Last month, after 82 days on the trail, Bikepacking Roots’ Routes Director Kurt Refsnider completed his 3,300-mile ride down the spine of the United States on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) on October 1st. Along with the more famous Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails, the CDT is a cross-the-country backcountry hiking trail, and it’s the only one of these three long trails that is mostly open to mountain bike travel. With nearly 400,000 feet of climbing, thousands of downed trees, and some of the toughest singletrack Refsnider has been on, he averaged just 45 miles per day.
Don’t confuse the CDT with the iconic Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the parallel dirt road bikepacking route ridden by thousands each year and developed by Adventure Cycling Association. And don’t confuse it with Tour Divide, the race route that closely mirrors the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. The map embed below shows how these various routes along the Continental Divide corridor relate to one another.
“I’m so relieved to have pulled this off. I’ve wanted to ride the CDT for close to 15 years now – I love long traverses along with raw and remote trails, and that’s exactly what the CDT is. After my friends Scott Morris and Eszter Horanyi became the first to ride a bike-legal variation of the trail a decade ago, we expected there would be an increase in interest in bikepacking the length of the trail. But only one other person, Aaron Weinsheimer, has completed it since! It’s such a tough trail, and it continues to be overlooked by bikepackers because of that, but it’s absolutely incredible.” Refsnider was the first of these riders to traverse the trail in a southbound direction. Scott Morris is also a former member of the Bikepacking Roots Board of Directors, and Aaron Weinsheimer is just about to complete the CDT for a second time, this time on foot!
Cyclists are allowed on roughly 65% of the official CDT. Refsnider’s route bypassed sections of the CDT closed to bike travel (mostly Wilderness/Recommended Wilderness/Wilderness Study Areas) and made use of other parallel backcountry trails. His adventurous Wilderness detours, like the Wyoming Range Trail and singletrack along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front were among the ride’s highlights despite their difficulty.
Most days were quiet, with Refsnider seeing no more than a handful of hikers or mountain bikers. He met ~90 CDT thru hikers, ~50 mountain bikers, and just one pair of equestrians while on the trail. Their typical perplexed but enthusiastic response was, “Wait, you’re riding the CDT?! That’s crazy . . . and incredible.”
Bikepacking Roots also supported a data collection effort Refsnider conducted during the trip. This survey was developed in consultation with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) and focused on the trail experience, trail sustainability, and cyclist access. The CDTC’s mission is dedicated to hiking and equestrian use on the trail per a Congressional directive from when the CDT was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1978. The data Refsnider collected along the way will serve to help Bikepacking Roots identify sections of the CDT most suitable and enjoyable for bikepacking.