Great Divide Mountain Bike Route 2021
This summer I rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from the border of Canada to the border of Mexico. So many things go into this ride – logistics, gear, bike prep, nutrition, body prep, the actual riding, it’s no small endeavor. It was a major item on my bucket list and something I’ve dreamt of doing for years. I’m extremely grateful I had the opportunity to take on the challenge. It’s a unique experience and I’m lucky I had the privilege to make it work. It wouldn’t be possible to sum up the entire ride in one blog post, but I’ll cover some of the biggest takeaways and stand out experiences. In hindsight I should’ve been blogging and uploading a story when I had access to internet, but considering I was immersed in the experience at the time, I didn’t . I’ll also have a gear list and my thoughts on that in a separate post.
Logistics can be quite complicated getting to and from the start and finish of this route. It’s easier with a vehicle and a significant other or friend for pick up and drop off versus flying and figuring out how to get to and from airports with all your gear and bike. Brad drove me up to the border and I started the ride June 10th, the day before the Tour Divide race took off. I started with my friend Becky who would be ending in Steamboat, CO. Becky had a deadline to get to Steamboat and had completely different pace expectations than me, so we knew we’d be riding separately. BTW Becky is a badass and made it back to Steamboat 4 days before me. She’d probably win the Tour Divide race if she ever decides to do it.
Brad went on his road trip to the West Coast after he dropped us off and camped one night with us. He drove back to Steamboat sometime around July 2nd, packed up to leave for Albuquerque where he left the truck at my Mom’s and rode over to Abiquiu (160 miles) to meet me and ride the rest of the New Mexico portion of the route with me. We have a friend named Gordon who lives in Las Cruces, about two hours from the finish in Antelope Wells, NM. Gordon picked us up in Antelope Wells on July 10th and drove us back to my Mom’s in Albuquerque. From there we drove back to Steamboat.
Atlantic City, WY, the last civilization before the Great Basin
Boreas Pass just after Breckenridge, CO
Canero Pass, a quiet dirt road north of Del Norte, CO
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is an increasingly popular bikepacking route. It’s over 2,400 miles and 135,000 ft of climbing from the border of Canada to the border of Mexico on mostly dirt roads, double track, pavement, and some bits of single track. Usually people start in Banff, Canada for 2800 miles but since the border was closed this year I started at the border of Canada near Rooseville, MT. The route is highly traveled by bikepackers throughout the summer going both north and southbound. Some people ride the entire route and some ride sections. Most towns & communities on route expect Great Divide riders so it’s relatively easy to find services that cater to cyclists – stores, lodging or camping (unless it’s the 4th of July). Most of the terrain is entirely ridable with only a few hike-a-bike sections in Montana. I toured the route, didn’t race it like many people do in the Tour Divide race, so I didn’t set high expectations for a pace. I wanted to complete the route first and foremost and didn’t want race distractions to potentially derail the goal of finishing. I knew I had a month and I figured that would be a reasonable amount of time for touring the entire route.
Considering the route is mostly non-technical, the chances of mechanicals and flats are less than a more technical route, but not to say it doesn’t happen. The extent of mechanicals for me were a dead shifter battery 8 miles before Steamboat Springs (my home! I single speeded it into town), and one flat tire. I flatted about 15 miles north of Atlantic City, WY. It was a big enough puncture that the tire sealant didn’t fill it so I used my only spare inner tube. I should’ve brought 2 spare tubes and I recommend that for future Divide riders. It happened about 65 miles after Pinedale, the last decent sized town with a bike shop for at least 200 miles, and right before a 135 mile remote stretch through the Great Basin. After the repair and rolling into Atlantic City, I worried I wouldn’t have a spare tube for the Great Basin. Luckily I met a fellow rider in Atlantic City who gave me one of his spare tubes to ensure I could get through the Great Basin if I flatted again. I made it through with no more flat tires, but the kindness and generosity of the other rider amazed me and that spare tube gave me a lot more confidence getting through that long remote stretch in the Great Basin! One of my favorite things about the Great Divide is the kindness and generosity you come across everyday, people are usually willing to help out any way they can.
Chris and Pearly in Montana
Michael in the Great Basin, he’s been riding his bike around the world for 4 years
Shane and Ray in the Great Basin, heading straight for the storm!
I loved meeting other riders, I loved seeing their set ups and talking about bikes, I loved seeing their progress and cheering them on. I rode with people on some days, other days I rode solo. I enjoyed both experiences. The majority of people I met started their journey solo and found other folks to ride with as they progressed. I really appreciated seeing other people out on route. It was a great route for my first ultra-distance tour because when I did feel lonely, chances are i’d run into someone within the next 100 miles and usually they’d have helpful beta or an entertaining story to tell. One young fellow named Trent, I met in Lima, MT and we leapt frog almost all the way to the end! I saw him almost every day. Sometimes we’d ride together for an hour or two and sometimes I’d see him in the next town, chat for a few minutes and then ride off at our own paces and then see each other again at the next stop. Cheers to my new friends – Chris, Pearly, Trent, Emily, Shane, Ray, Mike, Eric, and I’m sure I’m forgetting others, but if you’re ever in Steamboat, you know where to find me, let’s go on a ride.
Scenic trail I forget the name of outside Island Park, ID.
Stand out moments:
- My best friend from high school randomly in Whitefish, MT at the same time as I was
- When a family invited me to camp on their property in Horca when I couldn’t find the campground
- The hardest ride of my life from Horca to Abiquiu, NM
- Fresh Grizzly Bear tracks in and around Grand Teton National Park
- Going off course in Grizzly territory because I mapped the route incorrectly
- The Llama Ranch between Ovando and Helena, MT and free snacks
- Big ring Bob/crazy Bob – talking my ear off in Montana. At least he kept the bears away. He sang me a song. And he has a cat named Moots.
- Pie Town being closed
- Trail Magic in the middle of nowhere
- Seeing my friend Alisha at Brush Mountain lodge and riding into Steamboat with her
- Meeting Brad in Abiquiu and riding the rest of the route with him
- The Great Basin with Shane and Ray
- The 1964 Silver Streak trailer I stayed in outside Del Norte and Brad surprising me there
- Seeley lake area trails with Chris and Pearly
- Whole Foods in Frisco, CO
- The community swimming pool in Silver City, NM
- Taking mid-day siestas with Brad in New Mexico because it was so dang hot
- Staying at the Mariott in Breckenridge with Emily, Eric, and Mike because the hostel was sketchy. Best free breakfast ever.
- Gila National Forest
- Making it to the border
Me after 2480 miles at the border of Mexico and the USA
My accommodations in Del Norte, CO. Brad surprised me here with a pizza and clean cycling clothes, thanks to GPS tracking
Brad rode the New Mexico section with me, so he gets a picture at the border too
The most common question I received prior to my trip was “Oh is Brad following you in the truck for support?” or “Oh is Brad going with you?” Folks were curious, fine. The preconceived notion that my husband must be somehow supporting me was a common topic in conversation. It made me think about what is expected (unexpected) from me as a female. The assumption that I must be relying on the help of my husband to complete such an endeavor is pretty discrediting and frustrating as hell. We need women to feel empowered and confident in their dreams and goals, not doubted or made to feel incapable or both. A better way to pose a similar question if you’re curious would be “Are you going solo?” or “Are you doing it self-supported?” There is a big difference.
To answer those questions thoroughly, no, Brad did not follow me in the truck for support. The first night, he camped with my friend Becky and I on his way off on his road trip to the West Coast. He surprised me one night outside Del Norte, CO with a pizza and a fresh clean jersey & shorts. Other than that, my ride was self-supported/unsupported. Brad rode the New Mexico portion with me. He met me in Abiquiu (after he rode from Albuquerque) and rode the rest of the route with me, we were self-supported.
Training and Preparation:
I didn’t ride more miles or time than I normally ride in the months leading up to the Great Divide. I didn’t want to put in more time because I think overtraining for something like the Great Divide (and Tour Divide race) is a serious possibility. It would be easy to do especially for someone who loves riding and rides a lot normally , and then potentially sabotage the experience due to over-training. My normal routine for the past 5+ years starting in March is 12-18 hours of cycling per week, strength training a couple times a week, plus a few recovery weeks thrown in there. Nothing too crazy or structured and mostly based on feel. I did a few overnighters to test gear and several long rides (7+ hours). I also did one 100 mile gravel race and one 60 mile gravel race in May, not for training but just because I felt like doing a couple races. That’s probably more training than an average recreational cyclist but it worked well for me and I felt prepared. Many people complete the Great Divide with a lot less training than that, and I’m sure some folks train a lot more than that. If I had advice for future Divide riders, it would be to find a training method that works for you, don’t overthink it and don’t overdo it.
Final shakedown ride prior to leaving for the Great Dvide. Routt County, CO
Gear testing and Raspberry bar tasting. Routt County, CO
Managing hard days on the bike:
Being on a bike and using my own power to the point of physical and mental exhaustion almost every day (I took 2 full days off, 1 in Helena and 1 in Pinedale) for a month brought out a wide range of emotions. There were serious highs and serious lows. It took a while, but eventually I became quite good at managing my own mind. I’d try to dismiss the negative thoughts and focus more on the positive ones. Sounds pretty straight forward but it’s definitely a learned skill that took some practice. And it’s easier said than done, but it made a world of difference in mood & moral when I could do that. I focused on each day’s mileage accomplishment every night when I laid down to sleep and that give me confidence and momentum to keep going further the next day. The appreciation for small things – water, food, shelter, lodging, GPS, kind people, my ability to ride a bike all day, the freedom to travel, made life simpler than it normally is at home, but harder in other ways. It was refreshing to not worry about the things I normally worry about at home – those things seemed so distant. It sounds cliché, but it was a life changing experience. Connecting to land, nature, and communities while moving across the entire country by bike is a very unique feeling and much different than other experiences I’ve had while traveling.
I’d like to think I’ve always had an adventurous spirit, but this was by far the most adventurous thing i’ve ever done. It’s all relative. I realize to some more adventurous-type folks, the Great Divide might be a puny accomplishment, but to me it was a big step, a major accomplishment. It was a step in the right direction to becoming more confident, more self-sufficient, and a more capable rider and human being. It set the bar for what is to come for me. I can’t wait to do more bikepacking in new places and step out of my cycling comfort zone.
Would I do it again?
Yes. I would do it again. Numerous times out there I thought to myself – ‘I will never do this ever again’ – on a daily basis, sometimes an hourly basis. Funny how feelings and thoughts change after the fact. It’s not that I forgot about how hard it was or the miserable moments. Guaranteed when I do it again those things and thoughts will come up again. It’s my perspective that changed. It sounds weird, but those thoughts were an important part of the journey, it wouldn’t be the same if they weren’t there. I guess it wouldn’t be as meaningful. It’s hard to explain, but I crave those difficult feelings and the process to get through them.
My Instagram name is @hannahbikes if you’d like to check out more pictures from the ride. You can also see my Strava page for GPS data of each ride all the way down to Antelope Wells, NM. If you have questions about the route or any other comments/questions feel free to shoot me an email.
Until next time!