The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is the longest in the world with an intense 2,700 miles in length. The path was created back in 1997 and still holds the place as the longest stretch of continuous trails in the world, spanning from Banff, Canada, all the way to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Only about 10% of the trail is paved, making it a true feat of skill for mountain and off-road bikers, and navigating the terrain requires skill on unmaintained tracks, gravel, and dirt roads, and narrow paths. Despite the variations in terrain, Bikepacking rates the difficulty of the route at a 5.5 out of ten.
The entire trail takes well over one month to complete and many would compare it to the biking version of finishing the Appalachian Trail as a thru-hiker. For many bikers, this is the ultimate in biking and a way to prove their skills through an accomplishment that's (literally) like none other in the world. As of 2017, the route was set to become even longer with an additional 400 miles being adding, making the total length just over 3,000 miles. Since then, those miles have been added - bringing the route to a definitive total of 3,083 miles. To say that completing this trail is an achievement would be an understatement but as many say, it's the journey that counts more than the destination.
What's It Like To Bike This Route?
For starters, the route is not nearly as remote and isolated as it seems - in stark contrast to the Appalachian Trail, the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route does run along roads and includes many specific trails or paths that are marked and have been maintained in order for a smoother ride. This is why the route itself is only rated at a 5.5 out of ten in terms of difficulty. The challenges along the trail come mostly with environmental and elevation changes, as a biker will gain an elevation of 200,000 feet in total over the span of its 3,083 miles. Therefore, bikers don't need to be world-class champions in order to attempt this long-distance bike trip; rather, they just need to be determined, motivated, and well-prepared.
It's advised that bikers go in groups no less than three but it has been done alone. In terms of finishing the route, it can be done in sections, as it's easy enough to take public transportation or arrange car rides to the nearest cities and towns in order to begin at one point, end at another, or go back the way one has come. The route is also not danger-free and there are many external factors that one must consider and be prepared for before even thinking about heading out on such a journey.
For those who have prepared themselves accordingly, the route is rewarding in more ways than one. The scenery, for instance, is second to none - biking allows riders to experience the western half of Canada and the US like no other. While similar views can be seen by hiking, there's something so distinctively beautiful about whizzing by on a bike, knowing that a pair of wheels is what propels one forward rather than just their feet. It's also far easier to appreciate these views without hauling a heavy backpack, as most of a rider's things will be strapped to their bike rather than their back. Grand Teton National Park, Alberta's Flathead Valley, South Park, Wyoming's Great Divide Basin, Colorado's Boreas Pass, Polvadrea Mesa, and, finally, the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico are all landscapes that bikers can look forward to experiencing, each one just as rewarding as the last.
Potential Dangers Associated With This Route
With that being said, the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is not free of danger. Similar to hiking, riders will need to come to terms with the fact that they are working their way through somewhat uncharted territory. Although the route is not abundantly remote, parts of it are remote enough that wild animals can be a threat to bikers who come across their paths. Grizzly bears, mountain lions, and ground-dwelling animals such as rattlesnakes, can all present themselves unexpectedly to bikers. Many carry bear spray and being told to 'stay alert' is not something that should be taken lightly.
In addition to the animals surrounding bikers along the route, things such as the weather can be unpredictable, as well. It's advised that bikers carry a GPS locator with them; this will ensure that in the event that they need help, it will be much easier for rescue teams to locate them. Additionally, the highest point along the route is 11,910 feet at Colorado's Indiana Pass, which is a steep elevation for many who are unfamiliar with high altitudes. Caution should be taken to prepare adequately for this, including packing plenty of water and food.