We arrived about noon Wednesday, July 22, in the town of Banff, Alberta, from El Paso, Texas, after…. 50 days, 2750 (official) trail miles, 2881 miles by my odometer (from El Paso, TX), some 190,000 feet of climbing (7 x Mt Everest?!), 14 jars of peanut butter, 32 nights camping, 12 nights with “Warmshower” hosts or other friends, six nights in motels, the same 4 tires we had in El Paso still on our bikes, and…. a deep sense of satisfaction.
We started the trip somewhat intimidated by the “Great Divide Mountain Bike Route”, and have finished it with a sense of awe of the landscape we’ve come through and the warmth of people along the way. And appreciation for the many who have supported our fundraising for Nepal earthquake relief and rebuilding through GlobalGiving.
We’ve been off our bikes for a full day now in Banff, being lazy, eating well, and reflecting on the trip. Here are some reflections and our favorite pictures:
Yesterday, on arriving we did the obligatory bikes-overhead-joyful-pump, at the trail end at the Banff Springs Hotel. The hotel guest services woman who took the picture was so excited to hear about our trip, and tried to score us a complimentary drink in the main bar (no luck 😉 )
We left El Paso, June 3, at the Mexican border, a town with great Mexican food and an awesome bike shop. We were clean, eager to get going, and not a little apprehensive about what lay ahead. 2,750 freaking miles of dirt/gravel, mountains and wilderness. We’d done long ~road~ bike touring, a lot of mountain bike riding in WV, and just a little bit of mountain bike touring – but nothing at this scale. About 11am we headed out, after getting bikes and teeth and other gear fixed and packed up, and passed out of El Paso quickly into New Mexico. Day 1!
We were pleasantly surprised by our two weeks of riding north through New Mexico. Wide open and hot desert – yes – but also surprising alpine oases with trees, grasses, bursting wildflowers, and babbling mountain brooks. Red rock canyons with innumerable caves and hideouts for desperadoes. 1,000 year old Chaco settlement with amazing architecture and mysteries not yet unraveled. Beautiful landscapes, ramshackle cottages, and scruffy, resourceful and friendly people. We rode for three days through the daunting Gila National Forest, getting through the rough roads, lack of water, and first week apprehensions. Chris saw our first big wildlife – a black bear, and a dozen elk who thundered across the road 100 yards in front of him. At the famous Toaster House in Pie Town we met Ben Schoenberg, a NM native, who joined us for about two weeks of riding, providing good company, rich information about the state and its people, and introducing us to his wonderful, adventurous family. We also had warm hospitality from Patty and Eliot in Lac Cruces and the Frisch’s in Silver City! An amazing place, New Mexico.
Huge breakfast and warm send off from Our Lord of Mercy in Hatch, after we surprised Father Alejandro the night before. The guy on the far right asked Alex, in Spanish “What will you eat along the way to keep up your strength?” Alex replied “Horchata and gorditas!”
We expected Colorado to be refreshing, gorgeous, and challenging – and it was all that and more. We drank in the green hills, acres of wildflowers, streams and lush flooded grasslands, and cool towns like Del Norte, Salida, Fairplay, and others. We also felt like we’d finally hit the Rockies. As in, run headlong into them. We did most of the largest and highest climbs on the trip in Colorado — it seemed like we did a 9,000 – 10,000′ pass every day or two, sometimes with a “low” 8,000 footer thrown in as a warm up. The rough road surfaces, the grades (often stretches 10% +), and the altitude add up to a challenge for anyone not in their 20s 😉 There were climbs that tested our hearts and lungs, and our character – like racing ahead of a thunder/hail storm to get through sticky mud and over 11,000′ Indiana Pass before dark, and a soul-searching three-hour climb out of the Colorado River Valley on a very warm day leaving Radium. But we kept at it and hit our stride, making 40-50 miles on our toughest climbing days, and 70 miles on easier ones. Gorgeous ride. Only dandelions – but – wow. Abel, a Peruvian shepherd, watching a flock of sheep at 9,000′ all summer.
We left the alpine mountains and wildflowers of Colorado one morning, and – wham – we were in Wyoming and a lot changed. Wide open rolling scrub hills, pronghorn antelope chasing across the road in front of us, a few herds of wild horses that eyed us carefully, scattered oil wells and associated truck traffic that raised clouds of dust. We had some bike problems and had the Rogers family and Nolde family stop and pick us up and help us out on two successive days (when’s the last time you stopped for a hitchhiker, and went out of your way to help them?) We got out of the daunting “Great Divide Basin” before we baked, and made it to the dramatic Tetons Park, and then Yellowstone. First time visitors, both of us, amazed and delighted by those wondrous parks. Wyoming impresses us as wild, wide open, and with tough and friendly people.
Riding the popcorn gravel.
Being together all day every day, we inevitably had times when we irritated each other. Maybe even more than when we rode together a similar two months in 2013? The reasons are hard to remember now, just a day after the end of the trip. Might have had something to do with the long riding each day, with legs tired, seats aching, arms numb, bodies sweaty and dusty. Maybe too much Spam? But we both knew it when we were in it. And we generally knew to act our better selves, and so took on the cooking when the other was beat, or packed up the tent when the other was dragging, or carried the extra gear when a bike had trouble. And we fell into a sweet nightly tradition of reading out loud a chapter from Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small – the travails of the country vet charming us each day after riding the Rockies – something resonating with us in his growing appreciation for the countryside in which he worked and the wonderful people who lived there.
Future Hamburgers of America, courtesy of the US Forest Service and the BLM. We don’t have a problem with that. We ate a lot of burgers on this trip – excellent ones, pretty consistently.
Sometimes when you stop a car to ask for water, you get lucky. Here in the blistering hot and far-from-anywhere middle of Wyoming. A little Fiji water. What a world.
No matter how far off the grid we were – we were able to send location updates *and* send and receive texts/emails to our family at home via two-way GPS communication, using CerberLink. Thanks to Chuck and friends at Alexandria’s own BriarTek.
Into Montana, big sky country, dramatic landscapes, a place that attracts people – and holds onto a few of them. And watch out for bears – the grizzly variety – of which we had little experience from Wisconsin or Virginia to drawn upon.
After New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and a touch of Idaho, it felt like we earned, or were ready for, Montana. Sort of a treat, and next level of challenge on our trip! The landscape is less severe than Colorado, but wild — long distances between towns, thick forests, and cold and rainy weather. The few residents of the state charmed us – from friendly Seeley Lake, to almost hip Helena, to small and welcoming Eureka (thanks Greg and Michelle!).
We also made a detour to Glacier National Park, which thrilled us. A day of hiking in those mountains in our Tevas also left our calves sore for a week.
We met a pair of Dutch cyclists – Rene and Victor – doing the same Great Divide Route as us. We’re amazed at anyone doing this trip – but especially a pair from a very flat country (which we love dearly!). They were making it through the Rockies without trouble – and we ended up cycling with them / camping / eating with them for about four days. We also taught them how to play horseshoes. We look forward to biking around Amersfoort with them.
The high mountain clouds and cool weather reminded me of hiking during the monsoon in higher elevation areas of Nepal. And then soon after this picture, Alex nearly bumped into a yearling grizzly. They do not have those in Nepal. At mile 2,500, we crossed into Canada, and it got even wilder, colder, more remote than northern Montana. It felt like a capstone to the trip – a final 250 miles – not the highest or hottest – but challenging miles, long stretches between “services”, wildlife (and bears) aplenty, and the growing and spectacular Canadian Rockies. And the realization that the trip was coming to a close – we would, in fact, make it the whole way!
(We saw blue Bud Light cans along the roadside in every state.)
We arrived in Banff on day 50, Wednesday July 22. On the last few days of threading our way through dramatic spiky mountains, we both started to put into perspective the past 40-something days – and that we do not have another state ahead, another pass to tackle, another basin to cross, another ACA map to read (backwards!) We’ll stop riding and return home – back to family and friends, soft beds, meals with vegetables, and then back to work and the end of summer break. And that this crazy and daunting adventure we set out on – we’d thrown ourselves into the middle of it, and come out smiling. And with firsthand memories of amazing places we’d long heard about, and warm experiences in places we’d never heard about. We also can now picture the smiles of the people we’ve met who live in these places – Eureka, Fairplay, Wise River, Las Cruces, Whitefish, Abiquiu, Lander, PieTown, SilverCity, Sparwood, Rawlins, Hatch, and many others.
We realize how fortunate we are to have the time and the means to take such a 50-day trip, away from family, work, and other obligations. Quite a blessing.
On completing this trip we’re also deeply appreciative of the warm wishes, encouragement, and prayers from so many people at home and along the route. And appreciative of the support for Nepal earthquake relief and rebuilding — the campaign we have focused this trip upon. The donations through GlobalGiving are going to well established, and effective organizations who have successful records in Nepal. Nepal is off the front pages of US papers, but the rebuilding of homes. schools, roads, water systems, and also families, will take a long time. (And you can still contribute if you’d like!) Thank you!
“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” – H. G. Wells
Albert Einstein — ‘Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.’
(Quotes grabbed from Glacier Cyclery, Whitefish, MT.)