Bikepacking Peace on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail

Following the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail

In the middle of the pandemic, I found a rhythm to the summer.  Following the phases of the moon my partner, Studd Pyles, and I filled our weekends with beauty, peace and adventure.  

Without any forethought, our getaways coincided with the new moon and the full moon.  Our latest bikepacking trip took us on the cusp of a full moon to the Colorado/Wyoming border.

My grandpa was a Colorado farmer but he had a love affair with Wyoming.  He spent many weekends escaping the ‘crowds’ of Colorado (this is 40 years ago mind you!) to go fishing in Wyoming. He always said that “Wyoming is what Colorado used to be.”

Grandpa in overalls and hip waders with his pipe and fly rod on the North Platte River.

As a thirty-year resident, I’m partial to Wyoming as well.  Our population stands at less than half a million people and half of the land is public.  This bodes well for a nature lover like me who likes to be ‘away from it all’.  It’s not often that I choose to leave the state to recreate.

But there’s this beautiful country road that starts at the Wyoming border and heads south into Colorado through a pretty river valley.  It’s always called to me but I’ve never had time to explore it.

The plan was this.  My partner would ride from Atlantic City in the Wind River Mountains to Battle Pass in the Sierra Madres. I would meet him there at our friends’ cabin.

Together we’d ride from Slater, Colorado south to Slater Park then over Meaden Pass to Steamboat Lake and back north to Slater via Columbine, Colorado.  We’d be on the Great Divide Mountain Bike route for part of our journey.

Bikepacking route on the Great Divide

We started and ended near Slater, Colorado and camped 2 nights. The first night was in Slater Park and the second was near Nipple Peak. Yep, Nipple Peak — that’s your teaser.  Keep reading!

The trip was 72 miles with an elevation gain/loss of 10,300 ft. Average grade of 3.4%.

Bikepacking on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail.

This is not something I usually do on purpose.

 

Sheep wagon on the great divide mountain bike trail.

A modern day sheep wagon, which is not much different than an historic sheep wagon.

 

Who knew that there are still pockets of Colorado with more sheep than humans and that the only camps are those of the sheepherders?  The above picture is a typical sheep wagon seen across Wyoming and northern Colorado.  It’s said that the first one was built in Rawlins, Wyoming in 1884.

I’ve always been intrigued by sheep wagons and was lucky enough to buy one a few years ago (see mysheepwagon.com).   Wyoming Tales and Trails has great historic photographs and a brief history of the sheep wagon.

I love that these are still in use today and haven’t changed much except for they are on rubber tires now – not wooden wheels!

A Surly Cross Check and Salsa Mukluk fat bike on the great divide mountain bike trail.

We were surprised to find so little traffic on this road.

 

Sunset on theon the great divide mountain bike trail.

We started our ride at 2:00 pm during the heat of the day. Once the sun set and the moon rose fat over the mountains we found our second wind.

 

Looking for a camp site on the great divide mountain bike trail.

It seemed like forever till we finally got to public lands so we could scout a campsite.

The Surly Cross check on the great divide mountain bike trail.

Studd trying to answer my question, “Are we there yet?”

 

Bikepacking route on the Great Divide

I’ve been lucky to see a lot of amazing things in my life and this was one of them. We came across fields of balsam root shining gold under a full moon with the sun deepening behind the hills to the west. It reminded me of the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the Chronicles of Narnia. Near the end of the world, there’s a point where the Dawn Treader sails into a sea of lilies. The flowers stretch out around the ship in every direction except behind them, where the ship’s passage leaves a strip of glassy clear water.  It was magical like that.

Bikepacking on the Great Divide Trail.

We woke up in this beautiful spot and watched antelope playing in the meadow opposite of us while enjoying our morning coffee.

 

I couldn’t help but lay down in the field of flowers and just Be.

Fat biking on the great divide mountain bike trail.

Every couple has a special thing that bonds them together. Our thing is pushing our loaded bikes up the steepest road or trail you can find.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail and Meaden Pass, Colorado.

“I never go for a walk without my bike.” Meaden Pass.

Forget-me-not photo-bombed. My partner must surely think I’m laying in a ditch somewhere since I’m often so far behind. I brake for wildflowers and butterflies.

 

Surly Cross check on the great divide mountain bike trail.  Coming down Meaden Pass.

Studd on the far side of Meaden Pass on his Surly Crosscheck.

Art work on an aspen left by the many sheepherders in the area with a very good rendition of Nipple Peak. Most of the art work isn’t appropriate for an all-ages audience but it provides historical record of the many sheepherders that tended sheep here for a hundred years.

 

 

Nowadays, the sheep herders herald from Peru, Chile, and Basque Country, to name a few. They have spent many a summer in these mountains saving money to send to their families back home. It’s a lonely and harsh way of life. If only the trees could talk.

 

More fields of gold.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail and Routt National Forest.

After Steamboat Lake we camped below Nipple Peak. The pic is a nod to my upcoming breast reconstruction surgery. Yep, getting a new nipple is something to celebrate after cancer! Woot, woot!

 

Great Divide Mountain Bike trail and Steamboat Lake.

Happy Dance, or something.

 

Closed. Colorado is taking much more care than Wyoming during the pandemic. We traveled with our facemarks and relied on our own provisions instead of wading into the human fold.

 

Fat bike on the great divide mountain bike trail and Steamboat Lake.

We briefly paused at Steamboat Lake but hightailed out of there fast, unwilling to be around a wave of humanity!

I was in heaven, the wildflowers were at their peak!

Cycling the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail

This is our first summer bike packing together and we are finding our groove. I never eat regularly enough and end up bonking. Studd rode ahead, found this shady spot and was unpacking a snack for us. Ladies, he’s a keeper!

The journey back to Wyoming was just as beautiful and the going south.

One of the amazing parts of this trip is that this entire area is aspen forests. I’ve never seen so many ‘old growth’ aspen in my travels. This granddaddy was so wide in girth that I couldn’t wrap my arms entirely around it!

Cycling Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail.  Almost to Wyoming.

Through another pretty river valley.

Almost home…Squaw Mountain has always been an endearing landmark to me. I worked on the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest as a firefighter nearly 30 years ago!

Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail cycling to Wyoming.

Happy Trails my friends!.

 

 

 

 

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