Cover, bottom: The “last tree in a hundred miles” stands in Great Divide Basin near Atlantic City, Wyoming. Photo by Jill Homer.

This is a work of narrative nonfiction. Dialogue and events herein have been recounted to the best of the author’s memory.

Riding the Spine of the Rocky Mountains

Each year on the second Friday in June, several dozen mountain bikers from around the world set out to challenge speed records on the world’s longest off-pavement cycling route, the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Scouted and mapped by Adventure Cycling Association in 1998, the unmarked route features gravel roads, dirt tracks and jeep trails that follow the contours of the Continental Divide.

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route begins in Banff, Alberta, and travels 2,740 miles through the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, and the United States of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. By the time cyclists reach the Mexican border, they will have climbed nearly 200,000 feet over some of the highest and most remote passes in the Rocky Mountains.

Endurance legend John Stamstad became the first to set a speed record on the Great Divide, blitzing the route in eighteen days and five hours in 1998. In 2004, a handful of mountain bikers collaborated to challenge that time, organizing a self-supported race on the route beginning at the Montana border. Mike Curiak established a new record at sixteen days. Since then, Great Divide racing has steadily grown and evolved. However, it maintains the same minimalist format: No entry fee, no course markings and no support. For many distance mountain bikers, completing the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route as fast as possible has become the ultimate challenge.

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