Touring the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route vs. Racing the Tour Divide

Riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) or racing the Tour Divide is a rite of passage for many bikepackers; it’s seen as the “Big One” in North America. Stretching 2,745 miles from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, it loosely follows the Continental Divide through the Rocky Mountains on a series of dirt and paved roads. The fastest men can complete the route in under 14 days, while most people who tour it take six to ten weeks. 

In 2018, I had the opportunity to tour the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) with my husband Andrew Strempke. While we initially were attracted to racing, the rules of the event require solo, self-supported travel, and we wanted to ride together. And so we did, completing the route in 25 days. Four years later, in 2022, we both lined up to race the Tour Divide with the intention of completing the route within the constraints provided by the event. While we weren’t going to go out of our way to avoid seeing each other out on the route, the reality was that unless something went very wrong for Andrew, the chances of us riding near each other was fairly minimal. 

Touring versus racing the route yielded two vastly different experiences. Racing tends to be more glorified by other people, but touring was just as satisfying, and in 2018, I believe it was the better choice for me at the time. There are benefits and drawbacks to each style of trip, and I feel lucky to have been able to experience both.

Rules, What Rules?

While the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is open for anyone to ride under any style, signing up for Tour Divide means that you’re agreeing to pedal your bike from Banff to Antelope Wells in a self-supported solo fashion following the route mile for mile. On the other hand, touring provides the freedom to accept assistance from anyone, to share gear with as many people as you want, ride as fast or slow as you desire, and to detour around impassable roads or sections of the route that you’d rather not ride. 

Touring: There are no rules! Choose your own adventure! The biggest determining factor that caused Andrew and I to choose touring over racing in 2018 was the Tour Divide’s rules about riding solo and self supported. Completing the route together was more important to use than officially completing Tour Divide. Andrew and I rode side by side the whole time, supported each other during low points, and kept each other entertained. We split gear to lighten our loads and deviated from the route a couple of times when following the route would have meant pushing through hours of mud, something we preferred to avoid whenever possible. We did want to complete our tour under our own power, so we didn’t ever get into a vehicle with the exception of a short road section that was under construction. The workers required us to take the pilot car until the end of the one-lane section of road. There was no one to question whether taking that ride in the pilot car invalidated our ride. 

Racing: When I signed up for the Tour Divide, I agreed to abide by the rules of the race. There aren’t many, but the gist is that you agree to follow the entirety of the route in a solo self-supported fashion. With so much rain this year, making a turn onto a road I knew would be a sloppy mess when there was a perfectly good paved road that parallels the route was a bummer at times. That being said, knowing I was following the same route as all the racers, facing and overcoming similar challenges, and finding ways to make it through challenging conditions was rewarding in the end.

Riding self-supported also means carrying your own gear. When my dynamo light broke and I knew I’d have to spend more time charging electronics in towns, another racer offered me his extra battery pack and a light. While racer-to-racer support is typically tolerated, this definitely felt like a gray area and seemed a lot like sharing gear, so I chose to decline the offer, even though it would have saved me time.

Following the rules challenged me to solve my own problems and be mentally flexible when unexpected issues arose, which helped me to grow in my confidence as a bikepacker and solo woman traveler.

Counting Grams, Optimizing for Safety

The main difference in my gear between racing and touring was due to the fact that I couldn’t split the load with anyone during the race. Since I was going solo, it was important to maintain all of my own gear. I also had to be confident in using everything I carried. I wouldn’t have Andrew’s light or utensil or jacket if something happened to mine.   

Touring: As we prepared for our tour, we decided we wanted to go light. We went with a minimal setup with no stove, no extra camp clothes, and one set of riding clothes. We split tools, a first-aid kit, and a two-person tent. Since we were on a 30-day timeline for our trip, including travel to and from the start, we had to cover ground quickly, and minimizing the weight on our bikes made a significant difference in the speed we could travel. The fact that we were able to share gear meant my load was actually lighter on the tour than it was racing. 

Racing: When choosing gear for a race effort, it’s always a balance of being as light as possible while still being as safe as possible. I made some gear changes based on what I learned from the tour and my additional bikepacking experience. On the 2018 tour, I brought a 30-degree quilt and a foam pad and found myself too cold a few nights. For the race, I upgraded to a 25-degree sleeping bag and an insulated air pad. This setup actually ended up being too warm for most of the race and I woke up several nights in a puddle of sweat and drool, but it gave me confidence that I would be warm despite the wet and cold weather. I also brought more substantial rain gear after getting rained on during our tour in 2018 and finding that ultralight rain gear just doesn’t keep me warm or dry enough. I also chose to use a synthetic puffy rather than a down puffy. Synthetic insulation stays warm when it’s wet and down does not, but it also doesn’t compress nearly as effectively. I anticipated being soggy from rain or sweat for at least part of the ride, so the trade-off was worth it. I made sure all my tools worked and that I knew how to use them to fix common mechanicals. 

Optimized for Speed…or Enjoyment

When people hear “touring,” they tend to automatically think you’re going slow and bringing the kitchen sink. That wasn’t the style of tour we were interested in, though plenty of people do that too. During our tour, we rode fast, but took it slow in towns to eat lots of food and get plenty of rest. In the end, my race pace was several days faster, not necessarily because I actually rode faster, but mostly because I just rode longer and stopped for as little time as possible, rushing through resupplies and meals. 

Touring: Andrew and I completed our tour in 25 days, which is a pretty quick pace for a non-race effort. It felt good to challenge my body to go hard and cover ground quickly. I loved riding my bike all day and anyhow, we were on a timeline. Despite having a deadline to be back, not having the pressure of racing allowed us to slow down without guilt. One of our favorite stops during the trip was the Llama Ranch in Montana. We arrived in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day visiting with the owners Barbara and John rather than pushing on until dark. Later in the route, we stopped at Brush Mountain Lodge for several hours in the middle of the day where we ate pizza and drank beer, sitting and chatting for a few hours before continuing along the route. Being able to stop and spend time with Kirsten, who runs Brush Mountain Lodge was special, and she has become one of our best friends since then. Even though our tour took longer than the race for me, it was certainly not easy. No matter the pace, the Divide route will kick your ass some days. 

Racing: My finish time during the race was 19 days and 16 hours. I probably didn’t actually ride much faster, but I rode longer each day and minimized stop time to complete the route in less time. Optimizing stop time and systems is one of my favorite parts of racing. It feels like free speed when you can get in and out of town or set up and tear down camp efficiently. I’ve tried to figure out exactly why I like bikepack racing and I honestly don’t have a great answer. I love challenging my body and the camaraderie of the other racers. I like making decisions under pressure and being forced to rely on myself to solve problems. Crossing a finish line knowing that I used my body and brain to the best of my ability to traverse an established route as fast as I could is a rewarding feeling. 

Following The Route…Or Not

The Tour Divide route and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route have some minor differences. When we were touring, we followed whichever one made sense at the time and deviated a few times when it made sense. When I chose to race, following the Tour Divide route mile for mile was required. 

Touring: Making route choices was something extra we had to think about on our tour. We had the freedom to choose where we’d ride, but we also had to take responsibility for those choices if things didn’t work out. Our first detour from the Tour Divide route was around the hours-long hike-a-bike up Koko Claims in British Columbia, Canada. We had done zero hike-a-bike training and figured the risk of injury using untrained muscles wasn’t worth it. We talked to a local mechanic in Banff and he confirmed that going through Sparwood was a better choice for us and even gave us recommendations to take some new singletrack that paralleled the Great Divide Route. We had a blast on that section of trail and when we rejoined the route in Fernie, we saw racers with mud-covered bikes and bodies. Andrew and I looked at each other and agreed that we made the right call.

We didn’t escape every opportunity to hike through mud, though. Our longest mud stretch was on the legendary Bannack Road. We hiked for miles with our bikes on our shoulders or backs when rolling our bikes meant the tires collected mud and became bogged down in seconds. After encountering another rider at an intersection who told us the next section “was like something out of a nightmare” with more mud, it was an easy decision to take a paved short-cut into Lima. We agreed that detouring around long hike-a-bike sections with mud would help us maintain our sanity and have more fun on our trip. Detouring around spots that promised only suffering and misery didn’t make me feel any less like a route finisher at the end, but it definitely made for a more fun experience. I felt successful just getting from Banff to Antelope Wells under my own power. 

Racing: To be a Tour Divide finisher, I was required to follow the published race route exactly. The times I went off route for supplies, I had to re-enter the route at the same point I left it. A wrong turn meant I would need to go back from where I deviated from the route to correct the mistake. When it was raining going over Togwotee Pass, I had to make the turn onto the notoriously muddy Brooks Lake Road to hike and ride through slop and snow instead of detouring on the paved road that paralleled it. When I’d toured the route, I’d taken the detour, so I knew exactly how nice the pavement was while I was trudging along at a mile an hour. 

Participating in the race made route decisions easy. I just followed the line on my GPS and hiked when I needed to. If I wanted to finish, I had to stay on route. Since detouring around slow or potentially dangerous situations wasn’t an option, I also had to consider weather forecasts and my timing carefully. 

Town Time

During the tour, we didn’t really care how long resupply stops took. We typically sat down for a meal in a restaurant at least once a day and drank local beers. While I was racing, efficient resupplies were important. Limiting stop time is free speed and since I was demanding so much of my body, I didn’t drink beer along the way. 

Touring: On our tour, we ate well and neither of us lost weight. Missing restaurant or grocery store hours didn’t mean we needed to keep moving to the next stop or eat a gas station burrito for dinner, we could just… wait. The pace of our resupplies was relaxed. We often took two-hour lunch breaks at restaurants and leisurely walked down the aisles of a grocery store or gas station until we had everything we needed. Salida became one of my favorite towns on the route after eating a huge barbecue Hawaiian pizza and salad at Moonlight Pizza and Brewpub. We slept in a hostel there and stayed up late talking with Continental Divide Trail hikers and other travelers. Our huge meals at cafes and conversations with both locals and other bike tourers added to our experience and gave us a flavor of the communities we were passing through. 

Racing: Logistics and efficiency can be an interesting puzzle to figure out during a bikepacking race. Riding later into the night meant that hitting towns during business hours was more challenging. Before the race, I studied the towns and added business hours to a spreadsheet. I was aware of the times I might need to stock up on more food if I was going to potentially miss the next resupply.

When I was a few miles from a town, I would pull up my spreadsheet where I had calculated the distance, estimated time, and estimated calories needed to get to the next stop. I would start making a list in my head of the foods I wanted to get. “Potato chips, candy bars, some kind of gummy candy, pastries, burritos.” You know, all kinds of healthy stuff. I would run over that list in my head, picturing where I might find those things in the gas station or grocery store I was headed to. When I arrived at the stop, I would immediately start looking for an outlet if I needed to charge my electronics, then I would go into the store with my phone calculator in hand. I would walk down the aisles putting food into my basket, adding up the calories until I had enough. Then I would focus on the meal I wanted to eat right then. Normally a vegetarian, I made some exceptions to my normal diet, eating chicken at times when I couldn’t find another good protein source in a gas station.

I ate while I packed up my bike instead of sitting down at a restaurant with one exception. I arrived in Sargents, Colorado, feeling nostalgic. It’s where the Western Express ACA Route crosses the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Having been there with Andrew both on our cross-country tour in 2012 and our 2018 tour got me all sappy and I felt like I needed to sit down, reset, and get some real food in me. 

Companionship or Solitude

I feel lucky to have shared the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route with Andrew. We made countless memories that we still reflect on today. During the race, I found companionship, but my time with other racers was brief and I spent most of the ride by myself. This might sound lonely, but I also really value alone time and moments spent by myself in beautiful places can be equally as moving for me as moments in those places with another person. 

Touring: Andrew and I rode the entire route side by side. It was really special to have shared the experience with the most important person in my life. We were in tune with each other’s needs, moods, and when to provide a gentle reminder that maybe the other needs a snack. When conditions were tough, we kept each other’s minds busy by playing 20 questions. We made decisions as a team about where to stop for food and where to camp for the night. We had both of our brains to deal with mechanicals and make decisions about any reroutes.

In general, riding together tends to be slower. You’re going whatever pace the slowest person at the time is going and end up taking more breaks since you’re dealing with two people’s needs. We typically rode about the same pace and if one of us needed a break, the other was patient. We both wanted the other to feel good and enjoy the ride.

Andrew and I are fortunate that we get along really well, but we did have our moments. I know that Andrew was pretty upset with me when I lost my rain jacket on a rough descent one day just before sunset. (I have since learned that everything that I want to keep goes in a zipper pocket). He sprinted back up the road to go find it while I rode much more slowly behind him. Fortunately a kind racer picked it up so he didn’t have to ride too far up the climb. Then there was the time when Andrew insisted on taking photos of the Montana/Idaho border sign in a thunderstorm. As someone who hates thunderstorms, all I wanted to do was ride down the pass and became increasingly frustrated as Andrew insisted on taking several selfies. 

Racing: 

While the Tour Divide is set up to be ridden solo, many racers end up forming small groups to ride with. While I rode mostly alone, I did have some time riding alongside other racers, typically for a short time. I would see other racers in towns and when we took breaks. Spending time with people briefly once a day was enough social interaction to keep me sane. I’m a pretty introverted and independent person. Extensive alone time doesn’t bother me and is something I look forward to. Still, every time I would run into my good friend and fellow racer Zack, who was also on a singlespeed, we would chat and share a few miles. The emotional boost provided by those interactions was undeniable.

Andrew was also racing the Tour Divide this year. We anticipated not seeing each other unless something went wrong for him. We agreed not to communicate about the race at all while we were out there. We sent a few voice memos with funny stories. I told him about the time I ate jalapeño chips and they went down the wrong pipe and I gave myself a bloody nose coughing them back up. We promised to not say, “I miss you,” because it just makes us both sad. But I did miss him, and being alone definitely reminded me how much I love Andrew, my friends, and my family.  

One of the hardest moments during my race was leaving Brush Mountain Lodge. Kirsten wasn’t planning to be there during the race, but she was. I had already stopped in Savery just 15 miles down the hill for an hour, so I didn’t have more time to spare to spend time with her and my good friend, Jolly, who was helping at the lodge. I left in tears, wishing I could have stayed. I was comforted by the thought that I could come back to the lodge after I was finished. 

Traveling solo meant that I generally had to deal with my fears alone, but after a particularly scary lightning experience outside of Pie Town, I was glad to be able to decompress with other bikepackers and hikers at the Toaster House in Pie Town. Just a few miles out of town, I’d felt electricity running through both of my hands through my handlebars and jumped off my bike and got under a small clump of juniper trees. I set up my tarp to stay dry and sat in the lightning position until the storm passed. I was pretty hysterical. After that, I decided to stay at the Toaster House in Pie Town. I felt like I needed indoor accommodations and to talk to other humans to feel okay to go back out into the elements the next day. Jefferson, the host, made a hot meal for me, the other bike tourers, and the CDT hiker staying there. I spent a lot more time talking with them than I normally would have during a race. Talking about our experiences on the route and what life is like outside of bike touring and racing helped me to reset and calm down. 

Outside of the emotional support of companionship, I had to be confident in my ability to fix my bike, make good choices in a fatigued state, and be safe on my own. I haven’t always felt confident bikepacking solo, but as I’ve gained more experience I’ve become more comfortable. One of the only times I felt weird being alone is when I saw a man on the side of the trail who was loading a gun. He asked, “Are you alone?” I went ahead and told him that there are other riders right behind me, which is my typical answer for any man who asks me that question. 

Sharing the Experience

I wanted to document both our tour and my race. It’s so easy to forget little details if you don’t record or write them down. Documentation takes extra effort, but I’m happy that I did it during both trips.

Touring: On our tour, I laid in my sleeping bag and typed out a blog post with pictures from my phone every night so that our friends and family could follow along, and now I can look back and remember something from each day of the tour. Andrew also took an action camera and made a video about our trip. I found that we were less likely to record our low moments riding together since it’s a bit rude to put a camera in your partner’s face when they’re having a bad time. 

Video from our tour

Racing: Documenting my race was important to me. I carried a GoPro and posted occasional Instagram stories. Race documentation by outside media crews during the Tour Divide has been met with controversy in recent years, so aside from wanting the footage for myself, I wanted to show that there is a self-supported way to tell my story. My Instagram stories and GoPro footage is certainly not as beautiful as a professionally documented film, but it’s raw and I like it that way. Most of my documentation was done while I was pedaling, and I put together the GoPro footage when I was recovering after the race. 

It’s interesting to think about the ethics of posting on social media in the context of self-supported racing. I inevitably got encouraging messages whenever I posted. Knowing that my friends were watching definitely made me want to continue to ride my best. Ultimately I decided that since people generally have access to a smart phone with social media, I wasn’t giving myself an unfair advantage by posting on Instagram. Some may disagree, but I feel good about what I chose to do during the race. I was intentional about my posts as to not solicit advice or support from other people and maintain the self-supported nature of the ride.

Video from my race

Romance, or Lack Thereof, of Camping

For a lot of bikepacking trips, finding a beautiful camping spot can be a highlight of the trip. When racing, I went to bed after dark and any spot was as good as the next. We put a little more intention into camp spots while touring, and I slept better during our tour knowing there was another set of ears next to me. 

Touring: Andrew and I slept most nights in our two-person tent. We’d start looking for a spot to camp as sunset approached. We didn’t care so much about whether we slept somewhere scenic, but we had higher standards than when I raced. We got a couple hotel rooms when the weather was wet. I admittedly stole Andrew’s puffy jacket on nights when I was cold! We typically woke up with the sun and quit pedaling at sunset, giving us plenty of rest. We rode past dark one night in New Mexico to beat the heat which turned out to be the only time we saw a bear during the entire trip. Aside from those few miles, we saw the whole route in the daylight. 

Racing: My standards for camping while racing were pretty low and I almost always rode past sunset. I didn’t mind riding in the dark since I had seen the route in the daylight before. Riding at night is a new way to experience the same place differently. I love looking up at the stars on a clear night and seeing animals who are normally sleeping during the daytime. Since I was riding more in the morning and evening, I had way more wildlife sightings during the race than during the tour. I saw several bears, one little fuzzball of a bear cub, a mountain lion, three moose during the day and three at night, countless deer and pronghorn, and a handful of other smaller animals.  

When it was time to choose a spot to sleep, I made sure the location I chose was dry and not too high in elevation. If there was snow, that was a hard no. In New Mexico, the monsoons were so intense that it was difficult to find a spot that didn’t look like water was running there at some point. The worst camp spot I chose was on the side of the highway under a tree next to a bunch of garbage. It was one of the only dry-ish spots I could find. 

I enjoyed indoor accommodations twice during the race, at the Llama Ranch in Montana and at the Toaster House in New Mexico. Those nights felt very luxurious. If you count pit toilets, I had a few additional nights inside in bear country. I camped with other riders for two of the nights. Aside from that, I slept under my tarp, in my bivy, by myself. 

Getting to Antelope Wells

During both trips, a big goal was finishing the route. I made different decisions during both trips to meet my goals. While I was racing I had to make these decisions under pressure. 

Touring: The top goal for our tour was finishing the route. While we were on a timeline, we took a couple of shorter days in the beginning while our bodies got used to pedaling long miles. It wasn’t a big deal to stop early because there was no pressure of racing. When Andrew’s Achilles tendons started to flare up a few days in and we saw a sign for a brewery in the middle of nowhere, we stopped and drank beer even though we had just taken a lunch break. This gave his ankles a much needed rest, allowed us to reflect on all the riding we’d done so far, and gave us a Montana cultural experience. Being able to make choices without the pressure of racing undoubtedly helped us make decisions that got us to Antelope Wells. 

Racing: Finishing the route was also a goal for the race, but more than that, I wanted to go faster than I did during our tour. If for some reason I wasn’t able to go that pace due to body or bike issues, I probably would have considered scratching. It just wouldn’t be worth putting my body through the stress if I couldn’t meet my goal. This was definitely a change in attitude for someone who used to value finishing at all costs. 

During the race, I let the speed of others dictate some of my decision making. The day I got into Colorado, I was the third woman. I was six hours behind Ana, the second woman, and 14 hours behind Zoe, the first woman. It was clear to me that I had no chance of winning without making a huge move. I thought to myself, “All I have to lose is my sleep and sanity.” That night I rode much later than I had on previous nights, slept for two hours, and got really close to Ana. But the decision to sleep so little meant I was worthless the next day. All the people riding the same pace as me before caught back up to me by the end of the day. The pressure of racing guided me toward sacrificing sleep when I should have taken better care of my body. When I found out Zoe quit that day I felt pretty dumb for letting her distance ahead of me dictate how much I slept. I re-learned the lesson that I need to take care of myself to ride strong and making decisions based on how another person is riding is usually a mistake. Had I kept riding and sleeping the way I should have, maybe I could have stayed closer to Ana in the end. 

At the end of the race

Feeling Part of Something

Humans, even the introverted ones, are all social creatures, and our brains are wired to want to be part of a community. During both trips, I felt part of a group of bikepackers riding their bikes from Banff to Antelope Wells. When we were touring, we definitely felt different than the racing group. 

Touring: While we started our tour on the same day as the Grand Depart of the Tour Divide and were around racers much of the time, it felt like we were doing something different than they were. It wasn’t a positive or negative thing, just different. After finishing, I definitely felt part of a group of people who have completed the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, and when we meet people who have accomplished this feat, we have an instant connection. 

Andrew and I were fortunate to be able to help out at Brush Mountain Lodge in 2021. During that time, we talked with racers and hundreds of people touring the route. Often the tourers would say, “I’m just touring.” When I heard that, I tried to tell them that you don’t have to say “just.” I totally get it though. Andrew and I said the same thing when we were touring and people in towns asked us if we were racing. Sometimes they would treat us differently than racers. There were places with banners for only racers to sign or some people would become uninterested after they found out we were “just” touring. That wasn’t the case everywhere. Kathy from Ovando greets every bikepacker who comes through town with the same enthusiasm regardless of racing or touring status. 

Racing: When I sign up for a Grand Depart event, I feel a connection to the racers around me. It helps when I’m walking through snow, riding through rain, or staying up late into the night knowing there are other people out there doing the same. I have always experienced this as a positive thing until this year. There were 15 rescues in the Canadian Flathead in the first few days of the race. There were reports of racers using hotel towels to clean their drivetrains. Later in Montana I ran into a local man trying to get home but couldn’t because photographers following the race blocked the road. When I heard about the rescues, poor manners at the hotel, and saw the behavior of the photographers, I was embarrassed to be part of the race. It made me angry that people participating in the Tour Divide were having a negative impact on the communities the route traverses. I’m hopeful that future Tour Dividers can look at this year as a learning experience and that future racers give more respect to the route, the power of Mother Nature, and the people along the route. That being said, for the majority of racers who completed the route, the challenging weather conditions this year provided an unforgettable experience and swapping stories with other racers will be something we can do for years to come. 

As a woman racer, I also feel a strong connection to other women on the route. All of the racers I saw were men, though I saw several northbound touring women and always stopped to say hi and have a brief conversation, usually about the route ahead. While I didn’t see other women racers after the first day, when I got to Colorado, I did my best to chase down Ana. Ana managed to stay ahead and went on to win the women’s race, 15 hours ahead of me. Even though we never met, somehow I felt like I knew her since I traced her tracks on the trail. When I got to meet her later in the summer after she crushed the Colorado Trail Race with a second-place finish, I considered her a friend instantly.

Riding to Banff before the race with Zack and Andrew

Racing or Touring 

I’m so grateful Andrew and I had the opportunity to tour the route together in 2018. We did have limited time, so it was a fast tour, but we never felt rushed and didn’t have to follow the rules of the race. We shared gear and deviated from the route when it made sense. Our resupply stops were relaxed and we ate lots of huge meals at cafes along the route. We stayed well rested and well fueled. When I thought I only had one opportunity to experience the wonder of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, I chose to ride it as a tour and I would 100% make that same choice again. 

Racing offered a new experience of an incredible route. At the finish, I was totally depleted. I left it all out there mentally and physically. I was proud of my effort and the fact that I was able to race the route faster than I rode it before. Thinking about all of the tough times I had out there and how I was able to overcome the challenges of the weather, terrain, and my own fears made me feel confident and accomplished. 

Sometimes there is more external motivation to participate in an event or race. People tend to glorify racing over touring or other creative endeavors even though each of these experiences has value. I definitely got more attention for finishing the Tour Divide as a race rather than a tour. Bikepacking.com published an article about how I was the second woman to finish the race and how I raced on a singlespeed. But, my close friends and family were just as excited when I finished my tour as when I finished the race, and those are the people who matter most.

At times touring an established route or making your own route can be more intrinsically rewarding than participating in a race. Before I choose whether to race or tour a route, I’ll consider what my body can handle, my personal goals, and my motivation. I plan to continue pursuing both racing and touring, collecting as many lessons and taking in as much beauty as I can along the way.

Just outside Teton National Park, photo by Zack Freundlich

Your support means the world to us. If you enjoy our work, please consider making a donation to help us with our mission.


12 responses to “Touring the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route vs. Racing the Tour Divide”

  1. Based on my dreams and ambitions, this is some of the best bike-related content I have ever had the pleasure of consuming. I would never dream of racing, but it was very interesting and useful to read about the different perspectives. If I ever had the chance to meet you, I would ask questions about mechanicals, laundry and hygiene.

    Thanks for putting this together!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to detail your thoughts of racing versus touring.
    I just finished my first bike packing race and connect to your words.
    Normally “just” touring, I gained a new understanding of the lure of Bikepack racing and how you don’t get back those extra hours stopping early or sitting down for a prepared meal.
    I did value so much meeting the other racers on route. I was especially excited to briefly chat with you as you filtered water and later on a paved climb about your gearing choices before you went on to crush it!!

  3. Katie…Outstanding content, insights and inspiration! I did WY and CO sections of the GDBMR last summer (time of my life!) and I am ready for more…notably Canada and MT hopefully this summer. I want to do this ride with 1 to a few other riders. I’m a 61 year old slow and steady rider that enjoyed the company of a few Adventure Cycling companions during last summers ride. This year, my personal schedule does not allow me to sign up for one of their trips but that will NOT stop me from tackling the next 2 sections. Do you have any recommendations for finding a source to cast the net to see if there’s any interested riders I might connect with to explore joining my small band of slow and steady riders? I am planning loosely for about 50 +/ – miles a days mostly camping with definite stops at motels, hostels etc. to recharge and shower! While I love the camping aspect of bikepacking, I am ready to spend money as needed to be somewhat comfortable and recharge when necessary. My windows for travel this summer is 29 July to 19 August. I will cycle as much and as far as I can in that time.

    Any advice would be much appreciated!

    thanks for the inspiration!!

    All the best,
    Tony Sirianni

    • Hi Mike! Here’s a post including the Strava ride for the route we took around Koko Claims.

      https://dispersed.bike/blog/great-divide-day-2/

      It’s been a few years, so might be worth checking with someone local. The GDMBR does not go over Koko Claims, so that’s an option too. We took a combination of the GDMBR route and followed recommendations from Dave, the bike mechanic in Banff to get off of the highway a bit more than the GDMBR route.

  4. Katie, thanks for sharing your experiences on this route. What did Andrew ride (bike, drivetrain, gearing, storage accessories)? Thank you.

  5. hi Katie!
    what’s the difference between riding the TD in singlespeed or with gear?what do you prefer?love to see the bike “clean” in a singlespeed but have to consider much more time to push the bike…..
    thanks Matteo
    ps: congratulations on your bike adventure!!

    • I didn’t spin much time pushing my bike, but I did spend a lot of time spun out! I’d say only ride singlespeed on the Divide if you already do most of your rides singlespeed and are passionate about riding that way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *