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Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (2021)

From July 20, 2021 to September 8, 2021, I rode my Jones 29+ bicycle on a self-supported, self-navigated tour of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Created by the Adventure Cycling Association in 1998, the Great Divide crosses the United States of America from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide on a patchwork series of existing backcountry gravel and dirt roads, connected where necessary by trails and pavement. Over the years, the ACA extended the route into Canada, first by 250 miles to Banff and later another 250 miles to Jasper. But those extensions to arbitrary spots in Canada never captured my imagination. For me, the Great Divide has always been the original border-to-border route.

Below I've listed my blog posts about this ride, along with a short introduction that I used when sharing on social media a link to that post. Each title also links directly to that particular blog post. At the end, I added a social media post that never made it to this blog, but perhaps should have.

Final approach up Fleecer Ridge.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

A. Preparation

1. How I Would Bikepack the GDMBR (posted July 2019, two years before I started my ride)
I'd love to bikepack the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. And I've started to build the gear, experience and mindset to support my vision of such a ride.
For me, bikepacking is backpacking on a bike. But I'm not about to impose my GDMBR vision on anyone else. I'm also not about to follow divisive rules of sanctimonious, pseudo-sanctioning groupthink for inclusion on some list. From the get-go, my GDMBR experience will be mine.
We each have our own journey. Your GDMBR vision is yours.

Find it. Nurture it. Ride it.

2. GDMBR Dreams (posted January 2021)
Impossible to ignore.
Impossible not to do.

3. Gear List Plan (my Cloud Peak 500 gear list with changes for the Great Divide)
My bike, bags, and gear are a few of my favorite things. They allow me to ride as fast, as far, and as long as I'm able.
I'm reviewing all these things to prepare for a planned ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. To start, here's my updated Gear List, showing changes from my Cloud Peak 500 ride last August.
Always working on it.

4. Packing Plan (my Cloud Peak 500 packing plan with changes for the Great Divide)
With some changes to my Gear List, I reviewed how and where to pack it all. All that gear must go somewhere.
Here's my updated plan for packing gear for a ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, showing changes from my Cloud Peak 500 ride last August.
Like everything else, it's a work in progress.

5. Bike Plan (my Cloud Peak 500 bike with changes for the Great Divide)
The Jones 29+ for bikepacking?
Capacity. Comfort. And, oh, so smooth.
Next time? Oh, yeah. With a skinny change.

Food for a 2,500 mile self-supported bike ride on remote back roads?
Impossible to schedule. Impractical to plan. I need to develop an approach.
Here's my start.

Diving deep into studying a unique environment with many shifting variables, I search, consider, and experiment with a variety of foods for the GDMBR.
I think that I've stumbled into a few surprisingly good meal options. But I wouldn't necessarily recommend serving them at home.

The date is set. The plan is outlined. The preparation is on track.
Real soon, it's real.

It gets better.
We're putting the band back together.
Shared with PublicIt gets better
Since announcing my plans to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route this summer, I have been peppered with questions from intrigued friends and family members, including long time cyclists, newcomers, non-cyclists, and even an endurance motorcyclist. Some may meet me along the way or even ride a bit themselves.
Let me know if you'll be out that way or want to ride along. I'd love the company.

11. Paul's Gear List & Packing (guest blogger Paul Brasby shares his Great Divide gear list)
Cycling buddy Paul Brasby plans to join me in late July at the Canadian border to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route as far as his time off allows.
As he prepares for this multi-week ride on remote roads, Paul agreed to share his bike set up and gear list. Along with everything else, he somehow manages to pack a C-PAP machine and battery in there. Thanks for sharing your insights, Paul!

It's time.
Years in the making. Months of detailed preparation. My ride on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route approaches.
Anticipation. It's making me wait.

B. Riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

God bless America.
Over 51 days, I rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route across our great country from Roosville, Montana to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, self-supported with resupply as available along the way. 2,651 miles with 170,572 feet of elevation gain on primarily remote dirt and gravel roads.
The magnitude of this experience overwhelms. This will take time to process. In the meantime, it's good to be home.

Dispersed campsite in an aspen grove deep in the Colorado mountains.
(photo by Raymond Breesz)

Stay in the moment, enjoy the day with everything that comes with it, and give yourself a chance to ride again the next day.
I affirmed that mindset every morning on my ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. And it carried me all the way to Antelope Wells.
But it wasn't easy.

Random acts of kindness and generosity by complete strangers fill many accounts by cyclists on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
Many Trail Angels brightened my days on the trail, but none so profound as Marlene and Paul in Montana. Here's a link to my blog post of how they created a lasting memory of our Day 4.

Bears on the Great Divide?
They live in all 5 states, but I encountered not a one.
That doesn't mean I don't have a grizzly tale, or two, to tell.

On my Great Divide ride, I could not pass through the small town of Ovando, Montana without a run-in with some locals.
To cut to the chase, it's been awhile since I spent a night in jail. But I must say the coffee was great.

Hospitality, generosity, and kindness.
All in abundance at the Lost Llama Ranch, right on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
Thank you, Barb Nye and John Keller.

How many mechanical problems would you expect on a 2,650 mile bike ride over 7 weeks? Make it a 70+ pound loaded touring mountain bike on rough, remote roads.
On my Great Divide ride, I had one freak puncture that did not even cause a flat. That's it.
As usual, there's a story behind it.

Some of the hardest days of my Great Divide ride were at the very beginning, as I struggle to ride 10+ hours a day, day after day, through the Montana mountains on a 70+ pound bike.
By Day 12, I wake up worn out and pedal barely 5 hours before stopping. I need a break. And more.
Surprisingly, I learn that I don't need to reduce my riding. I just need more sleep.

I'm not sleeping with the fishes. Or the grizzlies.
For the 20 nights in grizzly bear country on my Great Divide ride, I am determined to sleep inside a structure or at a developed campground, wherever possible.
We plan a couple, stumble across a few more, and Trail Angels provide another. It works out great.

A man and woman ride up to me on a remote dirt road in southwestern Montana on my ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
"You're Craig Groseth of Sheridan Ross!" he exclaims.
Sheridan Ross. Now that's a name I've not heard in a long time. A long time.

At the end of Day 20 of our ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, we sit inside the Strawberry Creek Safety Shelter near the top of Union Pass in Wyoming.
Just 4 riding days remain of Paul's vacation time. He'd like to make it almost 300 miles to Rawlins, which means crossing the exposed, desolate Great Basin.
That's a stretch for us. But the next day, we catch a whiff of a tailwind and a spark of hope.

After 24 days on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, Paul Brasby runs out of vacation time.
He certainly could have covered more miles solo, but he wanted to ride with me.
So, Paul says goodbye, for now. He'll be back next year to pick up where he left off. And know that he will someday pedal all the way to Antelope Wells.

Simply getting to the start and from the finish of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is a challenge. Especially on the Mexican border at Antelope Wells.
Here's how we did it.
Pro Tip - Call your brother.

With cycling buddy Paul Brasby headed home, I pause for a pensive breakfast alone on the morning of Day 25 of my ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Ahead lies my solo ride of about 1,300 miles to Antelope Wells.
Nothing like starting with the renowned Aspen Alley and then iconic Brush Mountain Ranch. I can't wait to see what the next day brings.

After spending a Zero Day sightseeing in Steamboat Springs with my wife Colleen and daughter Cara, I'm eager to return to remote mountain roads on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
Well into a light hearted day, I ford a creek to meet two families splashing around a hidden water hole. A dad offers refreshments and local intel for a camping spot up the road. Later, a local professional photographer stops by that stunning campsite to chat and capture a few images.
Both brighten an already bright day. I love this journey.

A civilized day on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
Awoke in on a nice hotel bed, lounged over breakfast with my wife and daughter, spun along a paved bike path, stopped for coffee in downtown Breckenridge, meandered up gentle Boreas Pass, flew down toward South Park, and called it a half day to stay inside the renovated Como Hospitality bunkhouse, which is not identified in ACA maps.
All made better by riding with an old friend.

One year ago, I worked my dream of riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route into a plan of action. After months of detailed preparation, I lived that dream over 2,651 unforgettable miles. I still can't quite believe that I did it.
Dreams. Impossible to ignore. Impossible not to do.
Keep dreaming.

After riding from Roosville to Rawlins with Paul Brasby and then cruising across much of Colorado meeting up with family and friends along the way, I start a third chapter of my ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
From Como to Antelope Wells, it's just me, my bike, and my maps.
But I'm not alone. Trail Angels are sure to appear.

The series of long, sustained climbs over the high mountain passes of Colorado extend all the way to New Mexico and beyond.
But New Mexico emphatically proclaims its presence on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route with consistently rough, rutty, rocky and steep roads. And, believe it or not, the most remote roads, other than maybe the Great Basin of Wyoming. Maybe.
No matter where the Great Divide leads, Trail Angels seem to appear. Trail Magic is real.

It's the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Slow down. Listen. Engage.
And always stop at a lemonade stand. Just because.
You never know, it may become tomorrow's convenience store, or maybe even the start of someone making a dream come alive.

Everyone asks about the extremes on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
The best. The worst. The biggest. The baddest. The coolest.
Well, alright. Here's the toughest climb, among many. I present, from the quirky, artsy village of Abiquiu, New Mexico, the 27 miles up Polvadera Mesa.

Pie Town to Silver City. A final 190 mile swing into the New Mexican mountains before a flat desert shot to the border. All the monster climbs of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route are behind me. Easy-peasy, right?
Not so fast. Rough rocky roads. Wild temperature swings. Unpredictable steeps. Muddy slugfests. As remote as it gets. And a monsoon hurling hail and flash floods.
My most challenging, rewarding back-to-back-to-back days. I emerge knowing I belong out here. And grateful for the opportunity and ability to experience this.

It's difficult to summarize my 2021 ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Words cannot convey the experience of living out a 20+ year old dream, day in and day out, over a span of 7 weeks. So, I'll try a collection of pictures.
Here's one image from each day in a slide show of less than 5 minutes. Each image holds for about 5 seconds and represents about 10 hours on the bike that day.
Thank you, Paul Brasby, for many of the first 25 images. Thank you, Raymond Bleesz, for the remarkable portraits you took in that little aspen grove near Gore Pass in Colorado. The rest, for better or worse, are snapshots from my Olympus TG-4 Tough camera.

23. Top 10
Every day on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route creates unforgettable moments. The cumulative effect over 51 days along the trail overwhelms.
And yet, some stand out, even now.
Here's the Top 10 moments from my 2021 ride of the Great Divide. Most I have written about, but not all.

My daily affirmation riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route: Enjoy the day, with everything that comes with it, and give yourself a chance to ride tomorrow.
Give yourself a chance?
Here's what that looked like for me. If riding the Great Divide, you get to work out what it means to you.

C. At The Finish Line

The Gear List for my 2021 ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, with possible changes noted.
This list is not for everyone. Indeed, it is custom tailored for me, because I worked it out over several years of experimenting on many short trips.
Gear Lists like this are good for ideas, but take the time, effort, and thought to work out one that works for you. It's worth it.

After reviewing my Gear List for my 2021 ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, I looked at how and where I packed everything on the bike. I would not change much.
As always, it's a work in progress, as gear, bags, and rides change.

In 2018, I built my Jones 29+ LWB mountain bike for loaded and unloaded mountain bike rides on single track and rough roads. It performs with exceptional comfort, control, and capacity.
For my ride of the 2021 Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, it was a great bike. If riding it again the same way, I would not change a thing.
Like me at 63, my bike is built for comfort, not for speed.

Even with all my preparation and training, I did not know if I could ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route across our great country from Canada to Mexico. It's a monumental undertaking, with so many variables over so many miles. I didn't know. Not really. And neither did anyone else.
But I believed. I believed.

Most of my posts about my 2021 ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route include selected lyrics and a video clip of a song that helped me understand and express a particular experience. The song then becomes part of the story.
Here, in one place, are all those songs.

After the Great Divide, what next?
Oh, man. I don't know.
The time after achieving a big goal is always challenging. I just know that I'm not done, either riding or writing.

In a recently published article, Jessica Shadduck of Omaha, Nebraska candidly expressed her battles to overcome physical and emotional challenges to complete her two month ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route last summer. It's a compelling story.
And it's even more to me. I met Jessica out there, leap-frogging a few times across New Mexico. That girl has grit. Well done, Jessica.

8. Special Guest Appearance on YouTuber Vegan Cyclist Video
I did not include this video on a blog post, but want it posted somewhere outside social media. 

On Day 3 of our Great Divide ride, YouTuber Vegan Cyclist rode up to us with cameras rolling. They were filming his latest episode of "Impossible Routes" and wanted to hear all about our self-supported cross country dream.
For 5 minutes, we shared our visions of riding these remote roads. They certainly brought energy and encouragement to our day. And it sounds like they enjoyed riding with us, too.
This hour long episode shows an entirely different way to ride Montana remote roads. Our cameo appearance runs from about 9:15 to 10:00.

D. After My 2021 Ride, The Great Divide Lives On 

1. Paul's Images from his 2021 Ride

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route keeps on giving. 

Cycling buddy Paul Brasby selected his favorite images captured during his 2021 ride from Roosville to Rawlins and wishes to share them.

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