New Kensington cyclist bikes the U.S. Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico
Many would agree traveling over the Continental Divide would be an impressive sight from a jet plane.
More impressive would be someone bicycling the length of the Continental Divide.
That's what New Kensington resident and Army veteran Tim Green did — cycling 2,490 miles from the Canadian border in Montana to the Mexican border in New Mexico.
His journey started June 21 and ended Sept. 1.
“The goal was to finish the route in 60 days,” Green says. “My bicycle fell over a hillside, and I was off the trail for about two weeks while I waited for parts.”
The course for Green began about seven miles west of Roosville, Mont., near the Canadian border and ended in Antelope Wells, N.M., near the Mexican border. The Continental Divide is the natural boundary line separating waters that flow into the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico from those that flow into the Pacific Ocean. In the United States, it follows the crest of the Rocky Mountains.
Green had a mountain bike made special for the trip.
The most valuable piece of travel gear — other than the bicycle itself — was Green's BOB trailer, which stands for beast of burden.
The BOB was attached to the rear axle and held camping gear, perishables such as dehydrated foods and tools.
Green mapped out his journey with the help of guides published by the Adventure Cycling Association of Missoula, Mont.
“A lot of cyclists do get in touch with us,” says Winona Bateman, who is in charge of media relations for the cycling association. “It's beautiful country. According to the map sales, there are hundreds of cyclists going on the Great Divide (in the best traveling months).”
Last year, there were about 3,100 maps sold, Bateman says.
Whenever possible, Green would map out a portion of the route so that he could reach a small town, a campsite or a hunting lodge and stay the night.
Cellphone service is often out of the question in remote areas, so Green would rely on meeting with other riders for information and tips.
“You'd run into other riders, and we'd swap information such as water resources and different hunting lodges,” says Green, 54. “This trail is very popular with Europeans; since their countries are so dense, there are no wide open trails like this.”
The vistas and views of wildlife were breathtaking along the way, but there was one fear that Green had to deal with: “I was terrified of grizzly bears.”
“Black bears are one thing; they'll run away when they hear a human voice, unless it's a mother with her cubs nearby,” Green says. “You want to be bear-aware, but you can also become paranoid.”
The trail is very diverse.
It goes from steep mountains and deep woods in Montana, to the Great Basin desert in Wyoming, where there is almost no drinkable water or trees.
In Colorado, the trail is along less remote settings.
When a cyclist arrives in New Mexico, the landscape offers small rodents, snakes and lizards. And, in some of those small towns settled by Spaniards in the 1500s, English isn't the primary language.
Green says that a must-have item for cyclists is insect repellent.
“The worst part of the trail is the mosquitoes, but it's a great character builder,” says Mike McCoy, a cartographer who researched the trail from 1955-98.
“It captures the romance of the Wild West,” McCoy adds.
Thirst can also be an obstacle.
Green would put a gallon jug of water in his BOB, but he didn't want to take too much to slow him down.
“With a gallon jug, it weighs eight pounds going uphill,” Green says. “But I carried two extra gallons through the Wyoming desert area.”
Green had to make a slight detour because of heavy rainfall and muddy, unpaved roads in New Mexico. He had to pedal some conventional highway pavement while the cycling roads dried.
Green is accustomed to durability.
He spent 28 1⁄2 years in the Army, leaving his native Long Island at 17. Green retired March 31, 2006, as a command sergeant major, the highest enlisted pay grade.
Green spent the last two years of his Army service in Afghanistan, but returned there as a Department of Defense contractor for five years, finishing that stint in November 2012.
Before becoming an avid cyclist, Green was a cross-country aficionado.
“I couldn't go as far and as fast anymore, so I took up cycling,” Green says with a laugh.
Cycling the Continental Divide is akin to a runner competing in the Boston Marathon or a football player suiting up for a game in the Rose Bowl stadium.
“It's the Holy Grail of all off-road, long-distance bicycle trips,” Green says of the Continental Divide. “I wanted an off-road adventure. I like a challenge.”
He has ridden the Great Allegheny Passage and some Western Pennsylvania trails such as Ghost Town Trail in Indiana County.
The finish line
When Green's journey was completed, it was like a joy in victory.
“I wasn't going to let that trail get the best of me,” Green says. “You get a great sense of accomplishment, but it was anticlimactic toward the end by the time I was close to finishing.”
Green still has some trips on his agenda.
He would like to canoe the Allegheny River from the Kinzua Dam to the point in Pittsburgh, and take more cycling trips.
“This has definitely kindled a passion to do more routes,” Green says.
George Guido is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.