THE LONG AND WINDING ROUTE THE GREAT DIVIDE TRAIL PROMISES MOUNTAIN BIKERS A STUNNING NORTH-SOUTH RIDE

April 16, 1995

The idea, as Mike McCoy readily admits, sounds preposterous: to
create a 3,000-mile mountain-bike trail that runs from Canada to
Mexico. But if anyone can pull it off, it is McCoy. As the
former assistant director of Adventure Cycling, a not-for-profit
bicycling association based in Missoula, Mont., that runs tours
for its 40,000 members, publishes a magazine and maps bike
trails for various states, McCoy has helped identify and map
nearly 20,000 miles of road-biking routes, including three that
cross the U.S. from coast to coast. Though mapping a 3,000-mile
off-road bike trail has never been attempted before, McCoy says
the entire project, which was begun early last year, should be
completed by the fall of '97.

``It's like trying to solve a 3,000-mile-long puzzle,'' says
McCoy, 43. ``I'm attempting to string together a mishmash of
different lands--Bureau of Land Management property, state land,
national Forest Service land, Park Service land and private
lands with public access. And then there is a wide variety of
riding surfaces: dirt roads, ATV trails, fire-access channels
and hiking paths.'' Nevertheless, the 800-mile Montana portion
of the trail is virtually complete, and plans for the rest of
the route have been drawn up.

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, as the trail is called, is
the brainchild not only of McCoy, who was recently named the
route's national coordinator, but also of Adventure Cycling's
executive director, Gary MacFadden, 42. The two conceived the
trail in 1989 when the sport of mountain biking was in its
adolescence, but manpower and time constraints delayed the start
of actual route-finding for five years. All along, however,
McCoy and MacFadden have remained steadfast in their choice of
terrain: They have insisted that the path follow the meandering
Continental Divide.

A ride on the Great Divide route will be an epic journey. The
trail begins at the Canadian border, where it runs adjacent to
Glacier National Park. When completed, it will continue into the
vast forests of eastern Idaho; venture among the desolate
badlands of Wyoming; meander through Colorado resort towns such
as Steamboat, Aspen and Crested Butte; and ramble through the
uninhabited hills of New Mexico. ``Biking the whole thing will
be arduous,'' concedes McCoy. ``There can be snow at one end,
100-degree heat at the other and knee-deep mud bogs in the
middle.'' He estimates the trek will take more than 100 days to
complete.

That is, if anyone attempts it. ``Our biggest question once we
started the project was, Is anybody going to ride this?'' says
MacFadden. The answer appears to be yes--but not too many
people, at least not at first. While trips of several days--
often undertaken with help from support vehicles--on road
bicycles are fairly common, long-distance mountain-bike touring
has only been for the hardy few. With the opening of the Great
Divide route, McCoy and MacFadden expect such trips to become
more common.

Though both men say they are ``100-percent sure'' that their
plans will come to pass, they have encountered several stumbling
blocks. Adventure Cycling's efforts have never been well-funded,
and corporate sponsors for the Great Divide trail are being
sought. Accessibility is another problem. Due to hiker-biker
clashes, public lands are increasingly being closed to mountain
bikers; McCoy hopes to avoid areas that may one day ban
cyclists. There is also the challenge to Adventure Cycling's
cartographers of mapping the complex trail so others can find it.

None of these difficulties have stopped McCoy from continuing to
dream. ``The east-west routes I've worked on end because they
reach an ocean,'' he says. ``With the Great Divide, there isn't
an ocean. And the terrain in Canada and Mexico is fascinating.
There's no reason to finish the trail simply because it hits an
international border. As soon as I'm done with the U.S. portion,
I plan to keep on going.''

Michael Finkel lives in Bozeman, Mont., and is a frequent
contributor to Sports Illustrated.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ALLEN/OUTSIDE IMAGES The highlands of northern Montana are a highlight of the route mapped by MacFadden (right) and McCoy. [Gary MacFadden riding his bike on a trail.] COLOR PHOTO: GREG SIPLE/ADVENTURE CYCLING The highlands of northern Montana are a highlight of the route mapped by MacFadden (right) and McCoy. [Mike McCoy and Gary MacFadden.]

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