In the first weeks I am cycling almost always in the forest. They are good, lonely forestal roads. Only atop the passes I can see further afield. It is also here that there often challenging single trails spicing the route.
After Helena, thinks change and I am now often crossing wide, open prairie. Somewhere, someone must have turn a switch. The very day I start in Banff, the weather turns incredibly good, hot and stable. And it stays that way for weeks to come!
Sure, sometimes it needs some persuasion. If for the x-time I am crossing the main road in the valley and start to climb to yet another pass where as you could simply follow the road through the valley. But if you can untie yourself from the idea to get as fast and mostly as easy as possible from A to B, then this route is the ultimate Non plus Ultra. It is just wonderful to travel on these roads with virtually no traffic across the country.
Sometimes I feel like traveling in a parallel world. One where there is hardly any motorized traffic, that consists of wide, lonely valley, endless forest and wide prairie. Every few of days I come down from the mountains and forests and cross a little town where I can buy supplies. After that I change down to the lowest gear and start riding up the other side of the valley to the next pass.
I am riding the trail without the official maps or a description, I just have a GPS track that I follow. I quite like that, because other than the profile so I never know what lies ahead. And maybe I might have taken an easier way at one or the other point. But this way I am always surprised what’s coming next.
Like the landslide that took away the whole road and I can only pass by crossing a waist deep river twice, or the 40% (!) steep hiking trail where I can hardly push the bike downhill, or the forest where you cannot see the ground anymore because of all the tree roots, or the road that is actually closed because it turned into a riverbed.
After a third of the trail I take a break and ride a detour across the Yellowstone Park that lies just next to it. Of course it is high season here now and I first have to get used to the heavy traffic.
For a few days I visit all the hot springs, geysers and waterfalls and see my first Bison.
In southern Wyoming the continental divide splits into two mountain ridges. In between lies the Great Divide Basin which is where I cycle across next. It is a vast, dry grassland as far as you can see, almost like in Mongolia.
After this particularly hot and dry spring/summer there is not a drop of water far and wide. Fortunately there is a reservoir about half way.
Soon after I enter Colorado. The short flat stage is over and it's back to the horizontal. The rockies are highest here and most prominent. I pass all this great mountains and some ski resorts.
On two days it rains slightly and immediately the road turns into a muddy mess. Probably just to show me, how much luck I have with the weather. They are the only bad weather day on the whole route.
Colorado is behind me and somehow thought, that maybe the toughest part is now done, the big mountains done, that it might get a little bit easier.
I could not be wronger. The southern part of Colorado and then the first days in New Mexico manage to establish new records in that regard. Several days in a row I write in my diary, this this was now the toughest day of the route. Challenging tracks and long climbs demand everything, but the routing and scenery is superb.
The GDMBR stubbornly bypasses any touristic destination but rather passes through unknown backcountry. So it is never the well known places but no less attractive landscapes that I pass through, almost always deserted.
Other than most other riders on the trail who mostly travel with a mountain bike and ultra light, I carry all my junk. A little bit like a truck on a hiking trail I feel.
Weeklong riding on gravel roads is also a challenge for the bicycle, especially for one that has been around half the world already. Amongst other things, I have to change tires three times during the trail. And because bike shops are not just around every corner here, I have been riding quite some distance very carefully to get there in one piece.
Del Norte I almost leave, but then I find someone who knows the owner of a second hand sport shop, who opens up his shop for me on labour day and where I find a new tire. Only 50km later I am even more happy about that, because my tattered tire finally refused to carry me any further.
Because I am mostly in the forest, most oft the people I meet, are hunters. At the moment it is bow-season, which means only hunting with bow and arrow is allowed. Hunting is very much high tech in the USA and so they all sneak through the woods equipped with ATV, trail-com, ultra modern bows and countless other gadgets.
In the south of New Mexico the mountains finally get smaller. But the tracks are much rougher here. For me most important, that there is now no more surface water anymore which means I have to carry much more. The pine trees give way to cactus and then on day 54 after starting in Banff I have made it and reach the Mexican border.
OK, so I have crossed the USA from north to south. And if anyone will ask me, well how is it over there in america? I will truthfully answer, that it is a land with very few motorized traffic, no big towns but huge forests and mountains and wide prairie and where almost the entire road network consists of gravel roads! You see, I will stay a little bit longer to put everything back into the right perspective. Because I have arrived here much earlier than planned I still have some time for that.
So I have one more time consulted the maps and set the final destination for this trip: In San Francisco I plan to finish this journey by the end of november.
The very first day I am off the dirt roads it rains, continuously for two days. Now that was real luck this did not happen on New Mexico’s dirt roads.
I continue to the West across Arizona, always close to the border. There is not much traffic here on these roads except for the ever present white-green cars of the border patrol that drive up and down the roads. It is remarkably hilly and green here in the South. But when I get closer to Tuscon I get lower and lower. Finally I ride across the Sonaran desert where I pass a whole forest of giant Saguaro cacti. In the area around Phoenix it is finally getting uncomfortably hot.
How do you ride across a desert? In the early morning and late evening of course. But what do you do in the hours between? Find some shelter, but what if there is just none? Several times I literally crawl under a thorny bush just to get out of the sun a little bit until I continue in the evening.
At night when I set up camp it is as if my tent is on a hot plate, the ground still radiating the heat half through the night. The only cooling-off comes at the crossing of the Colorado River, who has just passed through the Great Canyon.
When I reach the Mojave desert the road climbs again and soon the temperatures are more pleasant. Joshua Tree NP is already at 1300m. For several days I ride across the park. The granite rocks that are glowing red in the evening sun and of course the many Joshua Trees (actually a Yucca plant) are just stunning.
Because the desert is so high and it is really dark here at night, gazing at the stars at night is absolutely spectacular.
The suburbs of Los Angeles are getting bigger. But the ride down to the coast is easier then expected because there is a bike path almost along the entire length of the Santa Ana River. Along the well know beaches of Newport, Venice, Santa Monica and Malibu there is a great bike trail right along the beach.
Probably I felt it was a little bit too quite and so I decide to take a little detour through Hollywood. The area has certainly seen better days and locks rather run down in many places.
The coastal road between San Diego and San Francisco is one of the most popular cycling routes in the US. There are many state parks along the coast where you can camp and where I meet lots of other cyclists. The southern part is rather disappointing, but the northern, known as Big Sur is much more to my liking. Here a narrow, curvy road winds along the rocky coastline. The area is pleasantly untouched considering how close the big cities are.
From Santa Cruz it would only be another 100km to San Francisco, my final destination. But for the last time I take a detour to get there. I would like to see Yosemite Park before I finish.
So I ride across the valley past endless almond fields to the high Sierra. You could have seen hundreds of photos of El Capitan. But the moment when you come around that corner into Yosemite Valley and stand in front of that giant rock face is just breathtaking. The stay at the legendary Camp 4 truly must be earned. At 5 o’clock (!) in the morning I stand in line only to get the very last site at the campground 4 hours later.
Almost a week I stay in the park. For hours I stare at the vertical rock faces and observe climbers, do short hikes but mainly try to ’shut down’, to tell my body I am not going to cycle for 5-8 hours every day anymore. Form my own experience I know that it is not an easy thing to do.
Then for the last time I pack my stuff and ride back to the coast towards San Francisco.
I am grateful that I don’t have to finish this journey in an anonymous hostel. I can stay with a good friend in the middle of the Silicon Valley and slowly get used to a life under a roof.
A whole week I stay here and on November 3rd, on day 1133 and after 70,000km I ride into town and finish this trip at the Golden Gate Bridge.
So another journey has come to an end. In the next week other adventures are waiting for me, such as searching for a job and an apartment.
I would like to thank all the countless people I met along the way and who helped me in any way. Without them this journey would only have been half as exiting.
In a few hours I will fly home. I am looking forward and consider myself very fortunate that after such a long trip I can still say that it is still the most beautiful place I know…