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Sunday, April 30, 2023

Interview with a Bikepacker - Craig Groseth

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.

They shared their experiences in my previous posts. Colin SchindlerKate GeisenPaul Brasby.

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.

Dispersed campsite in an aspen grove deep in the Colorado Rockies.
(photo by Raymond Breesz)
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)
2. Planning
  • 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 DreamGive 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+. 
3. Preparation
  • 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).
Early morning climb on the Great Divide somewhere in Montana.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

5. Conclusions
  • 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.
Nothing like it.

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).

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Interview with a Bikepacker - Kate Geisen

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 Kate's perspective on her ride. Also, check out Kate's blog for more entertaining stories of a wide variety of her adventures. SuperKate

Kate Geisen loving life on her 2022 Great Divide ride.

1. The Decision
  • Why the GDMBR? I think I'd barely heard of bikepacking, maybe only through Jill Homer's blog and books, when I happened upon "Ride The Divide" while scanning for something to keep me distracted during a metric century trainer challenge. By the end of the movie, I was determined to someday race the Tour Divide and by the end of the next week I'd settled on an 8 year timeline.
  • Why self-supported/with another? My actual start came after 9 years, thanks to Covid and those closed Canadian borders, and by then my intentions had shifted from race to tour. Though my successful (if slow) solo run in the inaugural Arkansas High Country Race was amazing and empowering, it was also lonely and frustrating. I didn't want to spend my time on the Divide riding past all the incredible places the route took me. I didn't want to cry every day or sleep in a ditch. Early on, my friend and teammate Chuck signed on for the adventure, as well. My 8 year plan aligned nicely with his retirement schedule and, since the part of my long term plan that included developing some basic bike maintenance skills never actually happened, Chuck's proficiency here was another huge plus. He wasn't just my traveling mechanic, though. Having another person to share the adventure with made it that much more special, and having someone there to share the tough times made them so much more bearable. We have a long history of racing and training together, so by the time we left for New Mexico, we knew what to expect from each other and felt confident that we're compatible travel companions.
Kate Geisen and Chuck Vohsen at Antelope Wells, the start of their Great Divide ride.
  • Why not a guided tour or Grand Depart? A group of two minimizes the number of potential problems and differing opinions to be mediated. While being a part of the Grand Depart would have been super cool, neither the location nor the date fit into our ideal travel plan. We had enough gear, ability, and experience to support ourselves on the trip, and we like being able to make and adjust our own plans, rather than be subject to the cost and schedule of a tour group. As for a support vehicle, my husband's attitude towards my bike adventures falls more in the realm of tolerance than participation, and he still works full time anyway. My teacher schedule allows me far more free time than his limited vacation. 
  • Why north bound? North bound was Chuck's idea, and it was a good one. While we would miss all the excitement of the Grand Depart, graphics we'd seen showed what looked like a more favorable weather window riding north in early June. Transportation factored in as well. New Mexico was a shorter drive than Canada (we paid my nephew to drive us to the start, saving us the hassle and expense of plane tickets, shuttles, and rebuilding bikes). More importantly, both of our families were coming to pick us up at the end and Banff seemed like a far better vacation locale than Antelope Wells.
  • How did your family and friends react? I spent 9 years speaking this trip into being. I'm sure my husband was incredibly skeptical when I first told him of my intentions back in 2013, but after years of hearing about it, by the time it actually happened, it was old news. My friends are a mix of adventure friends and regular life friends, so their reactions ranged from "that's awesome" to "you're crazy," but after they'd witnessed two trips on the Arkansas High Country Route and the 1,200 mile jaunt based on Matt Acker's Michigan Off Road Expedition route, the Divide just seemed like typical Kate behavior.
To beat the New Mexico heat, Kate often started in the dark and enjoyed many sunrises on the road.
(photo by Kate Geisen)

2. Planning
  • What did you do to plan? Ummm, we figured out a start time, dialed in our gear, and arranged our transportation to the start. I'd spent the previous 9 years obsessively reading books and blog posts about the Tour Divide, but while I'd owned the Micheal McCoy GDMBR guide book as well as the full set of maps from Adventure Cycling, the route was so big that I couldn't really wrap my brain around planning. We had the route on Garmin Etrex computers, as well as Sarah Swallow's RWPGS POI map and the routes downloaded on the ACA Bicycle Navigator app. Additionally, as we entered each state, I'd download an offline map for the state on Google maps.
  • What was your overall approach to the ride? We had a general plan for the first few days, which immediately went to hell. After Day 1, we planned a day or two ahead. As long as I knew where I would be sleeping the next night and knew I had enough food to get me to the next re-supply, I was happy. Your "live to ride another day" post was always in the front of our minds, and that's how we lived our lives over the trip. This was a tour, not a race. We camped a majority of the time (I think 31 nights out of 42), we took paved alternatives when they served us, and we felt free to make our own route when we wanted to. We decided early on that our primary goal (well, after not being eaten by a bear) was to ride our bikes from Antelope Wells to Banff. Being 100% true to the route wasn't as high on the priority list.
  • What were your biggest concerns? Our ride started directly on the heels of a case of Covid for me. We left town just after my quarantine ended, and I had no idea how my body would recover. As it turned out, I was lucky to have no lingering effects, but the heat in New Mexico crushed me at the beginning. Never having ridden in the desert, I had a difficult time combating dehydration despite drinking so much water. Living at a lofty 466 feet above sea level, I'm sure the elevation (4,665 feet at Antelope Wells) was a factor as well. We actually had to take a Zero Day on our third day of the trip, after which we started getting up at 3:30 am to ride. Avoiding the hottest part of the day made a huge difference. The amount of climbing on the route was another concern, but we surprised ourselves at times, walked when we had to (I'm looking a you, Indiana Pass), and skipped some of it. I'm sure my TD/GDMBR veteran friends were disappointed that I passed on hiking my bike up Fleecer Ridge, but I can't muster much regret. Riding our bike across the country is still riding your bike across the country, even if you take an easier way out at times.
Kate Geisen climbing 11,958' Indiana Pass in southern Colorado. (photo by Chuck Vohsen)

3. Preparation

  • What was the best training to prepare? Dialing in gear and set-ups was key, as was having a firm grip on logistics. This was my fourth week-plus bike tour and I've developed a lot of confidence in my planning and strategizing. You can be the fittest person in the world, but if you can't figure out where to go and aren't able to manage re-supply when needed, you aren't going to get far.
  • What training would you do differently? That said, we definitely weren't the fittest people in the world. Life got busy this year, and knowing we were going to be gone for a big chunk of time over the summer make it hard to also spend too much weekend time away as well. That meant we drove to New Mexico on a 2022 training diet of weekly long rides of mostly 70-80 miles, one century ride, and one 3 day bikepack. It was not ideal training, but luckily we also have the experience to know our bodies will do what we ask them to do (eventually). We joked in all seriousness that we hoped to be in shape for the trip by the time that we finished it. In an ideal world, I'd go back with more miles and more climbing on my legs.
  • Favorite gear/What gear would you do differently next time? Almost every day I mentioned how happy I was to have the cheap knock-off Tevas that I'd picked up at Wal-Mart the day before we started the route. My ti Fargo was amazing, and I was really pleased with the Anything Cradle/dry bag system on my bars and the Rockgeist Mr. Fusion seat pack system. I also loved my K-lite dynamo light, which got heavy use in New Mexico thanks to our pre-dawn starts. What we took was perfect for our experience. Had we encountered the weather the South Bound racers did, I may have thought differently.
  • Any bike modifications for the GDBMR? I put gears back onto it about a month before we left. I love riding single speed, but never once regretted bringing gears to the Divide.
  • Anything different for the bike next time? Nope!
Disperse camping in the Great Basin. (photo by Kate Geisen)

4. The Experience
  • Favorite people story? We rolled into Steamboat Lake State Park well after dark and freezing. We immediately (and nosily) threw on all of our extra layers and started setting up our tents. A campground neighbor yelled that she was impressed that we'd ridden our bikes there, and then was astonished to hear we'd ridden our bikes from New Mexico. The family across the way overheard the conversation and came over to hear all about it. We spent the evening telling stories around their campfire. The next morning, the first neighbor dropped off breakfast for us . . . orange juice, muffins, tea, fresh berries, cereal, and milk. After dining on Pop-Tarts most mornings, this was heaven! Then the family brought us fresh brewed coffee. So much happiness.
  • From friends? A local friend mailed us two massive care packages. We were hosted by friends in Salida and Breckenridge, helped by a local friend who just happened to be in New Mexico for work, had dinner with my grade school best friend and her husband, and got to meet up with a former work friend of Chuck's. We also had a complete stranger offer us a place to stay in Montana on a stormy night and a lodge owner (who we were not staying with) in New Mexico give us access to his pool on a hot afternoon.
  • Cool experiences? So many! Two that stick out are a pre-dawn ride through a herd of elk one morning in New Mexico, and then ending up in the middle of a cattle drive while leaving Del Norte. Another cool experience was that on our first night in Idaho we stayed at the same place as Shawn Cheshire, a blind cyclist riding the Divide with her team. It was fun to get to know them a little, see how they worked together, and hear their stories.
  • Favorite camp spot? We camped 31 out of our 42 nights on the road. Rio Chama RV park/campground was right along the river and we luxuriated in the cool running water after so many parched days. Steamboat Lake State Park was an oasis of friendliness. We had beautiful dispersed sites in the Great Basin and Bridger-Teton National Forest and a great site at a Forest Service campground in Wyoming (Kozy Kampground). While we both love camping for free or low cost, we developed a real appreciation for RV parks and their many facilities. Showers! Laundry! WiFi!
  • Worst camp spot? 1) On our first night, having passed Hachita much earlier in the day and then melted in the New Mexico heat, we limped to the Separ store after waiting for sunset and stealth camped next to it. The noisy trio of interstate traffic, railroad tracks, and 18 wheelers pulling in and out all night combined to allow us about an hour of sleep. 2) The city of Del Norte, CO allows cyclists to camp for free in their city park and will tell you to set up your tent on the stage because your tent will be safe from the sprinklers there. You'll learn at 1 a.m. that the sprinklers most definitely hit the stage with all the force of an overexcited fire hose. You may even get to sleep in a bathroom for the first time wrapped in your now damp gear.
  • Note on another camp spot. Another free cyclist-only campsite is behind the bar in Hartsell, CO. The people running the cafe/bar are wonderful and the food was good. The "campsite" is a small lot with old picnic tables, trash the birds have strewn from the dumpsters, and a couple of portajohns last maintained when my adult children were in diapers. Also, while we had no problems, we heard from a couple of different sources that the bars in Hartsel are legendary for their fights that spill out into the streets. None of this is a complaint. Again, the people were wonderful . . . it's just good to know what you're in for.
Kate Geisen lounges in a natural hot springs in Wyoming. (photo by Chuck Vohsen)
  • Best food? We had a fantastic breakfast at the Buffalo Cafe in Whitefish, MT and great Thai in Rawlins, WY, of all places. Our best Mexican of the trip was in Columbia Falls, MT.
  • Worst food? We never bought a bad meal, but I can tell you I got real tired of Pop-Tarts. We had to filter water out of an algae-filled cattle tank with a dead javelina in a lower tank. We then ate cold refried bean burritos next to the javelina tomb because it was the only shade. The meal was actually pretty good, but the atmosphere left something to be desired.
  • Most relaxing day? We took two Zero Days. The first on Day 3 (yeah, I know) in Silver City, NM was less relaxation than recovery. The second on Day 22 in Rawlins, WY was full of sleeping late, naps, leisurely walks to get supplies and meals, laundry, and more naps. It was exactly what we needed after three weeks on the road. 
  • Toughest day? One of the toughest days was Day 12 from Chama, NM to Platoro, CO. Though we had some early tailwind, it turned around on us at Horca and we spent the rest of the day riding into a headwind with gusts up to 45 mph. Day 18 between Kremmling, CO and Stagecoach Lake State Park just outside of Steamboat Springs was another hard one. It was the biggest day of climbing we did on the trip and the wind as we climbed out of Radium was brutal. At one point it almost knocked us off our bikes. It did push me hard enough that I had to put a foot down so as not to crash, and then the wind grabbed by bike so hard I had to hold on with both hands to keep it from being blown off the road.
  • Hardest climb? We followed our windy trek into Platoro with an immediate climb up Stunner Pass. This went well, but the subsequent push to summit Indiana Pass seemed to take FOREVER and involved lots of bike pushing. *Because we rode the route largely as a Choose-Your-Own Adventure, we missed quite a few of the significant climbs on it.
  • Favorite part of the route? This is like asking me to pick a favorite child. New Mexico had the friendliest people and most careful drivers Colorado and Wyoming were so beautiful. Montana wasn't Idaho and it was also beautiful. The Canadian section was incredible.
Kate Geisen climbing yet another pass in Montana. (photo by Chuck Vohsen)
  • Favorite road? Boreas Pass Road sticks out as a really beautiful ride, and the cruise down into Breckenridge was phenomenal. Another incredible stretch was between Elkhorn BC and Peter Loughborough Provincial park.
  • Least favorite road? Our least favorite road wasn't even on the route. We skipped the much reviled, sandy ATV trail in Idaho in favor of a highway detour. Riding Highway 20 north from Ashton on a holiday weekend would have been bad enough, but when you pair countless frustrated vacationers towing massive campers through an insanely long construction zone where traffic was held up FOREVER with shoulders that appear decently wide but are actually cut at a steep angle . . . this stretch was by far the most terrifying of the entire trip.
  • Best weather/Worst weather? Overall, the weather was very kind to us. Our ride was bookended by heat in New Mexico and Canada, but the middle states were in general very comfortable temperatures and low precipitation. We somehow managed to be staying inside on every rainy night through Idaho, and we didn't stay inside all that many nights! Montana was a bit of a different story; it rained on us every day, save maybe one. Even there, however, we were pretty lucky. While the sky often looked apocalyptic, we never rode in rain there for more than an hour or so, and while a couple of big storms complete with hail and high winds blew though, all of those were on inside nights. Compared to the weather the southbound riders faced, we totally lucked out.
  • Best decision? Hands down, our best decisions were to take that Day 3 Zero Day and to begin our New Mexico days at 3:30 a.m. to avoid the heat. I'm also happy with our decision to tackle the Divide "Choose-Your-Own Adventure" style, instead of worrying about staying true to the race route.
  • Worst decision? Calling anything a worst decision is hard to do, because all of our choices worked out and we had a great experience. That Highway 20 detour was pretty terrible, but the ATV trails may have been equally bad, if not quite as death defying.
  • Posting on social media. Pro/con? So many pros. I would have done it solely for myself, and it came in handy even two weeks into the trip when we'd had so many experiences that it was hard to keep the days straight. It was also a great way for my close friends and family to understand a bit of what I was experiencing, but it was really cool to see how engaged and interested so many of our friends and even people we didn't know became. It was alike an old time serial. I love adventuring and sharing the experience with others, and I'll be happy every year as those memories roll back up again in my FaceBook feed. Cons . . . um, it was a little time consuming, but it never felt like work or an unwanted obligation. I did fall asleep a few times while typing up a narrative on my phone.
Chuck Vohsen closing in on Banff. (photo by Kate Geisen)

5. Conclusions
  • Overall thoughts? It was a fantastic adventure! For me, touring with a friend was exactly the way to approach the route. There are certainly parts we skipped that I'd love to go back and ride, but I'm also thrilled with the experience I had. 
  • Would you do anything differently? I'm completely happy with the way we planned and executed our ride. Getting to share the adventure with a friend made it so much more fun than a solo trip. We endured some really hot days in New Mexico, but missed the snow storm that scrambled so many 2022 racers' plans in the first week, and overall the weather was pretty kind to us. The desert in the southern end of the route is lovely, but the views riding into Banff are astonishing, and finishing a long trip with day after day of jaw dropping beauty was really special, like ending a concert with a thunderous crescendo.
  • What next? I've got a list going of places I want to ride. I'm eyeing Ireland, I want to ride around Lake Superior, and we definitely want to hit the Eastern Divide at some point, though I think that one will be a multi-year project that we ride in sections. Six weeks was a long time to be away from home, and it'll be awhile before I feel OK about leaving for that long again.
Kate Geisen and Chuck Vohsen celebrate the completion of their adventure.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Interview With A Bikepacker - Colin Schindler

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 Colin's perspective on his race, as I captured from notes of our telephone conversation. If you're thinking of a Grand Depart start, this is a glimpse into the commitment, training, talent, fortitude, and judgment to finish.

Colin Schindler takes a short break in Ovando, MT during his 2022 Tour Divide race.
(photo by Trail Angel Kathy Schoendoerfer of Blackfoot Angler)

1. The Decision
  • Why the Tour Divide? I come from a background of touring. A decade ago, I rode an old Surly with panniers across South America and into the States. I heard of the Tour Divide race back then in the Adventure Cycling Association magazines and thought it sounded fun.
  • Why race? A few years ago, I started working in a bike shop that was more race orientated. So, I rode the Arizona Trail Race as an ITT ("Individual Time Trial") in 2019, not really to race, but to try it. In 2021, I rode the Black Hills Expedition and tried to be faster. That's when I thought, maybe the Tour Divide next year.
  • Why south bound? To start with the Grand Depart. 
Colin Schindler cranking out some serious early miles in Canada to stay ahead of a big snowstorm.

2. Planning
  • What did you do to plan? Read all about it. Listened to podcasts. Jay Petervary has a lot of good information on gear, stops, strategies.
  • What was your overall approach to the ride? I knew I could ride it, but I was going to try to go fast. So, I set a very reasonable goal, and knew that I could always go to Plan B. To ride to finish it, even if my expectations were to ride fast. Turn it into a good thing, have a good ride. I saw other people set their expectations high and, when they started falling behind them, it really messed them up mentally. 
Colin Schindler greets the "incredible" people of Ovando, MT during his 2022 Tour Divide.
(photo by Trail Angel Kathy Schoendoerfer of Blackfoot Angler)

3. Preparation 
  • What was your best training to prepare? After the Black Hills Expedition in September, I decided to train for the Tour Divide. I worked with Neil Beltchenko and Training Peaks for a 6 month plan and followed it to the "T." It was the first race I ever trained for.
  • What training would you do differently next time? I don't know. Every day I was getting up at 4 to ride a trainer for 2 hours before work. I don't know if I would do that again.
  • Do you have a favorite piece of gear? My Six Moons Designs tarp-tent. It gave me the ability to really get out of the rain and the option to stop whenever I wanted, get out of the rain, and stay dry. The bivy people had "doom in their eyes" during heavy rains.
  • What gear would you do differently next time? Not much.
  • What bike? Pretty much stock Salsa CutThroat. It's designed to race that route.
  • Any bike modifications for next time? I like the idea of a flat bar with aero bars. About 90% of the time, it seemed that I was happiest in the aero bars. But, if not, it's because it's rough and mountain bike bars would be better for control and braking. 
Snow gathering early on Colin Schindler's 2022 Tour Divide race.

4. The Experience
  • Favorite People Story? Those people in Ovando were incredible. And Wise River, I was setting up my tent by the road and a lady that lived there asked me if I needed anything. She said I could sleep in a laundry room next to her garage. Really helpful people out there.
  • Favorite Camp Spot? South Pass City. I was a pushing far into the night and getting pretty cold. To push further into the Great Basin then would not be good. I stopped by the museum and a guy asked if I needed a place to stay. He let me sleep on the floor of a heated bath room. It all went from "This is going to suck" to "This is awesome!" What a God-send! And I found plug-ins. It's crucial to charge all your gear when you're sleeping. Then you can go for 2-3 more days.
  • Best food in town? Pie Town. The lady went into the back room, made extra food while the cook was making breakfast for others, brought out a bag full of cooked potatoes and more to take. All sorts of stuff. So kind. 
  • Best food out on the road? Lots of carbs, some proteins. You can find yogurt and hard boiled eggs at many C-stores. I also drank a lot of chocolate milk and strawberry milk. Heavy protein, right before going to sleep.
  • Worst food? I stopped in most towns, but not really for a meal. I tried to be fast. The most was something like an Impossible Burger from a Burger King. I'd take a little break, eat some food, grab some ice cream. I didn't want to be a beast of burden, so I didn't carry much. I worked with a nutritionist to have a plan, started on it, and then whatever. I made sure to eat lots of carbs and some protein. The worst was the constant diet of processed food all the time, a big change from regular life. I hated Pop Tarts, but they're quick, easy, and full of carbs.
Colin Schindler riding well into the night on his 2022 Tour Divide race.
  • Most relaxing day? Colorado was the easiest State for me. Beautiful. My mind was distracted by the variety of roads and views. Also, watching the roaming wild horses in the Great Basin was one of the most beautiful moments. But I never want to do the Great Basin again.
  • Toughest day? New Mexico, getting close to the end. It rained all day and the roads were really muddy all day. I could not really ride my bike and pushed a lot through ankle deep water. The rain just did not let up at all. It was really, weirdly cold. I tried riding on the grass, but went back to pushing on the road. Finally, at about 9 pm, I said screw this. This is just stupid. Stop and sleep. It'll be better tomorrow. It was.
  • Hardest climb? From Whitefish, Montana, climbing Richmond Peak. Big snow was forecast. It was late, but if I pushed through the night, crossed the pass, got to Seeley Lake, and got a motel, I thought I could get ahead of it and get some good sleep. But it's hard. Good information is hard to get and you're making decisions with limited information and rumors. I'd never ridden an all-nighter before, but I decided that this was my time. Climbing the pass I rode into total rain, then it started to snow. I nodded off, while pushing my bike. Yeah, falling asleep while walking. And by then my mind was not processing information well. Trees looked like people and branches over the trail looked like hands. I finally made it to Seeley Lake the next morning, dried out in a laundromat, and found a place to sleep. One of two motels the whole race. I think one other got over that pass that night. Then it was pretty much shut down for a day or so.
Finally, a downhill picture on Colin Schindler's 2022 Tour Divide race.
  • Favorite part of the route? After Fleecer Ridge, I knew I was through the roughest stuff.
  • Favorite road? The initial days in Canada, up Koko Claims. It's so remote and wild.
  • Least favorite road? That mud in New Mexico, outside of Silver City.
  • Worst weather?  The snow in Montana. The muddy, clay soil in New Mexico.
  • Best decision? 1) Riding through the night over Richmond Peak to get ahead of a big snowstorm. 2) Carrying a tarp-tent for the freedom to stop when needed to stay dry. So many pack so light, it's a dangerous mix. You're always going to be wet, then if you get cold, you're in trouble. I always knew that I had the option to stop, get in my tent, and get warm and dry.
  • You averaged almost 150 miles day. How long were those days? I tried to ride until 2 am, find a spot along the road to sleep, set my alarm for 5:45 am, and ride by 6 am. That was the plan. But it varied. I mean, on the third day, I rode an all-nighter, because of conditions. In New Mexico, near the end, I stopped once at 9 pm, because of conditions. 
With a couple hundred of miles to go, Colin Schindler rides into unrideable mud on his 2022 Tour Divide race.

5. Conclusion
  • Overall thoughts? For me, this Tour Divide was a feat of strength. I decided that, at 36, this was a good time to train for something really hard, to see what I could do. Once. This is the time. That kept me going out there. You trained for this. Keep going. This is the time. Let's see what you can do.
  • Anything different next time? This quelled the need to do the Tour Divide. If I rode again, I'd do it with no time or distance expectations. Tour it. Stop and ask locals about roads to ride. Explore. People are way more open when you're on a bike. Way more powerful moments.
  • What next? Bikepack the Colorado Trail. Would like to return to the Black Hills Expedition.
Colin Schindler celebrates at his finish of the 2022 Tour Divide race. 19 Days, 1 hour, 2 minutes.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Interview With A Bikepacker - Upcoming Series

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.

Canada brought snow to Colin and racers of the 2022 Tour Divide.

Dot watchers tracking Colin on the 2022 Tour Divide.

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. And cycling buddy Paul Brasby rode the Great Divide route south bound from Rawlins to Abiquiu, as he continued his journey of riding sections of the route as his time allows. All cherish their unique experience.

Adventure racing teammates Chuck Vohsen and Kate Geisen on their 2022 Great Divide ride.

Kate Geisen and Chuck Vohsen celebrate their 2022 finish at Banff.

To those introduced to the Great Divide by the 2010 movie "Ride The Divide," the Tour Divide race from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico seems to be the default way to ride this route. The Tour Divide race generally follows the ACA Great Divide route, with several significant deviations, including shorting the crossing of the Great Basin to avoid relatively new pavement south of Rawlins and taking two paved alternatives in New Mexico to avoid probable monsoons due to the mid-June starting date. The Tour Divide also mandates that racers precisely follow its course and abide by its rules. For those seeking a racing environment, whether racing the course or watching from home, this is a popular choice.

However, the Great Divide route was not created as a race and did not originally start in Canada. The Genesis Of The Great Divide. The Adventure Cycling Association first published the Great Divide route in 1998 as a 2,500 mile off-pavement tour from Roosville, MT to Antelope Wells, NM to complement their library of popular paved cross-country tours. The ACA later extended it 250 miles to Banff and then another 250 miles to Jasper.  Over the years, many cyclists have ridden all, or parts of, the now 3,000 mile Great Divide route in many different ways and combinations:  the entire Jasper to Antelope Wells through ride, the original border-to-border, ACA route, Tour Divide route, sections, create-your-own route, south bound, north bound, yo-yo, solo, with friends, commercial tour group, self-supported, vehicle supported occasionally, vehicle supported daily, camping only, motels, etc. There is no one, single way to experience the Great Divide.

Paul Brasby revels in the big trees, big mountains, and big skies of Montana on his Great Divide ride.

Paul Brasby and friend Mark Hoffman ready to roll from Como on their 2022 Great Divide ride.

For a look at three very different approaches to riding the Great Divide, Colin, Kate, and Paul share their experiences in a series of posts over the next three weeks. The big picture take-away?

The Great Divide is your journey. 

Ride it your way.