We're hosting a Bikepacking & Beers talk about Adam's recent ride on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Join us on Tuesday night, February 20th from 7p-8:30p at Pale Fire Brewery in Harrisonburg. Until then here's a little teaser!
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is a 3,000 mile, predominantly off pavement, bikepacking route connecting Banff, Alberta, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. The route snakes its way through the great Rocky Mountains, traversing through Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, and New Mexico. Frequently, like once a day, you can guarantee climbing up and over high altitude mountain passes on the Continental Divide. Cyclists should be prepared to ride through some of the most remote and beautifully vast river valleys, wide open basins, and breathtaking alpine forests on the North American continent.
Known mostly for the Tour Divide, an unsupported race that is held each June, the GDMBR has become very popular among touring cyclists as well. The Great Divide poses many challenging obstacles, however with the right amount of preparation and perseverance, you’d be surprised at how achievable such a goal may be, even with all of that climbing...
In August 2017 my girlfriend and I set off from Banff to give it a try. We spent 42 days on route and finished on the US-Mexico border mid-September. We rode an average of 72 miles per day carrying everything we needed on our bikes and slept under the stars pretty much every night. It was an unforgettable trip to say the least.
If you’re contemplating an attempt, there are a few things to consider.
Unpredictable weather, limited access to reliable food and water, and some basic navigational skills are just a few examples of things you need to be prepared for. Determining what time of year to depart from Banff is essential. Leaving in June, typically with the race, often means snow on many of the passes in Canada and monsoon rains which make the route impassible in New Mexico in July. Leaving late July or early August seems to be the sweet spot if going southbound.
We departed Banff on August 2nd and aside from wildfires in Montana were able to ride the length of the route with no complications. Like any trip planned in the American West, it’s important to be prepared for a wide range of temperature extremes and foul weather.
Set personal goals for yourself. We would tentatively plan three days ahead so we weren’t wondering, or worrying, about where our next resupply or water source was going to be. Each day will bring its own challenges both mentally and physically. Always carry more food than you expect you’ll need. On this type of trip, food equals happiness. Setting achievable daily mileage goals is key. Remember, if you’re touring the ride, not racing it, what’s the rush?
Know your gear. Be confident in your systems. Know where you’ll carry an extra liter of water if you need to or a handful of extra bars. Make sure your sleeping bag is rated to the degree that works for you and your shelter is a place of comfort. Feeling confident about your bike and gear setup is something that comes with time. Don’t wait till the week before your trip to set your bike up with the right bags or figure out what layers will keep you comfortable. The last thing you should be doing is worrying about your setup when you’re beat from riding all day. The more time you spend dialing your systems beforehand means the less time you’ll spend thinking about it on the trip.
Training beforehand is also essential. Knowing what your timeframe for completion is before you leave will dictate the amount of miles you will ride each day. Each day on the Divide will be different. Some days you can average 15 to 20 miles per hour and other times it will require everything you have to get 5 to 10 miles per hour. Feeling comfortable with being in the saddle for extended periods of time is a reality, but also something you’ll get stronger at as the ride goes on. Try to ride as much as possible before you leave. Don’t forget to load your bike down with the gear you’ll be bringing every once in a while. Becoming well acquainted with the additional weight and performance of the bike with the bags on will only help.
The Great Divide is an outstanding, relatively accessible adventure through absolutely beautiful country. With the correct amount of preparation and attention to detail you’d be surprised just how manageable such a long route can be. Take the time to learn the bike you’ll be riding and the gear you’ll take along. Set manageable, realistic goals for yourself and always assume it’ll be harder than you expected. Eat a lot of food whenever possible (and even when you’re not hungry). Pay attention to the weather. Last, but not least, remember you just took two months off to ride your bike in one of the most astounding places on earth. Live it up!!