Yet again I find myself overwhelmed by the sublimity of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. In September 2009, I used this series of backroads and forest tracks, neatly sewn together by the Adventure Cycling Organisation to trace the Rocky Mountain chain, as a means of crossing the US, linking Canada to Mexico. By the time I hit the border I was hooked on quiet, traffic-free dirt roads, and did my best to extend the experience through the rugged Sierra Madre mountains of Northern Mexico. This in turn influenced the rest of my journey through Latin America, igniting my passion to follow dirt roads where possible.
I’d even go as far as saying the GDMBR makes an all but perfect bicycle tour. It’s both remarkably remote yet eminently do-able. A good part of its accessibility is no doubt thanks to the maps published by the Adventure Cycling Organisation. The level of detail is astonishing. Every last ripple in the land, water point, camping spot, site of interest and backcountry grocery store has been exhaustively catalogued over its 2745 mile length. Complete elevation profiles allow round-the-tent analysis and easy planning for the days ahead. In fact, all you need to do is ride. Eat. And sleep.
After crossing the Canadian border into Montana, the GDMBR wends its way through Wyoming, before ramping up into the loftiest passes of the Rockies. In 2009, storms forced me to detour off route. I retreated to the lower elevations of Utah, before rejoining the GDMBR again further south in New Mexico. Not that this proved to be disappointment at the time – Utah is an incredible place in itself, a majestic desert where silence is overwhelming, and the night sky teems with stars.
But I have to say that this missing piece of the jigsaw – the mountain state of Colorado – is fast proving to be a highlight of the entire route. I’m glad to have returned to complete it.
An auspicious start? Nancy, Nick and I left Steamboat Springs, an old ranching community turned glitzy ski resort - and the toasty warm apartment of Andy, our Warm Showers host - to be semi-blinded in a snow flurry. One passing driver, hailing from Notting Hill, London, almost insisted we hole up in his home for the night. But no. We were a determined crew, and pushed on.
A world away from nearby Steamboat, aged and characterful wood clad dwellings speckled the backcountry.
This wonky outhouse made a good lunch spot. Pictured here is Nancy and her SurlyTroll, with Rockshox Recon fork, Ortlieb panniers and a diddy-little Porcelain Rocket framepack.
After leaving pavement, we made our way along a quiet dirt road, which in turn gave way to gentle, meandering singletrack round Stagecoat Reservoir.
Winter looms: a fallen aspen leaf.
The light was subdued by a coating of snow clouds overhead. Bizarre shaped rocks poked out of the land.
The hard pack road was muddy in places, and wound its way up towards Lynx Pass, 8937 ft.
Colorado. Sprawling ranches nestle in remote, lush valleys and snowy peaks tower over mountain passes. It's both wild and mellow.
Early morning view from our first camping spot. I expect it will take a good few days before I adapt to outdoor living again. My resolve may not have wavered, but my body has certainly been softened by a few months of UK living.
Nick's Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2, tucked away amidst a clump of trees that provided shelter from the wind.
A well-layered Nancy. As her first bike tour, she'd thrown herself (or been thrown) in at the deep end: Colorado and its 12 000ft passes, on the cusp of winter.
Nick and I first met in Anchorage, Alaska, back in 2009. Here he is striking a meditative pose while awaiting his morning brew.
He travels impressively light, and enjoys breathing life into old kit. Look closely and you'll see his homemade beer can/penny stove, with supports fashioned from bicycle spokes.
Pausing at the top of Lynx Pass, Nick and Nancy take a few moments to study Adventure Cycling's incredibly detailed map. Note Nick's minimal gear stowed in a well-worn Carradice saddlebag, tiding him through both winter storms and desert heat. His bike frame is a much loved Schwinn High Sierra from the mid '80s, fitted with with cantilever breaks, narrow drop handlebars, platform pedals and mudguards. Not that this old-school setup deters him from tearing down washboard-surfaced mountain passes, or exploring the lesser-travelled backcountry. If he'd been born in the UK, Nick would surely be a member of the Roughstuff Fellowship.
Riding the Divide. What's not to like?
A seemingly never ending ribbon of dirt...
The Rock Creek Stage Station, an old Wells Fargo stagecoach stop/post office/hotel dating back to 1880, would have made a good shelter for the night.
Thankfully, our snow storm had blow over by now, revealing a warming, energising sun, that took the bite out of a barefoot crossing of Rock Creek.
Home: the Black Diamond Megalite tarp, known affectionately as the circus tent. It's carried in a Tout Terrain Mule trailer.
An icy High Sierra.
The view as we climbed away from our second campspot, on BLM land a few miles short of Kremling.
Rejoining the route once more.
A taste of what lies ahead... snow-covered peaks.
Sleepy Kremling, and another Ford F series for the photographic collection.
After a brief stint on pavement, we were free from traffic again. Just us and the sagebrush.
And that dirt road, wending on and on...
Nancy stops to befriend a curious llama.
20th Century wheels. 21st Century communication.
Eventually dirt gave way to gravel, sapping our progress. It was shared with occasional pumped-up pickup trucks that thundered by, spitting out stones like buckshot.
Only a gallooping horse needed to complete the scene.
Deceptively pretty, but actually packed with chemicals from the Henderson Mill above Williams Fork Reservoir. Not the best place to fill up on water...
After a long day in the saddle, we crested Ute Pass, 9524ft. Darkness was falling, so we camped right at the very top, rewarded with this last-light panorama.
And moments later, a moon rise...
The next morning, a paved road fed us quickly down into Summit County. By now we were ready for break, and only a dozen miles to Silverthorne lay ahead. Unless, of course, you take a wrong turn at the one and only junction of the day. Which we did, adding some 25 miles to the tally.
Still, the views around the Green Mountain Reservoir just about made it worth it.
Odd one out?
No doubt Silverthorne was once a laid back mountain town, a welcome stop for exhausted cowboys. Nowadays, it's imposing setting is somewhat blighted by the concrete megalopolis that is the Interstate 70...
Though imposing those mountains certainly are...
Time for a shower. Interstate and Proud. Our $40 motel.
Eggs, bacon, hash browns and the strange, fluffy creation that are American 'biscuits'. Fuel to take us over the Boreas Pass to our next stop, Salida...