Conquering the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route: Interview with Carrie Morgridge

Carrie and John Morgridge are not your ordinary mountain bike trail riders—and their 2,800-mile bicycling expedition to conquer the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is clear proof of that. As Carrie puts it, it takes passion, determination, and the support of loved ones to get you through an adventure of this magnitude. “John and I had our first day on the GDMBR trail from Banff, Canada on July 17, 2016, and we never looked back,” says Carrie Morgridge. “And 46 days of biking (we didn’t count the days off) later we arrived at the border crossing in Antelope Wells New Mexico on the Mexico/USA border.”

While Carrie and John are avid athletes (Carrie has completed nine Ironman competitions to date), the challenges provided by the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route were unique. Carrie’s new book, The Spirit of the Trail: A Journey to Fulfillment Along the Continental Divide (May 2018) recounts the experience in detail, complete with mishaps, lessons learned, and how it strengthened the relationship with her husband.

We talked to Carrie about the challenges of endurance biking and why your mental strength it’s often far more important than your physical one.

The Clymb: How long have you and John been mountain biking? Is this a personal passion or do you enjoy other outdoor sports as well?

Carrie Morgridge: Our passion for sports started for both of us at an early age. When we first met, my first question to John was, “Do you know how to waterski and snow ski?” When we got married one of my first gifts from John was a new mountain bike! We both grew up outdoors playing sports, camping and enjoying nature. It is a lifestyle for us, and for our children (our kids didn’t have a chance). John says that he thinks he and his childhood friend Barney created the first mountain bike. While growing up in Boston, their childhood bikes got too small for them, so Barney and John would go to the dump and trick out their bikes. It’s fun to hear this story to this day, from the 1970s.

The Clymb: What makes the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route so special?

CM: A million things. The beauty of the trail, not being on the road with cars, yet coming into small towns where people want to talk with us about the journey and share their aspirations of someday getting on the trail. I personally liked the commitment to unplug for 60 days and truly immerse myself into John, into nature, and into the physical aspect of the route.

The Clymb: Why and how did you decide to take on the trail?

CM: My husband had always wanted to take an Adventure Bicycle ride with me, and once I had back surgery, I needed an outlet where I could get back in shape. When John proposed the GDMBR and showed me a couple YouTube videos, I was all in.

The Clymb: How did you train and prepare for it?

CM: John did all the research online for the equipment, from reading blogs to ordering books that supported the GDMBR. We consider ourselves athletes, keeping in shape six days a week. Once we committed to the route, we trained for base, i.e. biking much more until we got up to our ranch in Steamboat Springs. Once we were in Colorado we could train at altitude with our bikes for the trail. In 21 days, we logged 650 miles.

We slowly added weight to our bikes as we added distance to our training rides. On the first day of biking on the GDMBR, we felt 100% prepared. Biking further than we had in the training days, but we were happy with the training we did.

The Clymb: A 2,800-mile bicycling expedition is obviously difficult, but if you had to pick the most challenging thing about doing this, what would you pick?

CM: It is totally mental. Of course you are sore, and of course, you are worried about bears or not finding water when you need it. However, biking as a team is the MOST important thing. We encountered many single riders who would not make the entire route, and we talked about it. There are so many hard days and having each other is what got us through. We knew we wouldn’t finish without each other; the support we gave during the darkest times and the hardest times is what helped us finish. We applaud the racers who are out there on their own.

The Clymb: When you’re on a trail so long and so challenging, how do you deal with exhaustion? Do you push on or do you listen to your body and take breaks as needed?

CM: From our years of competing in Ironman races, we learned to listen to our bodies. However, on the trail, it is a whole different animal, as we didn’t have a base or a home to rest at. On the second night on the trail, we stayed in a hotel room, and that was our motivation to push forward. During the push through the Great Basin, my leg was killing me. Each pedal hurt like a knife was stabbing me. John helped me through by slowing the pace and blocking the wind. The Great Basin was just four days from our ranch in Steamboat. We took 1.5 days off of rest to let my leg heal. What had happened was I was so tight from being in the same position for thousands of miles. Once I stretched properly and took Epsom salt baths, that did the trick. I never had leg pain like that again, and I stretched faithfully after each day of riding.

The Clymb: Did you and John experience different challenges on the trail? Did you train differently or dealt with discomfort differently?

CM: We are more bonded than ever. As I mentioned earlier, we know that we needed each other to finish, and that was our mantra—what can I do for you today? How can I make your day, your trip, your life better? On separate days, we hit our own hard spots, our own difficulties, but we supported and loved on one another to get through. This is why, in my opinion, biking in a group or with a partner is so important. We were more in love at the end of the trip than we had been in our 25 years of marriage.

The Clymb: What’s next when it comes to adventure? Any more trails or trips planned?

CM: We asked ourselves this question as we were biking through New Mexico. When we got back to Colorado—we purchased an RV and now adventure around the United States with our Surly bikes and our beloved dog Nina. John made Nina a carrier on the back of his bike, and she loves adventuring with us.

We fell in love with Montana, so we sold our ranch in Steamboat and are going to try Big Sky, Montana! We have plans to bike the Idaho Springs 700 mile loop (another Adventure Cycling Association route) next summer—and from there we will be inspired by friends and family for the next great adventure. See you on the trail.

The Clymb: Any fun (or terrible!) mishaps along the way?

CM: My personal mishap was not protecting my face from the sun. After the first week, my lips were so sunburnt they throbbed and stung at all times. While doing laundry in Butte, Montana I found a thin neck gator in my pack. From that day forward, I used it to cover my neck and entire face for the rest of the trip—no more sunburn.