On Tuesday, July 26th, 2011, just a little after 7 PM MST, Sean and I reached the U.S.A./Mexico border at Antelope Wells, New Mexico…our ending spot for the amazing adventure known as the “Riding the Great Divide.”
Our final days in New Mexico were “epic” in a lot of ways—from a stolen cycling shoe in Ojo Caliente, NM; to bushwhacking through miles of sage brush; to dodging numerous thunderstorms; to experiencing so many flats that we resigned ourselves to hiking since we had no more materials to repair our tubes. It was all a fitting end to a journey that tested us (and our equipment) at nearly every pedal stroke. It would be easy to write about the above experiences, but those stories will be saved for another time. As I have learned through the years of doing such committed endeavors, “epics” are an essential part of the adventure and their stories help to sustain us until the next opportunity…or at least make for an entertaining evening of storytelling.
As the last few miles of the ride passed under my well-tread tires, Sean and I reflected upon the 2752.5 miles down the spine of the Rockies that we were just about to complete. During those closing moments of our ride I discovered my final topic for this blog: Ten Reasons To Ride The Divide. I hope everyone enjoyed our journey and that it inspired others to get out there to begin their own adventures whether by bike, foot, ski, boat, etc.
#10 - Relish In The Preparation
Any large endeavor such as riding the Great Divide requires preparation. To some this preparation is the boring and tedious part, but nonetheless, it must take place if one is to give themselves the optimal chance of success. Our preparations began over a year out as I began designing, constructing, and testing the frame bags we would carry on our bikes. Sean was responsible for choosing the bikes that would carry us the length of the Rocky Mountains. Additionally, we both spent hours researching the route by talking to others who had previously taken on this adventure and by reading anything written about the Divide. Through personal experience and research we developed our equipment lists and packing strategies and built our individual bikes (one-off Salsa Fargo Ti for me and a one-off Salsa Selma Ti for Sean). Additionally, we organized our travel logistics to the start in Banff, Alberta, Canada and from the finish at Antelope Wells, New Mexico.
Our preparations also included developing the fitness to complete such a physically demanding journey. I have found that the best way to prepare for a huge bike ride is to simply ride your bike long and far. Sean and I did just that by carving time out in our busy daily lives to get the miles in the saddle that we knew would be needed in order to ride nearly 2800 off-road miles. It was at times tricky to find the time and motivation and sometimes we had to get pretty creative as I had to for much of the month of May, but it was a great excuse to have lots of fun riding my bike. Needless to say, I made the most of my “hall pass.”
Our preparations paid off, as our bikes were well suited for the beating the Divide dishes out; our frame bags held up to the elements and to the constant over stuffing without fail; our knowledge of the route mentally prepared us for the challenges that were presented to us; and our pre-ride fitness proved adequate as we were able to meet our ride timeline and do it without either of us suffering any major physical ailments. Wahoo!
#9 - Great Excuse To Purchase & Play With New Toys
Since we were working with the Salsa crew I was lucky to have the opportunity to ride the new Fargo Ti (the model that was designed specifically for adventures such as the Great Divide). The Fargo provided a great ride even when fully loaded with equipment and water (nearly 2 gallons of water when we were crossing the Great Basin and nearly all of New Mexico). I ran the bike fully rigid with flat bars and it suited my needs perfectly for this trip. I look forward to adding a suspension fork and to checking out the Woodchipper Bars on future adventures. The ability to add a suspension fork and play with the setup makes this bike as versatile as it gets for any off-road adventure—just customize it to the terrain and your needs. Thanks Salsa!
This experience also let me try out some new pieces of equipment such as the Garmin Edge 800 GPS. Sean and I both had the route downloaded into our units with Sean having all of the road maps and me having all of the corresponding topos downloaded as well. The units survived the elements well, but we had a few glitches along the way (variable battery life, unexplainable resets, miscalculations of elevation, etc.). All in all they were useful tools to have in terms of navigating the route and we were both lucky that our glitches did not happen at the same time.
Some “old standby” equipment that worked really well was our alcohol stoves. Utilizing Heet (which can be purchased at nearly every gas station) as fuel we were able to have hot meals while camping. The stoves performed great (even at altitude) and they were super light to carry as well—plus they required no maintenance. Iodine worked perfectly fine for water purification. We were worried about getting water from cow tanks while traveling through New Mexico, but it became a non-issue as we found plenty of other water sources when needed. The Princeton Tec Eos headlamp is the way to go for rides such as the Divide. It is light, compact, puts out a great beam of light and the battery life is long. As the trip progressed we found ourselves increasingly ending our days while riding in the dark and the Eos made the night time riding a breeze. Additionally, the blinking light feature made waving down a truck for a ride back to Grants, NM in the middle of the night an easy task.
#8 - Expand Your World
Getting away from home on an adventure is a great way to learn about the history, culture, customs, and ecology of the areas you are traveling through. Michael McCoy’s book, Cycling The Great Divide, was a great source of information for us along the route. A downloadable version of the book found its way onto my iPod so we were able to easily read about the local history of the areas the route traversed as we traveled south. Additionally, the Adventure Cycling Association maps of the route were also a great source of information about the local area.
#7 - The Divide Diet: Eat Anything And Everything
Sean and I pedaled between 80 to 100 miles per day with our highest mileage day being 130 miles and our lowest 58 miles. We estimated that we were burning between 6,000 to 10,000 calories per day. This equates to us having the ability to eat pretty much anything we wanted. Mornings after a night of camping usually started off with several packets of oatmeal, dried fruit and a large gas station danish of some sort. Riding snacks included candy bars, Clif Bars, Chex Mix, and more gas station cuisine (fruit pies, honey buns, packaged brownies, etc.). Lunches would consist of recently thawed frozen burritos, breakfast sandwiches, peanut butter filled tortillas, and other gas station lunchables. Dinner may have consisted of instant potatoes followed by ramen noodles or a huge burger from the local town diner. As you notice, our primary source of food supplies was the gas station. The lack of major population areas along the route and thus little access to full-service grocery stores and restaurants made the gas station an essential element to the trip. It quickly became a game among Sean and I as to who could find the highest caloric item in each store. Sean always seemed to win this search, though I think I did beat him once when I found the Texas Sized Honey Bun that weighed in with a whopping 610 calories per serving.
The moral of the story is that we were able to eat anything and everything we wanted for a month and we still lost weight. It was quite luxurious at first with all of the new gas station food we got to try (as well as ice cream), but quickly became old as the trip progressed. But it was a good excuse to stuff ourselves without the worry of becoming “super-sized.”
#6 - Encounters With The Natural World
There is little doubt that Sean and I rode through some of the most beautiful country our planet has to offer. From the lush forests of British Columbia to the desolate arid deserts of New Mexico, we ventured through it and lived in it. The beauty of traveling by bicycle, or by any human powered method, is that you have the time to experience the landscapes you are traveling through with all of your senses. From feeling the cold chill of an early morning to tasting the life-bringing drops of rain, you are in it - not as an outsider passing by at 60 mph in an air-conditioned vehicle. From a bike saddle you can easily take in the sweet pungent smell of sage or hear the piercing cry of a redtail hawk as it dives at some unknown prey. We experienced these things and many more…memorable moments for me include:
-Catching the sight of a large grizzly as we neared the top of Cabin Pass in British Columbia
-Cold hands and feet as we descended from our first Canadian Pass, Elks Pass
-Feeling the raw power of a grizzly bear as I followed his tracks over White Fish Divide
-A feeling of smallness as I gazed upon the Tetons from across Jackson Lake
-Amazement at the speed and agility of a racing pronghorn
-Humbled while gazing at the universe from my sleeping bag while laying in a field of sage on the edge of the Great Basin
-Thankfulness for another day as I watched a brilliant sunset over a desert plain
-The taste of mud as I picked myself and my bike out of a rutted-out mucky puddle after a high speed crash
-The soothing sounds of a running creek as I slept nearby for the night
These moments and countless others will remain with me as I go forward in my life. By experiencing them with all of my senses it takes little for me to recall them whenever I am in need of an escape.
Part Two of Brett's 10 Reasons To Ride The Divide continues Monday
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I grew up in a military family where we moved 13 times before I left for college. Consequently, I have the continual urge to explore and travel having climbed, kayaked, and biked all over our amazing planet. My passion for the outdoors drives me to seek out adventures which often times combine multiple modes of travel or activities (i.e. biking to a wilderness area and then backpacking in to climb a high peak). "Keeping life simple" is a guiding motto of my life and for me, bike travel epitomizes simplicity.