Bikepacking Across WA, ID, and the GDMBR

Spent two months cycling across Washington, the panhandle of ID, and into Montana to jump on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) where I rolled south to Antelope Wells, NM.

Route summary

Cross Washington (XWA) race route to cross WA. XWA details here.
Cour d’Alene Trail across the ID panhandle — beautiful gold standard Rails to Trails…all paved with little incline.
NorPac and Route of the Olympians trails in western MT
I90 interstate into Missoula (had thought about SR 135/200 loop, local folks encouraged me to avoid the small shoulder and lumbering RVs). The interstate turned out to be safe and mostly downhill out of St Regis.
• Visited the Adventure Cycling office in Missoula…awesome to tour the AC HQ!
• Jumped on the GDMBR in Ovando. GDMBR route details here. I also used the Tour Divide race edition of the route for some segments…details here.
• Finished two months to the day in Antelope Wells.

Modus operandi

Mileage: touring pace of 45-70 miles/day, with a couple of centuries along the way, as well as a few ‘nearos’ under 35 miles. Also took 3 rest days. For a trip like this, the mileage is less important than the elevation up and down, as very little of the 2800 total mile routing is flat. Estimated 200,000+ ft of elevation from WA down to the border.
Sleeping: camped for the majority of the route, either in hammock or on the ground. I also stayed with several kind trail angels along the divide, and opted for a few motel stays during bad weather.
Weather: mostly sunny, with daytime highs between 70-90F, nightly lows between 38-60F. Rain made brief and notable appearances: 2 half day rain episodes, as well as a several afternoon and evening thunderstorms, strong enough to put jacket/pants on.
How I ride: With flats, no cleats. No headphones too…a man alone with his thoughts, out on the trail, which leads to either road trip mindfulness or insanity, the jury still is out. Most of the trip was ridden solo, with several riding partners along the way, ages 19 to late 60s. The 19 yr old packed a gun for protection, the seniors packed extra coffee.

Pick one.

The bike and gear

Here’s a quick overview of the bike, gear, and key performance highlights post trip…

The bike: Surly ECR custom build

Posing on the waterfront: Seattle on the left, Mt Rainier just behind the seat

The only thing stock about this bike is the frame: it’s a Surly ECR colored ‘pant suit beige’, size medium. Then the fun starts…

Shout out to Mike & Shannon at Edgar Bikes for a robust and fantastic build that carried me up miles of elevation along 2800 miles to the Mexican border with zero issues. Nada. Bike performed great. Mike spec’d out all the key pieces for a hard trail, as well as built the wheels, all designed to handle this trip.

  • SRAM GX Eagle components – Drive train is 1×12, with a 42 cog on the lower side that I used a lot on inclines. Loved the gear shifting…it always felt confident and reliable.
  • Wheels – Mike built out the 29″ wheels, including SON dyno in the front hub.
  • Vittoria Mezcal 2.6in tires – they lasted the entire trip, no replacement needed. Shannon put these on right before I left, and I didn’t have to add any air until southern Colorado.
  • Jones H bar handlebar – lots of room for baggage, GPS, lights, bell, and different hand positions
  • Brooks C17 Cambria seat – handles rain and sweat with no maintenance, comfy for me.
  • Crampon flat pedals – secure footing in wet and dry conditions. The extended studs did occasionally bite me on the lower leg during a bike off, but I trusted their grip and they rolled nicely.

Additional highlights worth mentioning…

  • Partnering the M-sized frame with 29 wheels also reduced space for a larger seat pack used in many lighter build outs, so I added a Surly rear rack to hold the small panniers as well as sleeping bag. This worked out well for the trip, and the back area also served as a drying rack for wet laundry and straggler clothing.
  • You may have noticed the ECR is a rigid bike riding with mid-sized fat tires…how did the combination perform on the trail? Fantastic on gravel, dirt, and paved roads, and so-so on washboards. I like the speed on pavement and chewing up miles. Washboards are tough going, and I’m conflicted whether I would to swap to hardtail suspension if I were to do it again. YMMV.

Gear list

  • Bike luggage – Revelate Designs along the cockpit and front harness, Rogue Panda on the frame bag, Salsa Anywhere on the front forks, Ortlieb Gravel panniers out back, Sea-To-Summit dry bags for the sleeping bag. Everything held up their promise of being waterproof.
  • Shelter – Preferred system is a Warbonnet Blackbird hammock, which I was able to use about a third of the trip, particularly in the northern sections. The hammock was protected by a 8×10 Hyperlite DCF flat tarp, which I also used when grounded. This tarp is solid and spacious, kept gear and myself dry during drizzles and thunderstorms.
  • Sleeping bag / pad – Feathered Friends Flicker UL20 quilt, which was perfect for the sub-50F nights, supplemented with a Sea-to-Summit bag liner for cover on warmer nights, and to help keep the bag clean from my sweaty and dirty days. Sleeping pad was a Nemo Insulted Tensor sized regular and wide.
  • Cycling shorts – I used a pair of Zoic Ether overshorts, and rotating two cycling liners day to day. Tried to make sure one liner received a wash or at least a rinse each day. Body Glide was primary anti-chafing protection, which lasted longer than various creams.
  • Sun protection – My primary philosophy was to avoid letting the sun hit anything above my knee, which mostly worked. Patagonia Tropic Comfort II and two short sleeve sunshirts covered the torso, combined with a pair of Buff UV arm sleeves. My head was topped by the Tropic Comfort hood or bucket hat, and the overall approach worked well. My nose and ears received some exposure, nothing too severe.
  • GPS/route planning – Garmin Edge Explorer, which I have mixed feelings about. The Explorer is fine on the distance/speed basics, but it has trouble with larger GPX track management. I had to split up the full route in 12 different GPX files, and the unit would sometimes hang unexpectedly, requiring a reboot. Fortunately, it would return to previous state upon return…didn’t lose the day’s mileage or track…but it did make me not fully trust it. I will look elsewhere for GPS alternatives on future trips. I also used the ACA GDMBR maps for route planning, which I generally found to be helpful and informative…very glad to have them onboard.


Lots of different approaches out there, here’s what worked for me…

  • Hip pack – I don’t like wearing a backpack in the heat, so I used a Dakine 5L Hot Laps pack, which carried a 2L bladder, my wallet, phone, and camera for easy access.
  • Smartwater bottle – 1L of clean water mounted on the down tube
  • Feedbag – 750ml bottle here, rotating through electrolyte/flavor supplements.
  • “Dirty” water – 2L CNOC bag used to pick up water from streams and rivers, filtered with Sawyer Micro filter. I also carried a MSR Trail shot as backup filter, which I found to have better filter flow than the Sawyer.
  • Big storage – 4L MSR dromedary to use for dry stretches through the basin and NM stretches. Only clean water in this bladder, to minimize hygiene maintenance.

On a typical day, I would carry 3.75L across the hip bag and both bottles, then use the other bags as needs arise. While I could max out at 9.75L water storage, the most I carried was closer to 7L, with the storage bags tucked in the bike frame bag.

Crossing Washington

Washington was hard, particularly the central and eastern segments.

Starting off was easy: follow the I90 trail to Preston, scoot through Fall City to the Snoqualmie Valley trail, cruise through North Bend to Rattlesnake Lake, then it’s crushed gravel riding on the Palouse-to-Cascade Trail over to Hyak, Cle Elem, and Ellensburg.

Routing then becomes tricky because of the Columbia River:

  • The natural crossing for the trail would be the Beverly Bridge, which is closed due to safety concerns. Repair money just passed WA state infrastructure budget approval.
  • The Vantage Bridge is used for I90 vehicle traffic. While technically bikes are allowed to use the bridge, there is no shoulder for more than a mile, just the white lane line next to the metal guider preventing cars from going into the river. So it’s not safe. Take a look.
  • The Wenatchee Bridge is the next crossing to the north, which is our way to cross.
Heading north to the Colockum…not too bad…good prep for the Divide
Elevation ~4000ft

After reaching Wenatchee and crossing the Columbia, the route then climbs back up the steep Rock Island Grade and into ranch land before reaching Ephrata.

I won’t lie…I walked part of this.
Climb tracks away from the Columbia River
The Rock Island Grade – see the red pickup for scale
I ate lunch here
More climbing
Stream crossing…only a couple of feet deep.
Now into eastern WA along the Palouse to Cascade Bike Trail
Check out the ballast…chunky and loose.
Keep following the trail, such as it is.
Gate just tall enough to slip under
So many gates. And remember which lock combination to use…Department of Natural Resources or Fish & Wildlife?
Bogs don’t smell nice.
Sometimes easier to take the road, just don’t expect it to be flat.
Finally landing in Tekoa: free camping in the park, with water, electricity, and bathrooms.

Riding through ID and into Missoula

State line between Tekoa WA and Plummer ID
Western terminus of the Coure D’Alene Trail – a gold standard example of Rails-to-trail conversion – all paved, great condition, just 5 miles of incline at 3% grade. Lovely.
Coure D’Alene Trail – bridge crossing over Chacolet Lake
Eastern trail terminus in Mullan
Nor Pac Trail – saw a bear cub here. No mama.
Route of the Olympians just after a hail storm – a hail pellet is just smaller than an M&M
Adventure Cycling Association HQ in Missoula – beautiful offices…
…complete with secure bike parking…
…cyclists lounge with wifi, desks, beverages, ice cream…
…and visiting rider wall.

Start of the GDMBR

Began the trail in Ovando then headed south for 2100 miles.
Deep into big sky country now
All-in-one: Grocery, shower, laundry, motel, and water
Bikers can stay in a jail, tepee, or sheep wagon. Local tip is to pick the wagon – it’s warmer and has fewer bugs. Night time temps were in the 40s.
Lots of climbing to do…here’s a view of the upcoming elevation profile
Delighted to spend a rest day at Barb and John’s Llama Farm – they are wonderful hosts for Divide riders!
Trail goes past an old abandoned silver mine
Wide open country…all up or down. Nothing flat.
Lava Mtn trail – this section was stupid hard, lot of hike-and-bike-and-puff. A wolf crossed the trail ~30 yards ahead of me. It took a quick glance over and kept going.
Landed at Big Butte peak…
…the day after it was used to shoot off fireworks for the Fourth of July…
…to this view of Butte.