Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, summer 2019

[08 March 2020 update: I started this post a couple of months ago but haven’t been able to get back to it — consider this an adventure in progress. When it’s finished I plan to have 3 or 4 posts about my July 2019 ride on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.]

PORTLAND, Oregon — The day after the 2019 World Naked Bike Ride in Portland I was aboard an Amtrak Empire Builder eastbound to Whitefish, Montana. The overnight train had me in Whitefish the morning of 01 July 2019, where I discovered two other Portland-based bikepackers were on the same train, albeit they were doing the Wild West Route. While my adventure technically began when I left my downtown Portland apartment, the actual pedaling on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route began from the Whitefish Bike Retreat, about 8 or 9 miles west of downtown Whitefish. 

My first overnight of this trip was, in hindsight, an omen of how good the trip to Colorado was going to be, how my interactions with people would energize my soul and how much fun riding a single-speed bike with some camping gear can be. 

For the uninitiated, bike touring in all of its forms, including bikepacking, distills life into simple elements forcing participants to be in the moment. Plan a route or destination — or not, sleep somewhere, ride the next day, repeat and add food where applicable. It’s not complicated. At its best, this sort of travel leaves the traveler open to experiences along the way; small experiences that someone otherwise not present can miss: The smell of sage after a desert thunderstorm, perfect omelets in small-town eateries, greeting other travelers, being welcomed by hosts and the curious. Where else in life does someone welcome you into their home just because you may have a story to share? 

Riding single speed simplifies that simplification even more. I don’t have to worry about maintaining a complex and fragile (and expensive) drivetrain, I don’t have to think about shifting gears, it’s just pedaling or not. Big climb? Pedal harder but slower. Fast, paved straight section? Pedal faster with less force. Big downhill? Coast. Muddy gravel road or accumulating ice? Keep pedaling and don’t worry about demolishing a derailleur, derailleur hanger or frame. The larger mountain passes and long, steep hills I may have pushed my bike more than a rider with low gears, but I pushed at the same speed I would have climbed anyway. 

The myth that single speed is slow and more difficult than whatever the current whatever-speed drivetrains may be better for selling bike parts than making a ride easier.

Or not. Really, what do I know? 

Besides this is about a bikepacking trip, not an old man grumbling about nonsense. Montana held some of the best overnight locations of the portion of the GDMBR I did. Well-appointed campsites with bear boxes and fun neighbors, often with food and snack options were not completely unusual. Swan Lake Trading Post and Campground, where I bought the breakfast burrito I ate at Barbara Nye’s llama and alpaca rescue farm, was one of those places. It was a little alarming that they didn’t have bear boxes in what thought was grizzly country — I can assume they don’t have any grizzlies. Anyway, it was one example of how good the Montana portion of the route was. 

I only intended to eat the burrito and drink a cold soda on the front porch of the larger cabin on Nye’s property, continuing on to Helena. That didn’t happen. What did happen was after Nye greeted me at the gate, I made my way past the llamas and alpacas — Sam said Jasper is the super sassy llama … wait, who is Sam? I’ll get to her in a moment — to the comfortable front porch of the main cabin to eat my burrito and look at the horses, donkeys, and mules of the adjoining farm.  

[08 March 2020 update: I started this post a couple of months ago but haven’t been able to get back to it — consider this an adventure in progress. When it’s finished I plan to have 3 or 4 posts about my July 2019 ride on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.]

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