The obviously essential items to pack on a cross country bikepacking trip (and a few more just as essential, but not quite so obvious items).
In July 2016, husband and wife, John and Carrie Morgridge decided to bike across the North America for their 25th wedding Anniversary. Carrie had recently had back surgery and she wanted to get back in shape. Taking this adventure together, the couple decided to bike the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route — unsupported. They figured July was the best month to embark on this trip, as the snow should not be present in the Canada and Montana portion.
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) is a journey from Banff, Canada, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. It is North America’s premier long-distance mountain bike route. While traveling across North America you bike 2,774 miles on a route that is 88% dirt and 12% paved roads. You never stray more than 50 miles from the Continental Divide (also known as the “Great Divide,” hence the routes name), and you have the distinct pleasure of crossing it 32 times — hitting the high point of the Divide on Indiana Pass in Colorado, at 11,910 feet. At the end of the trip, you will have climbed a total of roughly 180,000 vertical feet, the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest six times, albeit on a bike and not in freezing weather or extremely thin altitude. Nonetheless, the “adventure” is not easy.
Here is the total mileage of the route, based on the state maps the route goes through:
- 257 miles in Canada
- 710 miles in Montana
- 72 miles in Idaho
- 489 miles in Wyoming
- 545 miles in Colorado
- 710 miles in New Mexico
Going it alone
When my husband and I decided we were “in” for our first adventure on the GDMBR, the first major decision we had to make was incredibly important and would influence the entire trip. We could sign up for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route with a touring group, go at their pace and enjoy the luxuries they provided. Or we could go it alone, at our own pace but with fewer luxuries and more work on our end. As fun and easy as a touring group might be, we decided to travel the journey on our own. We knew this would be more challenging, but we also believed it would be more rewarding. What we didn’t realize is how it affected our relationship as a couple — 46 days of non-stop togetherness, on bikes, in and out of crazy weather, with strained muscles and patience… a true test of love and commitment in 46 different ways!
Cycling The Great Divide: What to pack
Biking across the country is not easy. With all the planning, testing of equipment, and measuring impact versus the weight of all items, we found the following items are essential. Whether you make this trek or plan your own adventure, what you take is of utmost importance, don’t scrimp on your gear or supplies.
- Surly Ogre bike, outfitted with a Rohloff Hub
- Panniers (trailers received low reviews for the GDMBR) and 50 oz water bladder
- Tubeless tires (we never got a flat – no spare required)
- Good fitting helmet
- Good tent
- Blue tarp with a parachute cord for hail storms and tent coverage
- Sleeping bag with blow up pillow
- One pair of bike gloves
- Good maps from Adventure Cycling Association with turn by turn directions (we solely relied on the maps for our food and water purchases and to locate hotels along the trail. This was how we set our distance goals for the day—instead of camping, we would try to make the next hotel.)
- Clothing: Enough to be warm at night and cool in the day.
- Girls: 1 pair undies, 2 sports bras, 2 bike pants, 2 shirts, 1 night outfit with flip flops
- Guys: My guy only felt the need for one bike outfit for the 46 days but he could stand the stink and dirt better than I could.
- Food: Real food is essential for any bike outing to keep you fueled up. Good choices are bagels, peanut butter and jelly, tortillas, trail mix, crystal light flavor packets, canned tuna, canned corn, canned soup. Bring a roll of aluminum foil so you can pack left overs – including pizza. We brought a small stove that held two bowls and two cups, which we used every day. Water purifier tablets (only had to purify our water a few times on the entire trip).
The not quite so obvious
- Raincoat and rain pants (used more for night time heat)
- Sleeves to keep warm in the morning and block the sun all day long
- Patagonia thin coat
- Ski hat
- Bandana for wiping the sweat off, and a thin neck gaiter to block the sun
- Lightweight sunglasses
- Smart wool socks – only one pair as they just don’t stink – ever!
- Extras: Zipties – can fix anything in a pinch. Duct tape, roll on a pen to save space. Sunblock, chapstick, aleve and advil, aquaphor (diaper rash ointment that heals your inner thigh wounds). Leave your razor, makeup and hair brush behind – nobody cares. Baby wipes – you will use these for your nightly shower.
- Lastly, bring your best attitude. The love and kindness you put out will come back to you tenfold. Try to have fun, enjoy the ride and take in all of the beauty and majesty surrounding you. Look for the Spirit of the Trail as it is out there waiting for you to discover.
To read about Carrie’s Great Divide bikepacking adventure (and how well her packing tactics served her!), check out her book: The Spirit of the Trail: A Journey to Fulfillment Along the Continental Divide. All proceeds of the book benefit the Adventure Cycling Association.
Now available on: