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‘Great Divide’ route unites Sequim bicyclists
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is the world’s longest off-pavement route traversing north and south along the Continental Divide connecting Banff, Alberta, to the southern border of New Mexico. The route is 2,765.7 miles, totals more than 200,000 feet elevation gain overall.
Sequim residents Joe Sullivan, Nick Rampp, Nick Batchelor and Scott Chichester will soon embark on a segment of this dramatic route.
The group has chosen a notoriously remote and physically challenging 380-mile snippet from Banff, Alberta, to Whitefish, Mont. The route is pinched within the Rocky Mountains with scattered lakes, an abundance of wildlife, few modern amenities and more than 90 percent of it is on back country dirt roads that spike, dip, twist, turn and meander along the Continental Divide.
The “bike packers” plan on carry all their necessities for 10 days of challenging biking and camping on their bike frames and hope to overcome the “mosquitoes and heat,” Batchelor said.
The ‘Gravel Growlers’
The group of four friends and cyclists, playfully dubbed the “Gravel Growlers” by Batchelor, have been training for the grueling mountain bike tour since the beginning of the year, Rampp said. Each Gravel Growler agreed that carving out the time from their careers, families and daily routines has been the most challenging thing to do in preparation for their tour.
Rampp is co-owner of Full Spectrum Landscape Co., Batchelor assists with his family’s company, Rainshadow Coffee Roasting Company, Chichester owns and operates a local vegetable farm, Chi’s Farm, and lastly, Sullivan is a science teacher at Sequim High School.
The Gravel Growlers all have varying lives outside their common goal of the upcoming tour, but all share a love for cycling, a thirst for adventure and a taste for beer.
The diverse, yet complimentary group will head into the heart of Banff, Alberta, via Amtrak and shuttle bus Aug. 1. Instead of connecting up with the route a little closer to home, Rampp said the extra distance between them and their daily lives helps to elevate the essence of adventure.
“On average we’ll be riding about 39 miles per day,” Batchelor said. “We’ve spent a lot of time tweaking our bikes for touring. If your bike fails, it’s not like you’re on the side of the highway, but if you can’t get your bike rolling it could be a while.”
Because mountain bikes primarily are intended for “speed blast” and not long-distance riding, the Gravel Growlers have each had to adjust their bike frames to accommodate the distance, Batchelor said. The adjusted bikes and cyclists in-training are then put the test by fulfilling long practice rides with heavily loaded bikes to simulate their days traveling the Continental Divide.
The importance of training goes beyond getting the bikes ready and meeting the physical demands, Chichester said. Time spent training together also allows the Gravel Growlers to develop a sense of how each individual rides, his style and what to expect from one another. Given their varying paces and riding styles, the group does not intend to be side-by-side the entire tour, but will have meeting points and camp at the same location each night.
“It’s important to get a sense of each other so we know if something is wrong if one of us doesn’t show up for a while,” Chichester said.
Sufficient nutrient-rich food also is a consideration in preparing for the trip given the amount of energy it requires to peddle through cracks and crevices along the ridge of the Rocky Mountains. The Gravel Growlers anticipate packing some basic needs like protein bars, oatmeal for the mornings and water additives, such as electrolytes, but otherwise the group looks forward to the challenge of making do with food from the gas stations they’ll pass along the way.
“When you get past the point of exertion and you’re so hungry and dirty, that sitting outside a gas station stuffing yourself with gas station food is the best thing,” Batchelor said. “It’s a rad feeling.”
A new challenge
An avid surfer and cyclist, Batchelor put many miles on the road touring around on his bike. In 2006, he completed a cycling tour from Anacortes to Maine, but despite his lifelong desire, he has never toured on a mountain bike.
“Bike touring for me is that feeling of doing something that no one really knows about,” Batchelor said. “It’s the feeling you get when you leave a spot and know you’re not going to see that point again. It’s the most free I’ve ever felt.”
As for Rampp and Chichester, they’ve been mountain biking their entire lives, but long-distance touring on a mountain bike is a new challenge for them, too.
“I’m already an avid backpacker and mountain biker, so combining the two was an easy transition,” Rampp said.
Sullivan just recently got serious about biking, but was easily inspired by his now fellow cyclists.
“I am the slowest so I will be the one to distract hungry bears,” Sullivan teased. “Seriously though, I am not as athletic as the other guys and I plan on using my technology to figure out a few short cuts to keep up.”
But it is because of their differences that each Gravel Growler brings something to the group’s dynamic. Rampp is known for his carefree riding style and a positive attitude; Batchelor has long-distance touring experience and is the glue to the group with his contagious undying passion for cycling; Sullivan’s physics teacher mindset brings a technical and grounded perspective and Chichester tends to have a good handle on safety and can remain calm in times of distress.
“There’s no one reason why we’re doing this,” Rampp said. “And we know we could mountain bike around here, which we do, but we’re trying to make this an event.”
The collage of reasons why a group of men organized such a trip is composed of everything from the need to get away from the day-to-day, see some new sights, endure the physical challenge, make memories with friends, complete a lifelong goal to simply because there’s no reason not to.
Reach Alana Linderoth at firstname.lastname@example.org.