The Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride
By Knute Hankins
My local riding partner, Enzo Fatigati, and I rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride (GDMBR) during the summer of 2021. This historic ride goes from Jasper, Canada to the Mexican border with most of the ride in the wilderness with little road traffic.
We started at the Canadian border in Roosville, Montana on July 10, 2021, rode through the states of Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado crossing the Great Divide 31 times, and ended 58 days later in Antelope Wells, New Mexico at the Mexican border.
We rode 2,500 miles with over 180,000 feet of climb riding 80% gravel, 5% single track, and 15% paved roads. Riding altitudes varied from 4,000 to 11,000 feet, and we climbed between 2,000 and 6,000 feet daily.
The terrain in each state was varied with incredible forests and open plains. Most of the time we were traveling on remote gravel roads riding through less than 7 cities of over 1,000 people during the two months. We replenished our food as we went along sometimes carrying as much as 4 days of supplies due to the lack of towns and stores on sections of the route.
We stayed in buildings about 30% of the time and camped otherwise. Many of these sites were remote and were an incredible way to embrace the outdoors and all its beauty.
The first month was spent riding through Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. It helped us appreciate the ruggedness and “Old West” feel of the region. Colorado was a very diverse state with the ranches to the north and south, and the commercial feel of the central section. We climbed multiple 10,000-foot summits during this section of the ride.
Finally, we rode the challenging terrain of New Mexico with the desert feel of the open mesas while still having challenging climbs and incredible forests.
We made the decision in December, 2020 to challenge the GDMBR. Enzo had done some mountain bike racing in the past while I had only been a road/triathlon bike rider. Neither of us had done any major bike expeditions.
Although we ended with different equipment and bikes, we carried about 70 pounds of gear, bike, and food per person.
As we are both in our 60’s, we focused on gradually increasing our distances to build our altitude and climbing riding legs while avoiding injury. We grew to love riding the gravel and single-track portions of the ride.
We learned quickly gravel means a lot of different types of unimproved roads from smooth roads to big rocks throughout the trail. Almost every day had at least one tough climb followed by a breathtaking downhill.
By the final month of the ride, we would have 50-mile days and 80-mile days as the terrain and weather dictated. We accepted what we couldn’t change and enjoyed each day’s ride, no matter the terrain or weather. It was a great state of mind allowing us to enjoy every moment.
The people we encountered were as incredible as the ride itself. Almost daily we would meet strangers on the road or at the campsites who would offer water and food (fresh fruit was awesome).
One person drove me to a hotel when I got ill on the trail and another individual drove me 40 miles back over a mountain to a store where I had left my wallet. These are just a couple examples of numerous times people helped us along the way.
Rounding this all out were bike shops that worked us in to avoid a delay in our journey and numerous strangers through an App called WarmShowers and friends who provided six days of lodging and great company.
We also met numerous incredible riders traveling alone and with small groups. We saw married couples on tandems and families on individual bikes. Generally, riders’ ages ranged from mid to late 20’s to the 50’s.
The younger ones seemed to mainly be taking a college or first job break. Older riders were adventuring and/or finishing a bucket list item.
These riders reminded us that mental attitude and perseverance were key to completing this ride.
Finally, our families were key to this journey. My wife, Anne, drove our gear to Montana and then met us again in New Mexico. Enzo’s wife, Kathy, helped us with hotel and bike shop coordination at some of the towns and daily kept friends informed on Facebook of our adventure. We also had a Garmin InReach which let our families see our progress in real time and kept us connected with texting when the cell phones were offline.
This ride and the people we met left us profoundly humble and inspired. We are available to share much more detail if any reader is interested in doing this incredible ride.
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride