Ride the Divide


David Allen rides potted roads and bumpy tracks as he travels from Banff to Antelope Wells along America’s Continental Divide Trail

Whilst we live on a comparatively small rock careening through space at breakneck speed, it is rare to have the time or the opportunity to sit back and ride into the sunset on a motorcycle.

It is a wonderfully versatile vehicle one day, ferrying you and your tuna sandwiches to work, the next transporting you with your worldly goods along gravel roads far from civilisation and where better to have such an experience than on the dirt roads and gravel tracks that follow the North American Continental Divide?


I was at university in Halifax, Canada at the time so I loaded ‘Crazy’, my little DRZ400s, onto a trailer heading for Calgary some 3,000 miles to the west. Hopefully, she would be there when I arrived in just over a week’s time.

It had been a year since my last two-wheeled adventure and I was keen to explore some more of the potted roads and bumpy tracks of North America. It was early August in 2014 as Camilla and I sat in an aluminium tube overcoming gravity and zipping towards the Rockies at 500mph.

Our intention, once in Calgary, was to ride south following the Continental Divide, an imaginary line extending from the Bering Strait in the north to the Strait of Magellan in the south. It encompasses both the Rocky and Andes Mountains and rain falling to the west of the Divide eventually flows into the Pacific, to the east into the Atlantic and in the northern reaches into the Arctic Ocean.

Gravel Trails
Miles of gravel trails through densely forested areas

As we cruised along at 9,000m it occurred to me that we were as high as the summit of Mt Everest and during the ride we would gain that height seven times, a staggering 64,000m, roughly 90% of the ride would be on logging tracks, gravel roads and quad bike trails. In addition, we would cross the Divide 30 times along the 2,700-mile route from Banff in Canada to Antelope Wells on the US/Mexican Border. Quite a sobering thought.

So, ‘Who is Camilla?’ I hear you ask. She is a friend from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, who after a slightly twisted arm, had agreed to join me with Bumble Bee, her yellow Kawasaki KLR650. She blamed the repetitive over-rotation of her throttle hand on that twisted arm, though I suspect that she had acquired her need for speed at an early age.

We had little more than a month to plan and prepare and so this received little more than a cursory nod, especially when I had to fit it in around university lectures and exams. Inevitably our list of forgotten items had expanded, though we still clung to the misguided belief that we were ready to hit the trail the following day.

Bit of a challenge
Bit of a challenge with a fully loaded bike

Standing proud at the top of the list was to rectify my oversight in not replacing Crazy’s shoddy headstock bearings and in second place was not having a spare rear inner tube for the KLR. A half-hearted check and we realised that it was the same as that for a DRZ. Or so we thought. How we would rue that lapse in judgement.

A visit to a local Suzuki dealer and Crazy soon sported a set of after-market bearings, and not long afterwards we found ourselves at the trailhead in Banff and only half a day behind schedule. A quick check of the route on the GPS and we were off. Only to run straight into a locked gate and a sign declaring that the area was closed to all traffic due to a damaged bridge.

We had not even managed 100m. A not-so-short detour by tarmac and we were back on track, only to be dashed by yet another sign, this time announcing that the trail was closed owing to bear activity. More tarmac, back en-route and another sign announcing that the trail was closed to minimise disturbance to wildlife.

There are times when losses need to be cut and this was one of them so we made the executive decision to take the black stuff straight to the US border at Roosville, Montana. Our only achievements of the day were an unusually straightforward US border crossing and a single crossing of the Divide. Only 29 to go. Talking to locals, it seemed that we had just been unlucky. Road signs detailing road closures were going to plague us throughout the ride.

Miss Pyrotechnic
Miss Pyrotechnic and the wasp

The USA started to provide us with some challenging dirt. My off-road experience was slightly more than Camilla’s, which lay somewhere between ‘none’ and ‘zero’. Montana served up the best campsite of the whole trail and was actually off-route. We had been turned around as the trail headed straight into yet another state park.

Perhaps the author of our version of the motorcycle trail was unaware that all motorised vehicles are banned from the parks and it was clear that he had not ridden this part. OK, that is enough whinging for one day. Back to the campsite.

It was on the shore of a remote lake and had plenty of wood to be collected by Miss Pyrotechnic and Bumble Bee, wildlife by the boatload and trees flattened by avalanches. Overnight we were haunted by the Demon of Red Meadow Lake. At least, that is what we thought until dawn exposed a huge, noisy bull moose foraging in the lake shallows with his rack full of aquatic vegetation.

When on a long trip like the Continental Divide Trail, in the early stages of the ride, a number of ‘7P-type’ bike defects often materialise. For those of you unfamiliar with the 7Ps. Prior planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance.

Nature's Washing Up Bowl
Mother Nature’s Washing Up Bowl

It is amazing how many items are shaken loose during hours of bouncing along on gravel including battery connections, mirrors and even luggage racks. All to be expected, and to ensure that there was no unintentional weight shedding, the Blue Loctite was removed from deep in a pannier to a new position in my pocket. Bumble Bee had so much Loctite applied that she should have been renamed, Sapphire.

We made a quick foray into Idaho where rain and diesel led to a friction coefficient of zero between rubber and asphalt. Simple physics could have predicted the scuffed body armour, a sore hand, expletives and a leaking water container. The lack of water meant that that night’s dishes had to be done in Mother Nature’s sink.

The light of the following morning revealed paw prints around the puddle, which was apparently a favourite place for bears to visit at night and sample their favourite aperitif of puddle water with a slight hint of Chili Con Carne. Henceforth, until entering New Mexico bear spray and I became the best of friends.

Wyoming was our third state and it was here where we decided to make a short detour and visit Yogi and BooBoo in Yellowstone Park. The ‘proper’ route was abandoned for the day and we made our way towards the geyser Old Faithful and the nearby thermal pools. Alarm bells began to sound as we neared the well-known sites and the volume of traffic increased hundredfold.

Avalanche Damage
Avalanche damage, Thankfully four months too late

To our disappointment, Old Faithful had been turned into an over-commercialised eyesore, surrounded by row upon row of fixed seating for tired, intrepid Homo sapiens who had had an arduous ride in their air-conditioned vehicles.

“Arriba, Arriba” was the advice from Speedy Gonzales, and follow his advice we did, all the way to the closest National Forest. Following a side track, we were rewarded with another great campsite and so followed the nightly routine. Set up tents, eat food and take anti-bear precautions.

Grab food bag, walk downwind for 100m, find a sturdy overhanging branch, throw stick, hold onto the rope (it is important to tie the rope to stick before throwing), haul food bag into tree, retrace steps to tents and then toast our feet by the fire and put the world to rights between sips of beer.

The Remote Lakeside

The following morning we were zipping along a well-graded track before we turned a corner and discovered workmen digging a trench right across the road. Thankfully they were perfect gentlemen and filled in a metre wide section so that we could get across. What great guys!

When this happened another three times we were getting a feeling that we had missed something. Lo and behold, on leaving the park we discovered that the road would be closed until Monday for maintenance, and today was only Saturday. If they had not taken pity on us we could have been there all weekend and that would have caused some seriously ruffled feathers!

Colorado. Wow! What awesome scenery, fantastic trails and great campsites. Some of the best were around the ski resort of Breckenridge. After a long day on the road, the Breckenridge Starbucks provided a particularly welcome Tea Chai Latte, two pumps of chai, no water, no foam, extra hot and in a to-go cup.

Perfect, and it was followed by a late afternoon ride out of town where we climbed for the next two hours until we could go no higher. We were atop Boreas Pass, with its scattering of ancient railway buildings and decided that this would be the night’s abode. It was from here a small team would keep the railway open and free from snow.

This was an amazing, though a somewhat exposed, place to set up the tents but the thought of being able to sleep in such a fabulous spot ensured that we did not hunt out a more protected location. The days were bright and sunny, combined with the amazing scenery and we were provided with day after day of stunning vistas.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful bursting to life

We sped on with our joyous hearts all aflutter. The nights were cold but the view of the heavens could only have been better if we had pitched our tents alongside Tim Peake on the International Space Station.

Constantly being above 2,700m, and with a cloudless sky, the nighttime temperatures quickly fell below zero which made for frosty mornings. It also meant the river crossings were rather chilly and for some reason, I was always volunteered to wade in before we rode it. We managed to camp every day when in Colorado and each site offered a stunning view.

On previous trips, Camilla’s usual campsite was to be found in the room of a four-star hotel, whereas now she looked forward to each nights’ country retreat with eager anticipation. The only proviso was that there had to be either a river or a lake in which to bathe. Those Cape Bretoners are a hardy bunch.

As our trusty steeds propelled us southwards, towards New Mexico, the temperature steadily climbed. Great if you are a lizard, but not so great if you are a human wearing full riding kit and sat astride a machine that produces heat as the bi-product of creating a propulsive force. In New Mexico, most of our time was spent riding through deserts whilst dodging the intense thunderstorms that seemed to spring up everywhere.

Setting up camp
Setting up camp for the evening

At this stage, it is worth mentioning the sand. It was incredibly fine, so fine in fact that when subjected to a downpour from one of those thunderstorms, the grains became suspended in water in much the same way as they are in quicksand. This was less than ideal and the result was an inch or so of extremely slippery mud, ergo standing on the pegs was essential to maintaining stability.

The bikes slithered and squirmed around below us and even a stallion at the Calgary Stampede would have been easier to control. Camilla had a stunning off at speed whilst on the pegs and The Bee managed to do a complete 360 with Camilla hanging and, once finished, she looked like she had just gone through a round in the mud wrestling ring.

The intense downpours had a detrimental effect on the roads. Washouts, deep sand and a rock-strewn trail were now commonplace, but despite it all, we managed to keep to a schedule. Crazy and Bee just ploughed on.

That is until the end of our third day in New Mexico when we were within an hour or so of civilisation. Following a rest stop, we were strapping on our armour when I noticed that Camilla’s rear tyre was devoid of air. Bugger. It was at this point that the words of a motorcycling friend came to mind during our discussion on punctures.

In her Louisiana drawl, she was asking why you needed to know how to be able to fix a flat. She firmly believed that a kind Samaritan or the AAA (American Automobile Association) would come to your rescue. Not possible when you have not seen a vehicle all day, the nearest habitation is at least 10 miles away and mobile phone signal was rarer than rocking horse excrement.

David and Crazy
David and Crazy

Hundreds of miles of rough terrain only to have my repair skills tested by an errant fencing nail. A lapse in planning meant that we did not have a spare inner tube and a poor repair meant that the patch only held overnight. Exiting our hotel room the following day, it was very apparent that the tyre’s air was not where it should have been and thankfully Camilla insisted on calling AAA to get us out of the guano.

The remainder of the route continued to be hot, wet, remote and slippery but fantastic fun and we ended up riding along25 miles of pavement to Antelope Wells, a border crossing into Mexico. I assumed the border agents had been told to cheer us along like spectators at a marathon. The countryside was swarming with them, though it turns out that they were not there for us but acting on intelligence of a drugs shipment coming in from Mexico.

Camilla’s throttle hand was healing and we rode in formation to the finish like a couple of the Red Arrows. The border was closed for the day so we stood outside the gate, with smiles all round whilst taking the requisite photographs and sipping from a bottle of very warm champagne that had resided in my saddlebag for the last three days.

The finish was bittersweet, an overwhelming sense of accomplishment mixed with the desire for more adventure. With stunning scenery and only three weeks in duration, the Ride the Divide Trail was technically easy and yet still had its challenges. I highly recommend this route to all who fancy a simple introduction into non-asphalt adventure motorcycling.

The Bike

CrazyMy two-wheeled companion was ‘Crazy’.

Named so to rhyme with Daisy and Maisy, my first two adventure bikes. She was a Suzuki DRZ400s and I use the past tense since she was adopted by a friend when I left her in Canada.

The DRZ400 is a great little bike that has been around since the time of the dinosaur and possesses a bomb-proof engine.

It may not be the fastest around the block, but neither is it a complete slouch. The robustness of the design was proven when I dropped Crazy in 3ft of water and even when submerged the headlight continued to burn bright. Once the water had been drained from the cylinder she started after some initial spluttering.

Not having an inside leg of a hurdler, I found the saddle too high and had to lower it by using a suspension link and moving the forks up through the steering yoke. That said, I would probably have to lower a Puch Maxi. The 30mm I lost in height did mean that I bottomed out the suspension when fully loaded and negotiating large potholes.

Travelling in Canada & the USA


Passport and electronic authorisation for both countries.


In Canada, you will require an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) which costs $7 Cdn and allows you to stay for six months per visit. In the USA a similar authorisation called an ESTA will cost $14 US and allows a three-month stay per visit.

When to go

In the Rockies, after a heavy snow year, it is possible to have snow on the ground into June. This is rare and the later in the year you travel the hotter it will be in New Mexico, which is mostly desert. I suggest travelling from mid-June to mid-September for the most favourable conditions.


North of the Canada/USA border people will apologise for having an accent different to the UK. South of the border they will firstly ask if you are speaking English and then why do we not change our accent to be the same as theirs.

The Highway Code

In Canada, this is standardised throughout the country. No filtering or moving to the front of queues. In the USA this can change from state to state and some states even allow riding without a helmet.


Currently, both USD and CDN are doing well against sterling but this is likely to pass once BREXIT fears have waned.


No additional vaccinations to those you should have in the UK. Make sure these are up-to-date and have a decent travel insurance policy.


Standard and expected for drinks and food despite the quality of the service. $1 a drink is the norm.

Foods to try

There is nothing to write home about until you get closer to the Mexican border, where, if you look hard, you can find edible Mexican cuisine.

How to get there

There are regular flights from the UK to Calgary, which is a day’s ride from Banff, for £500 and return from Phoenix in Arizona also for £500. James Cargo Motorcycle Shipping can transport a BMW R1200GS to Calgary for around £1400.

Check out www.jamescargo.com/motorcycletransportation for more details.

Renting a bike is next to impossible for this length and duration of the trip and generally, they are noisy, heavy, chrome, unreliable monsters that are of no use on anything other than the back of a breakdown truck.