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.