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Planning to Ride the Great Divide – Banff to Yellowstone

This post is a dynamic notepad for planning my mountain bike ride from Banff to Colorado(ish) this year and likely, Colorado to Mexico later in the year or in 2015. I will cover planning, equipment selection, useful links and anything else I think of interest.
Useful Links

A good starting point is to research the trip….
Adventure Cycling Association – A great site for basic information, maps/books and GPS files. They cover all of the US and you could probably spend a good many years pedalling around!
http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=1&doc_id=12850&v=Ho – A site with various trips documented, lots of inspiring photos.http://www.ridethedividemovie.com/ – Documentary about the race, which occurs in June. A lot faster than the tour but a good watch nonetheless.
http://www.topofusion.com/divide/index.php – Online journal of touring couple who rode the great divide.

The Guide Book
Cycling The Great Divide 2nd Edition: From Canada to Mexico on North America's Premier Long-Distance Mountain Bike Route


Obviously a bike helps! I will be taking the 29er Banshee Paradox V2 that I built last summer. I should change the Schwalbe Hans Dampf 2.35 tubeless tires to something a little smaller maybe a couple of Schwalbe Racing Ralphs will do the job. The front fork has a lock out that will help when riding the fire track, the challenge is the panniers/trailer setup.

For my road tour I picked up a Burley Nomad off of Craigslist, it was stable and allowed me to store more items than I really required. I will definitely be packing more lightly this time around, I am hoping to pick up a
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 Person Tent
and a MSR WhisperLite Universal Stove. Back to the trailer, the downside with the Nomad is the two wheels, riding single track could be a little challenging. Some alternatives are the BOB, and also the Extra Wheel, I think I am going to go with the latter. **UPDATE** I have the Extra Wheel built and waiting for a wheel before some test rides!
**UPDATE** I have the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 person tent.

Pannier selection, if you thought this was going to be simple….apparently panniers are designed for road or for off-road rides, they are interchangable but with caveats, weight, stability, longevity. I have read some stories where the panniers have bounced around and at times prevented the rider from enjoying the single track – lets face it, if you dont get to ride the single track you are missing out on a big part of the ride. The road style of pannier comes with a hook that wraps around a lower piece of the rack, the alternative style has a plastic catch that will rotate into place and leads to a more stable ride.
**UPDATE** I have a pair of Ortlieb Backroller panniers, 80L in total, could be tight for all the gear.

Staying Safe
Bears live out there, grizzlies, brown and black bears. Its easy to control my actions, i.e food supplies, bike issues. Its a little harder to control the actions of the bear, although we can minimize conflict areas. There are numerous accounts of conflict between humans and bears, I find this recent incident to be humourous but also it highlights that it can just be bad luck Wildlife conflict specialist describes Jasper grizzly attack

The best option is avoid bears, the next option is to have some defensive mechanisms handy. Its best to know which type of bear you have encountered, for this trip Im pretty certain it will not be a polar bear, it could be a brown bear, a black bear or a grizzly bear. The grizzly holds a mystique of its own, it will stalk its prey and it likes to consume food that is still alive, if it really comes down to it, play dead! If it is not a grizzly then playing dead will mean the bear will continue its feast, fight back to repel the bear!

Before we get to the eating stage you will likely observe the bear from a greater distance, make sure you are not between the bear and its cubs, make some noise, make yourself look bigger – maybe I will pick the bike up above my head. If the bear is still inquisitive then talk to the bear with a cool, calm voice and slowly back away while avoiding eye contact. Bears will stand on their hind legs to smell and its not a sign of attack, if they are preparing to attack they will start to stomp around and “grunt” they may then charge you, they will sprint full speed and then stop short before backing off. At this point you know its time to get out of there, this may be the last chance before the attack, you still should remain calm, do not run, running will make you seem like prey. If its a grizzly and you choose to climb a tree make sure you are above 4 meters, if its a black bear it may follow you up the tree.

Carrying defensive deterrents may also help, bear spray is a no brainer, easy to purchase and carry. It needs to be easily accessible i.e not in a pannier, if the bear decides I am tasty then I will have to react quickly. The bear will have to get fairly close as I would not want to miss and the wind has to blowing away from me, otherwise I will just be a more peppery flavoured tasty morsel.

I thought Bear bangers would be a good idea but there are some caveats, classed as a firearm they are not allowed in provincial parks or across the border. Bear bangers can also trigger wild fires as the flare can set the dry tinder on fire especially in the dry months of July/Aug. Hunters would recommend a gun, however, apart from similar issues to the bear bangers it is apparently surprisingly hard to get a bullet through the skull of a bear, thick skull and a tendancy to run at you so fast that you have little time to load and cock a gun, let alone hit a specific point that would stop the bear in its tracks. If the bang from firing the gun does not scare the bear can serve to aggravate it, a shot that wounds the bear could make it defensive and more aggressive. Im also not sold on the idea of using lethal force, maybe I would change my mind if it really came down to choosing between myself and a bear however by the time I came up with a decision it would likely be too late.

There is a certain element of mental preparedness, not just for the bears but for the whole trip – Que Sera, Sera – Whatever will be, will be. More bear information can be found at the BC Bear Safe webpage.

The Schedule – Part 1 Banff to Yellowstone area.
This is the schedule suggested by the book, I am likely to double up on some days and try to cover some extra distance.

Full Packing List
General –
Inflatable mattress
Sleeping bag
First aid kit (incl acetamenophin)
Stove & burner & fuel canister
Cooking pot
Dish soap
Cloth/dish towel
Water bottle
Water filter
Zip lock bags and plastic bags
Bear spray, bear bell, air horn
Duct tape
Zap straps
Multi tool
Spare tube
Patch kit
Spoke wrench
Bike padlock
Spare gear cable
Disc brake blocks for transportation
Camera gear – D90, 18-55mm lens, filter(s), charger
Solar panel with USB cables
NiMH & spare Li-Ion AA’s
Cell phone & roaming data plan
Toilet paper
Bug spray
Chamois butt’er
Shower gel/deodorant
Lip balm/moisturiser

Clothing –
Waterproof jacket
Waterproof pants
T-shirt x2
Long sleeved top
Chamois x2/x3
Cycling gloves
Glasses & lens
Socks x2/x3
Cycling Shoes

Food –
Minute Rice – Already dehydrated, just add hot water!
Soup powder – Mix with the ride.
Protein – Beans or dehydrated meat, jerky, add to the above and you are good to go.
Chocolate peanut butter
Thin rice cakes – Instant chocolatey snack with lots of energy
Gatorade/Vega powder – Flavour the  water and get electrolytes

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1 Comment

  1. Nicola Stevens May 2, 2014

    Go for it. sounds great and exhausting!

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