Do It Again, Steely Dan (1972)

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Great Divide - Top 10

It's the final countdown
The final countdown
The final countdown
The final countdown
The Final Countdown, Joey Tempest (1986)

Each and every day of my ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route created lasting memories. The people, wildlife, landscape, roads, weather, history. The physical, mental and emotional challenges. The highs and lows. The thrills and the mundane. The quiet time every morning. Maybe especially the solitary hours immersed in simply pedaling my bike through unknown-to-me, remote backcountry. All those experiences intermingle with each other and with prior experiences to fundamentally shape who I am.

Over the months since returning to conventional life, I randomly drift back to moments on the Great Divide ride. A glance at a picture, map, or blog post always triggers a cascade of thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, they appear for no apparent reason at all. I could easily identify 20, or 50, or 100 amazingly memorable moments and try to write about them, but that's just too much. So, here's my Top 10 moments that most stand out today. Many of these I've described in prior posts, but not all.

10. Osprey Take-Out
While talking with a fly fisherman along the Snake River near Grand Teton National Park, I see a large bird circling high overhead and ask if it's an eagle. "Osprey," replies the old fisherman. Just then, the bird nose-dives at blinding speed straight down into the water and emerges with a large trout in its talons. Whoa! I lose sight of it and ask where it went. "He got a big one, maybe 14-15 inches," says the fisherman, "He'll skim along the water and be lucky to get that one to shore." Sure enough, a moment later I see the osprey on the river bank eating dinner. I never would have witnessed that from a moving bike.

9. Hanging Out At Brush Mountain Lodge
From the rush of Tour Divide racers in June to the steady, summer-long stream of Great Divide riders, Kirsten Hendricksen enthusiastically cares for everyone at this iconic stop in Northern Colorado. I ride in at 10:00 am and stay until the next day. What a fun experience with everyone there. See Memorable Start To My Solo Second Half.

8. Jessica's Joy
As I'm riding the last few miles into Hachita, New Mexico, maybe 50 empty miles from the Mexican border, I see a dusty four door clunker approaching me from the south. The sketchy car slows, so I slow almost to a stop well ahead of it, peer into it, mind the doors and windows, and instinctively ready my bear spray. The car abruptly stops. The front passenger door flies open. 

"CRRAAAAIIG!!!!!" screams a woman, as she runs toward me, arms flung to the sky. HEY! It's Jessica, another south bound Great Divide rider whom I met 13 days ago in Platoro, Colorado. She rode to Antelope Wells today and was in a shuttle on her way home. Jessica is just bursting with energy. So excited. So happy. So enthusiastic. For finishing her big ride. For me about to finish mine. For everyone else out there. For life. She is pure, unrestrained, unadulterated JOY! I believe she would have hopped back on her bike to ride back to Antelope Wells with me, if her driver hadn't nudged her back into the car. Jessica, you are a gem.

7. Peace At Lost Llama Ranch
Barb Nye created and nurtured this bike packer's haven in the middle of the Montana wilderness between Ovando and Helena. Years later, John Keller rode through on the Great Divide route and returned to join Barb's mission. They live a life of genuine kindness and generosity. It is an honor to spend some time with them on their back porch overlooking a beautiful valley at sunset. See Five Acres Of Kindness.

6. Boreas Pass with Mark
An old friend expresses a surprising level of interest in my Great Divide ride, diligently follows my progress into Colorado, and rearranges his corporate executive schedule to join me for dinner in Frisco and an unforgettable morning ride up Boreas Pass. You made my day, Mark. Let's ride again soon. See Old Friends.

5. A Night In The Ovando Jail
To spend a night in the cell of a county jail built in 1890 is just too cool to this retired correctional officer and fan of the Old West. Ovando locals Kathy, Leigh Ann, Colleen, and Howard make this stay even more special. See Small Town Stoke.

4. Monsoons And Mud In The Gila
In the midst of possibly the most remote 190 mile stretch anywhere along the Great Divide route, a New Mexican monsoon hammers me with wind, rain, and hail. Flash floods swallow my road and pour down on me from all sides. I battle for almost 4 hours to reach higher ground for the night. And that's just the second of three challenging days in the rugged mountains of Gila National Forest. I emerge fully realizing that I belong out here on long, remote backcountry rides. I'm also so grateful for the opportunity and ability to experience this. See Three Days Of The Gila.

3. Elation At The Montana-Idaho Border
The start of this ride is so hard I don't know if I'll ever cross Montana. As I tell Paul, I do not want to be That Guy who said he was riding his bike across the country but never left the first state. I struggle for 12 days before starting to figure out how to balance day-after-day-after-day effort and recovery. See A Hard Start. The sheer elation of reaching the Idaho border is exceeded only at the Mexican border.

2. Divine Providence Through The Hearts Of Strangers
Montana huckleberry hunters Paul and Marlene find us hot, tired, thirsty, hungry, and off-route in the midst of big grizzly country near the end of a long day. They invite us to their home for an evening of company, gourmet food, and shelter. I can explain the highly unlikely coalescence of events culminating in this experience only as divine providence. See Trail Angels Paul & Marlene.

1. Antelope Wells. Antelope Wells. Really. Antelope Wells.
Pure joy. Unrestrained celebration. Utter disbelief. Surreal surreal. My solitary finish at the closed U.S. Border Station of Antelope Wells, New Mexico. I still have a hard time believing I did it. Surprisingly, I have cell coverage right there, so I share phone calls and texts with family and friends. At least when I'm not shouting, singing, and dancing. See Living A Dream

Piling on with his eccentric energy, my brother Cyler drives 6+ hours one way from Phoenix to pick me up to start my journey home. Unbelievable. Still shaking my head. See There And Back Again.

Beyond A Top 10 List
Any venture as big and audacious as riding the Great Divide is never a truly self-supported, solitary endeavor. In addition to all the folks met along the way, I enjoyed the companionship of cycling buddy Paul Brasby during our 1,200 miles from Roosville to Rawlins, as well as our final year of preparations beforehand (see, e.g., 2020 Cloud Peak 500 Wrap). Paul is a strong, savvy, accomplished endurance cyclist and a great guy with whom to share such an adventure. He'll be back out there in 2022 to ride from Rawlins to Antelope Wells to finish his Great Divide.

Of course, none of this Great Divide ride would have happened if not for Colleen, my amazing wife of 37 years. She shuttled me 14 hours one way to the start, checked up on me twice in Colorado, and single-handedly managed all our household and family challenges for two months. But those are just the details. Colleen has encouraged and supported a lifetime of my academic, professional, personal, and athletic endeavors. She makes life better whatever she does and wherever she goes.

First, and last. My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Phillipians 4:13.

The Final Countdown, Europe (1986)