Learnings from the Great Divide


I got asked to write a diddy from my trip for the MFG Newsletter. Can’t say no to that, it was published for the North 40 MFG Cyclocross race.

From July 16th to Sept 1st I biked roughly 87.3% of the 90% unpaved Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. I started in Banff Canada and made it 2,204 miles and climbed a total of 140,968 feet in elevation along the Continental Divide. That included 36 mountain passes, 7 thunderstorms, 2 deserts, 1 bike crash, and 1 grizzly bear sighting all while riding on single track, double track, fire roads and a touch of pavement.

  • Listen to what your body wants more than what your pride wants. I thought I was going to take zero rest days but I realized if your legs are fried you will go 5mph and feel totally defeated. If you need to spend a day laying spread eagle in a $50 hotel room watching Law and Order rotating between spooning in hummus and ice cream go ahead and do it. You will feel much stronger for many days after. Listen to what food your body wants and follow that. It’s ok to eat like a stereotype of a pregnant lady. I honed my preferred gas station lunch to a cliff bar with peanut butter on it, pick bag, grape Gatorade, and an ice cream bar. Sure the cashier looked at me weird but my body wanted carbs, fats, salt, sugar and electrolytes in a not super heavy format.
  • Take care of crankiness, eat. If you’re pissed, angry, sad, or just “over it”. Get off your bike, sit down, take a deep breath, look at something pretty even if its just an interesting tree, and shovel a ton of calories down your throat. Cardio exercise suppress the appetite so you may very well just need more calories even though you don’t feel hungry. It’s just your emotions telling you that instead of your body. It’s also really helpful to just have a few minutes off the bike and let the mind reset.
  • At times you will NOT have fun and be miserable. That’s ok, it wont last. Long bike tours are not all Instagram moments. I had three times when I wanted to quit; once when I got stuck up on a sketchy single track mountain pass at night, another when I spent the night vomiting in a pit toilet (shit-iest view of the whole trip), and then finally when I had hit my third day of thunderstorms while riding alone. After the first temptation to quit I told myself if I wanted to quit three days in a row then I could, knowing full well that chances are anytime I was that miserable the next day would be better. Most discomfort is temporary, thunderstorms will end, you will stop being too cold/too hot, and you will eventually get to go downhill.
  • Plan for loneliness. There is no way around it, you will be lonely at times but make a plan to get yourself in a community as often as possible. Early on I realized that while hotels were easy and comfortable they were isolation boxes. It was campsites where you bonded with others and saw them multiple nights down the trail. I had to get out of my literal and figurative comfort zone. I started plotting out which campsites would be more likely to have other great divide riders and made it a point to hit them. I would scope out the campground for cyclists, would think of dumb opening lines, swallow my shyness and go up and talk to them. They were ALWAYS ALWAYS stoked to talk too. We tend to find it more acceptable to plan out tangible things like routes, packing, or meals but it is just as important to make plans for those fuzzy things.
  • Humans get along with each other more then they don’t. In real life its very easy to lead insular lives with the people we surround ourselves with. We forget how much we can click with people unexpected or not exactly like us. For example one group I met was an ex-marine in his late 50s, a hippy in his late 20s who worked in the marijuana industry, and a beer drinking Australian that had all became friends on the road. On paper they sound like a bad joke (especially when the walked into a bar) but they got along fantastically and traveled really well together.
  • Live life minimally. Think less about weight but more about less stuff to deal with. Three days before hitting my first decent size town I was constantly modifying a list of what I could send back in my head. Weight was at the forefront of my mind. I had two more bouts of sending things back. At the end the stuff didn’t weigh much but probably had just as much of an effect on my efficiency. When every day you are unpacking and then repacking less stuff to stuff, keep track of, or dig though makes a big difference in more time to bike or hanging out. For example I thought I was being brilliant packing a Styrofoam seat pad. It weighed nothing and would make hanging out at night way more pleasant……    plus it was purple and matched my bike. Two weeks in I threw it away in a fit of annoyance. I would sit on it maybe twice a week but had to strap it back on my bike every single morning.
Sidenote: Some unexpected things I sent back:
    • My stove. While the stove was super light the fuel was heavy and took a lot of room in my kit. Instant coffee and oatmeal worked just fine in cold water and you can do a lot of things with wraps. Not having to deal with washing pots and pans when you are dead tired in bear country is way worth the price of cold oatmeal.
    • Extra socks. At the end I had one pair of short socks and one long pair. Quality over quantity.
    • My “camp” sandals. I got tired of them flopping around the outside of my bag and having them fall down every time I unclipped that bag. The shoes I biked in were totally comfortable to walk in and 90% of the time I never bothered to change into my camp shoes. I used spiked flat pedals and Five Ten Freerider Pro MTB shoes and can’t recommend that combo enough. In addition to being comfortable on and off the bike I had no repetitive injury issues, they were super grippy, and it would take a long time in VERY VERY hard rain for water to soak through.
    • My second pair of underwear. Ok to be honest I rarely wore underwear period. I was either in my bike shorts or going “freeform” in my tent. One wool pair (wool is antibacterial BTW) that I could wear for a couple of days if I had to and dried out fast was more than sufficient.
So that was just a handful of things I learned through that crazy trip. Now the hard part of applying some of this stuff to my real life.

P.S. After all this, I thought cross would be easy. Nope still really really hard.

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