As the summertime bikepacking season is impending, I hope everyone is feeling excited about planning a trip right now. I hope people are getting excited about something (about anything really). Since we are all likely sheltered at home, feeling cooped up and dreaming of riding bikes with friends, traversing through wild places, sleeping in stranger’s yards, and passing through funny little towns, all inevitable and meaningful parts of long-distance bikepacking trips.
Last summer, my friends and I rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. This 2,700 miles mostly off-road route navigates through the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada, crossing over the Continental Divide 36 times, resulting in 200,000+ ft of climbing. You’ll encounter every type of riding surface – good hard-packed dirt roads, flowy single-track, washboard roads, sand, peanut butter mud, pavement, loose rocky steep trails, double-track, and beyond. A route so long rewards riders with a wide variety of environments to pass through, ranging from open deserts peppered with Matilija poppies, to snowy passes, blooming meadows, and pine forests. The GDMBR is beautiful, open, vast, and inspiring.
We decided to ride the route northbound (NOBO!) based on our timeline and weather, so we started in Antelope Wells, New Mexico, a place that’s not a town, but just a border crossing station in the Chihuahuan Desert. The route then takes you through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, British Colombia, and Alberta, ending in Banff, Canada.
Highlights: Riding between the remote and steep Gila Wilderness and Aldo Leopold Wilderness in NM, long gentle climbs and descents in Colorado, alpine meadows, cyclist-only lodging and camping (including Brush Mountain Lodge in CO; a llama rescue ranch in MT; the Toaster House in Pie Town, NM; the old jail and sheepherder wagon in Ovando, MT; and a Walmart parking lot in Rawlins, WY), wild horses in the Great Basin, Grand Teton NP, arriving in rad mountain towns like Salida, CO and Fernie, BC for beer and treats, riding bikes across the US/Canada border, swimming in the Flathead River outside of Glacier NP, and meeting kind folks on the road wanting to help in whatever way they can.
My setup: I rode my Marin Pine Mountain. I love it, and it was ultra-comfy on sections, but a little overkill with the 2.6” tires on some of the pavement sections.
Frame Bag: Revelate Ranger
Seat Bag: Revelate Terrapin 14 L
Handlebar Bags: Swift Zeitgeist, Blackburn Carryall
Fork: Salsa Anything Cages
Toptube Bag: Oveja Negra Snack Pack
The route took us 45 days to complete. We spent most of the day riding, but still took our time to hang out in cool towns, jump in the river, pick huckleberries, and sometimes wait out bad weather in the afternoons. If you don’t feel like you can take work off for such an extended period, we met several people doing the route in 1 or 2-week chunks, returning every summer to take on a new section. Or if you’re in less of a touring mindset, and more inclined to go fast and lightweight, the Tour Divide is the race that begins in Banff in mid-June.
If you’re contemplating riding the divide or other long-distance routes this summer, it seems obvious, but please consider COVID-19 and our current public health crisis. Many of the small communities along the divide do not have the resources to deal with this pandemic. Minimizing our travel to these towns is vital to protecting at-risk folks. Of course, we don’t know how long this will all last, but we should all be open to the possibility of our big trips being postponed.
Hopefully, we can all stay stoked, healthy, and return to riding bikes and sleeping outside soon!
Words & Pictures By WTB Gravelier, Taylor Mihelic