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 good timing. My friend Lee likened our trip to travels of old, when you’d hole up in a one-horse town to recoup and get ready for the next leg — sometimes for weeks if necessary. It was an appropriate analogy here in Wisdom, where there’s no cell service, very little traffic and not much going on. Truly a one horse town. It was also appropriate because our rate of travel had been, on average, walking pace or slower. We’d been traveling so slowly, and really getting to know the mountains — each pass and drainage left its mark. It was a wonderful way to travel slowly and see so much — dragging bicycles up into the mountains, and (sometimes) riding them back down.
Even though this was already our second stop in Wisdom, we decided to go for a third. We left our gear in town and struck out early in the clearing clouds. Self-supported slack packing!
(slack packing is a thru-hiking term when someone, usually a vehicle, carries your pack for you and you hike unloaded).
Good trail, then not-so-good trail. A classic abrupt CDT transition.
It felt fantastic to get more for our pedal stroke, and more for our hike-a-bike footsteps. But the trail from Big Hole Pass to Chief Joseph was difficult, even unloaded.
Best sign of the trip. For myself, being a dreamer, this photo gives hope of more long distance bikepacking opportunities in the future, even though the sign is just a joke.
Tiny ‘shroom forest next to a nice spring, just off route.
Marmot and Trail Dog! We hadn’t seen them since Pie Town.
It was very rare for us to catch hikers on the CDT when it’s trail (or jumbletrack), though we did often try. Give us a nice little road, though, and all bets are off. Mountain bikes are the most versatile way to travel human powered!
We scratched our heads when we saw this sign. Note that the burn area covers 90% of the CDT here. Why is it locals had told us to go ride it?
From Gibbons Pass we decided to give it a go anyway. Burn area, yes, but it appears to be clear!
By the time we hit the dozens of trees down, it was too late. We had climbed, descended. Sunlight was failing us. Gotta keep moving.
The rains came. Rainbows came out to play. Burn areas are beautiful.
But we were happy to leave this one, without bivy gear or food. It was a long pedal back to Wisdom, but we made it back before midnight to the tune of a 90 mile day.
A few days later, the locals went out and cleared all the trees. There were still many hikers behind us, so it was well timed.
I believe we counted ten visits to “The Crossing” for meals. Very good food, but you can’t be in a hurry — because they never are. It was almost sad to roll on and finally leave the Big Hole. It was a vortex that kept us around longer than it should have, but we enjoyed our time there.
An actual recovery ride (Wilderness detour) took us out of the Big Hole, and towards Fleecer Ridge.
We camped in a beautiful field, with snowy peaks above us.
Fleecer is an iconic section of the GDMBR. In a rare twist, I think the CDT may be easier, northbound.
The mountains are full of well done ATV and moto trails. Only minimal hike-a-bike, by CDT standards.
We loved it.
Especially the never-ending descent to I-15.
Followed by the reciprocal scorching climb.
Butte 100 tape! We are somewhere that actual *mountain bikers* ride!
Yes, yes, great trail. Lots of it.
Hurrah for the Butte CDT. Great for bikepacking, day riding, hiking, everything.
For miles the divide is littered with these piles of rock, and the trail weaves around them.
13 miles more CDT, but it dead ends! I believe this is the first and only place the trail ending in the middle of nowhere was actually signed as such. Bravo, Butte forest service.
Based on a local tip, we descended straight into town on an old railroad grade. Best possible use of elevation as we smiled and coasted all the way in.
That’s not us, but close enough. We ran new cables and brake cables thanks to Rob and Larry at the Outdoorsman. Thanks guys!
First bike shop on the route for…. 1.5 months? Steamboat Springs was the last one.
A day ride took us on the not-yet-punched-through CDT, and to “the Lady.”
Nature’s own “Ladies”, also right on the divide. This will be a fantastic addition to the CDT route, and should be ready next year.
Descending it unloaded made me long for more unloaded day riding. It’s ideal MTB terrain, where you couldn’t build an un-fun trail if you tried.
Our poor bounce box. We finally coughed up the $3 on a new box, shipping our laptops to our last ‘bounce’, in Whitefish. That turned out to be a mistake that cost us twenty or so bonus miles. But that’s a story for another post.
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 the CDT miles are even better (I have ridden them before they were closed).
The gentle warmup ceases as soon as we jump on the CDT at Morrison Lake. There’s one pitch that’s so steep that hikers were still talking about it days later! Glad we aren’t the only ones that notice such things.
We found the divide, and the huge views that awaited us there. Light curtains of rain were caressing the landscape, in all directions.
It was a fine evening for sky watching.
We were glad when evening and camp time came. Hopefully a good night’s rest would energize.
Because the rollercoaster beckons.
This was actually a fairly friendly section of divide-coastering. The surface of the ‘road’ was good, meaning the downhills were fast and straightforward. But, yeah, we pushed bikes up.
Elk Mountain’s singletrack broke the coaster-ride, while continuing to climb.
we heart riding on the divide
Wow. Above 10,000′ for one of few times in Montana, we praised the singletrack for contouring around peaks, even if it disappeared in the saddles.
The singletrack descent was pure gold, and even surprised us with a ripping contour descent where it looked like we were in for a steep climb. But eventually it did run out and we were back to coastering, all the way to Bannock Pass.
At the pass. Just placed by Stumbling Beef and Pepper Flake. We did not hitch, nor did we descend the 2500 feet into Leadore. Though we certainly should have.
Finding water was a bit of a challenge, though eventually one of the ‘to spring’ signs panned out close to the trail. Some of the signs told you to boil water for 5 minutes, others for 10.
We didn’t want to drop all the way down there when we had plenty of food. But we could have used the rest, and reportedly there was a very friendly innkeeper there.
The tree of souls. I loved how quickly the landscape would change from dry plains to enchanted forest.
Nearing Lemhi Pass, we bumped into all sorts of hikers, and we all ended up camping within a mile or two of each other.
Good singletrack and mellow terrain — on the divide!
Until it punched out of the trees and onto the talus. Pretty friendly terrain for XC travel, if you’re willing to push/pull/drag bikes some.
Gabriel, Marmot and Stumblin’ Beef, climbing the peak we just came down from. It was a real brake burner!
From scrambling over peaks to PRIME singletrack. The Goldstone Pass area is definitely worth a revisit, and more exploration.
The trailbuilders had quite a challenge to build this to sustainable standards, and I think they nailed it. Bring your switchback A-game!
We’re back on the trail after a bit of a debacle trying to resupply at Jackson Hot Springs. The springs were awesome, and we got a little rest. But we could have done without the 36 mile ride to resupply in Wisdom.
Just like leaving Lima, we were tired before we even got on the trail. Never a good sign.
Wrap the bedroll in the tarp, it’s going to be a rainy next few weeks.
This area has a wonderful primitive and wild feel. I’m grateful we are able to ride/hike it as a part of CDTbike, even if it did hurt us.
A near re-enactment of a classic CDT photo, found at Berthoud Pass and bikepacking.net.
Blooming bear grass!
Oops, only part of a bridge. Lots of trail work going on in this area. Super good news for bikepackers.
Upper Slag-a-Melt Lake. We get to see places like this! Pinch me, we get to ride in places like this!
We go down!
The photo I posted to ‘the facebook’ to gather some crowdsourced energy. It worked to reverse the slag-a-meltdown.
Moving again! Running from storms!
More incredible trailbuilding through very unstable and precarious terrain.
Down there, that’s Idaho!
Dreamy trail, surrounded by difficult terrain. Makes the reward all that much more sweet.
Too bad we couldn’t descend for longer above the treeline.
One word: wet. As in, everything was wet. Several rounds of storms.
A semi-tempting spot to hide from the rain for the night, but we pushed on.
Juicy. As was our camp back on the divide, at Big Hole Pass. At least we were able to determine that our little tarp is good enough for a good old fashioned downpour — our first of the summer!
We left the divide and descended straight to Wisdom the next day. The rain continued for the next two days.
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 CDT blazes found only in MT
Oh Montana, you started out so nice and friendly.
You lured us in with gentle grades and big views.
And rain. At least the start of the state was consistent with the rest in that regard.
It seemed like all it ever did was rain in West Yellowstone. We managed to dodge several storms up on the divide, while the valley got hammered.
Switchbacks or fall-line? You choose.
Usually there isn’t such a choice.
We found new trail along the divide and climbing to Lionshead.
Switchback attacks meant it was 100% rideable, even bikepacking.
Though storms built there was no dampening our mood. This was some of the best riding on the entire CDT.
Cairn to cairn. Trail needs more use. Do you know how to bikepack? Get out there!
Unless you don’t like riding along cliff edges with huge views, and ground so soft and friendly you don’t even need a trail to follow. Just keep following the ridge.
Signs will show the way, occasionally too. We camped on a small ridge, which ended up being the only dry spot for miles around. No storms that night.
We woke up and continued riding through enchanted forest.
With trail supremely rideable.
Until the switchback challenge began. Then we rode between turns, and sometimes around them, too.
After cresting the shoulder of Targhee Peak, one of few times the CDT in Montana goes over 10,000 feet, the descent took us through wildflowers that rivaled Crested Butte in its prime.
Yep, like that.
49 switchbacks later we were back in the lowlands, and searching for traces of trail in the forest. It was fun, believe it or not.
Cranking the granny gear to Raynolds Pass. The clouds behind Eszter don’t look like much, but within the hour they gain enough moisture and energy to wreak havoc on… everything. The most powerful storm of the trip hit us here, with big hail and so much rain that the 2-track turned into a raging river. Wooo hoo!
Mr. Petervary, mid Fitzbarn race. He would go on that day to more rain and hail in the Centennial valley, ripping his derailleur off and rendering his bike unusable. He got a new bike to finish, but it cost him the race.
Column of rain to the left. Column of rain to the right.
It was cool to run into a bunch of bikepackers out racing, purely by happenstance.
Back on the divide in the Centennials, rejoining as the trail turned from 2-track to no-track. The beginning of the trail was doing well to keep people off it. But as we learned many times this summer, never judge a trail by its first mile.
This one got good. Real good. More supremely rideable and well graded singletrack climbing.
Replete with flowers, no less.
Perfectly manicured trail. How they got this to stay like this, so far in the backcountry, I’ll never know.
Getting into some Centennial goodness.
This view was completely unexpected and dropped my jaw.
The transition from smooth green hills to steep and eroded rock is sharp. I’m glad we were riding on the smooth side!
A huge sego lily!
After some miles of grassed over roads and bumpy meadows, good and well used singletrack took us to Aldous Lake.
Thanks Corey Biggers, and other mountain bikers!
The views when riding along the divide never get old.
The hike-a-bikes… well, they maybe do get old.
Dead chipmunk in spring. The search for water is on.
The divide is probably the worst place to put a trail for access to water.
The dreaded downhill hike-a-bike. I rode that entire section, but regretted it halfway down.
Fenceline riding. A huge relief from steep trail.
We’ve come so far. Little did we know what challenges remained…
A dirt road has never looked so good. Full focus is finally not required to ride. Ahhh…
Several days of incredible Montana riding, but the sign was appropriate. Montana was just beginning…
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 CDTBike – Statistics and report card
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 wild.
…. Continue reading Day 112 — CDT done!
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 Day 111 – Canada!
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 Day 109 and Day 110 — Flexibility. Waiting for sun in Babb, MT.
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 Day 108 — Glacier!
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 Day 107 — When winter calls, run to the border!
“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 Day 106 — Misunderstood
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 Day 105 – Great Divide Richmond Goodness
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 Day 104 – Lovely spin on the GDMBR
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 Day 103 – Out with a bang
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 Day 102 – Last full day on the CDT proper
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 Day 101 — First day of Fall
It was a slow morning. We woke up to drizzles on the tarp. I fetched the food and stove from our hanging tree in a lull, then we cooked from within the tarp. More drizzles. We went back to bed. These fools don’t start rides in the rain… if at all possible.
After a …. Continue reading Day 100 – Champion trail, Champion hike-a-bike
We made some 25 trail miles today, leaving town at 1 pm and with an hour of climbing on the railroad grade just to rejoin the trail. That’s great CDT time. Sure, half was on roads, but there was still hike-a-bike and other challenges in there.
Like rain. 50 percent chance in Butte means …. Continue reading Day 99 — Still good through Delmoe
Ah the Outdoorsman. Our first bike shop in many hundreds of miles and more than a month. The last true bike shop was in Winter Park, I believe. Our bikes needed some love. Rob runs a great show and is ever so kind to divide riders. Larry the mechanic got us going with new …. Continue reading Days 97 & 98 – Rest and Super Butte Ride