Great Divide Mountain Bike Planning
Unless you are racing, the Great Divide should take 2 to 3 months. You are going through some great areas, plan on stopping, visiting and recovering a bit. I really enjoyed my days off even though they seemed to progress in fast forward. Also, plan on averaging about 40 miles a day +/-. It doesn’t sound like much but unless you are going ultra-lite it’s a good average day. You’ll might ride less some days and later in the trip, 40 miles seems like a short day but it all averages out. Obviously, riding with panniers or a BOB will slow you down. The “Riding the Great Divide“ tour book does a good job of gradually increasing miles from the start of the ride until you get in shape. I found that it was easy to just follow the book with the recommended miles and camp areas but eventually, as your GDR confidence builds, you realize that you can ride how you feel and find your own camping since you are in National Forest most of the time. The book also does a good job of pointing out sources of water and food planning (ie. “no groceries for 3 days, so stock up”).
Route & Maps
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route was conceived and brought to fruition by the Adventure Cycling Association (AC). So, that’s where you find the maps for this trip. Their maps are topnotch with all the information that you need to start and finish this trip. Maps include camping, grocery stores, restaurants, bike shops, Post Office, Library and even a profile of the route. Touring purists might find this too much information but with towns few and far between, it’s nice to know what’s available.
In addition to the AC maps, I found my way on the route with a good, reliable odometer/cycle computer. This is a must for use with the AC maps. Of course, I took a few wrong turns along the way but nothing major, basically it was me just not paying attention. The maps and directions are good but be aware that there are not signs marking the ways. It’s up to you to read and understand the map. There were several decision points along the way that I felt that could have been more clear, for example, the notorious Lava Creek trail. I guess that you could use GPS, but it’s not necessary and it’s an extra expense. (Garmin puts out a very functional model that would fit your needs on the GDR.) Also, the Adventure Cycling website has down loadable GPS waypoints if you are so inclined. Adventure Cycling also recommends US Forest Service maps in addition to their maps but I did not feel that I needed them. Nice to have, though. I always had a AAA road map for the State that I was in.
Don’t hesitate to take side trips from the route, either. There are countless great places along the Rocky Mountains and, unfortunately, the GDR can’t hit them all. When you get off route, you attract a lot of attention, as everybody wants to hear about your trip. I took a side trip to Leadville, CO to hike up Mt Elbert then jumped back on route at Salida.
Just a note about the route, you will go through some very remote areas but as strange as it sounds, it wasn’t too remote. I never felt that if I had a total mechanical melt-down, I wouldn’t be found until spring thaw. You’ll see a few trucks or hunters just about every day.
Your Friendly Local Post Office
The good old US Postal service can be a huge resource on this trip. Quite often, there are Post Offices in small towns where there are no outdoor stores, bike shops or even grocery stores. Many GDR riders ship bike tires, powdered Gatorade, energy bars or other hard to find items to the local post offices ahead of their arrival via “general delivery”. It’s nice to have these goodies waiting for you when you roll into town, although be very aware of limited hours of operation (call ahead). In general, you write “General Delivery” on your package c/o the local Postmaster of the local post office that you are sending to. I didn’t use this service when I traveled but I know several people that really liked this service. I mainly used the Post Office to send things home. At the start of the trip I found myself in the Post Office quite often in my continual quest to lighten my load. In light of the Cliff Claven and Newman characters on TV, I found the Postal workers were very friendly and helpful.
Obviously, cell phone coverage was limited for a lot of this trip as you ride through some very remote areas, but I was still pretty impressed with cell phone coverage along the way. ATT coverage in Montana and Wyoming was very good. Whereas, Verizon got better as you headed south. The coverage gets better every year, though. I met 2 people that rode with a notebook computer and it was very convenient when in town, and I’m sure a tablet works great too. Wi-fi was in most motels, private campgrounds, fast food joints, coffee shops, even some laundromats. Some times you can get a signal outside of libraries after hours , too. Generally, I updated my blog mostly at Libraries and motels.
I flew in to Calgary, Alberta then took the van shuttle up to Banff (Banff Airporter) for about $50. Some people choose to ride their bikes from Calgary to Banff. Just remember that Calgary is a big city.
Much time has been spent in on-line bike forums discussing the best way to get your bike to your starting point although I found limited options in this case. When buying your airplane ticket, keep in mind your total ticket price if you are taking your bike on the airplane. I paid $202 on United Airlines to fly to Calgary (not bad) and $175 for my bike and $25 for my one bag (I squeezed my BOB trailer into a box that fit the dimensional requirements to avoid oversize baggage $.) So much for my cheap flight. Also, consider weight. There is a 50 pound weight limit for your bike box and 50 pounds limit for your bag. Of course, at 4:30AM on travel day at the airport my bike box weighed 53 and my baggage box weighed 52 pounds. This was contrary to my bath scales at home but I was in no position to argue. Good thing that I brought an old “carry on” backpack for just this type of situation. After a little last minute adjustment, it all worked out. I sensed a little more flexibility for dimensional restrictions for baggage than weight. Every bag and box goes on the scale at the airport but I didn’t see any tape measures lying around.
If you are traveling in the States, I would recommend shipping your bike and gear. You can typically ship your bike a couple weeks ahead of your trip for around $50 or $60 dollars and have it waiting for you at the motel at the start. Make sure that you pack things well, though. Some of these shipping companies are about as careful with your gear as airline baggage handlers on a bad hair day.
There are shuttles available to get you to start and finish of the ride. You would probably have to check with Adventure Cycling or on the internet to check $ and availablity. Also, there was a shuttle van crossing from Mexico to Phoenix a couple times a day but space could be limited (about $30).
If you are real lucky, you can have somebody drop you off at the Banff trailhead and pick you up at the Mexico border. Or, you can just keep pedaling.
All that I can say here is that you are in the Rocky Mountains and you will experience rain, snow, cold, heat, wind, lightning. Plan your gear and keep it light. Check out my gear list.
Follow my trip progress on my blog.