Zach Weller ’23, a digital communications intern and student writer for the Communications Office, and Asa Szegvari ’23 recently embarked on a five-week, 80-mile-per-day bike trip across the Continental Divide. They’ve shared tales of their adventures in a blog as the trip progressed, but unfortunately the trip was cut short.
Horca, Colo.: Mile 716, aka the unfortunate end
Even looking back, the bikepacking trip seemed to end in the blink of an eye. I remember the feeling of trepidation as I stood in the Glen House talking to Andrew and Sarah Jillings, just days before starting the trip. It was a good feeling, the “oh s#!t, this is real” feeling: a mix of excitement and nervousness with a hint of “I hope this works” sprinkled in.
I’m writing this final post at home, sitting in my hammock. I’ve maintained the practice of writing this on my phone, as I did for the duration of the trip, because something about the idea of typing a blog post on my laptop seems off. So, what happened? Why did 2,500 miles turn into 700, and why are we just finding this out now? Well, here’s the story …
Two days before Asa and I were going to cross the New Mexico-Colorado border, I started feeling lousy. At first I thought it was simply a poor night’s sleep. I just had to tough it out, I told myself. When the next day rolled around, bad turned to worse. This time I blamed it on the altitude. 10,800 feet isn’t nothing. That must be it, I convinced myself. But the next day, I felt ill. In a matter of three days, I’d gone from feeling the fittest I’ve felt in my life to sucking wind.
My symptoms matched those of Lyme disease, and I had been in the woods of Upstate N.Y. two weeks prior. Even if it wasn’t Lyme, the smart thing to do was to get treatment, fast. Luckily, we have two friends from Hamilton, Bella Moses ’23 and Lillian Norton-Brainerd ’23, who were in Santa Fe and willing to pick us up. Their kindness got us out of a bad situation, and we both appreciated it.
So, how does it feel to call a trip off?
It really sucks.
At this point, our pace would have gotten us somewhere into Wyoming had we wanted to go that far, yet here, only 700 miles into our epic adventure, we had to call it.
It’s been two weeks since I returned home, and I still haven’t wrapped my head around everything that happened. Sure, I feel bad that we couldn’t finish the trip, but I don’t regret one moment. From the people we met along the way to the beautiful scenery and the grueling days of long mileage and big elevation, this was a trip that I’ll always remember, and, hopefully, it won’t be the last.
In the words of Mark, who you read about earlier: I hope you’re planning your NEXT… Keep on Nexting!
Cuba: Mile Four Hundred and Eighty — June 17, 2021
“Beep, beep, beep.” My alarm chimes. It’s five in the morning. We roll out of bed to see the golden sun peeking above the horizon. We’re in for a long day of riding: 7,000 feet of climbing over 79 miles from Cuba to Abiquiu, N.M. I down a cup of coffee, shove the last of my stuff into one of my bags, and we’re off and rolling. Here in the desert, riding in the morning helps to beat the scorching, midday sun. Even with our early wake up, we’re still riding through the heat of the day.
Until this point in the blog, we’ve written about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and who we’ve met along the way. Now feels like an appropriate time to divulge some of the less glamourous aspects of bikepacking. Less glamourous aspect number one: In the first week, your butt hurts a lot. We’re all adults here. Butts are butts, and, when you ride your bike for eight to 12 hours a day, it’s only natural that you’re going to have a bit of a sore bum. Number two: Especially in the woods… just think about it. Number three: Take this as a positive or a negative, but tan lines are real. My favorite ones are the slivers of tan skin between where my sun sleeves end, and my gloves begin (see photo for more details). Asa’s favorite tan lines are the ones across our upper thighs from our bib shorts.
With all that said, it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate the sheer amount of privilege, access, and support that Asa and I have in being able to complete a trip like this. We are so incredibly grateful for everyone who has helped us get here; we could not be doing this without the encouragement and assistance we’ve received from our parents, siblings, friends, and Andrew and Sarah Jillings in the Glen House at Hamilton.
“Crunch, crunch, crunch.” The sound of gravel under our cycling shoes permeates the quiet evening air as we push our bikes uphill. It’s 5 p.m., and we’re only at mile 67. Fortunately, except for this last gravel hill, most of the climbing is behind us. Our legs are just too tired to ride up this steep of an ascent. Finally, we’re descending, the Upper Sonoran environment of the Santa Fe National Forest disappearing behind us as the setting sun washes over the arid desert of Abiquiu. We made it.
Pie Town: Mile Three-Hundred and Nine — June 10, 2021
“Are you doing the ride?” a stranger at the store asks. “Yeah,” I reply. When you walk around in full cycling gear all day, it’s pretty likely that someone will stop you to ask what you’re doing. Many of the people we meet don’t exactly understand what goes into a multi-week “bikepacking” adventure. For those people, we like to explain it like this: We are riding our mountain bikes, custom fit with all the bags and gear necessary to live on the road for weeks at a time, every day, for about eight hours a day, until we get to a place we can stay. “How far are you going?” we’ve had many people ask. Our reply is always the same: until we feel like stopping.
The Great Divide Mountain Bike route was established in 1997 and consists of mainly gravel and dirt roads that traverse the spine of North America over the Rocky Mountains. The full route is 2,700 miles, from Antelope Wells, N.M., to Banff, Canada. Each year, more and more people, who are as obsessed with their bikes as we are, tackle this epic journey. So far on our trip, we have had the pleasure of riding alongside, sharing meals with, and camping next to some amazingly passionate bikepackers.
One of these people was Mark. A lean man with a speckled grey beard, long grey hair, and a kind face, he had an air of knowledge about him, as if he’d seen many things. And, as we soon came to discover, he had. Over the course of time we spent together, we heard stories from his experiences hiking the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide trails, as well as bikepacking across America. Mark shared so much wisdom about living on the trail. Cold oatmeal is better, we learned, and long spoons are the best camping utensil.
Most importantly, though, Mark taught us that adventures like these are more about the people you meet and the things you learn than how far you bike in a day. That is something, I think, we can all try to live by.
Off we go — June 8, 2021
My dad’s car fades into the distance as the desert sun beats down on us. We’re a day’s bike ride from the nearest town, and our journey has just begun.
A year prior, Asa Szegvari and I decided to go on a wild adventure. Our goal was simple: to “bikepack,” self-supported, for five weeks along the Continental Divide of the United States.
What started as a daydream soon developed into reality. With hours of research, gear testing, and riding our bikes, we quickly learned just what it would take to travel on bikes for five weeks by ourselves.
Over the past few days, we have travelled from Hamilton’s campus to Tucson, Ariz., and, finally, to Antelope Wells, N.M. Here we stand at the border to Mexico, just us, our bikes, and all we need to live for the next five weeks. I guess it’s time to ride.