Great Divide Route Trip Summary & Epilogue

Riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route was an amazing experience, and we hope that sharing our journey here will inspire, inform and prepare others to embark on a similar adventure!

Feel free to reach out to us with any questions about the route. We plan to add more info to this website about our bikes & gear, general planning advice, FAQs, and online resources about the route in the near future.

Dates: August 9 to September 19, 2017

Trip Length: 37 riding days, 5 rest days

Total Distance: 2,725 miles (4,385 km)

Average Daily Distance: 73.6 miles/day (118.4 km/day)

Climbing: 161,347′ (49,178m)

Average Daily Climbing: 4,360′ (1,329m)

Route Geography: Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, New Mexico (Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico)

Trip Updates:


British Columbia





New Mexico


A Big Push to Antelope Wells

FINAL Day 37: Silver City to Antelope Wells, 123.7 miles, 2,842 feet

Windmill at dawn

I started riding from Silver City at 4:40am, with 4L of water and all 4 lights going. The first 18 miles on the paved road went fast, with a wide shoulder and little traffic. Morning’s first light started to emerge after I turned onto a dirt/sand road through a yucca desert, watching the sun bending around the horizon to peek through the mountains in the distance to the north.

The sandy road. The lights helped me see where the sand was most of the time.
Sunrise in the yucca desert.

The road was a little sandy at the beginning, but transitioned into hard packed dirt which allowed me to move quickly on a long gradual descent to I10 following a divide crossing. I texted Anna on my progress, hoping to calculate a time to connect at the border crossing without too much waiting for her and the kids.

The distances ahead. Not really anything between them.

I was relieved to reach the highway around 8am, with much distance behind me and smooth surfaces only ahead. The route continued along the frontage road before turning south toward Hachita and the end of the route (65 miles left – couldn’t tell whether that felt like a lot or a little!).

Settling into the landscape.

I soon passed the final Continental Divide crossing, only known by the sign along the road. On the way south to Hachita, the wind started to pick up from the west. I took a break a nice little shop in Hachita, 45 miles now to go.

The final (of 32 total), unimpressive Continental Divide crossing.

From this point, the sidewinds became very strong and the riding monotonous and mentally draining. The Big Hatchet State Game Refugee loomed ahead on the left, something to look at and show some sort of reference to progress. Occasionally border control trucks would fly past me, but not much else.

More of the same, this time with stronger side winds.

I set goals for each 10 mile segment and pushed on as the winds became stronger and stronger.  With 15 miles to go, Anna passed with the car and offered a cold gatorade, and I decided to lighten my bike and ditch my frame bag, helping a bit with the sidewinds for the final push. Thankfully the road took a slight bend to the east for the last few miles, giving me a boost until I could see the border two miles away! Finally, arrival!

The first sign (not on the actual border).

At 123 miles, it was the longest day of the trip and the earliest start and arrival time for a ride fo that length. Thankfully the first half went fast, and I managed to average around 14mph for the day. I think the wind kept me around 10-11mph for the last 45 miles.

The actual border sign. We were told by the border officials to not accidentally enter Mexico, and informally allowed to take the car into no-man’s land for the photo. Silas proudly delivers a Colorado coffee mug gift to celebrate my finish.

Antelope Wells isn’t really more than a border crossing, and a very relaxed one in that. Some of the border staff came out and offered me and Silas an ice cream cone and a bottle of water, and we posed for photos near the US/Mexico sign, hard to believe the route was done and it was time to go home. We were all excited to have arrived, sad to think of the trip coming to an end, but looking forward to getting back to Virginia.

We packed up the car, changed and headed east to El Paso (via Columbus, an alternate ending due east of Hachita). At one point in the day I considered switching to end there with a huge tailwind, but was happy to head farther south to the traditional route end. For people without a vehicle to pick them up, it’s basically the option of paying for an expensive shuttle from the border. Not an ideal place to end in that regard, but Antelope Wells sure does feel like the end of the road. It did cross my mind that there’s the option of only another 55 miles to Janos, Mexico…

Once we got closer to the border, T-Mobile jumped onto a Mexican network after hours of radio silence on the US side. Our experience with T-Mobile is that it often roams better than it has its own service in some areas, thankful for unlimited data/calls/text in Canada and Mexico which were included in our plan.

430am Start and Rugged Climbing

Day 36: Beaverhead to Silver City, 84.1 miles, 7,691 feet

It ended up dropping down to freezing temperatures overnight, and with restless sleep in my 2.5 season Rab quilt, I decided to get up at 3am to make coffee and oatmeal, and get on with it. I hit the road in the dark at 4:30am with lights, 6L of water, and plenty of time to hopefully arrive early and gear up for tomorrow’s final day.

It was a very challenging day, a combination of little sleep, a loaded bike with heavy water, rough surfaces, and lots of climbing. I was glad to have started early. I hadn’t ridden much in the dark before, and was a surreal experience to watch the landscape emerge from night to day. I used a bike headlight mounted on my handlebars and headlamp to sea farther ahead on descents and into the turns. I loved the quiet of the night, the shining moon, and the lack of awareness from limited visibility ahead which dulled the challenge of grinding up rough, steep grades and making slow progress.

Sunrise emerging on the route.

I managed to get 20 miles in before sunrise on a high ridge, much of it climbing. My front light lasted 1 hour, 45 minutes on the highest setting (I should have turned it down) and the headlamp carried me through with dawn’s light assisting. In daylight, I could see the mountains rolling before me, and I paused for a moment before setting out to complete the rest of the dirt road section of the route up and over a few steep canyons.

All my layers and lights. And still waking up 3 hours into the ride…

The dirt road climbing behind me, I pedaled the last few miles riding directly along the divide to join highway 35, and I was glad to see the pavement which would take me all the way into Silver City around 50 miles into the day. I decided against the shorter alternate route along the CDT, assuming it would take longer and I was hoping to get in earlier and maybe grab a sandwich at a shop along the road.

Views in Gila National Forest. The route goes up and over a few of these ridges. Reminded me more of east coast riding than west.
A sad reminder to be careful on the roads. At the bottom of the climb to Pinos Altos.

Following the highway presented its own dramatic landscapes, a beautiful lake, cliff dwellings, with some ups and downs as well as headwinds at some places. Unfortunately the shop I was looking for was closed (maybe for good), and I ate a hearty lunch headed up the final (steep and long!) climb to Pinos Altos. My body was glad to be on pavement, and my mind rallied by one car that I kept passing me (it stopped at all the lookouts) with a passenger who sticking his torso out the window and shouting encouragements to me each time.  I reached the top with most of my energy spent, coasting down to Silver City.

Views from the climb.

I arrived in Silver City around 2:30pm where Anna and the kids had a comfortable hotel (Copper Manor Hotel) and were enjoying the city. Exhausted, I tried to wrap my head around one final day on the Great Divide Route, and the distance and energy it would take to finish it all tomorrow.

We cooked a huge dinner (and a breakfast to pack) in the town park and I spent the evening getting the bike ready and charging lights, the car packed and ready to pick me up at Antelope Wells, and transition into the journey home. I tried to get to bed early to start again at a similar time, with high winds and warm temperatures in the forecast starting early afternoon.

New Mexico’s Diversity

Day 35: Pie Town to Beaverhead Work Camp, 97.7 miles, 3,746 feet

Riding fully loaded with overnight gear, two days of food and 8L of water, I left earlier at 7am with the family still asleep at the Toaster House, hoping to use more daylight to cover the nearly 100 miles in store for today’s route.

I eased out onto rolling dirt roads through ranch land and pine forests, finishing most of the climbing before the temperatures and wind picked up mid-morning. I barely noticed two minor Continental Divide crossings, followed by a more sustained climb up to the day’s high point and divide crossing (#24) in the Glia National Forest.

Windmills pumping water for cattle – hit or miss option for cyclists needing to refill water.

After descending the moderate pass and crossing New Mexico State Highway 12, I emerged onto flat grazing land, and the wind started to pick up while the environment changed dramatically to big sky landscapes with hundreds of large grasshoppers, yellow flowers and cattle and windmills in the distance. I managed to find a suitable lunch spot to take a break from the wind at a cattle guard with a cement ledge to sit on, watching a variety of hunting pickup trucks and campers passing by.

Lunch break – the only place for some distance with something to lean my bike against and sit on

Leaving the flats again, I climbed back up into the forests via the La Jolla Canyon (slight wind break!) for another divide crossing through pine forests, and then back down into the O-Bar-O Canyon where I met a herd of antelope running across the grasslands.

Thankfully, the day’s long distance passed through environments that were constantly changing, with pleasant riding and cool temperatures which helped the miles fly by.

Getting close to the Beaverhead Work Center.

I arrived feeling good at the USFS Beaverhead Work Center late in the afternoon, glad to fill up on water (I had drank 6L of my 8L), find a pit toilet, and options for informal camping nearby. As it was late in the season and a weekend, the place was mostly abandoned except for two staff from California, who were incredibly laid back and told me I was welcome to camp out anywhere.

I cooked all the food I had brought for dinner at I nearby bench, and laid out my groundsheet, pad and sleeping bag under the info board. I figured it wouldn’t be that cold and didn’t feel like rigging the fly tarp I had brought along in case of rain. I feel asleep to the sounds of elk bugles and a sky full of bright stars.

My campsite for the night. Great view of the water pump and pit toilet. Staff said no need to hang food for bears.

Taking it easier

Day 34: Grants to Pie Town (Malpais Detour), 72.8 miles, 2,942 feet

Once again prompted with two options, I decided once again to play it safe at stick with the shorter road “Malpais” option for the first half (saving 17 miles overall), mostly to give my body a break and because it looked quite scenic and interesting. The last push from Pie Town to Antelope Wells would be difficult, and I needed a little rest to stay on schedule to finish by the 19th.

German Great Divide rider’s recumbent. Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires.

It seemed that most other cyclists had the same idea, as I encountered six people riding the divide who had made the same choice, including John from York, PA (near where I grew up) as well as persons from the UK, Germany and the US, one riding recumbent the full route. It was nice to see other riders after seeing none for almost 200 miles, passing the time a little faster and sharing stories. John mentioned that we should stay in the “Toaster House” in Pie Town. I wasn’t sure what that meant at the time, but texted Anna with the info before I lost phone coverage.

Back on the dirt after 150 miles of pavement.

I pushed on for most of the day solo, on rolling hills over dirt roads that were pretty ridable with sand in some places. The wind was still there at 10-15mph, but the route was more sheltered overall and easier in comparison to the long haul yesterday.

Rolling dirt roads to Pie Town

The “Toaster House” is a residence that has been donated for use of CDT hikers and Great Divide riders, managed by volunteers locally. It’s donation based with maybe a dozen beds and mattresses, a kitchen, washing machine and shower! Great place, reminding us of many donativo albergues on Spain’s Camino de Santiago. John showed up later after the famous “Pie” cafes had all closed, so we all cooked and ate dinner together. Two other families of “rock climbers” (or so they said) came into the house late into the evening, commandeering much of the space. Eventually we got the kids to sleep.

Toaster House porch

I decided to pack in for the next two days (180 miles) in order to save Anna about four hours driving to try and meet me at the Beaverhead USFS work station 100 miles in, where there was a reliable water source. I spent most of the evening repacking gear and food and making sure i had everything to complete the long segment loaded and solo. We planned to meet in Silver City and get a hotel after two days, the last larger town before the 124 miles to the Mexican Border (which I was hoping to do in one day).

The Long, Windy Way Around

Day 33: Cuba to Grants, 118 miles, 4,229 feet

Continuing my ambitious itinerary to make it to Grants today, I had two options:

  1. Take the main, unpaved route for 107 miles to the USFS Coal Mine Campground where I could meet Anna and the kids in the car. This route was completely unpaved and had the potential to be impassable in the mud from last night’s heavy rainstorm, making it difficult to complete in one day.
  2. Take the “Chaco Detour” entirely on the paved road, a distance of 119 miles to Grant (ACA maps were incorrect saying 112), and getting a little farther towards Antelope Wells.

After much internal deliberation, I decided with the road option to reduce the risk of not making it out in time with the mud, and hopefully being a little easier on my body. With memories of the bike-arresting mud in the mountains north in New Mexico, I felt the road option would present fewer variables.

Unfortunately, the variable I hadn’t considered was the wind, which presented itself strongly soon into the ride, with 15-20 hour head and side winds for around 100 miles of the 118 mile day. Privileged to have spent so much time on dirt roads on the GDMBR, I had also forgot how boring road riding is in comparison, making the wind/monotony challenge of the day something that took all of mental energy.

Most of the Chaco Alternate looks like this.

I headed west from Cuba, following pleasant but fairly nondescript landscape most of the way. The day presented one option for purchasing food at a Navajo convenience store/laundromat at ACA mile 46 near Pueblo Pintado (this is not really a town). I microwaved some prepackaged hamburgers to supplement my packed PB&J sandwiches, ate some junk food for variety and pressed on, still with significant distance before sunset.

“Grants 16” is much more welcome than “Grants 122”

The rest of the day was mentally and physically draining, and a constant conversation with myself as to whether I would make it in before dark. Around mile 85 the landscape became more interesting and hilly with rock formations, mountains and cliffs nearby. I welcomed the hills as a break from the monotony and windy. Around 100 miles in, there was a section that heading slightly SSE, also a minor but welcome break from the wind. When I hit Milan on Rt. 66, it was smooth sailing east to just before Grants, where we met at the KOA, just south of Interstate 40.

The Grants KOA is a wonderful place, offering cookies at check-in, fast wifi, and the best shower of the trip. Exhausted, I sat down in the shower at full heat, letting it relax me to the point where I lost track of time and think I almost passed out. Then on to dinner and rehydrating, thankful to be done the longest distance of the trip (so far), and still wondering if that mud would have been worse than the wind (or if I would have been fighting both of them together). I was sad to have missed the unpaved section, but mostly just thankful that I was in Grants.

Just when you think you’ve arrived, a super long train comes and blocks the road in from of you.

Over dinner, our son Silas threw the InReach device onto the picnic table, prompting a message at boot up, “Your device has been damaged. You will not be able to send messages.” The InReach’s tracking and messaging functions became inoperable at this point, prompting friends and family to wonder if we were alright as we were also out of mobile phone coverage over the remainder of the trip. InReach users (which there are many on the GDMBR), be sure to protect your device well, either in a case or with extra care. I had expected this critical piece of safety equipment to be more robust honestly. Upon returning home, I found out Garmin will replace it with a refurbished device for $150 over a two week process. Thankfully I didn’t have any emergencies requiring it for the remainder of the trip.

Threat to electronics: moody toddler wanting attention.

*Note that the ACA distance from Cuba to Grants is incorrect. It should be 122 miles to the center of Grants, not 112. We stopped a few miles early at the KOA.

Climbing Sand, Rock and Lava

Day 32: Abiquiu to Cuba, 79.1 miles, 7,871 feet

One of the ‘easier’ rocky sections. Unfortunately no images of the worst. Was most of what I could do to focus on riding.

It’s always an adjustment to get going again after a day off the bike, but this segment ended up being one of the most challenging of the trip. Starting the day solo was also a new reality, trying to process any other planning and contingency considerations and wondering if I’d see any other cyclists along the way.

After the hour drive from Santa Fe to Abiquiu, I got going a little later than I had hoped around 9am, and started the climb up from the paved road. The first section was a gradual climb, nothing to different from what we had already encountered, but as it got going, the surface deteriorated into a combination of sand, rock slabs, large loose rocks, and chunks of rough lava. Soon into the climb, I met the face of Ross from Australia, who we had seen few days back in Colorado and who had a tire issue that required a bike shop off route to fix. We rode and talked together for a little while before I pushed ahead, worried that I wouldn’t make it to Cuba by sunset unless I went a bit faster.

After pushing hard and trying to maintain focus on my track on the ground to get to the top, I realized that after 28 miles I had climbed about 4800’, probably the longest sustained climb fo the trip and with one of the worst combinations of trail surface. Thankfully after this, the route flattened up a bit more and I was able to make better time, adding another 3,000′ over the next 50 miles. The latter half of the route flowed better as a dirt road rollercoaster on a better surface, which kept my tired mind and body more distractedly engaged.

I met two more cyclists Bill & Chris towards the end, who both seemed exhausted from the route, and very ready to be in Cuba, even it if was at midnight. Thunderstorms were in the forecast, and I could see the sky darkening as the afternoon progressed. With relief, I finally reached the paved road and downhill to Cuba and watched the lightning and thunder roll out in the distance, striking left and right across the desert valley floor. One mile from reaching the hotel in Cuba and almost at sunset, it caught me in a torrential downpour with high winds. I was soaked and shot from a really challenging day.

Matt’s Last Day

Day 31: Hopewell Lake Campground to Abiquiu (55.5 miles, 2,566ft)

Worried that we might encounter awful muddy surfaces again due to the night’s rain, we got up extra early, rudimentarily serviced our bikes, and got on the road by 7:30am. We climbed a few hundred feet to start the day, but from there we traveled mostly downhill for the first 20 miles to a paved road at Cañon Plaza—a small collection of houses in various states of repair. Another five miles of paved descent brought us to Vallecito—another tiny town—and from there we began a relatively mild 800ft climb on dirt forest roads to our only pass of the day.

Thankful for the mild terrain (and the excellent, improved gravel road surface) we made it to the top in no time. We had a small lunch and enjoyed the ensuing descent down to El Rito, where we joined another paved road. From El Rito, we followed the paved road the next 16 miles to Abiquiu, our day’s end point.

Still some mud (now cement) in there.

We had planned for our friend Mark—a Santa Fe resident—to come help us shuttle our bikes and ourselves to his family’s place in Santa Fe, where we’d have a rest day. As we were waiting at a gas station, however, we met a young couple and their daughter, fresh off a backpacking trip in Colorado, who offered to help us drive our things to Santa Fe. Thankful for this generous offer—apparently you don’t look dangerous when traveling with 2.5 year and 7-month olds—we packed up some bags and took off for Santa Fe.

This was a bittersweet drive for me (Matt)—I’d be ending my trip in Santa Fe and traveling for Chicago, while David would be continuing for the final 550 miles with Anna, Silas, and Eleanor. Happy for the rest, but sad to see the trip end, I had a fun day with everyone in Santa Fe (boxing up and shipping my bike in the process), before catching a Chicago-bound train (via Lamy, New Mexico) the following day.  

A Muddy, Mucky Day

Day 30: Elk Creek Campground to Hopewell Lake Campground (64 miles)

We woke up a bit later than usual—on account of the shade trees and rushing stream at the campground (and, perhaps, the previous day’s climbing)—but still got off to a reasonable 9:00am start. While we weren’t going to have any single climbs as long as the climb to Indiana Pass, we knew we had a relatively hard day with considerable up and down ahead of us. The ACA maps and GDMBR guidebook also made it sound like the road quality would be less than stellar.

The day began under sun and a bright, clear sky with a 1,500ft climb on a paved road to La Manga Pass, an excellent warm up to start the day.

On the other side of the pass, we soon turned of the paved road onto a dirt road, crossed the Cumbres and Toltec light gauge railroad—a 64-mile high-altitude light gauge tourist rail that runs, largely, along the Colorado/New Mexico border—and entered New Mexico (and the Carson National Forest).

Narrow-gauge railway along CO/NM border.
Entering Carson National Forest in New Mexico

The road was rockier than many of the dirt roads we’d ridden in Colorado, and as we slowly climbed thunderheads built ominously around us.

Soon the road quality deteriorated further, and we passed a sign warning against vehicle travel in wet conditions. We hurried along as we heard thunder in the distance, trying to make miles before the rain hit. Not far ahead, the rain caught us; we found shelter in a spruce grove and pulled on our rain gear—for the the first time in the trip, I felt the weather was wet enough to pull out my waterproof booties.

As the rain slowed, we decided to continue on. Soon we reached an uphill section filled with large, loose rocks that we found impossible to ride; so we pushed our bikes up the hill a half a mile to the Cruces Basin Lookout. From there we pedaled slowly along the wet, muddy road, passing along sections of the trail that had been caked in hail—the hail, incidentally, provided much more traction than the thick, sticky mud we were encountering.

Hail-coated forest floor

Ahead on a steep downhill we ran into deep mud, and Dave quickly wiped out. (Thankfully, we were riding slowly, and thankfully I was riding behind him and was able to avoid the same fate.) He quickly popped back up, we picked our way along slowly, half walking half biking. Soon we were riding in the grass alongside the trail to avoid the mud; but when trees encroached, we were back on the road in the mud; further along the road, Dave sunk deep into a particularly treacherous (but nearly invisible) pit of muck and went down again; I tried to plow through, but soon my back wheel stopped rotating entirely. I tried putting a foot down and pushing forward, but I just slipped. What a mess. It was now 2:30pm and we’d yet to cover 30 miles; easily the slowest we’d traveled yet on the trip.

A completely clogged back wheel

We stopped to collect ourselves and consider our options. There seemed to be a rough trail on our maps that led to a paved road a number of miles away, but we’d couldn’t be sure of the road quality; we decided to push ahead (literally pushing our bikes). Not far along, on a higher section of road, the surface improved, so we tried to ride. I could not longer shift out of my middle front ring, so I ground my way up hills; Dave periodically lost his chain. We figured we were carrying 10 extra pounds in mud each.

Occasionally, we encountered a bad muddy section, which we’d plow through; but lucky for us we eventually came to an improved gravel surface, and we began to make better time. The terrain opened and we descended, before climbing again through pastureland—by this point our drivetrains were making all kinds of odd noises. After climbing another mini pass, we saw a sign for the paved highway four miles away. We thought we were in luck but ended up slipping and sliding most of the rest of the way through a muddy, mucky mess. A truck towing an RV along the way didn’t seem to be having much better luck than us.

Almost there!

Finally, we reached the highway. A five mile climb and we reached the Hopewell Lake Campground around 6:00pm, exhausted but happy to have arrived.

Checking our drivetrains before the final, paved (thankfully!) ascent

Our Highest Pass

Day 29: Del Norte to Elk River Campground (72.5 miles, 6,344ft)

While our previous day had been our longest to date (111.4 miles), the ride from Del Norte to Elk River Campground looked to be one of our hardest. We’d be crossing Indiana Pass—at 11,910 feet the highest pass we’d cross on the trip and, with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, the longest single climb we’d face on the trip. Because of the day’s shorter distance, we left Del Norte at a regular time (for us after making breakfast and packing the car up): 9:00am.

Over the first 12 miles of the ride, we ascended an easy 1,000 feet along pavement. From there the pavement ended and the climb’s grade became much steeper. We shifted down into our granny gears, and began the long, slow, but still manageable portion of the ascent.

Again the changes in scenery as we gained elevation were stunning, and we soon found ourselves in pine and aspen forests—we were lucky to catch the aspen leaves changing color.

Along the climb, we passed a surprising number of trucks—riding on a Sunday, we seemed to be catching recreational traffic—and a number of beautiful dispersed campsites, which would have been ideal for self-supported riders.

Indiana Pass (11,910ft—highest of the route)

Eventually, we did make it to the top of the climb, but our work wasn’t yet done. For the next 13 miles, we rode above 11,000 feet, descending from and ascending to a number of minor passes. The incredible views along the way easily kept our minds off our tired legs, however.

After those 13 miles through the high country, we descended roughly 1,500 feet along a creek, passing a couple of stunning lakes along the way.

Before the bottom, we made a sharp right past a national forest campground, and began our final significant climb of the day, climbing 700-800 feet over a minor pass, before descending to the mountain village of Platoro—the name is a combination of the Spanish words for silver and gold, “plata” and “oro,” a nod to the mining that once took place here.

On the climb to the final pass before Platoro

In Platoro, we took a break in the local cafe and waited out a rainstorm that rolled through. Once the rain passed, we rode the final 23 miles down the Conejos River on a washboarded dirt road to Horca and the Elk River Campground—another wonderful campground nestled along a gurgling brook.

Tour Divide 2017 rider sign in. Next year?