Last year at this time, we were packing up our belongings in Manhattan, leaving the Appalachian Loft one month early due to COVID. All of our plans changed. Instead of riding our bikes around the world, we found ourselves working on our land in Lawrence, KS. I was surprised how easily I accepted the disruption and actually enjoyed seeing more of my family, working remotely, being creative, and having the time to exercise and train.
John and I spent a lot of time during fall and winter learning about the CDT and thruhiking. Videos, blogs, books, web sites. We researched and bought gear. Hiked around Cary and Fort Collins with our packs. Did a shake-down trip at Lory State Park in snow. I believe we are ready.
We chose to hike the Continental Divide Trail for many reasons. No rent, being outdoors, staying fit, low-stress. Depending on your route, the total mileage is between 2,700-3,000 miles. We’ll be on trail for five-six months.
And now, the obligatory photo of my gear! 13.4 pounds base weight (without food or water). Lightweight but not ultralight. And yes, those are down pants.
Well, we finished the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route yesterday, Monday, July 29, 2019. 2,770 miles, 69 days, over 200,000 feet of climbing. Two broken derailleurs, one broken seatpost, several new friends, more muscle and less fat, countless bowls of oatmeal and granola, and memories filled with the freedom, beauty, challenge, and peacefulness of our GDMBR tour.
Our ride from Eureka to Banff was fairly uneventful other than it was filled with riding in beautiful Canadian provincial parks. Peaks here aren’t as high as the US Rocky Mountains but they are more rocky and jagged. And what looked like a flat trail in the profile turned out to be more of a roller coaster with steep ascents and descents. My mind was already at the finish line so I wasn’t particularly happy about having to push my bike. But honestly, I’m already missing the riding. Good thing we’re heading out tomorrow to tour Yellowstone for ten days!
We stopped off in a few towns along the way. It only takes us about an hour (the amount of time to drink some good coffe) before we tire of the tourism. I believe the more a town relies on tourist money, the more unpleasant the town. I really am not a fan of Fernie or Banff. Banff doesn’t even seem to be a real town, more like a giant strip mall for people with money. Thankfully these towns also have great public libraries—our refuge. You can always find the true heart of a town at their public library.
My thoughts on completing the ride... I never would have attempted or completed the ride without John. It was his dream and I came along, somewhat hesitant. I feared that it would be too monotonous and that I would not be able to face the physical and mental challenge. But seeing him enjoy himself so much, appreciating the ever-changing landscapes, one mile at a time, staying in the moment, allowed my mind to decide that I was enjoying myself. Not that I didn’t grumble. But grumbling is okay. I found a kindred spirit in Jill Homer. Her book, Be Brave, Be Strong, recounts her sometime attitude of the GDMBR, “... the rutted gravel road dipped into a narrow canyon and wound playfully back to the highway that I had spent all morning bypassing on the primitive, and therefore preferable, forest road. That’s the big one catch of the Great divide Mountain Bike Route—it never takes the easy way. It takes the most scenic, most challenging, most remote way... especially as the days wore on, it often seemed ridiculous to climb many thousand of feet over and down three difficult passes on flooded, rock-strewn roads, just to get around the perfectly good pavement of a smooth, flat highway.” And because it is the most scenic, most challenging, and most remote—that is why finishing this is so very special to me.
But my next tour just may be in France, with boulangeries, chateaus, and good paved, smooth, and flat highways. Just saying.
Next up—Yellowstone tour, visit with Emma in Chelan, trips to Lawrence to visit our family and (hopefully) start creating a homestead, hanging out with Ian and Jessica in Raleigh, granddaughter arriving in December, and NYC next January-May. A profound sense of gratitude about my life and excited about the future! Xxoo
Another ten days has passed since our last zero-mile day. Today we are resting in Eureka, Montana. Not a terribly exciting town but a town with affordable hotel rooms, good coffee, a big grocery store, and only ten miles from the Canadian border. That’s right! Tomorrow we pass over to Canada. Only 225 miles to Banff! And we have seven days to ride, so at least three zero-mile days before we finish. Don’t want to arrive in Banff too early because we can’t afford it! 😛
Quick updates... after leaving Helena, we rode to Barbara Nye’s Lost Llama Home for Wayward Cyclists. She and her beau, John, offer GDMBR cyclists a place to stay, food, and showers. Upon arrival you are offered sandwiches, soda, and beer. Then escorted to your cabin with full kitchen, stocked with food, wine, and candy; beds are upstairs, in the loft. There is an AUTOMATIC M&M CANDY DISPENSER in your living room. Other cyclists arrive and come hang out with you. That evening, Barbara and John build a fire and treat everyone to s’mores. And this is all free. They just request you pay-it-forward to someone down the road. Oh, and add llamas, alpacas, and baby bunnies to the scene. One of the highlights of my GDMBR journey.
Next night we reached Ovando, Montana. Steffie and Quentin had already arrived but passed on the opportunity to sleep in the shepherd’s wagon due to the fact that they were both too tall for the bed! In Ovando, cyclists can choose to sleep in a teepee, old jail, or shepherd’s wagon. A small town but they really cater to GDMBR cyclists, even providing free coffee at the general store.
Other highlights of the past week include spending a half-day in Seeley Lake drinking espresso, eating ice cream, and relaxing. Amazing single-track riding in Flathead National Forest and taking a day off-route to ride into Glacier National Park. A very worthwhile 40 extra miles. We rode the shuttle bus up the Going-to-the-Sun Highway, perhaps the most scenic of all mountain roads in the United States.
We’ve been riding more miles per day. At the beginning of the trip, we averaged maybe 30-40 miles a day. Lately we’ve been riding 50-70 miles. Feeling a bit sore and tired but I’m enjoying the riding and it is worth cycling the extra miles in order to stop and rest in the few towns along the route. It is also nice to camp in a campground with bear boxes since hanging our food in a tree is a bit of a pain (although John is very good at it!).
We’ve still not seen a bear, moose, or mountain lion. Personally, I’m quite relieved but John is disappointed. I have gotten in the habit of playing music, podcasts, and audio books loudly on my speaker. I don’t want to surprise any big critters. Most days we only see a few other cyclists and maybe a couple of trucks. Still enjoying the opportunity to wild camp in the national forests and tackle the mountain passes... up, up, up and down, down, down.
I hope you enjoy the photos! I think they tell a good story.
So many things have happened since my last blog post on July 2! And since I am a born list-maker, here are some bullet points of our adventures since our last post....
*Instead of hitching a ride with Heaven to Jackson to fix my bike seat, Cowboy Jim, who works maintenance at Lava Lodge, fixed my seat with a simple bolt. He is the great-great grandson of John Wesley Hardin, gunfighter that killed 22 men. Read more in the book, Life and Times of John Wesley Hardin.
* For the second time in two years, we got to cycle around the Tetons. Same area as the photo on our website. Downhill and gorgeous!
* Spent the Fourth in the town of Ashton, Idaho. Great parade—went down mainstreet, turned around paraded back! Lots of kids, no tanks.
* Arrived early in the day at the hotel in Lima, Montana, and watched marble-size hail fall outside of our room. Jack and Dink show up in the hotel room next door! Next morning, rode ten miles to eat at the historic Yesterday’s Calf-A, a cafe with home cooked food, housed in a former one-room schoolhouse. Started the day with cherry pie.
* Camped at the Bannack State Park campground. Bannack, Montana, is a well-preserved ghost town. I love abandoned buildings and really enjoyed walking through the houses, hotel, and Masonic Lodge.
*Next day, a short ride (26 miles) to the Elkhorn Hot Springs. We stayed at the lodge, with complimentary entrance to the hot springs and breakfast buffet the next day. The hot springs was basically a big concrete pool and we loved it. And guess what! Steff and Quentin showed up in the room next to us. Funny how you can stay with the same lovely people throughout a tour.
* After next morning’s great breakfast buffet at Elkhorn, we tackled Fleecer Ridge on the GDMBR. Someone said a 38% incline. As Adventure Cycling says on the map, a ridiculously steep hill. John and I had to throw off our panniers to get our bikes up. I was literally moving my bike four inches at a time. Process: plant feet firmly in sandy soil; use arm strength to push bike four inches uphill; continue. Don’t look up to gauge progress too often. Cuss frequently and well. At times I couldn’t push hard enough to get my front tire over an inch-high rock. Steff and Quentin were also going uphill and as true Trail Angels, helped us with our panniers. Quent even pushed my bike a bit. Ridiculously steep, indeed.
*And now we have a day off in Helena, Montana. I really like this town. Beautiful buildings with stonework; good bakery; cheap hotel with bathtub, fridge, and microwave.
* And things have changed a bit for me, mentally. Really enjoying the trip and will be sad for it to finish in 600 miles. I really believe I could live this cycling life for years as long as I had the opportunity to see family and friends. Missing loved ones.
Looking forward to getting back on the bike tomorrow to ride to Barbara Nye’s Llama Farm! We have the cabin reserved and everything! Xxoo
Starting with a positive spin: we’re getting stronger. And with strength, the riding is even more fun. Staying completely in the moment, not planning for the future or mulling over the past, as is my habit. The scenery is amazing, especially as we near the Tetons. The wild camping is so convenient and I love our evening ritual of setting up camp, cooking dinner, talking about our day, and snuggling in our cozy tent.
We’ve met other cyclists along the route. I appreciate getting to talk with other people that share our interests in cycle touring and traveling. We’ve been leap-frogging with four other cyclists, Steff and Quent from France, and Dink and Jack from the Netherlands. Fun group of people with different attitudes about the ride. I love Steff and Quent’s manner of touring. Quent describes themselves as “tourists,” off to experience the people, activities, and towns along the way.
We also met two Appalachian State students riding the GDMBR. Sam is a big fan of the university library where we work and it was actually at the library that Bryson talked Sam into riding the GDMBR. But not surprising as cool people and libraries go together. They are very strong riders and have the minimal race bike setups. Will probably complete the route in under 40 days.
And now... the story arch goes to the two main characters and how they resolved conflict along the way. Remember how, in the last blog posting, John’s derailleur blew up due to mud? And how we learned a lesson about NOT riding in the mud? Well, Beth blew up her derailleur the second morning out of Steamboat. Same exact situation. While wise cyclists were staying dry inside hotel rooms, we went for it. Luckily the incident happened near the Ladder Ranch and they were so very helpful. We stayed in one of their small cabins for a couple of nights, borrowed a Jeep BACK to Steamboat and Orange Peel. And here I’m gonna go all fan girl—at the Orange Peel I saw fricking Lael Wilcox! And she smiled at me! (She smiles at everyone).
As always, the disaster turned out to be a high-point of the trip, with the stay at Ladder Ranch, hanging out with the other cyclists that arrived after the sun came out, and eating breakfast with the O’Toole family.
Another evening we were wild camping and began to slowly notice our scalps were becoming itchy. It got more intense, soon it felt like my scalp was on fire. Couldn’t concentrate. Could it be lice, chemicals? Would we need to go to an emergency room? But we are in the middle of nowhere. When I couldn’t take it much longer, I heated up water and washed my hair. Temporary relief but itch returned after my hair dried. John looked at my scalp and my hair was full of gnats/horsefly critters! Super ick, ugh, yuck. I shook out my hair best I could and dove into the tent. Relief. Feels so good when the irritation stops.
We hope to make it to Tetons National Park today. Yesterday the bolt that attaches my saddle broke in half so I finished the last nine miles standing up on my bike. Again, a kind person is offering us a ride to Jackson (66 miles) to get my bike fixed. I do get frustrated when my bike breaks. A mix of sad and disheartened. But always aware that this is the most memorable part of the trip, overcoming obstacles and difficulties to reach the goal.
Hoping to take a rest day on the Fourth in a small town along the way. Nothing beats celebrating Independence Day in a small western town. Xxoo
Hoo-hoo! What a ride!
It all began smoothly. We left Frisco on Monday morning (thanks again Jeff and April) and rode 46 miles to Williams Fork Reservoir. Climbed Ute Pass and had a welcomed downhill to our campsite. First (but not last) day of substantial rain. Next day, we rode to Route National Forest, only 38 miles but earned every inch of it. Some climbs so steep, it made me believe ACA would have never included these roads if they had considered those traveling north. Difficult route but the best scenery thus far, sweeping views of green valleys and snow covered mountains. The rain didn’t bother us so much... until we hit the MUD. This is the mud that all GDMBR and Baja Divide riders fear. Described as “peanut butter,” it clogs up your chain and cassette. Adds 10 pounds to your tires. At some point, you can’t even push your bike because it is so heavy, your feet are slipping, and you are sucked into the tar pit, only to be found thousands of years later.
So, are we having fun? I have asked myself this and my answer is, most of the time. I had a good and long conversation with myself about why I am doing this and made the following conclusions: I am pursuing the unexpected memorable event or encounter; being outdoors with all of its physical and emotional benefits; accomplishing a goal; testing myself, both physically and mentally; and keeping fit in an effort to avoid the cost and other consequences of additional needed healthcare. I would have included the economic benefits of living cheaply on the road without any debt and few expenses but honestly, we’ve had so many unexpected costs, this isn’t reality.
On Wednesday morning, John’s derailleur decided it had enough and decided to end it. His derailleur self-combusted right before Rock Creek. It blew up real good. Luckily, John is bike-repair savvy and was able to shorten his chain and turn his bike into a one-speed, enabling him to reach pavement. We caught a couple of rides into Steamboat Springs, where we left the bike with The Orange Peel bike shop and went to stay with our WarmShowers host, Rich. Rich is awesome and kind. Thanks for a dry and welcoming place to sleep. Keep living an amazing life.
Thursday we we did lots of zero-mile stuff like hanging out at the public library, drinking coffee and eating delicious baked goods at Smell That Bread, and waiting to hear from the bike store. We saw that the weather forecast for the next day was rain and more rain. And rain is okay. We can do rain. The fear factor comes from rain and COLD. Or even worse, rain and COLD and MUD. So, we booked a room for 2 (two) more nights in Steamboat’s finest and cheapest hotel, with a full kitchen.
Best damned decision ever. Honestly, I admire those GDMBR riders plugging along, regardless of weather. But that ain’t me—today. Reality is we woke up not to rain but to snow. Snow on the first day of summer. Welcome to Colorado 2019: the snow and flooding episode. But we get to spend the day walking around a winter wonderland and eating cereal with cold milk/baguette with butter and jelly/yogurt/and salad in a bag. We are hanging out once again in the public library, may go to the Old Town Hot Springs this evening. Already feeling energized and looking forward to heading out once again in the morning. Because we’re doing this. In our own sweet time and John/Beth manner. Gratitude abounds.
Lots has happened since our zero-mile day in Del Norte. We forgot a charger in the middle of nowhere and were contacted by a CDT hiker that found it the next day. By chance, John had left our Librarians on Bikes business card in the case. We told the hiker to keep it or pass it on to someone who needed it. We wild camped among a herd of angry cows in San Isabel National Forest. We rode up Marshall Pass, a pleasant 16-mile railroad-grade ascent followed by a welcome and memorable 25-mile descent into Salida. We spent the night at the Salida Hostel and bought a NEW STOVE (earlier fix didn’t stay fixed) and now have hot food once again.
The last three days have all been short mile days. Riding out of Salida was a brutal 14 mile uphill, so we stopped at 2pm, after only 22 miles. Pulled out our chairs and made camp in Long Gulch among the cows (these seemed much happier than previously mentioned cows). Wrote letters, made notes, played some cards, and made bean-noodle soup for dinner. Next day was a quick 44 miles into Fairplay, CO, where we beat the cold rain and spent the afternoon eating good food, grateful to be cozy in our tent and sleeping bags. Went off-route due to snow pack at Boreas Pass and climbed Hoosier Pass for the second time in two years (part of the TransAm Route). I think I can say that today has been the best day of the trip so far-a fitting Father’s Day tribute to John. We made it to Frisco early, had some good coffee, and headed over to April and Jeff’s townhouse. Upon arrival, Jeff told us we had about 20 minutes to shower before “a big surprise.” Best surprise ever, he had arranged for us both to get hour-long massages! And this was John’s first ever massage. We also had a wonderful dinner, did our laundry, and are sleeping in a real bed tonight.
The plan is to keep riding for another six days before our next zero-mile day in Rawlins, WY. We will be staying with a Warm Showers host in Steamboat Springs but otherwise there aren’t many towns between here and Rawlins. We’re well-stocked with supplies, sleeping well tonight and heading back out in the morning. Until next week!
Yesterday we entered a new state—Colorado! Good-bye New Mexico and thanks for all the beautiful scenery, wildlife, fascinating abandoned ranches and houses, and wild camping. We’ve passed the 800-mile mark, averaging about 45 miles and ten hours of riding a day, and guessing between 4,000-5,000 feet a day climbing. We stop often during the day to eat, filter water, and take Ibuprofen. The climbing (often on foot, pushing my bike) is what makes this so very different than past touring. We have never rode any route as challenging but also rewarding in so many ways. We really appreciate the wild camping in our national forests: beautiful and remote sites, cheap, and you get to pick when to stop for the day. When your legs say stop, you can stop. The remoteness means no one cares about how dirty you are. And we are nine-days out with one change of clothing dirty. Each night’s bathing consists of three handy wipes, no more, no less.
We’ve seen many antelope and elk. One day we passed a herd of elk with a small baby calf, legs still wobbly. We also saw a cow giving birth! We’ve ridden past mesas, plateaus, volcanic plugs, and steep arroyos reminiscent of the Baja Divide. The scenery changes throughout the day, from open valleys with big sky amazing views to mountain aspen groves to desert ravines.
A couple of days outside of Grants, we met Rani and Bob and their horse Chirpas. Bob is providing support to Rani and Chirpas as they travel the GDMBR with a small Amish wagon. They travel about 20-25 miles a day. Rani remembers reading an Adventure Cycling article about the GDMBR many years ago and is finally making her own adventure traveling from Mexico to Canada. Very cool people (and horse).
A couple of days ago we were riding past the Lagunitas campsites close to the Colorado border when things began to get interesting. With the big snowfalls this winter, the snowmelt had turned the gravel road into a fairly large stream, Mud included. We were feeling quite proud of ourselves, finally doing the “oh no, look at how much mud is on our tires, we must be REAL GDMBR riders,” when we noticed that the Continental Divide hikers had started passing us. Than we hit the snow. Again, REAL GDMBR riders hike through snow. Then the Five Four-Wheeler Riders of the Divide (Clint, Matt, Randy, Casey, and Everett, all from Texas) came across our path and advised us what was ahead. Snow above the knees. River crossing with water four feet deep and strong current. Our best option, they said, was to backtrack seven miles and head off-route to Antonito, CO. Backtrack!? Horrible thought. To my great relief, the 4-wheelers volunteered to put our bikes in their vehicles and drove us back to our turnoff. Plus, they made us hot coffee and fixed our camp stove! No more cold instant coffee and cold-soak ramen for us. It’s the small things that give so much pleasure on the GDMBR.
Sad to miss Indiana Pass (highest point in the GDMBR) due to the snow and high water but secretly was so, so very happy to ride the 80 miles to Del Norte on a relatively flat road with the wind at our backs. Don’t tell anyone about my love of easy riding because I may lose my GDMBR status if word got out. Recharging today doing all the usual zero-mile day chores and treating ourselves to a hotel room, shower, restaurant, etc. Talked with our kids and family, wrote some letters, and downloaded new books and movies. Ready to begin the Colorado ride!
We’ve finished our first nine days on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Nine days. 410 miles. One shower. Zero laundry. Just enough food. Tent and stove wearing out, sleeping pads with slow leaks (as usual). And blissfully happy to be on the road, living the simple and rewarding life of bike touring.
We began the trip with a van ride from the El Paso airport to Columbus, New Mexico, on Wednesday, May 22. We stayed with old but worthy habits and visited their library. John had a great conversation with Gordon, longtime library volunteer. Spent the night at the Los Milagros, a wonderful place with two adorable and well-dressed dogs, Minnie and Bonbon. Headed south the next morning to begin our trip at the Mexico/US border.
We hit gravel road on the second day of cycling. Only one car passed us for 45 miles. Desert wildflowers in bloom, temps in the 70s. Headwinds but not as bad as some we’ve encountered. Third day, as we were leaving Silver City and I was engrossed in a podcast while riding my bike, a rattlesnake crossing the road in front of me had the common sense to stop, rear up, and make some noise in order to get my attention. And she did get my attention. Thought process when encountering rattlesnake: oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, should I go back and take a photo, no, snake is probably already gone, don’t want photo, go, go, go.
On days three, four, and five, we rode through the Gila National Forest. Beautiful mountainous scenery with many steep and long climbs. Many times pushing bikes up gravelly roads. But that’s why it’s called “bikepacking.” Many times you are carrying or pushing your bike. And no one can shame me when I push my bike, I know my limits. 55 year-old woman with asthma riding the GDMBR. Doing it.
But at the end of these days my legs just quit. They told me when they were done. I knew I had to stop and was grateful for the many opportunities to wild camp. Beautiful spots all to ourselves and at no cost. We had groceries, water, stove and fuel, camp chairs (worth every ounce), tent, sleeping bags, and enflatable pads and pillows (leaky but nice). I also have my phone with Netflix and Prime downloads, ebooks, music, and podcasts. This is the good life.
Another thing that added to our happiness on the road were the trail angels. Anthony Hawkins, NFS firefighter, gave us cold Gatorade on day five and warned us of upcoming strong headwinds. Helped us get through the three hours of 25mph northerly winds. And one house that provided free water and food for GDMBR riders. Because of their generosity we were able to dump the green water we had collected from a cattle tank and resupply with potable water. And their cookies, peanuts, and apple sauce got us through to Pie Town. We learned a valuable lesson about grocery shopping in remote areas—count the calories in the food. Simple math: we each need at least 4,000 calories a day. Multiply by number of days. KIND bars don’t cut it.
PIE TOWN!! A magical place. The vision of Pie Town kept me going during lean and steep times. We arrived Wednesday, May 29, around 2pm. Headed straight to the Gathering Place restaurant and ordered a cherry pie with ice cream, coffee, and coke. Continued with chicken enchiladas, beans & cornbread. Finished with root beer floats. Went back the next morning for breakfast and coffee. These calories go a heck of a lot further than instant oatmeal and pop tarts. Zoom!!! Feel the power in your legs.
And today, after two relatively easy days of cycling through beautiful scenery, including the El Malpais National Mounument, we are in a hotel for two (TWO) nights in Grants, NM. Bathed. Laundry done. Food in the fridge. My birthday present to myself. Blissed out due to good clean living.
Why hit yourself in the head with a hammer? Because it feels so good when you stop.
We've been in Kansas for the past ten days, recovering from selling our house and getting rid of stuff. We spent a lot of time tromping around eight acres of Kansas farm land we plan to buy and hanging out with family. We begin the Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride Thursday, planning on taking 70 days to complete the route. After we finish the GDMBR in July, we'll be bicycle touring Yellowstone with friends and hanging out with Emma in Chelan, WA.