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THE GREAT DIVIDE MTB ADVENTURE 2000

Getting Married at Island Lake Lodge Fernie
Having raced mountain bikes, cyclo cross, road and track, occasionally reaching to the dizzy heights of a 1st cat and even a top five placing at a National mountain bike race, I had always loved riding!!!  Don’t we all, I hear you say.  So after getting married on our snowboards at Island Lake Lodge the awesome backcountry paradise in Fernie BC. I optimistically said to Sally, “why don’t we ride our bikes from British Columbia to Mexico, where we wanted to go and surf.”  Half expecting to hear her say go and get stuffed, her reply was amazingly “yep why not,”

As this was not going to be your average 20-mile Sunday ride with the missus, a huge amount of planning was needed.  Maps of the official route called the Great Divide Ride (GDR), which had only been completed the year before, were ordered from Adventure Cycling in Montana.  We even bought books on backcountry survival and bear awareness.  It was a good job to as we had incidents with many wild animals including bears, cougars and a bloody great moose that nearly trampled down our tent.  The gear that we used will be described in the kit list at the end of the article.

With an average daily mileage of between 40-100 miles and with as many singletrack stopovers as we could fit in along the way, the whole trip was going to take about 3 months and cover over 3000miles.  During this time we became less ignorant as to nature’s way. Time and knowledge gained, meant we no longer survived but thrived.  Respect and understanding replaced fear.  Like nature, our moods and energy levels ebbed and flowed, experiencing powerfully natural highs and catastrophic lows.  We soon learnt to love our wonderful style of existence and discovered a bonding and team strength I doubt we ever would have found in the materialistic, constrained and overcrowded society we came from.  The basic necessities of life were no longer taken for granted or considered an inconvenience.  Our daily routine revolved around the joy of filtering water, cooking in the open and instinctively finding a safe place to set up our wee nylon house.  We no longer hurried everywhere, desperate to save time; we loved just ‘being’.  Flowing with nature became an art form, loaning us our daily dose of energy.  The miles of isolated mountain paths and river valleys set our daily work, giving us a sense of purpose.

During the 3-month expedition we visited Canada, America and Mexico and cycled through the states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.  Each state provided us with some of the best moutainbiking in the world and I was gagging to ditch the trailer and sample the goods as often as possible.  Starting in the small town of Fernie in Canada, we rode the awesome Bones and Pylons Trails.  These are super technical and include mainly firetrail climbs and singletrack descents, with a little north shore woodwork to tighten the sphincter.

Crossing the USA border into Montana we sampled the delightful trails around Whitefish, lots of super smooth tree lined singletrack to tickle your fancy.  The trails around Helena in Montana also provide the singletrack junky with some of the best riding in the USA, seek and thee shall find.  Montana really is a MTB heaven and with only 800 000 people in an area about 5 times the size of the UK its also pretty wild and isolated.  It’s important to remember to take your bear spray and all the necessary backcountry equipment otherwise you could really come a cropper. 

We steamed through Idaho without stopping destined for Wyoming and the incredible Yellowstone National Park.  If you ride the Divide you must detour into the park and spend a few days backcountry camping and hiking.  Yellowstone really is phenomenal and one of the wonders of the world, just keep an eye out for Yogi Bear and dirty great Moose???  Wyoming also gave us the severe challenge of trying to cross the Desert Basin in drought conditions and 120-degree heat!!!

It was then into MTB nirvana the state of Colorado.  This state really is the mutt’s nuts; words do not do justice to some of the most incredible riding anywhere on the planet.  As you can imagine I was stoked at the chance of charging some of these legendary trails.  The plan was to stop and ride as many places as possible and this included Steamboat Springs, Winter Park, Breckenridge and Crested Butte, all very well known ski resorts in Colorado but also incredible areas for single track riding.  In Steamboat I hooked up with a few of the local racers and blitzed trails like the Buffalo Pass Divide Loop which really was insane stuff.  Hooning down dusty singletrack lines that meander their way through fields of brightly coloured flowers really gave Sally and I a taste of things to come in Colorado.  We then headed off the GDR trail to ride Winter Park the self proclaimed MTB capital of the world.  This resort climbed up to nearly 12 000ft where altitude really starts to take affect, so hard efforts need to be judged to avoid going into oxygen dept on the climbs up.  After the long climbs however you get the goods in the form of incredibly long descents, one called Mountain Goat proved to be really challenging on a ridged bike with 4ft drop offs, rocks, berms and smooth buffed sections, other trails like the Cherokee kept us smiling from ear to ear for days.  From Winter Park we headed back to the GDR and on to Breckenridge, and another detour led us to the Colorado Trail and the Swan River Loop, again totally awesome and world class with similar sections to the Marin Trail in Wales.  It was here that we hooked up with two couples from Boulder Colorado and were told of what they believed was the best riding in the USA, Crested Butte.  Its hard to describe just how good the riding is at Crested Butte, you just have to go and experience it for yourselves, it has a bit of everything for everyone with loads of trails.  The 401 (via Gothic Road ) and the 403 (via Gulch Trail ) are definitive MTB trails.  One trail of about 25miles was super smooth buffed singletrack, with the last descent to the trailhead containing over 30 switchbacks all of which were nearly vertical but had been bermed making the 2000ft drop just sooooo fast, I would like to tell you the name of this trail but then I would have to kill you!!!.  
The High Country Of Colorado

New Mexico bought us bloody great Rattle Snakes and creepy, crawly, hairy Tarantulas. It presented us with dramatically different environments and scenery and with cactus everywhere each vista looked like a clip from a spaghetti western.  In the end, New Mexico bought us to the end of our adventure, and along with it all the emotions; tears, feelings of achievement and of anticlimax.
New Mexico

The great North American wilderness also granted us with our wish of meeting very few people, however, precious days alone were gladly followed with meeting the most fantastic, weird and wonderful people on the trail and without exception, they appeared to be the most peaceful and happy bunch I have ever had the fortune to meet. I could go on for days reliving the experience and the characters we met on the trail.
Crossing The Border into Mexico

GETTING THERE & GETTING BACK

We flew into Calgary airport in Alberta Canada, where you can hop on a bus to Fernie BC. The start of the GDR is about 50miles from Fernie at Port Roosville, so this is a good starting point.  Fernie is a great little town with excellent bike shops and trails to wet your appetite.  Down in New Mexico you need to arrange transportation from the boarder at Antelope Wells.  This can be arranged at the small café in Hachita a small town about 50 miles from the boarder, and for about $40 you can get a lift to El Passo.  From El Passo you can jump on a bus or train.

MAPS & TRAIL INFORMATION

Adventure Cycling Association website = http://www.adv-cycling.org/

Address:- PO Box 8308, Missoula, MT 59807 USA

You can purchase the maps, which are excellent, for the Great Divide Ride from Adventure Cycling, they are rip and water proof and come in sections so you can purchase one map to cycle one section – or all six for the entire ride – all proceeds go back into maintaining the trail as Adventure Cycling is a non-profit organisation.

Section 1 = Roosville, Montana to Polaris, Montana = 528 miles

Section 2 = Polaris, Montana to South Pass City, Wyoming = 510 miles

Section 3 = South Pass City, Wyoming to Silverthorne, Colorado = 398 miles

Section 4 = Silverthorne, Colorado to Platoro, Colorado = 318 miles

Section 5 = Platoro, Colorado to Pie Town, New Mexcio = 412 miles

Section 6 = Pie Town, New Mexico to Antelope Wells, New Mexico/boarder with

       Mexico = 303 miles

Total miles 2,470 miles – although we completed 3,500 due to detours chasing single-track stuff that dreams are made of and beginning in Fernie, Canada.

If you remember a particular part of the ride for its beauty or toughness or some other reason – like a bear encounter perhaps – you can purchase a section of the ride (1 mile) for $100 and your name will be printed on the map forevermore, for future GDR riders to see.  Nice idea and keeps the route funded for maintenance.

Trail information for singletrack junkies can be researched on http://www.mtbreview.com

ACCOMMODATION

We free-camped mostly, stopping in a proper campsite once a week to clean equipment, ourselves and our clothes, otherwise getting by on washing in rivers and lakes – not conducive to having a great honeymoon but doable!  All relevant details are contained in the excellent adventure cycling maps.  It is possible to camp for free on nearly all the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.

FOOD & DRINK

This expedition is full on and you will need to carry food supplies to last for up to 5 days, also remember you will be burning around 5-8000kcals a day.  Fluid replacement is also critical so you need to carry a water filter as the streams contain a lot of nasties that can kill you, be warned.

WEATHER

Riding north to south is advised due to a more favourable weather window existing i.e. no snow in August on the many 12,000 footers in Colorado and cooler temperatures at the end of the summer going in to early autumn in New Mexico and Mexico.  However, being a brownie or cub and ‘being prepared’ for any type of weather could save your life.  We experienced snow, hail, drought, forest fires, torrential rain and electric thunderstorms, where lightning is a big killer – in fact a lightning bolt hit a lamppost we were cycling past in Grants and the sound alone was frightening enough to kill us.  Lucky for us the lightning arced across the road, over our heads, to the lamppost on the opposite side of the street, missing us completely.  The static in the air was phenomenal and enough to make your hair stand up on end.

TRAIL TIPS & KIT LIST

Bike-                            Best to have steel – the ride characteristics of steel suit a long

time in the saddle and it can be fixed easily in worst case

scenario. Kona Calderas were our choice – (you don’t tow a caravan with a Ferrari so keep the bike basic).

BOB (Beast of Burden) Single Wheeled Trailer – Takes the weight off the bike thus

reducing the stresses on the frame and on the components. 

Waterproof Kit Bag – (BOB do a bag that fits perfectly in the BOB trailer and has a great opening along its length for easy access.

Sleeping Bags –           Good quality is needed – don’t compromise here – toss up between down & micro-fill

Tent –                           Good 1-2 man lightweight 3-4 season tent is needed.  Ours

                                    weighed around 4.5 pounds and was a Marmot Swallow.  It is

                                    an advantage to have a porch to store kit and keep dry at night.

Thermo-rests –                        We used full length and with a chair conversion – folded up

into seat with backrest – really, really great to have but obviously a luxury.

Cooker –                      MSR Dragonfly adjustable simmer – again don’t compromise on this piece of kit – get a good quality lightweight multifuel stove and essential to carry cleaning/maintenance kit and spare parts.

Cook set –                    We used MSR again here – lightweight titanium is best.

First Aid Kit –               Basic stuff – use ya loaf.

Clothing –                    Two complete sets of cycle kit, and as little gear as you can get away with.

Head torch –                Petzl zoom (halogen bulb) for leading in the dark and petzl tikka 

Water Filter –              Mandatory – essential item – we used a Pure Voyager – with a cap to fit straight into nalogene bottles.  This had a minimum of 0.2-micron filter and filtered all microbiological nasties. 

Water Kit –                  Bladder – MSR 5 gallon – could double up as shower.  8 x 0.75 litre bottles (between 2 of us) 2x on each bike 2x attached to back of each trailer. 3 Nalogene bottles and 2 x litre camelbacks.

Bike Kit –                      Full range of tools and lubrication (ooerr!)

Incidentals –                small radio to help you get up those mountains, camera, sunscreen, bear spray (don’t buy this in Canada and then try to cross the border into USA or the yank officials will treat you like terrorists!), bug spray (high deet, diary, good book. Swiss army knife, compass, Motorola walkie talkies

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