bike touring near Breckenridge Colorado GDMBR
After the vast empty spaces and rolling hills of Wyoming’s Great Basin, we were ready to test our mettle on some big mountains.  Colorado called.  The Cowboy State is home to the Great Divide’s most momentous climb: Indiana Pass (11,913 feet /3,630 meters).  The GDMBR’s pinnacle is situated way down in the southern part of the state, not far from the New Mexico border.  Plenty of challenges lay in between.
Biking Indiana Pass, Colorado GDMBR
Gliding down Indiana Pass, the literal high point ot the entire Great Divide Route. By early September autumn colors are bursting at higher elevations in Colorado.

Sagebrush soon gave way to stands of aspens and pine.  Ranching communities were replaced by trendy mountain towns and those devilish Wyoming hills grew into long, gently graded climbs over some of America’s highest mountains.

Cruising through Colorado’s aspens not far from Steamboat Springs. The GDMBR has a lot of ‘pleasant’ cycling along pretty backroads. To be honest, I was expecting more epic mountain riding.

 

the so-called Aspen Alley is a stand of quaking aspens in the lovely Sierra Madre mountains of Colorado.

It was along this stretch that we crossed paths with the greatest number of Great Divide riders. First off were Heather and Karey out of Portland, Oregon (America’s unofficial cycling capital).  Since Montana, we’d met just two other women (both part of a male-female couple) on the divide route. All the other dozens of riders had been dudes.

Heather Daniel and Karey Miles of Portland biking the GDMBR from Banff to Steamboat Springs.

What an inspiration to finally see some female adventures.  Later we would meet up with Bill and Joireen, a pair of early retirees cycling down from Alaska and finally Mike Green, cowboy on a bike riding all the way from Prudhoe Bay.

As the photos clearly show, divide riders these days mostly prefer a lightweight bikepacking set-up. The fully-loaded look is rare.  In fact, I don’t believe we ever crossed riders whose first remark to us was not some version of, “Damn, you guys are really loaded.”  Yes, I know!  Trust me, on a 1,500 meter climb I can feel those extra 35 kilos.

Is there any ‘best’ set-up for the GDMBR? Rider’s styles vary, so clearly there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for any bike tour.  The trade-off of going light is usually that you’ll spend more on the road.   Those that go super light with pure bikepacking gear tend to eat out in restaurants and snag motel rooms as often as possible.  This makes sense since their tents will be tiny and therefore less comfortable and their food carrying capacity will be more limited.

collage cyclists colorado
Clockwise from top left: Mike Green, Bill and Joireen, Marta and Joff, Lloyd.

 

Fully-loaded (as we are) is definitely doable on the GDMBR.  The climbs are never too long or steep that we can’t manage with all the weight. The majority of divide roads are packed dirt and gravel and we zip along just fine without shocks or extra wide tires.  But naturally the weight slows us down and we sometimes choose for the less taxing ‘alternate’ routes when there’s an option.

We recently met up with Scott from Bozeman, Montana. He’s done it both ways.  A few years back, he rode the northern section of the GDMBR with a classic front and back pannier set-up. This year, for the southern section, Scott’s switched to a pure bikepacking look.  I asked him which way he believes works best for the GDMBR.  He says he loves his current lightweight set-up because the bike’s easy to maneuver and fun to ride. What he doesn’t about the bikepacking setup like is having to fiddle around with all the different bags and stuff  things deep into a dry sack. Scott’s finally verdict is that having at least back panniers is more convenient.  I think he’s probably light.  You certainly don’t need to pack your panniers to the brim like we do, but the convenience and waterproofing of panniers is perfect for a multi-month tour like the great divide ride.  As is often the case, a middle approach somewhere between pure bikepacking and classic four pannier touring will probably work best for most people.

Colorado is probably our favorite state on the GDMBR.  We got our epic mountain rides, stumbled across gorgeous camping spots and witnessed the charm of autumn’s timid bursts of golden hues.  Now if there’d just hadn’t been so much RAIN, I’d award the the GDMBR Colorado section an enthusiastic five stars.

Not exactly the most bear-proof campsite, but we do our best. Long distances between full-service supermarkets means we stock up for several days on the road, hence the hefty food-filled panniers.

 

Fresh snow on the mountains near Breckenridge.

 

Saturday afternoon in the pretty town of Frisco. Coloradans are an active bunch.

 

The gentle ride up Boreas Pass.11,481 ft (3,499 m).

 

More open country on the road to Salida.

 

A few muddy stretches but we managed.

 

Slowly gaining altitude as we pedal up Marshall Pass.

 

No matter how many passes you have under your belt, the joy of reaching the top never diminishes.

 

Pushing on towards Del Norte.

 

“Freedom Camping.” One of the very best parts of bike touring in the USA.

 

New Mexico? No yet. Still Colorado but a definite change of scenery.

 

A special thanks to all our amazing Colorado hosts!  Ray in Steamboat Springs-great to catch up a second time round.  Robyn in Frisco—best of luck on your big bike tour and thanks for introducing us to the fine art of dumpster diving.  Paul and his family for amazing meals and wonderfully in-depth conversations.  Mike and Loni in Salida for answering our desperate last minute request.   Suzanne and Bob in Del Norte for photo tips, lovely meals and much-needed relaxation.

More road angels.
More road angels.

 

Biking the Great Divide: Colorado

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