In the end we had to push our heavily laden bikes on through this tough and sometimes frightening section, even starting to sink at one point deep into the earth, right where the road suddenly met a riverbed.
On this third day of cycling we're up before the morning sun shows itself. We had still yet to find the rhythm of setting up and breaking down everything every single day. The night is cold in the desert, but awaiting us ahead was the sparkling allure of Silver City. Eager to get out of this hostile, beautiful environment we packed our stuff up and off we went; another day of struggle through one of the driest years in the recorded history of New Mexico.
The gravel road had turned into a mixture of loose stones and sand, later becoming just a single sandy line, bending its way around bushes and boulders. In the end we had to push our heavily laden bikes on through this tough and sometimes frightening section, even starting to sink at one point deep into the earth, right where the road suddenly met a riverbed.
We had found ourselves with no food and no water; Silver City was not far ahead but our energy was slipping away with every stroke and every push. We finally hit a paved road some kilometers west of the city. Billboards from multinational corporations bordering the northern Chihuahuan Desert showed us that comfort and safety were very close and that made us feel better. We had never thought it could be possible. Invading the first gas station we encountered, we reloaded and rested a bit. After all, billboards and high calorie food can make you happy sometimes.
We were eager and pretty nervous to begin this adventurous expedition; we were in it just for the experience, for whatever it would take to cycle the route. With our newly purchased Koga bikes with Rohloff hubs, we stepped out of the plane in El Paso, Texas, USA. Taking a few days first to acclimatize to the heat, we then started off on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
The trail is regarded as one of the weightiest off-road tracks in the cycling world and it sounded so much fun when reading about it in books and web pages back home on the sofa. The change of landscapes, the off-road camping, the physical endurance, the lack of people, the consecutive hours of just watching nature pass by. It was all included in this beautiful ride, which follows the continental divide from Banff, Alberta, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, USA.
This mixture of loose sand and a hilly road sucked the last energy from our reserves. Nobody knows how, but we had finally made it to our destination of pies.
We decided to cycle the route the opposite way to most, as ending in the Canadian Rockies seemed much more tempting to us than getting heatstroke just before the Mexican border at the end of the trip. Anyhow, at this point in our lives, we're emerging at Antelope Wells, New Mexico, with more than 4,000 mainly off-road kilometers ahead of us.
The first days were purely about the heat, dust and beauty that is the Chihuahuan Desert. It felt great traveling there; at least in the beginning. We started at midday, thinking it would be just an easy ride on paved roads to the first settlement named Hachita. But it wasn’t the border patrol that made us stop and sit on the road, it was the sun. We were shivering in the heat from just two hours of that baking sun. Close to a heatstroke, we pedaled along, warned now for the rest of the whole ride. Our intake of fluids would determine if we could enjoy the Rockies in its North American length.
Pie Town was on the route. This supposed paradisical eatery halfway through New Mexico sounded like it contained huge amounts of juicy calories. We had our water lesson; we didn't want to make the same mistake with our calories. Pie Town turned out to be a great place to rest and reload. The pie was nothing exceptional in our eyes, but getting to that pie had asked a huge effort from our mental capabilities.
The shiny bikes were again sinking in the earth. The tubes disappeared into the eroded rocks. We pushed them almost horizontally with our faces looking downward to the dryness. Pushing bikes is a last option, made even less enjoyable when the path goes up and down. This mixture of loose sand and a hilly road sucked the last energy from our reserves. Nobody knows how, but we had finally made it to our destination of pies.
After New Mexico, the ride took us to higher ground. Colorado was heaven for us. There was water running everywhere, creeks, ponds, streams, and lakes; whatever you wanted! This together with the shade of the pines and aspens made cycling in Colorado a great relief for us. Of course, reaching 4,000m passes with loaded touring bikes was still not easy, but we enjoyed greatly wandering around in this colorful state. In between the crossings of the continental divide, we met great and interesting people inviting us in their homes for a night. It was a true surprise for us to encounter so many friendly Americans in the backcountry.
It was one of the highlights of traveling border to border through the States. After the heat of New Mexico and the high passes of Colorado, we thought we were trained enough by then for the rest of the Divide Route. Nothing was truer. Cycling along the Tetons in the Grand Teton National Park and touching the southern border of the Yellowstone National Park gave us a bit more paved road, but also a huge amount of tourists! Leaving Yellowstone at our backs, we had a great and silent time crossing the so-called big skies of Montana.
Michiel and Soraya were honored to have experienced the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. They used to live in the Netherlands but are now currently traveling all over and have neither a home nor house. From time to time they drop some lines and photos on their blog bikingcycles.wordpress.com.
If you're interested in cycling this tough and beautiful ride, visit the website of the Adventure Cycling Association (www.adventurecycling.org). They support cyclists with great help, maps, routes and more. It's a good place to start gathering information about many cycling trips in the States.
Pedaling was still demanding, but we were in a routine schedule. Getting up early, a quick fire accompanied by a quick breakfast, and off we went. Another day of being on the saddle before the sun got too hot. The biggest cities we met on the entire trail were Butte and Helena, both in Montana. Nothing special to us, but they made for a nice rest day. The last stretch on US territory was alongside Glacier National Park. Spectacular!
Only one single other cycling soul was there as well. The area was covered with old wildfires. We felt liked we were passing through a big forest graveyard before the border crossing with Canada. The Canadian Rockies were just spectacular to us and we were very happy to have reversed the Divide Route with its phenomenal panoramas. We felt it was a great reward to let it end like this.
This was especially so with the part after climbing Elk Pass, British Columbia to Canmore, Alberta was simply magnificent, with its stunning backcountry scenery! The trail meandered through the valleys and revealed the awesome beauty of the Rockies. Arriving in Banff, Alberta, was relieving and sad all at the same time. It was the end of the trail but we were happy to have made it: 4,718 kilometers in 70 cycling days.
We had conquered butt pains, sunburns and heatstroke, wash boarded gravel roads, sandy stretches, thunderstorms with and without lighting, and we were still traveling together! We were finally there, sad that it ended. We'll mesmerize forever the wide open spaces and the remoteness of many places on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. The trail became so much a part of us that we felt as if it was ours.
Often at the end of the day, you think: “This is it; this was the last day I'm riding my bike in this mental dryness. I'm really done with it.”
However, the human mind forgets. You fall asleep, you wake up and you just start cycling again. You don't know why, but you just go. And again, at the end of that next day you think the same: 'I'm insane to do this'. It's terrible, this human nature. At one point you're in Banff, Alberta with muscled legs and a flat belly. Three months of letting nature pass by in a jaw-dropping terrain. Three months of letting the great skies of the Rockies through your eyes. You keep riding into the wild and beyond. It’s so great to feel so little. For all those days, it was our struggle to get through 'our' Divide. Now, it puts a big smile upon our faces.
Don't miss out. Sign up to receive free monthly email updates from Sidetracked here.