GDR Tour: Early Lessons Learned

Brett Davis and Salsa engineer Sean Mailen are currently passing through Colorado while touring the Great Divide Route. This post is a few days old...but still tastes good. Follow their ride via Trackleaders. -Kid

Here we are in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It was a great feeling to cross into my home state and then arrive in Steamboat yesterday evening. We have been riding for the past 16 days and have covered over 1550 miles. We need a rest day.

To say that this has been an adventure is an understatement. Touring the "Great Divide" is its own caliber of challenge and adventure. I think we sometimes, from the comfort of our homes, romanticize such endeavors...thinking about the amazing landscapes we will pass through, the people we will meet, the food we will eat, and the wildlife we hope to encounter. What gets forgotten in those thoughts though, is the hard work and suffering it takes to reach and live in those visions that we create before the journey begins. Whether you are crazy enough to race from Banff to Antelope Wells or want to leisurely tour the route at a manageable pace, you will at some point have to buckle down and do the work necessary to reach your next destination - for nothing is easy or given to you on a ride of such proportions. Below are a few of the lessons that the "Great Divide" has taught me so far. With just under 1200 miles to go, I am sure there will be a few more trials and thus, lessons to be learned...

#1 - Mosquito Repellant is a must while riding through Montana and northern Wyoming. Because of our timing and the fact that it has been such a wet year in the northern climates, the mosquitos are in full force. Through Montana Sean and I battled the ferocious blood suckers to no end. I believe the worst of it came on the Fourth of July as we left Lima, MT and began heading east across the Redrocks Wildlife Refuge towards the Montana/Idaho border. After waiting out a line of thunderstorms we closed in on our night's destination - a campground at the area's upper lake. We were to be denied however, as we encountered five miles of some of the worst drivetrain wrecking mud you will find. Consequently, our paced slowed to a crawl as we slowly slid our way along a quagmire of a road. Stopping was futile as we were immediately preyed upon by hundreds of mosquitos. At 10:30 PM we reached the Wildlife Refuge Headquarters (a mere four miles short of the days goal). As we stood in the dark scrambling to get headlamps out and decide what to do, the mosquitos seized the opportunity and proceeded to chew us up alive. Such drastic times call for drastic actions. I set off to find indoor lodging for the night. No camping for us amidst this blood bath. The Divide Gods were looking down upon us and I soon met Jeff (a researcher at the refuge) who took pity on us Spandex wearing fools and ushered us into a research cabin for the evening. Floor space was found among microscopes, refrigerators with testing equipment and other scientific machines for us to bunk down for the night. We were thankful to be out of mosquito hell and into the great indoors.

Scratch the Mailman...just call me Bugbite...

#2 - Prepare for every mechanical failure, but know that things will break. Sean and I are both riding and using great products, and each built up our own bikes. They have performed great with no complaints from either of us. The terrain of the Divide though is such that any piece of equipment (including clothing) is going to be tested to its limits and eventually fail (though we hope not). We each have broken a water bottle cage (or two), a chain, and flatted numerous times. While crossing into Idaho, a spoke nipple on my rear wheel sheared off leaving me with an out of true wheel and only 31 out of 32 useable spokes. I am carrying extra spokes, but not extra spoke nipples. Needless to say, the wheel was well built and we were able to tension it up a little and make it another 300+ miles to Pinedale, WY where I could get a new spoke nipple and get my wheel fully operational again. The moral of the story is that if you are going to undertake such a rigorous adventure, make sure you start with quality equipment (the extra money for quality is worth it) and be prepared for the unexpected to fail...because it will.

#3 - You can never eat enough. At our pace of between 80 to 100 miles a day, we estimate that we are burning between 6000 to 10000 calories per day. With that said, we are always trying to consume food. My food consumption the other day included the following:

Breakfast: Banana, 4 mini fudge brownies, glazed donut; plate of french toast; two strips of bacon

Morning Snacks: Clif Bar, 2 Snickers bars, 1 package of peanut butter crackers

Lunch: Barbeque pork sandwich with pickles, spicy Chex Mix, Turkey club sandwich, package of peanut M&M's

Afternoon Snacks: 2 Snicker bars, another package of peanut butter crackers, more spicy Chex Mix

Dinner: Huge plate of pasta, two beers, 4 slices of garlic bread, loads and loads of fresh cherries, and 4 homemade chocolate chip cookies (this meal was courtesy of Kirsten at the Brush Mountain Lodge - she was an amazing host and a trail angel for both Sean and I)

In the 'real world' I normally eat only a fraction of this amount on a given day, let alone the quality of food I eat on a daily basis is much higher. But with the amount of energy we are expending, I now have the luxury of eating all of the "good stuff" that I sometimes wish to consume, but refrain from eating knowing the long term effects it will have on me. With that said, even consuming all of the above we still go to bed thinking about what there is to eat in our packs and what goodness we will stuff into ourselves during the next day. Oh...I forgot to mention we are on a daily ice cream kick if we are lucky enough to find it - two large scoops in a waffle cone yesterday for me at the Clark, CO General Store!

Sure this is great and all...but will the next town have ice cream?

#4 - When you think you will have a relatively easy day...something epic will happen. Case in point: Sean and I crossed the Great Basin in Wyoming (which has a reputation for being one of the hardest physical and mental portions of the ride) in a day - 127 miles of dirt roads through a high desert environment where only wild horses and prong horn can be found. Having felt proud of ourselves for making it across in a single day we found hotel lodging in Rawlins, WY and began dreaming of riding into Colorado the next day. Mentally, I felt myself relax a bit. Thinking that since the Basin was over, the ride into Colorado would not be as hard. Wrong! We awoke to a strong wind blowing from the south (20 to 25 mph sustained headwind) with wide open terrain and lots of steep climbing to be had. As soon as we departed Rawlins the mental and physical suffering began for me as we had to climb out of Rawlins on steep paved and gravel roads (up to 15% grades)...all against the wind. Once cresting Middlewood Hill (8000+ feet) we began a series of steep descents, followed by even steeper ascents. It was demoralizing for me as there was no getting into a pedaling rhythm. To make matters worse we were expending huge amounts of energy just trying to make headway into the wind. It was buckle down time as I just concentrated on turning the cranks over one pedal stroke at a time..."If can just make it to the top of that rise without walking" became my mantra for the day. Finally, after nearly 5 hours of pedaling we reached the Medicine Bow National Forest where we had protection from the wind. Needless to say, I was happy to be in the forest, but we still had many miles to go to reach our day's final destination. Digging down to find energy reserves we finally ended our day by riding with headlamps into the Brush Mountain Lodge - yet another oasis for the Great Divide traveler.

Whether it is the weather, equipment, circumstance, or our own selves, the Divide never lets up. -Brett

P.S. The following day after our "against the wind ride" I took some solace in learning that a rider following us on his personal time trial of the route walked the steep climbs that Sean and I both struggled to ride.

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Brett Davis Explore Overnighter Reveal The Path Ride The Divide Sponsored Riders Tour Divide Touring

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Brett Davis

Brett Davis

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.


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Bubba and the Kids | July 15th, 2011

I am so proud of you.  Keep it going and be safe.

Get R Done.

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Mike | July 15th, 2011

I look forward to every post. These guys are living a dream and producing a great read for the rest of us. I can’t wait to see how this endeavor is used with Salsa in the future. Keep up the great work!

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Mom and Dad | July 15th, 2011

Great blog….love your learning issues…it’s all about life and how we choose to live it! You both make us so proud! We may be old but that still means we have time to learn. Find the mosquito spray and tweezers…N.mexico and cactus are coming….sunscreen too. Enjoy your home state, B.C. and see you soon. Stay safe and all our love!

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TD | July 19th, 2011

That was a very helpful article for us cubicle day dreamers. You cover a some questions I had in mind and captured my feelings in the first paragraph.

Hang tough!

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mom and dad | July 19th, 2011

Welcome to New Mexico…..Be safe, hydrate,hydrate, hydrate and see you in celebration in a few days! All our love!

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beth & buddy | July 20th, 2011

We are thinking of you guys and sending some cloud cover (no thunderstorms) your way and lots of love and tail wags from the friendly dog state. xxoo & woof

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beth | July 20th, 2011

Update: Access to the national forest has been temporarily closed due the extremely dry weather conditions and fire danger.
Brett and Sean have are still riding and will be taking a detour for a few miles, but should be back on their trail soon. All is well otherwise!

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E&G | July 22nd, 2011

Nice job boys!

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JP | July 24th, 2011

Love the updates!  Keep up the work guys!  Godspeed!

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Aunt Fuzzy | July 25th, 2011

You are so extraordinary!  You are a fabulous role model for anyone who has a dream- you’ve made yours happen.  Keep it going!

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Fab | July 25th, 2011

you are almost there!!! I’ll have some ice cream waiting for you!

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