Colorado couple who rode Great Divide Mountain Bike Route tells how to tackle the 2,800-mile trail

Colorado couple who rode Great Divide Mountain Bike Route tells how to tackle the 2,800-mile trail

Two summers ago, Carrie Morgridge and her husband, John, rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Banff, Alberta, to the Mexican border at Antelope Wells, N.M., pedaling 2,774 miles in 46 days. Over the course of the trip, they crossed the Continental Divide 36 times with more than 200,000 vertical feet of climbing.

One of their favorite images came on the first day in the majestic Canadian Rockies. First it poured rain, then the clouds parted as they rode through a brilliant green pine forest with a lush floor of moss.

“You could almost taste the moisture in the air,” Carrie said. “We had a 360-degree view of these snow-capped peaks that were gray and clouds were hovering, giving this depth perception that was unbelievable.”

They also were smitten when they rode through the Great Basin in Wyoming. The treeless topography was desert-like, and they saw wild horses under a blue sky.

“Not a human or manmade structure as far as the eye could see,” Carrie said. “And because we were on top of the Continental Divide, you could see for what felt like hundreds and hundreds of miles.”

The philanthropist couple raised two children in Denver and now spend half the year in Clark, 18 miles north of Steamboat Springs, and the other half in Stuart, Fla. John is president of the Morgridge Family Foundation and Carrie is the vice president.

John’s father, John P. Morgridge, was a self-made man whose parents were teachers. He was the chief executive of Cisco Systems when the company went public, making him a billionaire.

“John and I spend our full time giving away money,” Carrie said. They provide funding and work closely with National Jewish Health, Metro State University, Colorado Mountain College, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Nature Conservancy and a national teacher-training program based in Lakewood called mindSpark Learning.

Carrie has written a book about the couple’s Great Divide mountain bike adventure, “The Spirit of the Trail,” with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the nonprofit Adventure Cycling Association, Carrie said. That group provides maps and information for cyclists wanting to do long-distance routes across the United States. ACA resources proved invaluable to the Morgridges in planning their trip, Carrie said.

Earlier this month, The Post interviewed Carrie by telephone from their home in Clark.

Q: You were 49 years old when you decided to do this and your husband was 54. What possessed you guys to do something so adventurous in this season of your lives?

A: John and I have always considered ourselves athletes. In 1993, we moved to Aspen with our children. I thought I was an athlete until I got into the Rocky Mountains, and that turned me into a true athlete. But you’re always very humble because you never know when you’re going to meet a Neal Beidleman (Mount Everest climber) or an Olympian as you’re skiing … . Before I knew it, I did nine Ironmans.

I ran so much that I ruined discs in my back, L4 and L5, and in 2015 I had a fusion. I am a girl who actually does work out six days a week for one to three hours a day. After my back fusion, I couldn’t work out for almost a year if I wanted it to heal properly. It was torture. I gained a little weight and was frustrated with that, and my husband and I were coming up on our 25th wedding anniversary. I asked John if I could go to fat camp. He said, “What if we did adventure cycling and biked across the country?” (Note: John’s parents, John and Tashia, rode across the U.S. from California to New Hampshire in 1995 when they were in their 60s.)

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route actually goes right through our own backyard (in Clark). We saw these bikers every year and we would cheer them on, (but) I didn’t know it was on the route.

Q: So you started in July 2016 at Banff in the Canadian Rockies. What were your emotions the night before beginning a 2,800-mile mountain bike tour through Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico with bear spray for protection? Was it pure excitement or was there some anxiety as well?

A: Both. My biggest apprehension was, would my body allow me to do it after back surgery? John’s apprehension was, could he safely get me from Banff all the way down to Antelope Wells?

Q: How did you prepare physically for the ordeal?

A: We trained for 650 miles in 21 days right before we went to Banff. Every day we added more weight (on the bikes) until we got to 95 pounds.

Q: How did you figure out your route and determine where you could get food and water along the way?

A: That’s why the Adventure Cycling maps are so incredibly important. The Adventure Cycling Association has been around for years. They are the people who provide maps for people who want to road-bike across the country, and this year is their 20th anniversary of inventing the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. It took them three years to figure out and map out the route.

Q: Adventure Cycling’s Michael McCoy wrote a book about the route in 2013. How is your book different?

A: His is more data-driven. Mine was emotional. Hell, yeah, it was hard. We did three Continental Divide passes once just to make a hotel. I thought I was going to die. We didn’t get to the hotel until 8:30 at night and we got on the bike at 6 in the morning. That’s a hard day.

Q: What tips would you give people who might want to try this adventure?

A: The first tip would be, do your research. Spend (time) on the internet. That’s how John found our bikes, and he researched the dos and don’ts. The second tip is, get great maps. We talked to a kid a week ago who was coming off the route through Steamboat and he didn’t know what city he’d just been in. He was just following the blue line (on GPS). I felt so much closer to the route by reading the maps.

Number three is, you really do have to train. I met a kid who dropped out after the fourth day because he had been doing finals at college and didn’t have time to train. He left his college graduation and immediately hopped on the trail. You can’t do 60 to 100 miles a day without training.

Q: What were highlights and lowlights of the trip?

A: There were a couple of days I didn’t really think I could make it anymore. We hit it really hard across the Great Basin and I had kind of a pulled muscle in my leg. I had never been in that much pain for that long in my life — three days. I’m out in the middle of nowhere with no help except for Advil and Aleve. We got to our ranch near Steamboat, where I took a day and a half off and stretched like crazy. I never had that pain again.

It’s truly mental. Can you get back on the bike, day after day after day, to complete it?

The highlight: John has a friend who said, “I don’t think you and your wife can finish this, and Carrie’s probably going to cry all along the way.” I took that as a challenge to never cry. On the last day, we only had to bike 40 miles and it was flat. We got about 10 miles down the road and I was just reliving all these beautiful loving moments that I had with my husband for 46 days straight. We had never been in love more than on the last day, never in our whole married life, and I started to cry.

I got off my bike to hug him and kiss him, and he had been crying. He had the same overwhelming emotions that I did. That’s what doing these adventure things is all about, right?

Q: What message are you hoping to share with this book?

A: I wanted to share with more people than my family that anyone could do this. Maybe you just do a section of it, but anyone can hop on a bike, even if it’s for a weekend, and accomplish and feel what John and I felt. Maybe not as deeply, but that’s the goal of the book: To get people outside, in nature, unplugged and back to their roots.



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