I have a few thoughts to get down that may be useful to future CDT riders. As always, take advice you find on the internet with a grain of salt!
Go light. The CDT is not a bike trail. But you should ride it (and hike-a-bike it), anyway! You really should. But you should go light. As light as possible. Our kits evolved from racing, and that’s almost the kind of simplicity I think a CDT rider needs to approach what they carry with. If you carry too much stuff, the hike-a-bike ratio will skyrocket, and it’s already pretty high to begin with. Stay light and be able to ride hard trails with your setup.
Full suspension. We rode 29ers with 4-6 inches of travel, and highly recommend full squish. The debate on suspension vs not can go on endlessly, I know. Can it be done on a rigid singlespeed? Sure. Is it a terrible idea? Probably — no matter how hard core you are.
Besides the general toll of riding rough singletrack day in and day out, the CDT has lots and lots of trail-less travel, or tundra travel, or meadow travel. It’s great, and beautiful at times. But: Bump bump bump! The worst kind of bumps are those you cannot see or predict (thus robbing you of your ability to unweight or adjust for them), but suspension doesn’t need to see the bumps to absorb them. Many was the time we’d sit back and pedal through open bumpy areas and be glad we had lots of squish (and big wheels).
Northbound or southbound? Tough question. We loved northbound. Loved loved loved it. But we were living in Tucson at the time, so it was the easiest way to start. Plus Tucson was getting hot, so an early (May) start appealed to us (rather than sitting around roasting in the desert waiting for June to pass).
I think I would actually recommend southbound to anyone thinking about riding the CDT. Start in late June up in Montana. This way you get the hardest stuff (MT/ID border) done first. You avoid fighting through so much snow in Colorado (or waiting for it to melt), and then even if winter starts to come, that’s a good thing in New Mexico. You just have to get out of Colorado before it starts snowing too much, but you have through September to do that.
A downside is that 80% of the hikers go northbound. You may run into more total hikers heading south, but they will only be brief encounters. When you go north with everyone else, you can bounce around, get passed / re-passed, and really become a part of the trail community.
Join the community. Speaking of that, I highly recommend embracing the CDT community. As I’ve written in many places, we found hikers to be very accepting and curious about bikepacking. The community that emerges along the trail every year is one of the best aspects of doing a long distance trail like the CDT.
Join the current year’s Facebook group if you are on FB. It’s a good way to connect with hikers you meet, and also to see and post updates on the trail. Some valuable information on fires, closures, water sources, etc gets posted there.
Also check out this site: http://thetrailunitesus.com for links to hiker blogs and other useful info (such as a group-edit current water table).
Join the CDTC. They may not encourage bicycle use, and may have no idea what to say about bikepacking, but they do good work and have done a lot for the trail. I have not yet learned of a reason NOT to support them (like actively campaigning to close existing pieces of bike-open CDT), though I fear I might.
Mt. Taylor in NM is not actually on the CDT, but a well accepted alternate
Choose your own adventure. The hikers have a saying, “hike your own hike.” It applies to any long distance trail in regards to the choices you make and the ‘standards’ you might set. But it especially applies to the CDT, since it is not a trail that is very well defined, and it is one that is full of choices.
Questions to think about:
“how closely will I stay to the official route?”
“do I need to ride a continuous line?”
“how about hitch-hiking into town?”
“am I ok with slack-packing? dayriding?”
“what about alternate routes that most hikers take, but aren’t official cdt?”
“am I ok riding road alternates when thunderstorms call or other circumstances come up?”
Often questions like these may have one answer at the start of a thru-hike, and standards may degrade or change as the hike goes on. That’s fine. My advice to any future CDTer is to not sweat it. Hike your own hike, be happy with your time out there and exercise the freedom in being human. Especially when it comes to staying on the official route, sometimes it truly doesn’t make sense. Sometimes, honestly, no one actually knows what the official route is. The gps, the maps and the signs on the ground all disagree in a few places, so it’s sort of absurd for anyone to claim they walked the entire official trail.
The majority of hikers subscribe to the standard of walking a continuous line, as a bare minimum for what a thru-trip entails. So if you hitch-hike off route, you rejoin it back where you left off. That’s about the only standard I would recommend for the CDT. After all, in the end, all anyone that has completed the CDT can say is that they walked (or rode) a continuous line, from border to border, using large portions of the CDT (and probably a bunch of other cool stuff, too).
For bikes, this is especially true. You could go to stupid lengths to get out of the way pieces of official CDT (when detouring for Wilderness) but I wouldn’t recommend it. Besides doing a pretty-true-to-the-CDT trip, there are plenty of good options to do a CDT-light tour, or a GDMBR+singletrack route. Piece it together, or make it up as you go along.
Maps and GPS. There are a few sources of data and maps. Most hikers in 2014 seemed to be using a combination of the Ley Maps (paper, printed out) and Bearcreek’s ‘official’ GPS data, mostly in the form of Guthook’s CDT app. That combo is what I would recommend, for sections where MTBers are on the CDT (or CDT alternates). Of course I’d recommend having the GPS data from our CDTbike trip for bike alternates, too. But that’s the key thing, is having data for various choices, because you never know when you might need them or want to exercise them. Ley does a great job of detailing all sorts of options. The official GPS data is a lot more rigid, and it is sometimes wrong, or doesn’t match with what’s on the ground (I sent in a half dozen or so major revisions to Bearcreek based on our trip, as well as many updates to Ley’s maps).
I never printed out any of Ley’s maps. I just put them all on my phone, using it to preview sections ahead, usually at night or in towns. That worked out pretty well, and helped me avoid printing and carrying useless maps (e.g. Wilderness). I used Guthook’s app in NM and it worked pretty well. Throwing the GPX track in an app like Gaia is probably more useful for a cyclist since you can add other options to it and follow those if needed. That’s what I ended up doing after NM. One caveat on Gaia is that it’s auto-map-download (for an area around a track) was so unreliable that I stopped even trying. I still want to find a better app for loading GPX and download topo maps. (Oh wait, how about a TopoFusion app!!! Somebody clone me and get my clone to work on it stat.)
Also key was having the official data (and other options) loaded onto my Garmin GPS, which sits on my handlebars. Having GPS data and maps on the phone is great for getting the big picture and planning, but pulling it out and seeing it in the sunlight is a pain. Also keeping it charged with the GPS running is an issue. Garmin’s are still king when it comes to runtime and screen visibility. Constantly monitoring the track and trail is the best way to stay on track, and understand the landscape/turns you are navigating through.
Two other pieces of beta are worth mentioning, too. One is Yogi’s CDT guide, mostly for her town guides. We were given some sheets from her guide from hikers and they were pretty useful for figuring out where the cheap places to stay are, good restaurants, post office, general town layout, etc. The other guide worth mentioning is only worth bringing up as a positive sign for bike access on the trail. Jim Wolf (aka the only person behind the CDT Society) is perhaps the most vocal anti-bike advocate there is. His site and updates are more about keeping bikes off the trail than they are about promoting or working on the trail itself. Slowly his voice is being listened to less and less, and his CDTS guides are, like him, out of date. Almost no one uses the CDTS guides anymore, and less and less people are still stuck in the 70’s when it comes to embracing the beauty that is multi-use trails.
Flexibility. Drop all set ideas of pacing or miles per day. Just take the terrain as it comes. Pack more food than you think it will take you. And pay attention to the next water source. They Ley maps do a pretty good job of letting you know when you don’t run into water every 10 miles or so, but they don’t always. Weather will change, fires will pop up and close sections, anything can happen! The CDT teaches you flexibility.
Hike-a-bike. Be ready for lots of it. Prepare mentally for it. It is more physically draining than hiking, or riding, but it doesn’t have to be a super unpleasant activity, if you’re mentally OK with it. You’re in a beautiful place, on a trip of a lifetime, so what if you have to push your bike and can’t ride it? It beats being stuck in an office somewhere…. (I try to practice this advice myself, but am not always successful in doing so… that is for certain). Eszter adds: do some core and upper body work in preparation. Your normal cycling routine probably doesn’t include this much pushing of loaded bikes. Arms get tired!
Additionally, a 2013 thru-hiker named Wired put together a nice page with links to trail resources as well as her own journal of her hike. Her ‘advice to future CDTers’ is worth reading as well. Her site is here: http://www.walkingwithwired.com/p/cdt-2013.html
My best piece of advice for riding the CDT is… to make it happen!
Even when you can’t do that much, you can still do some cool things.
Looking back at my photos from the last ~month of ‘rest and recovery’ it sure seems like we’ve gotten out a lot. But there haven’t been any long rides. There haven’t been any bikepacks. No new trails explored. No big techy rides. No limits pushed.
But we sure did see some beautiful things.
Much of that was due to it being Autumn.
And our timing being good.
Not really a good sign when naps are called for less than an hour into an easy ride.
But the fleeting colors make me smile, and even when dead tired, so it’s well worth it to get out there.
In between time spent with our families in Boulder and SLC, we took some decompression time in Winter Park. We climbed some dirt roads and discovered new trails in all directions. Winter Park might finally start to live up to it’s big talk about being an MTB destination if they keep building (and signing) trails…
On to Utah!
We found some color up in Logan while visiting Alexis and her new hot pink Lenzsport.
This ride just about killed us. CDT bodies only know tour pace. Anything even slightly over that is trouble. Lesson learned.
Shoreline rides can be taken easier.
Out with my dad and brother, who could easily bury us. But we wimp out of the big climbs, content to just be outside in the beautiful October air.
Got my high school friend, Phong, out for a ride on his $70 thrift store special. He’s been getting out more since.
My Grandma has the largest collection of CDTbike post cards. We brought the laptop over to give her a slideshow from the trip since she doesn’t read blogs.
On the way to Arizona we popped over to a favorite ride and layover in Southern Utah.
If you haven’t ridden there… put it high on the list.
I can’t believe it took me so long to realize it’s the perfect way to break up the SLC<->Tucson drive. This time we camped in Red Canyon and regretted it. There’s a surprising amount of traffic on the highway to Bryce, and our CDT heads were not too keen on rolling around in sleeping bags again so soon. Oh well. The breakfast in Hatch got us going for the rest of the drive south.
Back in Tucson, it was so nice to finally be settled after five months of travel.
It was nice to be home.
The energy and enthusiasm was there to go ride and explore. Back in the desert!
It didn’t last too long. Once fully comfortable, the novelty of being settled wore off quickly.
That led to some good old post-trip blues. What do we do now that the excitement is over? The project is done. We’re back home.
Working for yourself doesn’t help this situation, since it is based on internal motivation. It almost would have been better to have a forced job to go back to. Something to constrain us into 9-5 or something. I’m a little better off than Eszter in that trackleaders has events that must go off and do bring constraints. But there’s still a large component of self-motivation to almost all the work I do. Building a tracker for a big sailing race is a project, but not a big and exciting project like planning, riding and surviving the CDT. Some amount of letdown is inevitable — it’s just the way our brains work. Once you get used to a certain level of ‘high’ and satisfaction, it can be hard to move on to smaller more mundane things. Sometimes the answer is another adventure. But the body can only take so much, sadly. And then there’s that word, ‘balance’.
These are issues I think everyone struggles with at some point, and there are no clear answers. That’s part of the greatness of life, in that there are never any clear answers to some things.
One thing is for sure, you can shut off the voice of meaning in your head a number of ways. One is to get a group of friends together and go ride hard.
Or at least go ride hard trails.
I’m not much of one for pedaling fast these days, but rocks are always fun.
never seen this little chunk ridden, well done J-bake
Too bad my skills are stuck in tour mode, too. My brain keeps saying, ‘no, I don’t ride stuff like that’ when I look down at something steep and rocky. Crashing was the last thing I wanted to do while out on the CDT, so I kept it *very* conservative. I’ve also trained my muscles to the movements and placement of the Spiderflex saddle, so it’s proving to be a bit of a rough transition back to the chunk of AZ.
No place to begin but where you are. I’m fine with walking down stuff I normally ride (and getting photographed while doing so, thanks J-bake!). I’m ok with skipping B-lines I’ve hit regularly. For now.
We’ve also picked up a new little obsession. Running!
At least it seems like it is approaching an obsession level. I have little doubt that wheels are my preferred way of seeing the world. But there’s something about the simplicity of keeping it on your feet. And there are many places bikes aren’t allowed. I have always been curious if I can do long trail runs in the mountains. Seems like now is as good a time to investigate that as any. It’ll give our hike-a-bike and general MTB brutality accounts some time to receive some deposits and return to near normal levels.
It’s a good thing I’d told myself in advance not to expect much out at the 50 year trail. But I couldn’t resist a day out there, even though I knew it was going to be rough.
Luckily Chad was sort of on the same page as me after the summer. We both came out of the ride feeling a bit like this cow — rough day for her too.
Not that the classics weren’t an absolute hoot, and not that it wasn’t an absolutely gorgeous evening.
We were just all over the place. Flubbing lines we usually nail. Skipping others. Getting nearly bucked off by tropical storm ruts. Or helmets ripped off by catclaw that have swallowed entire B-lines.
We can only go up from here! Trails will get better as people ride them, and people trim them. Our skills and confidence can’t get much worse…
At least Ez and I aren’t sleeping 10 hours a night anymore. We were up early one morning and decided to hit the trail in the cool air.
Have you ever noticed that baby saguaros are difficult to find? I think that’s the new game of the winter — find the youngest/smallest saguaro you can. We’ve been looking hard, and finally found this little guy. Can you beat it?
I got the bright idea to head up Mt. Lemmon for a fall color run.
The execution of the timing was perfect. Colors are in their prime.
The execution of the logistics of the run was highly flawed and 100% my fault. We started out with a steep drop down 1918, without any warm up. Then we continued running/shuffling down Secret and Sunset to Marshall Gulch. That’s too much downhill for our little legs and with our lack of technique.
Starting out with downhill on a ride is OK. Not so on foot.
It was a beautiful run, and we suffered climbing back up, but it felt good.
The next day it did not feel good. Sore legs! 4 days later we are still feeling it and haven’t run. Lesson learned. Interestingly we are sore in completely different spots — calves for me and quads for Ez. We’re both doing something wrong, and apparently they are two different wrong somethings.
Good news is I think we are both itching to run now. And it’s getting to where we feel like moderate beginners. It’s not a struggle the entire time like all our other attempts at running have felt.
We’ll see where it takes us. Maybe to some ultra-running. Maybe to some Wilderness backpacking. Maybe to some quick injury and back to riding bikes. Never know.
From Lincoln, the official CDT is done, but there are still miles to ride. On to the Great Divide Mountain Bike route, with a huge sign of relief and excitement at some straightforward miles.
It’s not well a known fact, but Ez is a horse whisperer.
Quick ride to Ovando. Look what we have for you! Thanks to Blackfoot Angler Fly shop for embracing the long distance cycling community and putting Ovando on the map!
We saw more snakes in northern Montana than in New Mexico, I think. 5 or 6 in one day.
Richmond Peak on the GDMBR. If only there were more sections like this on the route.
Old road closed and turned to near singletrack, with jaw-dropping views.
Pretty well sums up the current sentiment, and what’s about to come. Ooof-dah!
But first, a night in a B&B/photo studio/land of giant boulders.
I watched this guy ‘endo’ over multiple rocks, landing on its back every time.
Alpine #7. Look, evidence that some of it is rideable!
YOUR TRANSACTION HAS BEEN DENIED.
Attempts to withdraw from the hike-a-bike bank account were all rejected.
So we flipped it. Riding back on the singletrack was pretty nice. Descending the 3000′ of dirt road in retreat was terrible for the ego. But it was the right choice.
Apparently God forgot about the 11th commandment — don’t spray my yard!
Cyclotourists! Katrien and Manu are two, going on a much longer trip than us.
Pedaling a few nice backroads into…
When being a tourist, embrace it and be a tourist! Cheesy photos and all.
Crazy colored rocks, pools and slides. A side hike to Avalanche Creek.
Up we go. Thankful the weather is still holding.
To the ‘crown of the continent.’
Look! Goats. A little while later we’d see a couple from yards away.
Winter literally coming right at us, like a slow moving monster.
What we woke up to on the other side of Glacier. Winter beat us to Canada.
Ever the sun will rise! Back into Glacier briefly, then on to Canada!
Waterton National Park!
Yeah, it snowed a little bit here.
Trail is closed to bikes, and we didn’t miss them on the icy/slushy trail, hiking the last few miles to the border.
Official end of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. OH YEAH!
A B-roll shot from the finish obelisk. CDT Done. We did it!
We’ve been off the trail for about a month now. But we can still feel the effects of four months spent on the trail. I’m still processing the experience, and still recovering from it.
So, how has four months of bikepacking changed us? What were the lessons and insights learned? Here are a few reflections.
No doubt about it, there’s nothing like living out of your backpack to make you realize how little you actually need. Surely the average American lifestyle is one of excess, but you already knew that. The world would be a better place if everyone backpacked, or bikepacked at some point in their lives. You get a glimpse of the beautiful simplicity of it on shorter trips, but a deep appreciation came once the days, miles and adventures began to blur together. After 3 months, life on the trail is the only life you know and pretty much the only one you can remember. You have a rhythm and a familiarity to living off the bike that is difficult to attain on shorter journeys.
We had a number of belongings sitting in a back shed, and a few pieces of furniture being used by the tenants in our old house. So our footprint was not as small as it may have seemed to us as we dragged it over downed trees and pushed it up steep hills. Yet, I didn’t miss anything we had back home. If it all disappeared, I might have been disappointed, or I might have been relieved. I could barely even remember what we had back there — other than our other bikes. (OK, I do admit that I missed riding my other bikes — specifically unloaded ones — but I think I could be plenty happy living and riding off just one.) It made me somewhat reluctant to return to the bloat of normal living, and having to deal with so much ‘stuff.’
There’s a wonderful power in being fully self-contained and able to endure just about anything the world throws at you. You can stop whenever you want, with no real constraints — freedom!
Back in normal life
The transition back to regular life has been an interesting one. It was a little delayed for us, since we spent the first three weeks visiting family and still traveling.
At first it was such a relief to know where we were sleeping every night. To have a constant roof over our head. To not be at the mercy of the weather any more. To not be at the mercy of a trail that can change character instantly. To have steady access to food! And *good* internet access. It was glorious.
I thought I would wish that I were back on the trail, with more CDT to explore ahead, but I really didn’t. It felt like the chapter was closed, and it was time to move on to something else. The early arrival of winter made it easier to visualize that the season was over. The journey was over. The fatigue, both mental and physical, also made it easy to see that. I think more than anything I try to strive for balance, and with four months on the CDT the pendulum swung pretty far in the outdoor adventure side of life. It’s time to seek that unattainable goal of balance and do something else for a while.
Of course, as is human nature, the pure pleasure of having the basics (food, warmth, shelter, internet – ha!) steadily covered and certain, did eventually wear off. I got used to it, and am already able to take it for granted. It’s too bad that sense of gratitude doesn’t last longer, though I suppose it allows us to seek higher meanings and things to be grateful for.
Thru-hikers, trail community
I’m truly in awe of anyone that thru-hikes the CDT. What an incredible challenge, and one I am not so sure I could successfully complete myself. Thru-hikers are also great people, and a very welcoming community. Going into the CDT we weren’t quite sure what to expect for a reception. We know there are those that would like to close old (or new) sections of the CDT to bikes. We did not meet any of those types on the trail. The response we got from hikers was overwhelmingly positive. They loved seeing us on the trail and we loved meeting them.
The trail community is an incredible thing. The instant acceptance and connection that you feel, simply because we are walking (or riding) the same direction is something that reaffirms our humanity. Nobody asks what you do for a living, or what your standing in life is. Everyone has but the meager possessions they can carry with them. Thru-travelers are reduced to the things that really matter. We made some good friends, despite not spending huge amounts of time with many of the hikers. I am going to miss that instant connection, with travelers and especially with those on the CDT.
I also enjoyed the way words and rumors traveled along the trail. It was fun to see how people always had a way of finding each other or bumping into each other, without the aid of modern technology. It made me think back to traveling in times of old. Thru-hiking and thru-riding are keeping some of those old ways of life alive.
Changes on the divide
It has been a decade since I last traveled the continental divide in the US. In 2004, I toured the gravel road version of the route, from Mexico to Canada. It was fun to bring back memories of that trip that had long been forgotten when we returned to certain towns, or coasted down bumpy dirt roads.
By and large, I’m happy to report that the divide is still the same divide — remote, wild and unrelenting. It’s the most difficult place in the country you could design a hiking trail or a mountain bike route. The people along the route, if anything, have gotten friendlier. Some of the towns and businesses have realized that hikers and cyclists are good people and good for the local economy. Many of these towns have seen declines in their ‘old’ way of sustaining themselves (often mining or other industry), and need to figure something else out. Divide tourism is a resource that isn’t likely to run out anytime soon, and the towns that have begun to embrace it seem to be thriving.
The number of people traveling the divide has shot up incredibly. In 2004 only a small handful of people toured the GDMBR. Even fewer attempted a thru-hike on the CDT. I ran into maybe only a dozen total other hikers and cyclists. This year we met over 80 thru-hikers and maybe 50 or more cyclists.
One major negative change is the bark beetle. It’s funny how little we (as a species) know about managing forests. Our arrogance in forest management is a topic worthy of its own book. Fight fires, don’t fight fires, log, don’t log — we think we know so much, and then the bark beetle comes and wipes out entire forests.
The difference from 10 years ago is drastic. We were constantly seeing dead forests, and often traveling through them. Many were still very much alive 10 years ago. Interestingly, some areas that were clear cut years ago and now coming back with new growth seemed immune to the beetle — so far, anyway.
The CDT is a hard trail for bikepackers. It’s not designed or intended to a be a bike trail, let alone a bikepacking trail. We had many days where we failed to log more than 30 miles, despite putting in a full day’s effort. This led to closer to a thru-hiking pace (sometimes slower!), and, it was one of the unexpected positives of the trip.
I found that there is *something* to traveling slow. Something to really getting to know the creeks, the passes and the small mountains. You can’t just coast by creek after creek and mountain after mountain on a graded road (or in a speeding car on a highway!). You feel each one of them, and often, on the divide, reach the summit of each one of them! I don’t know if it is something inherently ingrained in the human psyche, or what. But it’s almost as if the human brain is better suited at processing only a certain amount of ground covered in a day’s time. Go over that distance and you’ve lost something. Lost your connection.
This sort of sounds like Paleo-talk, but I noticed it throughout the trip. Our slowest days were some of our best. They were also some of our hardest, so it may have just been that effect that made them more meaningful. But it seems like maybe there was something deeper, with slow days taken throughout a long journey.
So, why not ditch the bicycle if traveling slow is so great? I am not convinced that the mode of travel matters, or that instantaneous speed matters. It’s average speed over periods of time that matters. With difficult enough terrain (e.g. the CDT) a bikepacker is forced to travel slow. Of course, hikers are always “slow”, in that sense.
But even on foot, you can exceed this ‘natural’ ground covered, say in a 100 mile trail race. Complete one of those suckers in less than 24 hours and you are crushing it. Another issue is that when traveling solely by foot it almost inevitably means lots of hitch-hiking. Being suddenly whisked into towns some twenty or more miles away also violates my idea of traveling slow. On a mountain bike, you can pedal and earn your resupplies, and not lose the human powered connection that can be severed by moving at 70 miles per hour.
For that reason (and many others) I see bikepacking as the most versatile and rewarding means of backcountry travel. If you’re already a bikepacker, I recommend traveling slow and choosing difficult routes that force it (at times). I found it to be a remarkable way to see and experience the natural world.
We’re still not recovered from the CDT, a month out. We’re sleeping 10 hour nights to make up for time spent rolling around in one pound sleeping bags. We’re keeping rides short and feeling the onset of tired legs more quickly than we’re used to. We’ve started trail running as a way to keep ourselves off the bike, to ease those fatigued muscles. Our hike-a-bike and general trail BS accounts are still overdrawn and are only slowly being paid off.
I’ve spoken many times on the blog here about the deep fatigue that settled in on us somewhere in Montana. I suppose it wasn’t wholly unexpected, but it did cause some alarm and even some doubt about the completion of the trip.
Starting out, the major appeal of the CDT was the exploration and the adventure. The longest singletrack route open to bikes! It’s never been thru-ridden before! We had enough experience bikepacking to be reasonably confident going in. We thought that finishing wouldn’t be much of an issue, barring any number of bad luck scenarios. After all, it’s “just touring”, not racing!
Yet, sitting in the west Big Hole, watching the storm clouds gather against us, feeling the dread of another unrideable rocky pitch in front of us, success was far from certain. There hadn’t been any bad luck, it had just been a long and arduous trip. The CDT had taken its toll. It wasn’t just simply a longer version of things we had already done. Going longer wasn’t merely a linear, or proportional, increase in the difficulty. It was compounding, and increasing maybe as n-squared or n-cubed, even though we were touring and not in a hurry.
And this might have been the longest singletrack tour yet. Sure, people regularly tour for years — on roads, and generally with much more gear. The difficulty of the trail necessitated (in our minds at least) running a very minimal set up, and one that is not very conducive to rest and recovery. Hike-a-bike is a very draining activity, generally speaking, and one that is not considered enjoyable by most people. We did lots of hike-a-bike.
In the end, we found more than just the exploration and adventure. More than just a really long trail tour. It was a definite challenge to finish the entire thing and keep it together. As a result, I suppose we should be tired.
It is impossible not to notice the omni-present bovine throughout our forests and ranges. After months of seeing cows, cows and more cows, I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a little excessive. Beef is a big industry, I suppose, and as I partook of many burgers along the way, it is one I definitely support. Some big changes would be needed to lessen the impact and presence of cows, but they would probably be good ones. We don’t know that much about responsible stewardship of the land, but you do have to wonder if all these cows really belong in such beautiful and otherwise unspoiled places.
Working from the trail
Both Eszter and I were fortunate to have gainful employment we could pursue from the trail. We bounced laptops to seven or eight trail towns, and performed other tasks from our phones and an iPad that Eszter carried. We loved to be able to ‘accomplish’ something while resting on the trail, or while waiting out weather. Our bank accounts loved that they weren’t in a steady decline the entire summer.
Though thru-travel is a most noble activity, in my opinion, it still feels a little one-sided, or unbalanced. After a week on the trail, it was great to roll into town not only for food and a soft bed, but to catch up on emails, connect with friends, build trackers and fix bugs. Do something ‘useful’, or at least something that feels useful to us. It felt like a more balanced way to travel the trail, and we were very lucky to be able to do it. There were a few stressful days of trying to wrap things up before checkout time and hitting the trail, but any stress was quickly erased out on the trail.
If you can manage portable work from the trail, I highly recommend it!
The CDT is primarily a trail for hikers and equestrians. That is the original vision and legislation of the trail. However, mountain bike access is specifically mentioned as an acceptable use, where it doesn’t interfere with the primary purpose of the trail. Given our experience on the trail, I do not believe that mountain bike access, especially in remote areas, has any negative impact on the trail or those that use it. I believe it has a positive impact. I also believe that if the CDT had been envisioned in more modern times, quiet and human powered travel would have been considered a primary use (outside Wilderness). Just look at the positive example that the Arizona Trail (a more modern trail) has set for multi-use. Mountain bikers have long been a part of the construction and maintenance of the trail, and it’s becoming the premier long distance trail in the southwest.
It would be remiss to not thank the universe at large for the fantastic fortune we met on the trail. Our bodies held up remarkably. The bikes suffered no major mechanicals. Crashes were few and minor. Encounters with strangers were nearly all positive. We both got along amazingly well throughout, enjoying an incredible adventure-of-a-lifetime together. Sure, rain and snow were factors. Bugs ate us alive. But that’s the divide. I still consider us lucky in all of those areas. We spent an incredible amount of time above treeline and had no close calls with lightning.
Of course, we have to thank everyone involved in the CDT community — from on-the-ground volunteers, to federal workers, to trail advocates. The dream of the CDT is a good one, and many have put a lot into this trail (with much more still to go!). Having been involved with some of the development and construction of the AZT, I have a small sense of what all this entails. It’s a lot of work. We owe a big debt of thanks to Jonathan Ley and Jerry Brown, who independently provide and maintain the best beta on the trail.
We also had the generous support of many friends and family. My business partner at trackleaders, Matthew Lee, deserves special mention, for putting up with long lapses in communication and limited availability for work. Our families and friends were behind us all the way. Local mountain bikers that we’ve never met offered beta on CDT and non-CDT trails. Friends opened up their houses to us. Motel owners gave us late checkout times and shipped our bounce box for us. People we met along the way helped us and made the journey just that much more awesome for us.
I have to give the sincerest thank-you to Eszter, for following me through the CDT and trusting me with the route and a lot of the other decision-making. Given all the difficulties and unknowns, her patience with me and the trip in general was incomparable. I can’t imagine a better adventuring partner.
Quite a few of you followed along and offered encouragement along the way, particularly during the “Slag-a-meltdown” and other low spots.
Thanks, everyone! Thanks, universe.
So, what’s next? Well, for us the answer is we don’t know. And that’s just fine. Regular life with a regular roof overhead is pretty nice right now. The luxury of a fridge stocked with food is even better. I’m sure something will spark our interest and merge with increasing energy soon enough. The world is a huge place and there isn’t enough time to explore it all!
How about the future of riding bikes on the CDT? I think that future is bright! Bikepacking is only gaining in popularity and people are beginning to see beyond dirt road touring to really get into the backcountry.
I think there is plenty of room for a second, and third, groundbreaking and exploratory trips on the CDT. There are plenty of options we did not explore, and that need to be explored. It wouldn’t be too difficult to “one up” us and ride more of the official trail. Plus, more sections are being built and the trail is ever-changing.
Many options exist for melding the CDT and GDMBR into a singletrack/road mix that can easily take a lot less than four months. No matter how you slice it, I highly recommend the experience of “riding the divide.”
Bikepacking on the CDT is just getting started. Maybe you’ll be next?
We’re here to help!
It’s hard to describe the kind of fatigue that settled in during the last quarter of the trail. We could still put in big days and cover difficult terrain, but resting no longer returned much strength to us. Huge town meals were a way to survive, instead of giving us an instant boost of energy and the feeling that all will be well. We didn’t wake up from nights spent indoors feeling refreshed and ready to camp again. It felt like we were just minimizing the damage, and could never quite get ahead.
I’m not sure why this was, exactly. The length of the trip, and the difficulty of the route are obvious reasons. Neither of us have ever been on ‘the trail’ (any trail) for so long, let alone one this hard. We’ve never spent so much time pushing and dragging our bikes — ever. The hike-a-bike threshold of tolerance ran out sometime in Colorado, I’d say. Then there’s the fact that in order to reasonably ride singletrack, you have to run a very minimal set up. We had many good nights of camping, but far more cruddy ones — especially in Montana. Running a 40 degree sleeping bag and no tent worked out beautifully for us in New Mexico and even through Wyoming. It’s worked perfectly in so many other races and thru-trips, too. But I think the effect of sleeping minimally and uncomfortably began to take its toll after 3 months. Even though we slept every night, we were digging ourselves deeper and deeper into sleep deficit (as evidenced by the continued 10+ hour nights we are still enjoying now in October).
Whatever the cause, we were getting tired, and going for another brisk paced day ride in Butte probably wasn’t good use of one of our ‘rest’ days. It was incredibly fun, and I’m ever so glad we got to ride ‘the Lady’ section of trail, but our legs were used to loaded and slower pedaling. I think it cost us, and it wasn’t one of our best decisions.
Nevertheless, we left Butte, by backtracking to official CDT. It was primarily a nicely graded road at first, followed by rideable 4×4, and unrideable rutted track.
Rains forced breaks in the trees. Perfect.
Our half day of riding ended with the Nez Perce moto trail, which was a brilliantly rideable descent.
Dinner of mac ‘n cheese, in the woods, as the sun sets. Beautiful, especially with only a half day’s ride in the legs.
Rumors of more bike-friendly trail north of Butte were true.
But even bike friendly trail along the divide takes its toll, and it’s still bikepacking.
Still, it was ever-so-dreamy to make such progress, watching actual miles roll by while on CDT singletrack. Everything up to Champion Pass is a superb ride.
This colorful dragon joined me for a good distance, as we pedaled short singletrack detours of steep tracks.
The maps said Cold Springs was ‘kaput’, but it was one of the best Montana springs on the trail. Hurrah!
The maps, GPS and signs were not in agreement, so we made locally optimal decisions. This was a good one, faint contour track with big views of Deer Lodge.
The bypasses ran out, it was time to gain elevation for reals.
Oh the many highpoints of the divide.
We spent a wet and cold night near “Leadville,” waking up to surprisingly tasty trail.
Not sure why we were so worried about keeping our feet dry here — the moisture on the greenery was doing a great job of soaking our shoes anyway.
More confusion on what is actually the CDT continued, but everything we did ride was good.
Apparently the CDT is a one way trail here.
Choose your own adventure. As in so many other areas of the trail — you’ll get there eventually.
Surely, being in bear country didn’t help our light camping issue. Hanging and dealing with food is a pain, and thinking about bears in the middle of the night isn’t known to aid deep sleep.
Huge blow down.
Ummm, where’s the trail anyway?
Easy to follow in the trees. Fun too!
Death by a thousand rocks! Dropping to Priest Pass — rocky by Montana standards.
Very old railroad trestle, being swallowed by the forest. The trail we rode briefly along the old grade was primo!
Mercy roads along the divide. Yay for bikes.
Not so merciful. Celebrate for more hike-a-bike!
Enchanted forests on top of the world. Forests that few ever visit. I loved these lesser known spots of Montana — places only divide travelers will ever visit.
Tricky descending through a tricky forest.
But what’s that? A huge switchback platform, thank-you-very-much!
Wind from the incoming weather woke us from our high camp on the divide.
It was out of control in the exposed sections.
We just tried to survive and keep moving, sitting right on the boundary of the front, right on the divide.
Eventually the divide could not hold it, and the blizzard came.
Just as quickly as it came, the sun came shining through.
And we bid farewell to our last piece of bike-legal CDT — on our thru-route, anyway. Celebration ensued, but we were still far from being done, far from Canada! The divide had more surprises in store…
We spent some time in the town of Wisdom, eating and watching it rain. This would become a pattern all the way to the Canadian Border as cold storms continued to hammer Montana. They seemed to come at a frequency of one per week.
We needed rest badly, so the rain was …. [Continue reading]
We pedaled out of Lima, a day too early, as it turned out. When fatigue sets in two hours out of town, you know you might be in trouble. Luckily the first 30 or so miles are on the GDMBR, so it’s a gentle warmup.
These are beautiful GDMBR miles. Though I know …. [Continue reading]
Though I managed to keep up on daily blog posts, I fell woefully behind on photos in Montana. No matter, I’m loving going back through them now. These start at West Yellowstone, where we waited out a couple days of rain, then finally hit our first section of Montanan CDT.
I loved the giant …. [Continue reading]
May 12th to September 12th – 124 days Total mileage cycled/hiked: 3737 miles Mileage without day rides: 3623 miles Mileage without resupply runs and day rides: 3260 miles Moving time: 26 days, 14.5 hours Elevation Gain: 453,000 feet
Zero days: 26 Average overall travel speed (including zero days): 30.1 miles per …. [Continue reading]
We are done! Finished with the CDT!
Starting out in New Mexico, exactly four months ago, this moment was anything but certain. We didn’t even have a plan to make it the final miles to the northern terminus (you can’t ride bikes there), and some of the ideas to reach it were pretty …. [Continue reading]
We made it to Canada!
And it’s not just like a different country, it feels like a completely different world. These are the Rockies as I’ve never seen them. Huge, towering, majestic… and covered in snow! It feels a storybook-esque, like a fantasy land. It feels a little unreal to be finishing this thing, …. [Continue reading]
If there is one thing the CDT teaches you, it’s flexibility. The divide decides your pace and whether it makes sense to proceed or not. Sometimes we’ve busted out 70 mile days, others we struggle to hit 20. You can’t be in a hurry or have rigid plans.
It’s funny that of all the …. [Continue reading]
Well that was fairly to moderately epic! We made it through Glacier… barely. It’s snowing outside, but we found ourselves a roof and a warm bed for the night.
We woke up in Whitefish earlier than we needed to. We hit breakfast and were primed and ready for a big day. Post office 15 minutes …. [Continue reading]
Neither of us slept very well, though the night was not overly cold. Failing and turning back never tastes good. But it was absolutely the correct choice for us. Some mental demons needed a night to be worked out.
When the sun finally lit the horizon I looked up, through fuzzy eyes. Are those …. [Continue reading]
“If I seem superhuman…… I have been misunderstood.” – Dream Theater.
The CDT is long, and hard, and full of hike-a-bike. But it is not a superhuman feat. We’re just regular riders, and we get tired. We run out of patience with unrideable trail and difficult conditions. We get frustrated, we crater. We …. [Continue reading]
It was another lovely day on the Great Divide. These really are some of the best miles. If only the divide had more like them…
The highlight of the day is the closed road below Richmond Peak. It’s double track that rides like singletrack, or has deteriorated into singletrack. Apparently it’s called the Swan …. [Continue reading]
Tonight we sleep in a Jail. It costs $5, on the honor system, and has two rope strung beds. The little town of Ovando has really taken to setting up touring cyclists well. It’s really cool to see.
Besides the divide route, the Lewis and Clark road touring route comes through here. There’s …. [Continue reading]
The heavens were tearing themselves apart. East to west, the skies were angry. Transition and dischord, the merging of calm and chaos. And on the boundary, the divide, were two bikepackers, two weary and inspired CDT travelers.
To our east the sky was quiet, the sun even shining bright at times. On the west, toward …. [Continue reading]
Tires sliding on rock, heads continually scanning the horizon. Hoping, hoping that the next false summit will be true. Feet sliding, too. Incredulous. This is an unholy climb. It’s late in the day, and we wish it was later so it would be camp time.
Yet another ATVish rubble fall-line climb, right along the …. [Continue reading]
It’s official — Fall starts on September 1st in Montana. It was just over freezing when we woke up. The sun struggled to poke its head out all morning, and we spent more time riding in jackets than not, for the first time the entire trip.
There’s a crispness in the air, one that …. [Continue reading]