It was wanderlust, a yearning for adventure, and the monotony of the day-to-day that led us to the Great Divide.
We just needed to get out, explore, and take a break from reality.
With our love of bikes, photography and adventure, we knew that the GDMBR would be the route to satiate this desire for adventure. For those unfamiliar, the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is the world’s longest continuous mountain bike trail, stretching form Banff, Canada all the way down the spine of the Rockies to Antelope Wells, NM. It is approximately 2750 miles and has nearly 200,000 feet of climbing. The seed was planted a couple years ago when we both watched Ride the Divide, a documentary that followed the race back in 2010. This year we got more and more committed to the actual task and set to make it happen. On August 19th, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, we found ourselves in Banff, putting together our Surly Ogres in a empty lot on the top of a parking structure.
It was real and finally happening.
Taking off on the Divide that day, we were excited and a little overwhelmed. The thought that we were actually going to ride our bikes from Canada to Mexico was a bit daunting. Not only did our bikes feel too heavy (70 + pounds) and the fact that we were taking the hilliest / mountainous, gnarliest route possible, but we also had never done anything on this grand of a scale before. Sure we ride our bikes a lot, and have done some camping and a few bikepacking adventures. But these were all limited to areas around the Greater Washington DC area, with re-supplies and cell phone service readily available to tackle any issue that may arise. Now we were embarking on a self-sufficient sufferfest in some of the most remote regions of the country. There would often be days and hundreds of miles between any kind of services. We had to plan accordingly and keep to a strict schedule. If we had any aches or pains, we would just have to deal with it. If we felt like quitting, which, in all honesty, happened on occasion, we couldn’t. It would have been logistically impossible. That was sort of the beauty of this ride, there were very few options to give up. It forced us to push on past limits, to learn and grow. Even when we were feeling the most down, we would keep riding, trying to always finding the simple joy of riding bikes. We would always push through the pain and the landscape would reward us.
We would ride through threatening storms, miles upon miles of headwinds, treacherous roads conditions of all kinds and climbs that lasted an eternity. But then all of a sudden, like clockwork, the weather would break, the headwinds would subside, and the roads would become bearable. The most beautiful sunset, an amazing view, or an epic descent seemed to always greet us as a reward for a long day in the saddle. All of our anguish and troubles would vanish, and there would be nowhere else we would rather be; no place else we were supposed to be.
One such day, after a taxing 113 mile ride out of the Great Basin, all we wanted was a rest day. But the logistics ahead looked a little tricky and we would not be able to take it easy. The forecast called for a large storm later in the day, coming down from the north. Our goal was to make it 75 miles to Slater, CO where we thought we would be able to camp or find additional shelter if it were to snow. After getting groceries we set out and climbed straight away. After cresting the top of an enormous, straight hill, we entered a 27 mile construction zone. It was a mess. We dodged construction vehicles, tractors, semis and all the huge ruts they left in the loose dirt. The few mandatory stops didn’t help in the way of our anxious feeling about the weather, as the construction workers kept warning us about the incoming snow. We kept at it, and after what seemed like an eternity, we exited the steep and rugged ups and downs of the construction area, and entered the National Forest. It had taken us much longer than expected and we were talking about readjusting our ride for the day when we came across a pair of northbound riders.
This husband and wife duo spent a couple weeks each summer tackling different sections of the great divide, and were really enthusiastic about it. It honestly felt like a halftime pep talk. Their energy was contagious and exactly what we needed, as they told us of a epic decent just ahead and about Brush Mountain Lodge, a hunting lodge that was cyclist friendly. Although it was late and we would still have well over 30 miles to go, we were pumped and felt great. On the divide such simple things as an energetic and enthusiastic stranger can change your whole outlook after a long frustrating day. We finally stopped for “lunch” around 5:30 in Aspen Alley and enjoyed the beauty of this natural attraction. For about 1/4 mile an aspen grove lined the narrow road. It was quite a juxtaposition to see logging truck after logging truck pass through the narrow corridor, each hauling a load of freshly cut trees just past the beauty of the living. Soon we were back on our bikes and reached the paved highway 70. After a short climb, we began one of the most glorious decents of the whole trip. It was at this point that all our worries faded away. The clouds and threatening storm had vanished and we couldn’t help but smile the entire way down the 17 mile descent. We were flying as we dodged herds of cows and basked in the warm golden light of the sunset. It was peaceful and soothing, our minds were quiet. We finally bottomed out and back on dirt roads we began the long 13 mile climb to the fabled Brush Mountain Lodge. There were a few steep sections but overall the grade was mellow, but despite our best efforts the last few miles were through the dark. We were tired, having almost ridden 90 miles on the day, and the temperature was dropping. There were lights off in the distance, but they seemed to conflict with the milage we were following. Trying not to get down, we pushed on and suddenly around a turn, there the lodge was. The fire pit in the front yard was inviting and after resting the bikes against the rack, we went inside to ask about rooms. Kirsten the owner ran over greeted us with hugs, introduced us to other staff, and sat us down at the table, quickly bringing out pizza and beer. It seemed like a dream. Their kindness, generosity, and passion for the GDMBR was incredible. We spent a good while hanging out, talking about bikes and the Tour Divide (Brush Mountain is a huge supporter and major stop for the racers), before getting cleaned up and taking advantage of the hot tub!. It was the most awesome ending to a hard day in the saddle.
The Great Divide is a magical place. Sure we had our ups, downs, aches and pains, but we wouldn’t change our experience for anything. It was an epic adventure. All the people we met along the way were kind beyond belief. You couldn’t help but appreciate it all and want to better yourself, paying it forward. Experiencing all the various types of terrain on a bike really makes you feel connected with the landscape. The constant change in scenery was amazing and to be so present in nature for so long was incredible, priceless.
Matt and Brett are photographers and adventure seekers that met at Brooks Institute of Photography where they received their B.A. in Visual Journalism in 2009. Currently they reside in Washington, DC where they ride bikes and explore the dirt trails the area has to offer. Their wanderings are documented at A View From Two Wheels.
Swift Industries disclaimer: I think it’s important to note that Matt and Brett may have truly maxed out the Rixen + Kaul KlickFix System. They both used our Paloma Bar Bag, which mounts using the Rixen + Kaul hardware, and broke 4 aluminum frames over the course of their journey. It’s safe to say that we don’t think the Rixen + Kaul Klickfix Adapter is designed for the epic trail conditions on the GDMBR. It was worth trying, though!