Bikepacking The Continental Divide Trail - Wyoming
The CDT (Continental Divide Trail) in Colorado had wrecked us: incessant climbing and descending, high altitude and running from storms. I'd be lying if I hadn't said on multiple occasions, “I can't wait until the Great Basin in Wyoming”. The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is fairly straightforward in Wyoming, and we were hoping for the same for the CDT. Besides, much of the actual trail went through a series of Wilderness areas, forcing us out onto roads that promised a much higher rate of travel.
Unfortunately, for the first many miles of the state, our rate of travel was slower than that of Colorado. With open trail that followed the divide precisely, we found ourselves climbing each highpoint only to descend the other side to climb the next highpoint and descend again. A combination of ATV trails and singletrack, sometimes the trail was good, sometimes not so good. It took us a solid day of fighting through wooded areas and avoiding deadfall and riding through trail-less sage meadows to emerge on the GDMBR road that would have taken us to Rawlins in just 30 miles.
Instead, still being purists for the trail, we took the "official" CDT that consisted of a handful of two tracks and then road. All the hikers just took the GDMBR, and I don't blame them. 30 extra miles for us wasn't a big deal, 30 extra miles for hikers IS a big deal.
We holed up in Rawlins in a semi-clean motel. A strong wind was blowing out of the west and we weren't about to attempt a westward crossing of the Great Basin with a 30mph headwind. Luckily, two days later, the forecast was calling for a shift and decrease in the wind.
Measuring about 125 miles in length, the Great Basin is a huge expanse of nothingness. The hikers would plan to cross it in five days. We packed food for two days. I also packed a personal-sized watermelon for the trio of hikers whom we'd had lunch with and that had started hiking 24 hours before we started riding.
Their eyes lit up in disbelief when I pulled the juicy piece of goodness out of my seatbag.
The CDT and GDMBR start out the same across the expanse of desert, but then the CDT turns into a straight-shot, double-track across the vast nothingness instead of the zig-zag route that the GDMBR takes. Wild horses and pronghorn antelope ran with us. Water sources were frequent, including a spring with a bocce ball set. The flies were too bad to indulge.
We made it to Atlantic City at the far side of the basin mid-afternoon on our second day, catching hikers who'd left Rawlins four days before us. We all shared ice cream sandwiches and rootbeers at Southpass City, just a few miles down the road. After our two-week layover in Durango, we were finally starting to catch the hikers we'd seen in southern New Mexico.
A 20-mile section of beautifully constructed trail led us to our next Wilderness detour, this time around the Winds. Luckily, this section of the GDMBR has amazing roads, and with impending bad weather, we were happy to get up early in the morning and race the final 60 miles into Pinedale before the skies unleashed.
Unleash they did and we found ourselves, once again, holed up in a little B&B (totally worth it if the breakfast is good and this one was!), waiting for the weather to change. We appreciated the break though, as we needed the recovery.
A few days later, sun shining, we rolled out of Pinedale, following the GDMBR north towards Union Pass where, most of the way up, we cut over to the CDT, now out of Wilderness for a handful of miles.
We ran into a hiker and stopped to chat.
"We're riding the CDT," we told him.
"Oh cool. My friend is riding the CDT. I was going to do it with her, but I decided to hike the trail instead."
"She's probably doing the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route," we tried to explain.
"Yeah! The CDT!"
We sighed. Few understood what we were doing.
The trail deteriorated into some unused snowmobile tracks, playing the usual highpoint, low point game. Navigation was tricky and the weather threatening. We hurried to try to make it to the Lava Mountain Lodge before the rain started. We lost the race and soon found ourselves covered in the sticky, peanut butter mud that the Togwatee area is known for. So close, yet so far, we slogged to reach the highway that would take us to a $25 grizzly cabin. They provide a roof and protection from bears, and you provide your own bedding. It’s brilliant.
Luckily, the owner knew all about the Tour Divide and regaled us of stories of riders coming down Brooks Lake road with bikes caked in mud while we hosed off our bikes the best we could. Even the waiter in the restaurant knew of the race. My guess is that they got a lot of business this year with the horrid weather.
We left in the morning, prepared for an easy hop and skip over Togwatee Pass, down into Moran Junction, and then through Teton National Park to Flagg Ranch where we had another non-$25 grizzly cabin reserved. The full day on the GDMBR was appreciated for its straightforward nature.
We had two options from Flagg. Take the GDMBR west over towards Ashton, or go north through Yellowstone to West Yellowstone, which would let us ride more miles of CDT at the end. As I had never been to Yellowstone, we opted to be tourists, and did we tourist it up!
All-you-can-eat breakfast at one of the lodges, watching Old Faithful erupt, touring all the other geysers and pools, dodging tourists on the paths that were open to bikes. Yellowstone is one of the more forward-thinking National Parks and allows bikes on several of the dirt paths, getting people out of their cars and out into nature. It was great for us as it got us off the highway filled with RVs. We capped the day off with a swim in the Firehole River and sharing a hiker/biker camp spot with several other cyclists including GDMBR riders, Trans-Am riders, and choose-your-own-adventure riders.
When we woke up to the rain in the morning, we huddled together under the tarp, sipping coffee that the campsite rangers had made us. The bike community is something special.
It was a mere 14-mile ride out to West Yellowstone where our bounce box with laptops was waiting. There was work to be done while it poured buckets of rain for days. Welcome to Montana.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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When Eszter Horani was in second grade, living in Tucson, Ariz., her dad bought the entire family Schwinn mountain bikes; she’s been riding ever since, dabbling in racing disciplines from road, to cross, to track and mountain biking. Most recently she’s loving adventurous long rides, bikepacking and exploring the world from two wheels. zenondirt.wordpress.com