Divide Tour - September 2002
We completed this tour on September 25, 2002. The introductions below the map were prepared before we left to provide background to readers who were following along in 'real time'.
You can reach Day One by clicking here or the final Epilogue by clicking here. Or by clicking on the colored route segments or numbers below, you can navigate to any day's report.
You can also view a table showing the Great Divide passes we visited as well as a profile of pass elevations.
The U.S. Continental Divide, often called The Great Divide, stretches over 3,000 miles from Montana to New Mexico where it varies in elevation from over 14,000 feet in Colorado to about 4,500 feet in New Mexico. As the saying goes, "Splash your canteen on the Divide and half the water would go to the Atlantic and half to the Pacific." On its way from Canada to Mexico, it is criss-crossed by over 65 hard-surface roads (that we know about), some clawing their way over high-alpine passes, while others are just another lonely road across a broad flat desert.
In our Great Divide Tour, we're going to see how many of these passes we can cross by motorcycle. With luck, maybe we'll get them all, with a few gravel passes thrown in for good measure!
Why this tour? The choice didn't come easily. Both Gizmo and I wanted to make a longer tour than our 8-day southern Alaska ride last year; on that tour, we felt like we got home just about the time we started hitting our open road stride. And my schedule was fairly open in 2002, something I couldn't guarantee for the years beyond. So we started thinking about two-plus weeks, round-trip from Seattle. In this amount of time, you can travel some serious distances!
Plan A was to ride to Nova Scotia. It sounded exotic, we liked the idea of a coast-to-coast ride, and neither of us had ever motorcycled New England or the Maritimes. We went so far as laying out a 26-day routing from Seattle and back. But on the brink of setting this trip in stone, we both balked; it was just a hell of a long ways, with too much of the distance spent droning across the plains. The destination was enticing, particularly the prospect of great seafood eating, but we both decided the payoff didn't justify the distance.
Plan B started as my whacky idea to visit the "corners" of a few western states, no matter how remote. I wanted to see if I could stand in one spot and be in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana at the same time. And I wanted to see if this spot on the ground was somehow different than the land a mile in any direction. I wanted the challenge of trying to get to a remote spot and surmounting obstacles along the way, even if the spot had no significance other than being a defined point on a map. We even talked about leaving some kind of markers for posterity.
But there were lots of loose ends with this idea: How close could we really get to these corners? Could we hike several miles from the motorcycles in rough terrain? How many corners were on private land? Could we use road bikes or did we need dual-sports? And when I introduced the idea over coffee last spring, Gizmo looked at me like the AFLAC duck when he asked, "Ah Whiz, what exactly are you expecting we'll see at these corners?" So we put Plan B on the shelf, perhaps to emerge in a year or two when we do a dual-sport tour and when a whacky idea ages, like a good single-malt scotch, to become brilliant.
So we went with Plan C, the Great Divide Tour, depicted on the map above. The genesis was my enjoyment of "pass bagging" on previous European trips, where crossing high-Alps passes on motorcycles is considered a serious sport, much like climbing several mountain peaks in a short period of time. It almost guarantees great riding, as radical elevation changes are the breeding grounds for curvy roads as the engineers struggle to gain or lose altitude without unreasonable grades. (You don't find many hairpin corners in Florida or Kansas.)
But as I planned the route it became more than just a chance to motorcycle on great roads. I fell in love with the names of the passes and how each told a story about the early settlers of the region and how they struggled to get across the Great Divide. Many, such as Donner Pass in the Sierras are well-known to many and none of the passes we will ride are as famous. But their stories are equally interesting as you shall see.
I hope you enjoy the trip as much as we will. See you on The Road.
Well, here we go again. We're about to embark on our fifth and most ambitious adventure yet. Talk about progress - when we started taking these trips in 1997, we didn't even know our names were Whizmo and Gizmo!
This year's adventure started to take shape this spring as the weather became nice in Seattle. Whiz had some ideas about eating fresh lobster on the eastern seaboard, probably inspired by that Acura TV commercial where the guy drives from New York to Maine for lunch. Then he came up with another idea that would have required us to buy new bikes so we could do lots of off-road riding to spots where you could stand in several states at once. For Whizmo, adding a new bike to the harem is a routine event. For me, a serial monogacyclist, thinking about changing mounts generates much angst. So back to the maps, and version 3.0 emerged - The Great Divide Tour.
If you're new to our live updates, here's what you can expect. Each day, we ride from Point A to Point B along some of the best motorcycling roads in western North America. We do our best to capture the sights, sounds and smells of The Road and recreate it for you. We post a brief summary of the day's highlights to the website, send you mail to let you know it's there, and then sit back and wait for the accolades. Eventually we nod off and fall asleep. Then we get up the next morning and do it all over again. Stir in challenging contests, witty repartee and lively banter with you ... that's what we do.
We've invested a lot of time this year developing a more efficient workflow process. That's technobabble for saying we want to get to the bar more quickly. We think we've been very clever networking the laptops, sharing painfully slow dialup connections, and sharing a single AC outlet among 27 power-thirsty widgets. We'll see how it all works out.
Thanks to Stewart Alsop's article in Fortune magazine last year, we've amassed many new subscribers. We're a bit nervous about performing our shtick in front of this new larger audience, but we're ready. Unlike American Idol, you're stuck with us for the duration.
Hearing from you is the fuel that drives us to do better every day. So don't be shy ... drop us a line!