Fear and Loathing on the Great Divide
That’s right, people. The Great Divide, as in the 2,768.4 – mile, mostly gravel cycling route that meanders along the Continental Divide from Banff, Canada, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. About a year ago, I decided to do it.
I wish I could tell you when it was I knew I wanted to do it, or how I even came to learn about the route in the first place. I’m as surprised as you. And my parents. Or maybe you’re not surprised, given all of the bike pictures you’ve seen on Instagram lately. But for me, wanting to ride (not race, mind you, as in the Tour Divide) the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route came out of nowhere and overtime all at once.
About seven years ago, I met Paul Gadola of Damascus, Virginia. At the time, Paul was training to ride the Divide, which he’s now done twice from Banff to the southern border of Colorado. When he told me about his training routine and the long hours he spent in the saddle, cranking out miles of gravel road, I didn’t quite know what to think. I was a kayaker then. None of this biking nonsense. It would be years later in the spring of 2016 before what he did held any sort of relevance with me.
It was my first bikepacking trip. I was on assignment for Blue Ridge Outdoors to cover what's still a burgeoning niche of mountain biking. My friend Rob with Blackwater Bikes hooked up Adam and I with Salsa Fargo luxury rides for a two-day tour around West Virginia’s proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument. The total mileage was only somewhere in the 60-mile range, but I was nervous—I had never camped with a bike before, let alone pedaled 60 continuous miles.
Somewhere between the bag of wine shared among three new friends and the miles of scenic gravel roads, I fell in love with bikepacking. Nothing felt more liberating, more satisfying, than the weary exhaustion that ached my bones at ride’s end. If you know me well, which I’m assuming you do if you’re taking the time to read this blog, you know that I’m no fan of bikepacking's lesser cousin, backpacking. My toes hate hiking (blisters). My knees hate hiking (IT band hell). I hate hiking (fact). Bikepacking is my calling, combining backpacking’s simplicity of life with the pure bliss of cranking miles on a bike.
Between meeting Paul and having my first bikepacking experience, I’ve met thru-hikers and endurance athletes of every breed, so I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised that, four years into the adult world, I was craving an adventure of my own. Bikepacking just so happened to walk in at the right time.
My boyfriend Adam (remember him—he'll be the other character in the coming saga) has of course been an incredible inspiration and resource to me. He’s hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, taking just 100 days each to complete them. When he announced his intention to go for the Triple Crown in 2017 and hike the Continental Divide Trail, the timing felt right. I secured a two-month leave of absence from work, stalked flight booking sites for weeks, and finally bought my one-way ticket to Calgary for August 2nd.
What follows is a series of unfortunate events, beginning with Adam’s four-week recovery for two herniated discs and ending with me waking up repeatedly at 4 a.m. in a panicked sweat, no doubt dreaming of a mountain lion lurking outside my tent. Most days, I hardly thought about the Great Divide. It didn’t feel real, even though I had the plane ticket, the bike, the bags. But every two weeks, an insistent, nasty voice of what I imagine to be a lifelong-smoker-of-a-grandmother would yell, “What the hell are you thinking riding 2,768.4 miles by yourself?!!” I couldn’t sleep. As the days ticked closer to August 2nd, the doubt and uncertainty were becoming all consuming.
I tried to remedy the fear. I took a three-day mountain bike mechanics course in February, hopeful the instruction would abate my lack of confidence. In fact, it did the exact opposite. I was overwhelmed with what I didn’t know. In a way, learning about all of the mechanical problems my bike could experience made me feel even more incapable of being able to fix them.
Still, I kept riding my bike. Through the flat tires I couldn’t change, the spare tubes I then broke, the shit-happens scenarios that were starting to feel more commonplace than not, I kept riding my bike.
After weeks of internal debate, Adam decided to postpone his attempt on the Continental Divide for another year to give his back some more months to heal. For those of you who know Adam, you’ll know how tremendously heart wrenching this decision was for him. Hiking is Adam’s life. It’s in his very marrow. He has a natural gait that would rival the fastest of speed hikers’. But more important to Adam than pursuing his love of hiking is staying true to his passion for adventure.
Which is why, when I asked if he wanted to ride the Great Divide with me instead, I already knew the answer.
We are psyched. We are also fully aware that we may or may not have our asses handed to us. Most likely the former. This blog will detail the preparations leading up to our two-month tour (including any random revelations or bird sightings we have on our training rides) and as much as I have energy to post from the presumed ass-kicking bike ride we are about to embark on.
Thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you next time.
P.S. If you’re wondering about the title, it’s just click bait. But I also assume I’m going to be scared shitless at some point, and that Adam will likely loathe me at some point, too. Only time will tell.