Spots Along The Divide - Part 1 of 3

Brett and I have finished our 2752-mile journey from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Even though I’ve stopped pedaling, I still feel like I’m taking the trip in fully. I’m constantly playing out different days in my head or looking at maps to figure out in more detail where I have been. I thought I would share some of my favorite “spots” during the trip, along with some photos to boot.

My Favorite Spot: I had heard great things about the Flathead Valley area in Canada, and it delivered. It is absolutely gorgeous. You feel like you are in one of the few untouched wilderness areas left in North America. Few people travel into the Flathead and few traces of human homesteads or settlements exist here making it all the more wild. Huge peaks overshadow thick forests teeming with wildlife. We saw our first grizzly bear here on Cabin Pass. I wish I was able to get a picture but he ran off after getting our scent. Maybe this was for the better.

Dropping from Cabin Pass down to the river before Galten Pass we stirred a pack of horses in the woods. They came running out onto the dirt road, one of them almost taking me out. It was like merging with interstate traffic only the cars were a pack of horses. For about half a minute Brett and I were a part of a pack of horses running down the road. It was just one of many cool experiences on this trip.

Spot Of Most Frustration: As I sat out in front of our Motel 6 hotel room I could not believe I was putting another patch on my tube. I had at least 15 patches on one tube and would end up adding two or three more. I had just spent the last hour pulling goathead thorns out of the tread of my tires. These things had currently taken first place as the bane of my existence.

After making a good run through northern New Mexico that had put Brett and I on target to finish the Tour Divide on schedule, goathead thorns had brought our plan to a screeching halt. About 48 miles south of Grants, New Mexico Brett and I had been moving swiftly along until I noticed my front tire was getting low. Within five minutes we both had three flat tires and Brett’s front tire was spewing Stan’s sealant. We pulled about 15 thorns out of each tire. I had never seen anything like it. We spent the next two hours using our spare tubes, and then patching tubes that had holes in them.

We eventually used cut up ground cloth and the old spares to try and line our tires with no luck. We would go about a mile or two before getting the pump out and re-inflating the tires. We had heard nothing about others having this problem (apparently most take the alternate section here) and were completely downtrodden by how these little thorns had deflated (pun intended) our day. We hiked another six miles to highway 117, arriving at 11 PM. After three trucks passed, a fourth truck stopped for us.

Two guys from Phoenix, Eric and Pilgrim, were driving to Santa Fe for firefighter logistical support. They gave us a much-appreciated ride into Grants, New Mexico (thanks guys!). We stayed in the exact Motel 6 we had left from earlier that day. The next morning we ate at the same Denny’s and shopped at the same Wal-Mart. It was depressing to say the least. We tried to get supplies from Wal-Mart (our only choice) to fix our bikes. We retrieved Slime liners, Slime sealant, cruddy patch kits, and a mix of Schraeder and Presta-valved tubes, which were likely not to work. After all this I was sitting with my back to the hotel room wall, trying to fix a problem with subpar equipment, and thinking it more and more likely that I would not be able to finish the route. I tried to fight negative thoughts but with every patch applied it weighed heavily on me.

Thankfully after getting a much needed pep talk from my beautiful fiancé Lydia, approval to be a little late back to work from my boss Joe, and new tubes and real liners brought from Albuquerque by Mr. and Mrs. Davis that afternoon, I was able to continue and finish the journey.

Most Sinister Spot: The Gila National Forest in New Mexico is a beautiful and totally unexpected place. Call me naïve, but after passing Grants, New Mexico I completely expected the rest of the tour to be a high desert. The Gila blew me away with its large Ponderosa Pine forests and Colorado-esque scenery. The reason I call the Gila National Forest sinister is because of its topography. It literally looks like a sawtooth on my GPS as we rode through it. The trail continually climbed and dove right back down. This is not a road built by settlers in covered wagons, it’s a road built for access.

I think this section of the tour would have been enjoyed more if it wasn’t for us coming off a day of goathead torture. We were trying to get to Silver City and back on pace to finish but it was like the Gila was alive and disagreed with this plan. By this time I had gotten my climbing legs back from growing up in Tennessee so it wasn’t so much the physical challenge but the mental anguish of trying to make up time and feeling like the course didn’t want me too. We were also fighting thunderstorms along the high ridgelines.

We stopped at the Beaverhead Work Center and a park ranger told me, and I quote, “It’s going to rain harder than a cow pissing on a flat rock today guys. Watch those high ridgelines and low canyons. They can flash flood quickly on days like this.” Just after this encounter, we soon found ourselves fighting hard to stay away from a nasty, dark looking cell. We then dropped into Black Canyon during a hard rain. Luckily for us, we crossed all six creek crossings before they filled up. We were rewarded by yet another steep climb, and then miles of washboard riding to escape onto pavement into Mumbres. The Gila served up a sinister dish.

Most Joyous Spot: On day nine, we reached Idaho after being in Montana for almost seven days. The night before we reached Idaho we had been eaten alive by mosquitoes. The four previous days we had fought off mosquitoes, ATVers, and our longest day of climbing. Montana is big, beautiful, and rugged, and I really enjoyed it, but I was glad to leave.

Reaching Idaho didn’t just mean I had reached my second state it meant I was likely going to finish. At this point in the journey the idea of thinking about the end was way too big so I had to break the trip down into goals I could comprehend. For the last seven days my only goal was to reach Idaho, not Antelope Wells. Reaching Idaho seemed achievable; I had set my sights on it. It was also the first big major goal for me to achieve and this helped me gain confidence that I could continue. I had also heard that many people quit on days five through seven, or somewhere around Helena, Montana.

Reaching Idaho helped me feel like the option of quitting was over, and now there was only doing. In the great words of Sir Winston Churchill, ”Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

-To Be Continued-

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Mountain Biking Overnighter Ride The Divide Sean Mailen Tour Divide

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Sean 'Mailman' Mailen

Sean 'Mailman' Mailen

I was born and raised in the hills of Tennessee. I decided in high school I wanted to design the best bikes and parts possible; I’ve been following my dream ever since. I love about every possible mode of cycling, mountain biking is the most fun, but if I’m on two wheels I’m happy.


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Iowagriz | September 22nd, 2011

Inspirational post, can’t wait for the next installment.

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Tim Ek | September 22nd, 2011

Sean, so cool! On the edge of my seat reading this. I too can’t wait for what’s next.

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SFuller | September 22nd, 2011

Sean - What a great way to start. You’re helping to stoke my fire for 2012.

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M and D Davis | September 22nd, 2011

So glad to read your blog and relive your and Brett’s amazing epic ride. The tire tubes and liners came from El Paso, TX and we loved seeing you both in Grants…Thinking of you this weekend and wishing you the best ride of your life!!!!!(P.S. There will be some flat tires along the way but they too can be patched !) Congratulations !

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Jim C | September 23rd, 2011

Sean - Thanks for sharing your Adventure by Bike, and inspiring the rest of us to seek out our own adventures.

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beth | September 23rd, 2011

Really great to read more about the Great Adventure and seeing the new photos!

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kurt | September 23rd, 2011

I’ve got to agree with most of your choices! It’s amusing to see how similar the emotions and experiences of riders on such an unpredictable and diverse adventure can be.

The Flathead is amazing, although I really enjoy the Great Divide Basin and the high country of northern New Mexico. The Gila is indeed an intimidating place with it’s thick forests, surprisingly brutal terrain, and sheer remoteness. The crossing into Idaho from Montana is a HUGE boost for me - make it out of Montana and you’ll most likely make it to Mexico (strange, but the numbers don’t lie). The goatheads, however, have never found their way into my tires anywhere on the GDMBR fortunately.

As for the park ranger, I think his expression beat out a Montana cowboy telling me about a storm during which “It came down faster than a cow pissing on a flat board.” I rode away wondering how often cows piss on boards…

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Errin | September 27th, 2011

Great post. I quit in Butte and it was tough to look at the map and see just how close (relatively) I was to Idaho. Making it into Idaho would’ve been a huge boost for me. Glad that it worked out for you guys. I’ll be back to conquer it someday. I have to.

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