One month in, 1,000 miles ridden and with Montana in the rearview, Kurt Refsnider shares stories from his progress so far riding the entirety of the Continental Divide Trail. As Kurt tells it, it’s been slow going but he hasn’t yet once questioned his desire to take on this monumental backcountry route.
Of all the things I love most in this life, riding bikes, exploring the world, and writing about both of those things are very near the top of the list. So, you can understand my thrill when the state of North Dakota’s tourism board reached out, asking if I might be interested in riding one of the most difficult singletrack trails in America before coming home to write about it.
After a quick conversation with my wife—whose blessing was required to leave her alone with our kids (the three things steadfastly at the top of my list) for four days while I went off to the Badlands to fuck around on bikes—and a few pitches to some bike-friendly editors (at least one of which commissioned the piece you are, at this very moment, reading), it was confirmed; I would be heading out to southwestern North Dakota to ride a portion of the Maah Daah Hey Trail, which, at 144 miles, is America’s longest contiguous singletrack trail. Thanks to its steep grades, technical terrain full of all sizes of rocks and boulders, thousands of tight switchbacks, endless buttes, and rapid changes in elevation, it’s also widely regarded as one of the most challenging.
In the 1980s, Queenstown was a small lakeside community with just a couple thousand residents. Perched on the foreshores of the majestic Lake Wakatipu; its unique mix of snowy-topped mountains, roaring rivers and stunning vistas made it the perfect summer holiday destination for nature-loving Kiwis. However, the mid-90s brought adrenaline junkies and stoke seekers to Queenstown’s shores and soon enough, the town got an ‘Xtreme’ makeover!
Daytime high temperatures in the Phoenix valley where I’m currently sitting are hovering around 108°. Like every summer around this time, I’m reminiscing about trips I’ve taken to escape the dreaded summer Sonoran Desert heat and planning opportunities in cooler climes again. One standout experience, which continually creeps into my planning and scheming, was a ride during a road trip last October with my buddy Cameron Lloyd and a couple of his fellow Sun Valley Mountain Guides – Keeley and Andrew – in Ketchum, ID. We had an epic time riding some of the area’s most ripping and scenic singletrack, so continue reading below for a recap with this great crew!
There’s more to biking in Baja than the Divide
Twenty minutes after sunset and the sky has a glowing ember look. Night is taking over. In the distance — in the hills — you can see the front and rear lights of a bike. At first, it seems like it must be a motorcycle, but there’s no noise. It’s a mountain bike. The rider zooms up and down small climbs and descents, and then flies past us in a cloud of dust we can’t quite see, but can smell. The person on the bike, whoever they are, is having a great time.
I’m driving the entirety of Baja — with my husband and our dog — from Mexicali to Todos Santos. We started in Colorado. All in, the trip south is over 2,000 miles. We camp a lot — in a little van we built out last year. It’s great, but not quite van life. More, a step up from tent life. We’ve got our mountain bikes — an Ibis Mojo and a Revel Ranger — and a lot of peanut butter.
Spain is known for its people and their energy. Dinners at 10:00 p.m. are not unheard of, if not mandatory, in order to fuel the even later “madrugada”—a word used to describe that amorphous and intoxicating time spent in the streets after midnight and before the sunrise with hundreds of other souls savoring every last scrap of their waking hours. When I visited Spain twenty years ago I was a sponge for this lifestyle and spent six months in Madrid soaking up the culture, the clubs, and the calimocho. But this trip would open my eyes to an entirely different Spain, one more suited to my forty-year-old self.
“You can never go home again.” Martin O Blank’s defining line from the film Grosse Pointe Blank has stuck with me since I first heard it in the late ‘90s. It stuck with me because I thought, until recently, that it was bullshit. I moved away from Grand Rapids, MI for work and school in Colorado in 2004 but would go back to visit at least every year. And nothing seemed to change. My friends and the city itself seemed perfectly preserved in time. It always felt like home. But after a big move to Arizona and a pandemic, nearly five years passed without a visit. Then, after that time away, when my family and I road tripped Michigan this past July, I realized that Blank might have actually been onto something. My friends and the city had changed. In exciting ways to be sure, but things were markedly different and the area felt less homey for the first time in my life.
In addition to riding some amazing purpose-built singletrack in my former hometown of West Michigan this past summer (more on that to come!), another highlight was linking up with Mitch Mileski for a very unexpected type of trail riding. Mitch manages the Fulton Street location of the Grand Rapids Bicycle Co. and, having also grown up in Grand Rapids (just much more recently than me) he knows the city very well and was generous to show off a few hidden gems. I met up with Mitch early on a moody weekday morning with a typical summer weather forecast calling for a 50% chance of precipitation.
Living at 7,000′ has its ups and downs, particularly for someone still acclimating from life at sea level for the past 5 years. One of the positives though is easy access to alpine riding. Well, easy is subjective for sure but if you only have a few hours to kill and want a quick loop that’s equal parts hard as it is beautiful and most importantly, fun, then have I got one local Santa Fe ride for you…
This just in from our friends at the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship:
Sierra Nevada Conservancy awards $360,525 planning grant linking 15 communities by trail
To fulfill the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) mission of building sustainable, recreation-based communities, Connected Communities will change the economic future of Sierra, Plumas, Lassen and Butte County forever. Linking 15 California mountain communities across four economically disadvantaged counties by approximately 300 miles of new motorized and non-motorized trails, the Lost Sierra Master Trails Plan and Connected Communities project will be a historic collaboration between federal land managers, regional government, local businesses and concerned citizens.
It’s not long after we’ve packed all eight of our bikes and a weeks worth of gear to be loaded in the Western Slope Rides shuttle van in Moab, Utah, that Robert Warren, our driver, has us all rapt and pinned to our seats.
Last year, a group of framebuilders converged on the bustlin’ little Montana town of Bozeman for what we called Home Grown Builders Camp. Each day, we’d take to the mountains around Bozeman to ride alpine trails. While driving to these trails is just something you expect, riding straight from town is always a treat and that’s why I really loved riding the local Townie Trails, aka the Gallatin Valley Land Trust‘s Main Street to the Mountains trail network.