Colorado's Fab Four
Hikers have the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, fabled long-distance routes that are trophies for intrepid trekkers. Since its completion in 1997, the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) has offered mountain bikers a two-wheeled version of the same prize.
The 2,465-mile GDMBR is the unsurpassed monarch of mountain-bike trails. According to Montana-based Adventure Cycling, the non-profit association that conceived and mapped the trail, the GDMBR is the longest designated off-road route in the world. It roughly traces the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico as it passes through five western states: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.
Colorado's leg of the GDMBR stretches for 548 miles and offers some of the route's most scenic terrain. But it's the state's elevation that gets the most attention, especially from fully loaded riders lugging 50 pounds of gear into the rarified air.
A typical day might begin on a gentle country road in a lush valley that eventually gives way to an arduous, lung-searing climb across one or more mountain passes. In fact, riders hit the GDMBR's highest pointÂ—11,910 feetÂ—at Colorado's Indiana Pass, about 23 miles southwest of Del Norte.
The rhythm of climbing steep passes and negotiating rocky descents dictates the distance you can comfortably cover in a dayÂ—usually an average of 50 miles for the fully loaded bike-packer over the entire trail. With all the elevation gains and drops in Colorado, however, it's tough to achieve that average; allocate about two weeks for this section. If you follow the daily mileage outlined in the GDMBR's official guidebook, riding from Wyoming to New Mexico would take 11 days.
Steamboat Springs, Kremmling, Breckenridge, Silverthorne, Salida, Del Norte, and Platoro are the larger towns en route where riders can find lodging and a decent offering of supplies (beer and burgers will probably come to mind). Sprinkled in between are small towns and off-the-map general stores, so riders are never more than a couple days away from civilization and supplies.
Resources: Order GDMBR maps through Adventure Cycling (800-755-2453; www.adv-cycling.org). Cycling the Great Divide (by Michael McCoy; Mountaineers Books, 2000) provides complete trail descriptions.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication