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Millcreek Journal

Local adventure cyclist gears up to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

Jun 02, 2023 12:49PM ● By Collette Hayes

On the morning of July 23, 2015, Millcreek resident John Brown navigated his bike with heavily loaded panniers through the downtown streets of Seattle. Brown was headed for Boston to see his 19-year-old daughter, Shannon, who at the time was attending Wellesley College. Cycling solo, Brown began the 3,700-mile journey navigating primarily by asking directions along the way, by maps he finally acquired in Montana and by using GPS when phone service was available. 

It was just one of the many adventures for Brown, a hydrogeologist by profession and an adventurer at heart.  

“Subconsciously, this desire to ride across America was brewing since the youngest ages when I started riding the bike,” Brown said. “I had no idea about any of the routes across the country when I started. This became evident on day one of the ride east of Seattle towards the Cascades. Somewhere in eastern Washington, I was referred to Adventure Cycling in Missoula, Montana as a good resource for bike touring and bike packing around the U.S. Fortunately, I happened to be passing through Missoula, so I stopped in and purchased maps that would take me from Indiana to Buffalo, New York. Basically, I winged it from Seattle to Monroeville, Indiana on my iPhone, then navigated on my own from Buffalo to Boston.”

From the first day leaving Seattle to arriving in Boston, Brown experienced many challenges. In Montana, while attempting to pull off the road, Brown fell backward on his bike crashing onto the pavement. The moment he hit the ground a semitruck sped past missing his head within a few feet. Continuing across the Midwest, Brown stopped to make a quick phone call about a broken solar panel. Within minutes of stopping, Brown was held at gun point in a serious unprovoked confrontation. During the altercation, his phone accidentally dialed his mother, who was already on edge about Brown safety crossing the U.S., and she listened to the entire encounter. After successfully defusing the altercation, Brown called his mother to assure her everything was fine before continuing to head east. 

“I expected to average 60 miles per day to Boston,” Brown said. “I ended up averaging about 86 miles per day, with my longest day at around 118 miles. Cars and trucks were my biggest concern. I had multiple lights to increase my visibility, but I was always concerned about inattentive and drunk drivers.” 

In his book, “Diary of a Cycle Path,” available on Amazon, Brown talks extensively about the people he met and the geographical features he enjoyed while cycling across the U.S. Filled with humor, triumph and the heartbreak he faced along the way, the book is an enjoyable read as Brown reflectively navigates the reader through the splendor and stunning geography of the United States seen from the seat of a bicycle.

“From a purely geographical point of view, the Pacific Northwest and most of Montana were my favorite places to ride,” Brown said. “Nebraska through the Sand Hills was surprisingly beautiful in a unique way, and the people in Nebraska were especially hospitable.”

Brown doesn’t think he would attempt a solo cycling tour across the U.S. again. He feels he was lucky to make it to Boston safely. For others thinking about attempting a bike tour, Brown shared this advice. “It’s best to travel in a group of at least three or more. If attempting a solo cross-country tour, have good navigation, have a plan and have a backup plan.”

For Brown’s next solo cycle tour, he will attempt to complete the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. He has been preparing for months to build strength by riding his mountain bike packed with gear from his front door through the Little Mountain bike route in Emigration Canyon. Daily he rides his Peloton indoor-cycling bike for better precision planning and to increase endurance.  

“I bought a gravel bike that is at least one of the recommended types of bikes to attempt the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route,” Brown said. “I’ve purchased maps for the entire length of the ride and bear spray. Hopefully, I will be better prepared for this tour.”

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is a predominantly off-pavement cycling route, crisscrossing the Continental Divide. The entire route is basically dirt road and mountain-pass riding every day. Brown will start out solo on the tour the last week in June and he plans to average 72 miles per day.  According to Brown, the route is approximately 2,700 miles in length depending on road closures and fire conditions and will present many challenges.

“Falling from the bike or a remote crash is my greatest concern,” Brown said. “Autos and truck traffic on paved sections of the route are a secondary concern and grizzly bear encounters third.”

Self-confidence, resilience and grit are all personal characteristics that are vital to completing a long-distance bike tour. Brown emphasized that like mountain climbing, you have to keep the end goal in mind as you travel, and realize the last mile you rode is one less to your goal. It’s a mental as well as a physical challenge.

“On my previous tour, riding a bike outside made me a better person inside,” Brown said. “I hope to experience all of the joy and wonderment that I remember from my first cross-country ride, learn more about myself, and maybe find some peace from the questions that have no answers.”  λ