Normally when people embark on a bike ride, they don’t wind up participating in impromptu BMX races nor in complete strangers’ wedding ceremonies. Cyclists typically don’t cross five states and two countries in six week’s time, with only backpacks and determination in tow.
Dario DiGuilio and Ben van Hamersveld aren’t normal cyclists.
The Great Divide mountain bike route extends for about 2,800 miles across the country, Point A at the Mexican border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico and Point B in Banff, Canada. While many cyclists are initially hesitant to commit to the challenge, DiGuilio and van Hamersveld were eager to embark on the journey from the start.
Architecture senior DiGuilio first read about the Great Divide one year ago, while mechanical engineering senior van Hamersveld heard about it from a friend and decided to do further research. The students weren’t biking amateurs either — they were used to biking multiple miles each day to and from campus.
“We consider ourselves hardcore commuters,” van Hamersveld said.
Once the two realized that they were both interested in the trip, they decided to start planning for their last-minute adventure. DiGuilio and van Hamersveld shared their exciting news with their families and friends and were on the trail by June 23.
They chose to take “the atypical way,” from south to north. According to DiGuilio, this route had “some of the more heinous terrain,” which got the hardest part of the trip over with at the beginning.
“It was physically and mentally hard at first because we kind of just jumped into it. It’s impossible to think about biking across the country on the first day,” van Hamersveld said.
DiGuilio and van Hamersveld said most of the difficulty was due to unfavorable weather. Thunderstorms were common in the southern half of the trip and on the second day, the two bikers found themselves contemplating whether or not to continue the trip after almost being struck by lightning. However, they decided to forge on and became so used to the storms that van Hamersveld, who was afraid of lightning, soon overcame his fears.
The pair also struggled with adjusting to its new traveling schedule. With extreme temperatures and starkly different daily routine than that at school, they quickly learned what to do.
DiGuilio and van Hamersveld realized they could only carry food and water for two or three days at a time, which they restocked at gas stations and convenience stores. They found that riding an average of 10 hours per day was best, taking a few breaks for food until finding somewhere to stay the night.
“At no point did we have an easy day because the nature of biking is that it never gets easier, you just get faster, which is one of our favorite ways to think about it,” DiGuilio said.
The pair usually slept in sleeping bags on the side of the trail. Sometimes, kind strangers would give them a place to rest.
“We’d stop in a town for literally two minutes and be hanging out in front of a gas station,” van Hamersveld said. “Someone would drive up in their car or walk by and see our bicycles and be like, ‘Yo, you have a place to sleep?’ and we’d be like ‘No, not yet,’ and they’d say ‘Come on over! We’ll feed you and you can take a shower.’”
They said generally people were curious to learn about what they were up to, especially in smaller towns.
“We weren’t hesitant to talk to anybody. We were always pretty open and would let people know what we were doing,” DiGuilio said. “It really bolstered my faith in humanity, the amount of nice people that we met. And we only had, like, two assholes the entire time, so it was pretty nice.”
DiGuilio said one of the best aspects of the Great Divide was passing through smaller communities off the beaten path. Many of these areas were away from major highways and only accessible through dirt roads.
“Doing a trip like this, where you’re really testing your abilities to complete a challenge is worthy of not working or taking summer classes,” DiGuilio said. “It opened my eyes to the scale of things that we’re able to tackle.”