The Fun/Suffer Divide

Chris Shalbot  /  3 Min Read  /  Culture, Mountain Biking

Chris Shalbot races the weather above Big Hole Pass as foreboding clouds gather in the distance. Photo: Scott Rinckenberger

The Continental Divide Trail is not often traveled, and rarely by bike. The sheer remoteness makes access tricky. With this in mind, Scott Rinckenberger, Justin Olsen and I set out for 11 days on our bikes, pedaling northeast from Chief Joseph Pass. We wanted to shed some light on this beautiful area.

The second night would be our most luxurious, featuring a backcountry cabin with beds, a table, a fire pit and a chance to wash our gear. Still early in the trip, we had an exuberance that comes from lots of planning and semi-fresh bodies. We had visions of more smooth and cruisy single track, scenic alpine landscapes, meteor showers and a front-row seat for the solar eclipse. In reality it would be much different.

When planning this trip out we wanted to compromise as little of the riding experience as possible. The solution was to stage lockable coolers. We would ride two or three days, hit our cache, leave our garbage and load up with enough food to get us to the next drop without a lot of weight. We could also stage a lens or a tripod, or batteries to charge our cameras and phones. If we had a mechanical breakdown on the trail, we were equipped for quick fixes that would last until the next drop.

Chris Shalbot prepares breakfast near Homer Youngs Peak. Located on the shore of an unspoiled lake set beneath alpine giants it was the most beautiful and peaceful camp of the entire 11-day journey. Photo: Scott Rinckenberger

Chris Shalbot prepares breakfast near Homer Youngs Peak. Located on the shore of an unspoiled lake set beneath alpine giants it was the most beautiful and peaceful camp of the entire 11-day journey. Photo: Scott Rinckenberger

The trail was rugged, rustic and remote. At times it was more efficient to push our bikes and save our legs. When hundreds of burnt, fallen trees were in our way or knee-high grass camouflaged our route, we used the reliefs on our map to find the trail’s general direction.

Our backcountry solitude was broken up every so often by a thru-hiker or two. We’d then go another 40 or 50 miles without seeing a soul. Conversations were sometimes just a sentence or two, usually on the topic of grizzly sightings. “No” was, thankfully, always the reply from both parties—our only grizzly sighting occurred before the ride while stashing our food. With tired legs we would go our separate ways. They had miles to gain and so did we.

By day four or five we hit our stride. We found the most efficient way to pack our bags and we each had our own tasks when we pulled into camp. Boiled down, your needs become simple: eat food, find water, rest your body. On our final day, with sweat- and dust-stained shirts, we laughed at the value we placed on washing our clothes nine days earlier at the cabin. This simplicity is what we were looking for the whole time.

The irony, of course, is the biggest draw of trails like this is also what places them at risk. They provide the simplicity and solitude that we seek, but lack the voices and resources necessary to keep them open to the public. There is a balance to it all. Conservation doesn’t have to mean never setting foot on something. It can simply come from using trails in a respectful manner, encouraging others to do the same and using your voice to protect these remote and incredible places.

This story first appeared at evo.com.

Related Stories

Life of Pie: How Hot Tomato Pizza Unites a Mountain Biking Paradise
Friday night at the Hot Tomato is not for those in a hurry. Hungry customers grip pints of beer and compare notes on the day’s rides in lines that spill into the parking lot. Music pumps and the staff whirls behind the counter, tossing floury dough, yelling requests to the kitchen, giving each other shit.…
Friday night at the Hot Tomato is not for those in a hurry. Hungry customers grip pints of beer and compare notes on the day’s rides in lines that spill into the parking lot. Music pumps and the staff whirls behind the counter, tossing floury dough, yelling requests to the kitchen, giving each other shit.…
Diane French
4 min Read
Mud, Sheep, Fish, Trail: The Raw Potential of Iceland’s Westfjords
Mud and rain speckled my lenses. I squinted at the mucky, rock-strewn road in fading light and gripped my handlebars tighter. Focus. Exhale. Let go. At the next corner, Carston and Eric are stopped. Odd, I don’t usually see them until the bottom. Brakes shrieked in damp protest as I pulled up to a gooey…
Mud and rain speckled my lenses. I squinted at the mucky, rock-strewn road in fading light and gripped my handlebars tighter. Focus. Exhale. Let go. At the next corner, Carston and Eric are stopped. Odd, I don’t usually see them until the bottom. Brakes shrieked in damp protest as I pulled up to a gooey…
Mary McIntyre
7 min Read
The Abbiest Place on Earth
I can’t help but say or think or feel it: this is Abbey Land. Despite the various crusts that have formed over the years since Abbey was alive and well in the Moab area, this is still his place. Of course, it is the earth first, shifting and sliding and tectonically galloping—and not giving a…
I can’t help but say or think or feel it: this is Abbey Land. Despite the various crusts that have formed over the years since Abbey was alive and well in the Moab area, this is still his place. Of course, it is the earth first, shifting and sliding and tectonically galloping—and not giving a…
Laura Winberry
5 min Read
“Life of Pie”: Jen Zeuner and Anne Keller Q&A
In a fossil-rich corner of western Colorado, set against lush agricultural fields, the big-box stores of Grand Junction and the sandstone formations of the Colorado National Monument, you’ll find Fruita. These days, the town is an international mountain-biking destination known for its ribbony, high-desert trails, technical routes overlooking the Colorado River and funky downtown where…
In a fossil-rich corner of western Colorado, set against lush agricultural fields, the big-box stores of Grand Junction and the sandstone formations of the Colorado National Monument, you’ll find Fruita. These days, the town is an international mountain-biking destination known for its ribbony, high-desert trails, technical routes overlooking the Colorado River and funky downtown where…
Katie Klingsporn
7 min Read
Your Rad Dad Stories – Hip Mountain Biker
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dan Moore, down in southern Utah. Dan sent us this story in response to our request to “Tell Us About Your Rad Dad.” Last week’s featured submission was from a young lady whose discovery of herself and the outdoors is still unfolding. This week’s feature offers a look back…
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dan Moore, down in southern Utah. Dan sent us this story in response to our request to “Tell Us About Your Rad Dad.” Last week’s featured submission was from a young lady whose discovery of herself and the outdoors is still unfolding. This week’s feature offers a look back…
Dan Moore
3 min Read
Listen to “Fistful of Hearts” Dirtbag Diaries Podcast Episode
“We biked through wind, rain, and snow. If lightning struck, we kept going. We only stopped if it got too close.  We outran tornadoes in Oklahoma. We waited out a storm in an old horse barn in Montana, huddled like penguins, our bikes cast carelessly aside in the mud,” writes John Flynn. After John lost…
“We biked through wind, rain, and snow. If lightning struck, we kept going. We only stopped if it got too close.  We outran tornadoes in Oklahoma. We waited out a storm in an old horse barn in Montana, huddled like penguins, our bikes cast carelessly aside in the mud,” writes John Flynn. After John lost…
The Dirtbag Diaries
1 min Read
What a Road Trip Breakdown Has to Do with Mars
Rule #1 of a road trip: Vehicle may break down. Rule #2 of a road trip: You may break down along with it. Near the Ruby Mountains in Nevada, Gordon and Meredith Wiltsie were struggling with wrenches and wire after the muffler came loose on their old International Travelall. As their 4-year-old son, Nick, whacked at…
Rule #1 of a road trip: Vehicle may break down. Rule #2 of a road trip: You may break down along with it. Near the Ruby Mountains in Nevada, Gordon and Meredith Wiltsie were struggling with wrenches and wire after the muffler came loose on their old International Travelall. As their 4-year-old son, Nick, whacked at…
Bonnie Tsui
2 min Read
The Long, Happy March of Barefoot Dave
Dave Murray lives in a wooded mountain valley in western Montana with his wife, Connie; a labradoodle rightly named Loki, after the Norse god of mischief; and a bunch of mules. I live 140 miles north near Glacier National Park. He and I met on a float trip down a wild river in northern British…
Dave Murray lives in a wooded mountain valley in western Montana with his wife, Connie; a labradoodle rightly named Loki, after the Norse god of mischief; and a bunch of mules. I live 140 miles north near Glacier National Park. He and I met on a float trip down a wild river in northern British…
Doug Chadwick
16 min Read
Popular searches