Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Post Trip Summary: Details for Future Riders

This blog is about the bicycle trip that Jim and I took on the Great Divide Route and includes the posts we made while on the trip. We have created a second blog with thoughts and advice for other people thinking of riding the GDR, so if you are planning your own trip, you should go to a different blog instead --

When I was preparing for our trip, I read as many GDR blogs as I could find, trying to glean information. I got overwhelmed by too much content like this "on Tuesday we missed a turn and went up a long hill before we realized we made a mistake, then it started raining and we got cold, then we ran out of food and we got hungry." In an attempt to help others doing background research for their own trip we split off the information useful to cyclists into that other blog.

Post Trip Summary: The Birds

List of bird seen on the trip

We are dedicated birders, so we each carried a pair of binoculars and did our best to find and identify birds while we were riding and while off the bikes. Birding while riding we found to be more difficult than expected and so the variety of species we saw is certainly lower than we would have seen had we been on foot. In particular, we found it hard to locate the smaller species such as sparrows, flycatchers and warblers. We saw four new species that are "life birds". These are species we saw for the first time ever and get recorded on our Life List. It is an incredible treat to see a new life bird and it doesn't happen for us in North America very often anymore.

Birds marked post-GDR were seen between Antelope Wells and Tucson after completing the GDR. Some of these species may possibly be observed while on the GDR while others are out of range and thus could not have been observed on-route.

214 species seen

  1. Common Loon
  2. Eared Grebe
  3. Red-necked Grebe
  4. Pied-billed Grebe
  5. Western Grebe
  6. Clark's Grebe
  7. American White Pelican
  8. Double-crested Cormorant
  9. Great Blue Heron
  10. White-faced Ibis
  11. Trumpeter Swan
  12. Canada Goose
  13. Mallard
  14. Gadwall
  15. American Wigeon
  16. Northern Pintail
  17. Northern Shoveler
  18. Blue-winged Teal
  19. Green-winged Teal
  20. Cinnamon Teal
  21. Ruddy Duck
  22. Wood Duck
  23. Canvasback
  24. Ring-necked Duck
  25. Lesser Scaup
  26. Common Goldeneye
  27. Bufflehead
  28. Common Merganser
  29. Sandhill Crane
  30. Common Moorhen
  31. American Coot
  32. Killdeer
  33. Solitary Sandpiper
  34. Spotted Sandpiper
  35. Wilson's Snipe
  36. Ring-billed Gull
  37. California Gull
  38. Forster's Tern
  39. Turkey Vulture
  40. Golden Eagle
  41. Bald Eagle
  42. Northern Harrier
  43. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  44. Cooper's Hawk
  45. Northern Goshawk
  46. Zone-tailed Hawk (post-GDR)
  47. Red-tailed Hawk
  48. Swainson's Hawk
  49. Ferruginous Hawk
  50. Osprey
  51. American Kestrel
  52. Peregrine Falcon
  53. Prairie Falcon
  54. Ruffed Grouse
  55. Dusky Grouse (new Life Bird)
  56. Greater Sage Grouse (new Life Bird)
  57. Gunnison Sage Grouse (new Life Bird)
  58. Scaled Quail
  59. Gambel's Quail
  60. Gray Partridge
  61. Ring-necked Pheasant
  62. Wild Turkey
  63. Band-tailed Pigeon
  64. Rock Pigeon
  65. White-winged Dove
  66. Mourning Dove
  67. Eurasian Collared Dove
  68. Inca Dove
  69. Greater Roadrunner
  70. Barn Owl
  71. Western Screech-Owl
  72. Great Horned Owl
  73. Great Gray Owl
  74. Northern Saw-whet Owl
  75. Common Poorwill
  76. Common Nighthawk
  77. Elegant Trogon (post-GDR)
  78. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  79. Anna's Hummingbird (post-GDR)
  80. Calliope Hummingbird
  81. Broad-tailed Hummingbird
  82. Rufous Hummingbird
  83. Belted Kingfisher
  84. Gila Woodpecker (post-GDR)
  85. Acorn Woodpecker (post-GDR)
  86. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  87. Arizona Woodpecker (post-GDR)
  88. Williamson's Sapsucker
  89. Red-naped Sapsucker
  90. Northern Flicker
  91. Downy Woodpecker
  92. Hairy Woodpecker
  93. Three-toed Woodpecker
  94. Pileated Woodpecker
  95. Ash-throated Flycatcher (post-GDR)
  96. Eastern Kingbird
  97. Western Kingbird
  98. Cassin's Kingbird
  99. Olive-sided Flycatcher
  100. Western Wood-Pewee
  101. Say's Phoebe
  102. Black Phoebe
  103. Gray Flycatcher
  104. Cordilleran Flycatcher
  105. Horned Lark
  106. Tree Swallow
  107. Violet-green Swallow
  108. Bank Swallow
  109. Cliff Swallow
  110. Barn Swallow
  111. Pinyon Jay
  112. Blue Jay
  113. Stellar's Jay
  114. Western Scrub Jay
  115. Mexican Jay
  116. Gray Jay
  117. Clark's Nutcracker
  118. Black-billed Magpie
  119. American Crow
  120. Chihuahuan Raven
  121. Common Raven
  122. Juniper Titmouse
  123. Bridled Titmouse
  124. Black-capped Chickadee
  125. Mexican Chickadee (post-GDR) (new Life Bird)
  126. Mountain Chickadee
  127. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
  128. Verdin (post-GDR)
  129. Bushtit
  130. Brown Creeper
  131. White-breasted Nuthatch
  132. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  133. Pygmy Nuthatch
  134. House Wren
  135. Winter Wren
  136. Bewick's Wren
  137. Cactus Wren
  138. Marsh Wren
  139. Canyon Wren
  140. Rock Wren
  141. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  142. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  143. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  144. Western Bluebird
  145. Mountain Bluebird
  146. Townsend's Solitaire
  147. Hermit Thrush
  148. Varied Thrush
  149. American Robin
  150. Loggerhead Shrike
  151. Gray Catbird
  152. Northern Mockingbird
  153. Sage Thrasher
  154. Curve-billed Thrasher
  155. American Pipit (post-GDR)
  156. American Dipper
  157. Phainopepla (post-GDR)
  158. Cedar Waxwing
  159. European Starling
  160. Cassin's Vireo
  161. Plumbeous Vireo
  162. Warbling Vireo
  163. Black-throated Gray Warbler (post-GDR)
  164. Common Yellowthroat
  165. MacGillivray's Warbler
  166. Northern Waterthrush
  167. Olive Warbler (post-GDR)
  168. Orange-crowned Warbler
  169. Townsend's Warbler
  170. Wilson's Warbler
  171. Yellow Warbler
  172. Yellow-breasted Chat (post-GDR)
  173. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  174. Blue Grosbeak
  175. Northern Cardinal (post-GDR)
  176. Pyrrhuloxia
  177. Lazuli Bunting (post-GDR)
  178. Canyon Towhee
  179. Green-tailed Towhee
  180. Spotted Towhee
  181. Black-throated Sparrow (post-GDR)
  182. Brewer's Sparrow
  183. Chipping Sparrow
  184. Dark-eyed Junco
  185. Grasshopper Sparrow
  186. Lincoln's Sparrow
  187. Rufous-crowned Sparrow (post-GDR)
  188. Rufous-winged Sparrow (post-GDR)
  189. Sage Sparrow
  190. Savannah Sparrow
  191. Song Sparrow
  192. Vesper Sparrow
  193. White-crowned Sparrow
  194. Yellow-eyed Junco (post-GDR)
  195. Eastern Meadowlark (post-GDR)
  196. Western Meadowlark
  197. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  198. Red-winged Blackbird
  199. Brewer's Blackbird
  200. Brown-headed Cowbird
  201. Great-tailed Grackle
  202. Common Grackle
  203. Hooded Oriole (post-GDR)
  204. Western Tanager
  205. Hepatic Tanager (post-GDR)
  206. Pine Siskin
  207. Lesser Goldfinch
  208. American Goldfinch
  209. Pine Grosbeak
  210. Red Crossbill
  211. Evening Grosbeak
  212. Cassin's Finch
  213. House Finch
  214. House Sparrow

Monday, October 8, 2007

Post Trip Summary: The Route, General Comments

It is very satisfying to have a route mapped ahead of you, and all the freedom in the world to move forward along that path. Get up in the morning, ride through the landscape until you're tired, find a place to set up camp, eat some dinner, and go to sleep. Over and over again. No schedule, no obligations, no worries. This feeling doesn't develop on a one or two week trip. You need enough time to establish the rhythm and sense of freedom. It is similar to the lifestyle and sense of freedom of the road we've had on our month long walks on the long distance paths in England and France.

The scenery is lovely. However, it isn't as lovely as what you will get backpacking where you can get out into wilderness areas away from the cows. None of the mountains were as nice as the southern high Sierra Nevada (our stomping grounds), not by a long shot. So if you want beautiful mountain scenery, get out your hiking shoes and backpacks and head to the high Sierra (or the Wind River range in Wyoming, or Glacier National Park, or your favorite high mountains). New Mexico was lovely, but not nearly as lovely as being on foot down in the slot canyons of the Colorado Plateau. However, as a whole package the ride through all those diverse landscapes was a beautiful and wonderful experience.

About those cows... This opens a rather large emotional/philosophical/religious can of worms. It seems that people have "messed with" every acre of land they can reach - put each acre to it's best economic use, be it mining, timber, housing, ski resort, golf course, strip mall, etc. If an acre doesn't offer any other significant economic value, then you can always put some cows out there and graze it. The ranchers we talked to were extremely nice people who are doing what everybody else does -- earning a living and raising their families. Each rancher and each cow does no more damage than the rest of us do when we go about our business of building a house and earning a living somehow. But grazing in dry climates alters the fragile top-soil and subsequently the entire eco-system. That's fine for any individual ranch. But when you see it on every single acre for a thousand miles in a row -- well it really hits home that we humans have left very few acres of land alone for nature to take her course. This was a very depressing part of the trip for us. The only significant grazing-free stretches were the parks in Canada, Teton/Yellowstone, a section in Gila National Forest in NM, and a section in Coronado National Forest in Arizona (off route). Those sections may have represented a total of perhaps 200 miles in our 3100 miles of riding - not much. Those were precious beautiful sections that we cherished.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Palo Alto, CA

We are back at home. Slept last night in our own bed. We are planning to post some summary information in the next few days -- gear we carried with notes about what worked and didn't work, notes about the bikes, notes about campsites or restaurants that future GDR riders might find useful, notes about transport to/from the start and finish.

But first we're going to wash the bikes and stock up on groceries.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Tombstone, AZ

Here at the library in the famous western shoot-out town of Tombstone AZ.

We arrived at the southern terminus of the Great Divide Route, Antelope Wells NM, last Thursday after 53 and a half days riding. We had a picnic lunch on the shaded lawn of the border crossing station and visited with the nice staff at Customs and Immigration and also with numerous border patrol agents.

We are now riding to Tucson, where we plan to pick up a rental car tomorrow evening to drive home. Between Antelope Wells and Tombstone we spent two days in the Chiricahua mountains (Coronado National Forest) which is one of the best birdwatching sites in the U.S. and was also stunningly beautiful. It was my (Amy) favorite place on the whole trip, even though it's not on the G.D.R. We saw great birds there, including the Elegant Trogon!

Prior to arriving in Antelope Wells, we stayed in Silver City NM with friends of my sister - Richard and Stacey. They were delightful hosts and gave us a great sense for what the town is like. We had an unexpectedly good meal in town and reprovisioned for the last push to the border.

We'll write more when we get home, but for now we need to get on our bikes and pedal on over to Tucson.

Best to all - Amy and Jim

P.S. Thanks to Rickson for posting pictures.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

photo: Climb up to Continental Divide #2

photo: Stream Crossing

photo: Lincoln Chickens

photo: Holland Lake

photo: Beaver Dams & Single Track

Beaver Dam: Amy points out the characteristic chewed off ends of the branches in the foreground.

Single track: This is some of the beauty to be found at mile 198 from Roosville.

photo: Columbia Falls Shay Engine

photo: Climb up to Red Meadow Lake

photo: Alongside Glacier National Park

photo: Climb up the Whitefish Divide

photo: Crossing the Border

photo: Friends in Fernie

photo: Sparwood's big truck

photo: Riding the Fording Creek Baby Heads

photo: First Campsite

photo: Sights from the first day of riding

Silver City, NM

Just finished ~5 days of fantastic riding from Grants to Silver City (route mile 2587). New Mexico is the favorite state of the trip for both of us.

The roads continue to be rougher and the scenery more dramatic than in the states further north.

Pie Town has a terrific little municipal campground, right next to the two cafes that serve pie. It was a nice break in an otherwise long stretch without services.

We've overlapped for a couple days with another GDR couple - Christine and Eric (Erik?) from Corvalis. It's been nice to visit with other riders. They ate 12 pieces of pie in a 36 hour break in Pie Town!!

Two or three days ago we had more rain, and we encountered true New Mexico mud. We were on a stretch of dirt road which was essentially made of clay, and the stuff just sticks. Our bikes became completely solidified in mud - not just the tires, but every gap just filled with mud. Quite an experience. We pulled and scraped the mud off, and waited a few hours for the road to dry a bit. We had to push the bikes through the grassy fields beside the road for a couple miles, until we were past the worst of the mud road section. When the map says "roads impassable when wet" that is not an empty threat. Christine and Eric put their bikes on the back of a passing pickup truck and got a ride to Beaverhead Ranger Station, where they used the wonderful hose to de-mud their bikes.

Yesterday and this morning we rode through a section of the Gila National Forest that is not grazed. Holy wow what a difference it makes. There is topsoil, grass, forbs, flowers - it all looks so healthy. I believe that is the first long section of ungrazed habitat we've been in since Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks many weeks ago.

We have 2-3 days from here to the Mexican border. The next couple days will be the first real desert of the trip, and I'm excited to change to a new habitat. From there, we've decided to ride east toward (or maybe to) Tucson. We're trying to find some good maps so we can figure out a good dirt road route east. We'll probably be riding for another week or so. From Tucson, we'll either rent a car, catch a commercial flight, or possibly arrange a ride from a friend with a private plane.

All continues to go well. Amy & Jim

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Grants, NM

We just spent two days on dirt roads crossing over from Cuba to Grants (route mile 2310). With the exception of a 9100' crossing of the shoulder of a small mountain range, we've spent the last two days at about 7000' in arroyos, buttes, cactus, volcanic plugs, and of course the dreaded cow habitat. The roads in this area have provided by far the most difficult riding we have experienced for any extended period of time. Sand pits, washboard, deep water cuts, loose rocks, steep sections and so forth form a large portion of the road. While we have had short stretches in the past with technical difficulties, they were always over quickly; not so for the last couple of days. Great southwestern landscapes.

The section yesterday afternoon and part of this morning had some really poor road conditions, and the going was quite slow. Last night we had a terrific campsite at the bottom of an arroyo (which was still damp from the rain a couple days ago), on a nice flat sandy patch with no plants with thorny parts :)

The last 20 miles downhill, from San Mateo Spring in the mountains into the town of Grants we had a good little downpour of rain. The roads in Grants are all full of huge puddles.

I probably mentioned a few weeks ago that we passed a couple - Dave and Michelle - also riding the GDR. Their website is

We're about to start our longest stretch without access to much of anything: 260 miles from here to Silver City. We pass through a cross-roads called Pie Town, which has a cafe that is famous for its pies, but other than that there are no other amenities. This should be an adventure.

We're going to spend the night at a motel here in Grants and get prepared for the next leg.

Take care, Amy & Jim

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Cuba, NM

Writing from the library in the small town of Cuba (route mile 2201). We just had a stunning two day ride over the Povedera Mesa - the last mountains with elevations >10,000' on the trip. That may be our last spruce trees on the trip.

Yesterday was rainy (never very heavy) off and on all day. It wasn't too bad, except that we stopped frequently to take the rain gear off and then put it back on again a half hour later. The scenery was stunning, and the flowers were fantastic. We had our first Bushtits and Scrub Jay of the trip: familar birds from home.

We camped last night up on top. Most of the higher elevation was wooded with no view, but the area where we camped had been logged and so had views to both east and west. Took a long time to find a flat place to put the tent, since the logging equipment reconfigures everything into pits and mounds. During the night we had good solid thunderstorms, hail, wind, and such. But we awoke to clear skies and had a great day riding today.

Our next town will be Grants NM, in about three days. After that it's 5-6 days to Silver City with no stores between Grants and Silver City.

We heard from the librarian that two GDR cyclists passed through this morning - we hope to run into them in the next few days -- it's fun to meet other riders. A couple days ago we met a French fellow riding the GDR northbound on a motorcycle - he was jovial and having a blast.

All is well, Amy and Jim

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Abiquiu, NM

We are now in the very old small community of Abiquiu NM; the former residence of the great artist Georgia O'Keefe. (route mile 2123). Although we've been in New Mexico for a couple days, it wasn't until this morning that we came down out of the mountains and into classic NM landscape -- eroded red mesas, cottonwood trees, oak trees, spanish town names and surnames, old catholic churches, and our first temps over 80 in weeks.

Everything continues to go well. The weather has been perfectly splendid, and the scenery great. We have spent the last few weeks amongst hunters, as we are in the heart of the season. While most of the hunting camps are tidy and clean and the drivers are nearly always exceptionally courteous, the number of trucks and ATVs on the road is much higher than I expected. If anybody wants to ride this route but is nervous about having mechanical problems in the middle of nowhere with no access to help -- well, just come during hunting season and you will never be far from help. These camps are usually a couple trailers, a few pickup trucks, a handful of ATVs, some tables and chairs and usually a running generator (what they use the power for is unclear) - tucked into a cluster of trees on the side of a USFS dirt road.

We had been warned that the road quality deteriorates in NM and so far that has been true. In Colorado, the road surface was consistently very high. Once we crossed Indiana Pass and headed downhill toward NM the road quality has varied widely. It's very frustrating to ride downhill at 6 or 7 MPG because of the loose gravel/rocks on the surface.

Jim has had his second dog attack - it erupting out of one of the hunting camps - he takes the brunt of these because he rides in front. The barking and growling dog nipped his heal, it didn't break through the shoe, but it did cause him to lose control and crash - fortunately nothing hurt. He was riding downhill on a dirt/gravel road, so getting jumped on by a dog is a hard thing to ride through. That dog and that dog's owner got an earful about keeping their pet tied up so the riders behind us don't get the same attack. Jim was bitten once in England on a walking trip, and the owner of that dog as well as the owner of this dog said the same thing - "he's never done that before, he's a very gentle and nice dog".

We are a little too early for Cottonwood and Aspen colors, but we are getting little patches of nice yellow trees. It's quite lovely.

It's likely to be a while before we post again - we're in sparsely populated region with few towns and fewer libraries.

Amy and James

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Del Norte, CO

We arrived in this small town early on the 12th of September. The ride over the big passes from Salida was very straightforward as the grades on all three were very moderate. We continue to experience very benign weather which makes life so much easier. The aspens have just barely begun to turn in a few places, so signs of the oncoming change of seasons are not much in evidence.

In Del Norte, we are staying at Gary and Patti's home. They are a local couple who welcome GDR riders. We have only had a brief conversation with each of them at this point, so don't know much about them yet, other than they are kind and welcoming and have a very comfortable home in town.

Tomorrow, we head for Indiana Pass, which, at 11,900+ is the highest point on the route. After that pass, we drop toward New Mexico through very isolated country without the benefit of towns and libraries, so it may be some time before we get to post again.

While crossing the large dry basin east of Gunnison, we did manage to see a single Gunnison Sage Grouse, an extremely rare and local species of bird. It was only separated as a species from the Greater Sage Grouse a few years ago; it is only found in high sage covered areas in central Colorado and eastern Utah. Given how few birds there are, maybe 5000 total, and what a large area they can be found in, we consider ourselves quite lucky to have seen the one we did.

best to all; Amy and James

NOTE to GDR riders present and future... There is a terrible stretch of jeep track as you approach Del Norte - a "biking disaster". Apparently it used to be rough, but is now REALLY rough due to a very heavy storm a month or two ago. The bad stretch is from mile 144.2 until 149.8. Lots of unridable sand. Very loose rock, bumpy, and unpleasant. We recommend you take the more straight-forward route mentioned in the book. At mile 139.9, don't turn right onto FR660. Instead stay on 38A all the way to 112 and take that into town.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Salida, CO

We're at the library in Salida (mile 1775 on the route), while the good folks at Absolute Bikes put fresh new chains on our bikes. At our current pace, we'll probably reach Antelope Wells in about 20 days.

Everything here continues to go very well. Weather has been great, scenery has been great, bikes are healthy, and we are healthy. We consider our luck with weather to be exceptionally fortunate.

We met another pair of GDR cyclists today. That's only the second party we've met riding the whole route this summer, but we continue to hear about a few more parties within a week ahead or behind us.

The scenery has been great, with the exception of the incredible sprawl of one ski area that seems to be a bit out of control - the complex of Dillon/Silverthorne/Frisco/Breckenridge was a bit overwhelming. Most of the towns we've been through since Helena seem to be either dumpy and economically depressed, or ski/golf areas that are over-run with condos and McMansion sized second homes. Salida is the first town since Helena that seems like a normal, livable place.

The riding between Breckenridge and Salida has been perhaps the most satisfying of the trip - just lovely very empty country, high quality dirt roads, lots of space, nice camping, etc. We crossed Boreas Pass above Breckenridge, which at 11,400+ is the second highest on the route. The road was an old railroad route constructed in the 19th century which was converted into a dirt road in the 1950's. It had a nice gentle and steady grade which made the crossing surprisingly easy. We made it to treeline at the summit and had great views of the central Colorado Rockies. It was a real relief to find that we could still pedal at high altitudes.

We continue onward with high hopes that we can finish this thing.

Friday, September 7, 2007

photo: Start of the Trail Riding

We are still very fresh. We are at the Banff Springs Hotel where we leave the paved roads. This is the beginning of the 90% off-road route. This is notable that this trail start is marked by such a palace of luxury.

photo: The Send Off

Jim, Amy and I gratefully receive the well wishes from Linda and her family. We are most fresh looking in this picture.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Kremmling, CO

Now in Kremmling, at the library. I've never appreciated the value of libraries as much as I have on this trip.

The ride here from Steamboat has been lovely. Good dirt road conditions, beautiful mountains.

We've had our first encounter with "weather". It rained lightly yesterday morning for a few hours, and then started again in the evening about five minutes after we got the tent set up and everything in it - we were racing against the inbound rain. It stormed off and on all night, heavy rain, huge thunderclaps, lightning - the whole thing. We had a nice campsite in grass in a valley (right next to the creek ford, for those familiar with the route) so the lightning was not troublesome. Fortunately for us, the rain stopped before we started riding this morning.

Yesterday morning, while it was raining lightly, we were ready to stop for lunch but didn't want to spread our food out in the rain. I rode up a driveway to a rural house to ask permission to sit under their eave. As is often the case in rural areas when traveling by bike, the couple at the house was very kind and allowed us to sit on their deck, out of the wind and drizzle. In addition to being dry, it had hummingbird feeders and Gray Jays (coming in for daily bread).

We met our first motorcycle GDR riders yesterday. A couple of gents from Laramie WY. They started last year in Roosville MT, but abandoned when one lost a battle with the dreaded chasing dogs. He said he was watching a couple dogs coming out from the left side of the road and was caught by surprise by a dog coming in from the right side. The collision with the dog left him with a broken shoulder and a damaged motorcycle. Jim was chased and bitten by a dog early in our trip, but fortunately the dog took a bite out of the Ortlieb pannier instead of taking a bite out of Jim's leg. Last year my friend Martin got a pretty good bite in the leg. Dogs are probably the most unavoidable problem for bicycles, but I didn't know they caused grief for motorcycle tourists as well.

We've only met one other pair of cyclists who are riding Roosville->Antelope Wells. We've met a few other cyclists riding short stretches of the route this year. We've heard that there are a couple other parties several days ahead, and another party a few days behind.

We've just ridden through the Gore Range of mountains, near the Colorado River. This is fun for me because my first high mountain backpacking experience was in the Mt Zirkel Wilderness in the Gore Range back in 1971, when my good brother Steve took most of my family up into the high country. We rode just west of that wilderness area a day or two ago.

The folks at Orange Peel Bicycles in Steamboat Springs were fantastic - every GDR rider should stop in there just to say hello.

All is well, and we'll post again when we can. Amy & Jim

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Steamboat Springs, CO

Made it to Steamboat Springs this morning. Mile 1534 along the route, although we've ridden something more than that. All continues to go really well.

We continue our great luck with weather. Highest temps so far were in the mid 80's - nothing over 90 yet. No serious rain for weeks.

Since our last post in Pinedale, we rode through ~250 miles of dry, dull, sagebrush with NO TREES and NO SHADE and very limited access to water. So it made a big difference to have relatively mild temps. One of our days riding across the Great Divide Basin was even overcast with occasional light drizzle - with temps in the 60's, couldn't have hoped for better weather in that landscape.

Rawlins WY is at the southern end of the Great Divide Basin, and we stopped there to resupply our groceries before riding another 135 miles to Steamboat. Rawlins is a tired, almost dismal, town. We were there on a Sunday morning, and the only things open (other than many storefront churches) were the grocery store and laundrymat - the only things we really needed. No library for internet access though :(

30 miles south of Rawlins we climbed back into the mountains - aspens, pines, creeks and other things we hadn't seen for ~250 miles. It's REALLY nice to be back in the trees.

Our potential for bad weather now shifts from too hot to too much snow. Our overall elevation now is higher, and the chances for 90+ temps are probably gone. However, our chance for hitting some storms including snow is just starting. If it's not one thing it's another. The aspen trees have not yet started to turn yellow, but perhaps in a week or so we'll start to get glorious aspen covered mountains.

I have lots of thoughts about cows, land-use, top-soil, huge trucks, mining, oil-drilling, and other such things. More thoughts than my 30 minute library internet pass will accommodate, but maybe in a later post. Summarizing - I think much of Montana and potentially all of Wyoming will suffer a cultural meltdown when the price of gas in the US finally catches up to the price of gas in the Europe. 95% of the vehicles on the roads are trucks, and not little trucks like a Toyota Tacoma, BIG trucks, Ford F200 or F250 is the norm. And the recreational activity of choice seems to be this: hook a big camping trailer on the back of your giant truck, and behind that camping trailer, tow a utility trailer with two All Terrain Vehicles in it. Drive some distance, park your camping trailer, and take off in your ATV to stir up a lot of dust. Then, take out your weapon of choice and shoot any public road sign you can find. Or, if there are no road signs handy, then shoot tree trunks instead.

It's a good reminder that the culture in San Francisco, or Evanston, or Ann Arbor, or Boston, or Philadelphia, or any of the other places Jim and I have lived, is NOT like the cultural norm in the whole country.

Anyway, we continue to have a great time. We are fortunate to have good weather, reliable bikes, enough to eat, and many great campsites.

For the next couple hundred miles we have towns every day or two, so we don't need to carry so much food, we get more hot meals, and hopefully more libraries.

Thanks to Rickson for posting the picture of the bear !!

All is well, we're having fun, and we'll post again when we can. - Amy & Jim

Saturday, September 1, 2007

photo: Black Bear

I have been back for over a week. I am just now looking over the few photos I took. This is one of my favorite. We were between Big Fork and Helena, just outside of Holland Lake. We were thinking about the 5.5 mile 2500 ft. climb ahead of us. It was mid morning. Jim had just ridden ahead out of sight. Amy and I looked over to the side of the road to see a black bear. It was growling at us. I think it was a mother. It was looking at a black bear cub in another tree. Amy wanted to stay to watch what was going to happen. I saw the mother start to climb down out of the tree. We could see that both mother and cub were very good tree climbers. I told Amy that I was going to leave right away. I am glad that Amy left the bears right away too.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pinedale, WY

Everything continues to go really well. The weather has been fantastic - nothing over 80 degrees, and no rain since our last report.

The bikes continue to run like clockwork. And our legs just keep going round and round.

We've had some fantastic campsites - last night we were up on top of the divide, at ~9500' elevation, with views of the sun setting over the Grand Teton range. Very lovely.

We've just come down out of the mountains, and now head out into the dry desert of southern Wyoming. We won't see mountains again until we reach Colorado. Pinedale is at mile 1174 of the route (but we've ridden 1285 to get here due to side trips).

After 25 or 26 days of riding (is today Thursday?), here is our summary of the scenery ... There have been only two sections of a day or two each that we didn't care for. The whole Whitefish/Flathead valley seemed over-subdivided, although the landscape was probably beautiful (we couldn't see much due to wildfire smoke), and Haydi and David's place was stunning. The second area we didn't care for was the Island Park area in Idaho, which has just been invaded by ATVs - motorbikes and little four-wheeled things. What a wretched form of personal entertainment - right up there with jet-skis -- noisy, dusty, and prone to carry people who leave bud cans and other trash scattered next to the roads and trails.

Other than those couple places, the scenery has been stellar and the riding has been fantastic.

We seem to have increased our pace to something like 50+ miles per day. Until we start getting bad headwinds or other bad weather, it seems like we'll continue to move ahead of our planned schedule.

Bird highlights:
Sandhill Cranes have been pretty common - lovely birds, but particularly wonderful because of their loud projecting voices that echo through the valleys.
Great Gray Owl, hunting in full daylight, just 30 or 40 feet away -- we watched it for half an hour.
Pair of Three-toed Woodpeckers scaling bark off two trees adjacent to our tent. Unlike most woodpeckers that stay in one tree for 5 or 10 minutes, these two seemed to work those two trees for days -- beneath the trees were huge quantities of flaked bark. Stayed all evening, and returned in the morning at first light. Very cool.

Not sure when we'll find another internet access point, until then -- happy trails!

Amy & Jim

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lima, MT

Wow, we've been travelling through small-town MT recently. The ranchette sprawl is long gone, and we're in very sparsely populated lands now. The last few "towns" have had no services (Grant used to have a cafe, but it didn't open this summer, and Polaris has a small mercantile but she's closed on Wednesdays.) We're at a nice old 1950's or 1960's motel in Lima, which offers free laundry and laptop -- everything a hiker or cyclist could use. Lima is on the Continental Divide Trail as well as the Great Divide Route, and she says she gets about 175 hikers/cyclists per year here.

19 riding days done. We're at mile 847 (of 2700) on the route, and we've ridden another 100 or so on side trips (visiting Elke's folks, Haydi, grocery stores, campsites, etc). We're tracking a little ahead of our planned pace of 40 miles per day - which we're happy about since we really didn't know how hard this would be when we started. Although there are a lot of forest fires burning in the general vicinity of our route, so far none of them have caused us to re-route around them. There have been a few days in which the smoke has obscurred the view, but currently the skies are smoke free.

We continue to be extremely lucky with weather. Highest temps have been 85 or so. Lowest temp was 24. A few afternoon thunderstorms, but only one included heavy rain.

The route has been FANTASTIC. Most of it so far has been on well surfaced packed dirt/gravel roads in the mountains - very easy riding if you subtract all the vertical feet we have had to gain. Most of the roads have had little to no traffic. There have been a few stretches of a few miles of rough surfaced road or single track - but we've done fine with that, which is saying a lot since we are not mountain bikers. I can imagine those stretches could be miserable with a heavy load - lifting the bike over the occasional log or pushing it up a steep hill.

The scenery (other than the ranchette sprawl in NW MT) has been great - although I'm starting to get really disgusted by the fact that cows graze EVERYTHING everywhere. Back in West Marin county many ranchers have fenced their creeks, so you get some healthy riparian zones. But out here, everything is grazed to the dirt.

Not sure where the next internet access will occur, but we'll post again when we can.

All is well, healthy, and in working order. We're having a great time. Amy & Jim

Monday, August 20, 2007

Butte, MT

Butte MT on Aug 20, all is well. We're at the bike shop here (Outdoorsman, great shop) and ready to head over to the ranger station to find out if the fires south of here will block our path.

Yesterday's ride included 4 miles of very rough partly unridable track. We were very happy we didn't have another 20 pounds of trailer and gear to push up those hills!

Things are quieter without Rickson, we've already run out of new things to talk about :)

Amy & Jim

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Helena, MT

We made it to Helena this morning, Saturday August 18. Rickson will fly home from Helena and Jim and I will continue south. Interesting notes so far...

About 13 days of riding. We are all healthy and well, as are the bikes. One flat tire (4 inch nail in the tread and out the sidewall, ouch) and no other mechanical issues. The bikes are smooth as butter.

We came out of the smoke yesterday for the first time since we hit the Flathead river valley back in Whitefish quite a few days back. It is nice to see blue sky again.

We had our first serious rain yesterday afternoon - about an hour of a real downpour with a bit of hail, and later in the evening another hour of light rain. We still have not had any hot weather, and we are extremely happy about that.

We've been in some beautiful forests and valleys, but cows and logging take their toll, and much of what we have ridden through since leaving Whitefish is pretty worn out. It's still a ton of fun, but it's not "wild" in any sense of the word.

We've generally been going for 1.5 or 2 days between towns where we get hot meals and another load of groceries.

The ACA maps and route info have been great so far, we haven't missed any turns or gotten lost.

Now, we're off to find a bike shop for Rickson to ship his bike home, a motel for the night (first showers since Haydi's about a week ago), and a place to wash a load of laundry. We'll spend the rest of the day here in Helena.

If our motel offers internet access, I'll try to check mail again later in the day. If not, I'm not sure when our next post will be - I haven't studied the maps beyond Helena to know what happens next.

Amy, Rickson, Jim

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bigfork, MT

We've now ridden ~400 miles in 8 days. All is still going well.

We are spending the night with our friends Haydi and David. David grew up near here, and is in the area for his 50th high school reunion - and we are staying at the wonderful cabin that his father built 60 years ago, right on the Flathead River less than a mile north of the Flathead Lake. It's wonderful, and full of birds. We're lucky that they happen to be in the area.

Of the 8 days of riding, roughly four have been in beautiful wild backcountry gravel roads - and the other four have been riding through the Elk River Valley in Canada and now the Flathead River Valley in MT. Montana seems to be taken over by ranchette sprawl - anything ouitside of public property is subdivided and developed and is not very attractive. But soon we will be back on public land.

Bikes are still serving us well, no mechanical problems and no flats.

Somebody asked about cooking and water treatment. We use Aqua Mira to treat water. And we don't cook. We get hot meals at cafes or deli counters at grocery stores when we can. And when we pack meals - crackers, cheese, carrots, red peppers, chips, deli lunch meat, tuna, apples, hummus, chocolate, cookies. For breakfast, muffins, fruit, yoghurt, cliff/power bars. For us, that tastes better than the Mac&Cheese type dinners, so there it is no sacriifce for us to not carry a stove, pot, and fuel. Some people like the aesthetics of a hot meal so for those folks a stove makes sense - but it isn't needed in terms of nutrition.

Wildlife report: one bear (probably black bear) on the road across the Whitefish divide, three moose, a marmot, many small rodents, and many birds (too numerous to list).

We continue to be lucky with weather. Temps from 29 to 85. It looks like we have hot weather coming later this week, which will be unfortunate.

When we crossed the pass into the Flathead Valley we hit the smoke from the intense fires burning in NW Montana. So far we have not had to change our route. We'll stop a the Ranger Station tomorrow to get current information on the next 100 miles. This is a very bad fire year here.

Our next post will probably be next Sunday (Aug 19) from Helena.

- Rickson, Amy, Jim

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Fernie, BC

We arrived yesterday in Fernie, after four great days of riding. Here are the highlights...

I hugely appreciate having such a good friend in Linda and her daughter-in-law Sharon, who drove all the way from Seattle to Banff to pick up our car. They are stars.

No mechanical problems of any sort, all the gear is working well.

The weather has been great. In July there were three weeks of really hot weather (40 degrees C) which would have been miserable. We'll get our share of hot weather, but at least we got to start the trip with 60-70 degree days instead of 85-100 degree days.

The first two days of riding was all in National and Provincial parks, with stellar scenery, no logging or mining operations, no paved roads, and few cars. The third day was on dirt/gravel roads in areas with coal mines and some logging. The fourth day was crummy riding on a primary highway with lots of traffic.

The only other GDR riders we have met are Chris and Jack, at the Safeway in Banff. They rode the US portion several years ago with the ACA group, and are now back alone to ride the Canadian portion, and then as far south as Whitefish. They both had bob trailers, and what looked like heavy loads.

Once we started riding we were particularly happy to have smaller loads. Riding uphill is hard enough with a big load, but the places we had to push the bikes uphill would have been tough with heavier loads.

We are now staying with Linda and Heiko, parents of our friend Elke. Elke's parents live in Fernie, at the ski resort, where Elke was raised. They have been kind and generous hosts, and we appreciate their hospitality.

Life is very good. Amy, Jim, Rickson

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

We leave home tomorrow

We are now fully packed, and will leave home in a few hours, drive to Banff, and start riding on Sunday.

I realize that people are reading this blog for different purposes. Some of you are reading every GDR trip report you can find because you plan to ride some day, and you want to glean all the info you can. Some of you are friends and relatives and don't even own bikes. Unfortunately, I can't tune the content to make it interesting for everybody - but I'll try to keep things brief so you don't have to wade through too much stuff.

Fires. One thing we may encounter that could cause us to change route, or otherwise cause grief, is wildfires.
As you can see from the map, there are many fires up in the area we'll be riding through. Climate change or not, the past few summers in the northern rockies have been particularly warm.
Heat. Chances are we'll have some very hot riding weather. Forecast high temperatures for the next week in western Montana are in the 90's. Yuck.
Gear. We're completely packed now. All the last little decisions about what to bring are done. We have our final list, and our final weight.
The two bikes, with everything that is attached, weigh 35.5 pounds each. (that includes racks, odometers, compass, bells, water bottle mounts, handlebar bag mounting bracket, and so on).
Everything else weighs a total of 50.1 pounds. So the total of everything is 120.1 pounds. That includes helmets, shoes, panniers, etc. That's 10-20 pounds more than we would have liked. As I mentioned in a previous post, we've never done this kind of thing, and we've been a little cautious about what we do and don't need. When the trip is done I'll debrief about the gear - so those of you reading to research your own trip will get an update in a few months.
Excitement vs Anxiety. Up until a couple weeks ago, I was 100% excited and not anxious about this trip. In the last couple weeks, as it gets closer, I've gotten more and more anxious about all the things that could go wrong. I'm so eager to get rolling so I can stop worrying about everything and start enjoying it.
Mechanical failures. I've read many trip reports reporting only very minor mechanical problems, and other trip reports that aborted due to failed gear. This is another thing that could cause us grief. One reason our bikes are so heavy is that we when making a trade-off between durable and light, we always chose durable. Riding up the hills will be harder, but hopefully we won't get stuck on the side of the road with a broken seat-post.

Stay healthy, and enjoy the rest of your summer. - Amy & Jim

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Our Plan

We (Jim Y and Amy L) will begin our ride on August 5 in Banff. Our friend Rickson will join us for the first two weeks, after that we will be on our own. We are planning to take about 10 weeks to complete the journey from Banff to Antelope Wells. That's an average 40 miles and 3000' gain per day. A racing pace on this route is 100 miles per day. The record pace is 160+ miles per day - YIKES. We are not trying to go fast. Our goal is to stay healthy, enjoy the riding, see parts of the country we haven't seen, and hopefully make it to Antelope Wells.

In many ways, this will be a new experience for us. We have taken many 4-5 week hikes or overseas birding trips together, but 10 weeks will be a new experience. We both have decades of back-country hiking experience, and we spend many nights per year in the tent, so that aspect of the trip will not be new. I (Amy) have taken four self-supported bike trips, but all when I was a teen-ager several decades ago. Up until a couple months ago, neither of us had done any mountain biking.

We will stop at occasional libraries to check email and post updates to the blog. Stay tuned.

Gear Notes

Bikes. All frame and component decisions are optimized for durability and field-serviceability. Each bike weighs ~32 pounds.
Frames: Steel hard-tails by Sycip brothers in Santa Rosa
Forks: Magura Odur coil spring fork
Drive Train: Rohloff internally geared hubs on Paragon slider drop-outs
Brakes: Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes
Rims: Mavic XM 719
Tires: Schwalbe Marathon XR
Pedals: platform pedals with Power Grips
Saddles: Amy - Brooks B17S, Jim - Avocet 02 Air 40

Gear. (32 pounds total, 16 each) We are fairly lightweight backpackers (base pack weight of ~10 pounds each), and we tried to apply those techniques to this bike trip. Our base load (not including food, water, the layer of shoes and clothing we will always wear while riding, or the racks and bags used to carry the load) will be about 32 pounds total (16 pounds each). This is significantly higher than our backpacking base load - partly because this is a new kind of trip and we are making some conservative decisions about what to bring. (Great info about lightweight gear can be found at Here's a summary of our load:
10 pounds of tent, pads, sleeping bag
2 pounds of paperwork (maps, instruction sheets, bird book)
12 pounds of clothing (not including the layer we always wear - shorts, shirt, helmet, gloves)
5 pounds of misc ditties (first aid kit, tool kit and spares, toiletries, sunglasses, etc)
3 pounds of binoculars and iPods

Racks and Sacks and Water Bags (14 pounds total, ouch).
Tubus Cargo racks
Ortlieb BackRoller Plus panniers
Ortlieb handlebar bag for Jim
Frame Pack for Amy (beautiful bag from
Black Diamond BBee & Magnum day packs, with 6 litre MSR DromLite hosers

TOTAL WEIGHT (divided between two people):
64 pounds of bikes
32 pounds of gear
14 pounds of racks and bags and bottles to carry that gear
6 pounds of base layer we always wear
270 pounds of flesh

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Intro to Great Divide Route (aka GDR)

Great Divide Route (GDR). This is a fully mapped 90% dirt road bicycle route from Banff, Alberta to the New Mexico / Mexico border at Antelope Wells. It passes through Alberta, MT, ID, WY, CO, and NM. The route was mapped for cyclists by Adventure Cycling about 8 years ago. 2700 miles, ~200,000 feet of elevation gain.

GDR vs Continental Divide Trail. The GDR is not the same as the CDT. The GDR is designed as a cycling route, it is 90% dirt road and 10% paved road. The CDT is a hiking path. Both paths are designed to stay as close to the continental divide as possible.

Life on the road. Most of the trip has access to groceries and/or cafes every day or two. There are a few stretches >100 miles with no access to food. There is also a 100+ mile stretch with no access to water. We will stay in USFS campgrounds, "rough" camping (i.e. just pitch a tent in a nice spot), and motels.

A few good links:
1) Adventure Cycling created the maps:
2) A data-rich trip report from a couple who rode the GDR a couple years ago, including good photos and detailed map data. They rode south to north, so look at their gallery backwards to see what Jim and I will see:
3) Here's another blog with a lot of good data and links. In particular, there's a link to a google-map version of the route.
4) For those of you with a competitive/racing instinct, the GDR race is the non-hyped alternative to the Tour de France. The 2007 GDR race is already over, so we won't see them.
5) A terrific video Jim and I just watched about life on the road. If you have a hankering to go out and walk or bike, take a look at this video. This is what our trip would be like if either of us had the extrovert gene: