Continental Divide, N to S, solo on KTM 1190r

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by lets_go_adv, Jul 23, 2016.

  1. lets_go_adv

    lets_go_adv Adventurer

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    This is my (and yet another) personal account of my ride down the GCDT (Great Continental Divide Trail) in July of 2016 on my 2015 KTM 1190 Adventure R. Only when writing this post have I just realized that I've had my motorcycle license for 25 years. Pretty awesome :) This is my first big dual sport bike, and also my first big on- and off-road trip on this kind of a bike. I'll try to provide as much detail as I can for any other riders out there thinking about making this trek.

    The Route
    Similar to many other riders I met along the way, I used Kevin's GPS route for this trip. I found it to be around 95% or better in terms of accuracy. The rare instances of error could have been attributed to my GPS at the time. What's important is it saved me a *ton* of time in route planning, and it worked! (Thanks Kevin!)

    I reside in the Bay Area of California, so [fast forward] here's what my final route looked like once it was all said and done...

    Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 3.47.31 PM.png

    That loop is around 5,000 total miles.

    Right away, I'm inclined to mention that there were several sections of the official (blue) GCDT route that were extremely challenging on a big bike (especially while riding solo). I learned quickly to pay attention to the green routes. While not always easy, they were easier than the blue route, and rarely disappointed when it came to scenery and fun. There are some sections of the blue route that even the bicyclists find an alternate route for. (Mainly south of Helena, Montana and south of Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico.) I never once tried a red route.

    The Machine
    As I mentioned, I chose to ride my 2015 KTM 1190 Adventure R. It's a bit on the big side for the GCDT. There's a lot of stop-and-go, getting off and on, and generally throwing the bike around that makes for a much longer day. And that's not even counting the riding. But don't let my thoughts deter you. It can be done. I did it. The big bikes will destroy the asphalt stretches between backroads and trails. They'll also destroy the fire roads. All from a much more comfortable seating position than say a DRZ 400. And with a much larger stock fuel capacity.

    I fitted my KTM with several essentials:
    1. SPOT mount
    2. Montana Garmin GPS handlebar mount
    3. Rotopax 1.75 gal spare gas can
    4. Rox Risers (I'm tall)
    5. Blackdog lowered/larger footpegs
    6. Renazco seat
    7. Hepko Becker rear racks (Wolfman saddlebags and Mosko 30L tail bag) - also added bicycle water bottle holders to them, which worked great.
    8. Wings shortie exhaust - so my racks/bags would fit how I wanted
    9. KTM Bad fuel dongle - so I could always keep the bike in the same ("offroad") riding mode

    The Tires
    I had a TKC80 on the front, and decided to stick with that since it had a good amount of tread left. For the rear I decided to go with the much discussed MotoZ Tractionator Adventure. For the entire GCDT ride never had any issues with this tire setup. No flats either. The TKC80 front lasted around 4,600 miles. The Tractionator Adventure lasted the entire trip and still has almost a 1/2 inch of evenly-worn knobbies left. I'm happy!

    The Gear
    I'm no stranger to adventures. I like to think that I pack pretty light these days. I carried a tool set that the folks at Adventure Designs came up with for me. It worked for about 99% of what I needed along the way. The one area where it failed was when I needed to break the rear axle nut to adjust the chain slack. The torque settings call for around 65 ft lbs and the tool kit's idea of a breaker bar to get that loose almost ruined one of the better tools in the kit (by bending it). Instead, in the future I'll invest in a good torque wrench like Lyndon Poskitt carries so I have real peace of mind and don't waste any unnecessary time or energy.

    I also carried:
    1. Spare clutch and front brake levers
    2. J-B Weld
    3. Maxima Chain Wax
    4. Spare work gloves & towel
    5. Manual air pump
    6. Med kit
    7. Head lamp
    8. Warm layer of thermal underwear
    9. Hot weather riding jersey and pads
    10. One pair of light hiking pants, sneakers, and hat

    Starting out, I wore a jacket and pants from KLIM. As things got hotter, I switched to jersey/pads combo. I didn't pack much by way of clothes. I had one t-shirt, one pair of socks, and three pair of spandex shorts. That was it. I washed everything by hand whenever possible. For that I carried a bar of soap I picked up from a motel (chop it up into pieces and you don't have to worry about putting a wet soapy bar back into your bags).

    I also packed a laptop, but I found I shouldn't have even bothered.

    Camp vs Hostel/Motel
    I camped about 50% of the time. I enjoy camping, however it was downright cold in many of the places I stopped. A couple of mornings in the tent it was 29 and 32 degrees. I awoke to a frozen bike and gear. I didn't set any fires unless I stumbled into an already established encampment, or an old (but still warm) fire. Some camping spots were around $10 for the night. There are some hostels for free, but often full of bicyclists. Motels along the route run $85+tax per night (unless you find a Motel 6 [$60+tax])

    The Photos
    This is my first post on advrider.com -- I can't upload a lot of photos to this thread, so I'll just link you to my Instagram. (Hopefully that's ok)

    Here are a few of my favorites:

    IMG_2168.jpg
    This is Doug! I met him on my way to Eureka, Montana and we were able to ride together briefly one morning after some beers the night before. Hell of a guy!

    IMG_2299.jpg
    This is in the Great Basin desert of Wyoming, just north of Rawlins. One of my favorite places in the US.

    IMG_2326.jpg
    This is near Dillon Lake, Colorado iirc. Spectacular views.

    The Fuel
    The KTM has a 6-gallon tank. I found I never needed more than around 3.75 gallons of fuel between gas stations along the GCDT. I averaged around 45 miles per gallon for the entire trip. There's a lot of ethanol along the way, too, which some folks believe is a bad thing. Your call. My daily fuel costs were around $6.

    Problems I encountered
    1. Fatigue - regardless of which end of the GCDT you start from, they're both quite challenging. Drop any bike after 6 hours of off-road riding and it's suddenly sucky, if not impossible (when it's a napping pig).
    2. Big powerful bikes + awesome terrain = faster wear - this is my experience, but flogging on big powerful bikes in tough terrain and conditions wears the parts out exponentially faster than lighter, lower powered bikes, which still have spectacular power-to-weight ratios. Not a complaint, just an observation.
    3. Leaky clutch - after some excessive usage of the clutch it started leaking hydraulic fluid. I couldn't tell if this was due to elevation or not. It's at the shop now and should be covered under warranty. I never lost hydraulic pressure. (Update: the shop says there's no issue, likely elevation related.)
    4. Loud chain slapping the swingarm - my KTM has a giant heavy chain. When you flog this thing on all kinds of surfaces for hours in the day, every day for a few weeks, the chain stretches quickly, and grinds through the chain guard really fast. Hearing the loud knock on every bump got old pretty quick. Adjusting the chain would work for about an hour. Finally I just lived with it and kept flogging. My suspension was setup correctly, I promise.

    Things I learned
    1. Riding at night - is crazy dangerous on the GCDT. There's a ton of wildlife. You will hit it. If you ride at night, make sure to have plenty of light to light your way.
    2. You really don't need to pack much food - there are a lot of options as you go day-by-day. My daily expenses were around $7-$10 for food. I'd wake, find coffee, find a snack for breakfast and get going. I was a walking Cliff Bar. Remember, this trail is regularly traveled by bicyclists traveling at much slower speeds. Your never too far away from food/snacks.
    3. You can get stuck on a big bike - there are areas along the GCDT where you can start down or up a trail and find you can't turn around on a big bike. Once you're in, you're in.
    4. I'd like to try this trail on a 500cc or 690cc bike - this trail has some seriously awesome sections for lighter bikes. I just might have to do the trek again in the future.
    5. You'll find yourself in the middle of nowhere quite often - and if you like this kind of thing, you should do this ride. I was pleasantly surprised.

    There's no way I've mentioned everything, so feel free to ask any questions and I'll do my best to recall the info and respond quickly. Especially for you riders looking to embark on this same ride soon. It's an awesome ride.
    #1
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  2. Molonlabemike

    Molonlabemike Been here awhile

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    Dean thanks for posting this man, way easier to follow then the insta.

    How many days did you dedicate to the trip?

    Over all it looks like a solid trip with some good lessons learned which is invaluable. Thanks for sharing!
    #2
  3. Use2btrix

    Use2btrix Been here awhile

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    Do you have a gpx track of you're route? I've researched the continental divide to the end of the Internet and back, but im moreso interested in the rest of your route.

    Other than the divide, did you try to find the best/scenic/off-road type tracks to the divide and back, or did you just slab it as fast as possible?

    If all goes as planned, my wife and I are getting ready to do an almost identical route but starting in Phoenix, down to the bottom of the divide going north, then over to Washington/Oregon/California, then back to Phoenix. We're estimating about a month or so of riding on our Super Tenere. All depends if another job falls in my lap when I get laid off next month, but I have no intention in looking as I need a break and want this trip to work.

    I like how GPS Kevin really outlines his alternate routes, however cannonshot has way more waypoints. Might put one map on my phone and the other on a GPS.

    Going to check out your IG, looks like an awesome trip.

    Another last question (for now) what kind of speeds did you typically average? It sounds like things go technical, but were you good most roads around 40-50? I think we'd aim for around 150-200 miles a day. No real hurry, especially being two up.
    #3
  4. lets_go_adv

    lets_go_adv Adventurer

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    "How many days did you dedicate to the trip?"

    I dedicated 14 days to the trip -- July 6 to July 20. I made it in 12 days for the route I took, which at times was adjusted based on feedback from other riders, locals, weather, safety concerns (solo), etc.

    "Do you have a gpx track of you're route?"

    I'll try to figure out how to do that. If I'm successful, I'll add it here. I'm definitely Garmin illiterate. "I'll learn as I go," I told myself. That worked out!

    "Other than the divide, did you try to find the best/scenic/off-road type tracks to the divide and back, or did you just slab it as fast as possible?"

    Because I had a job I needed to get back to, I slabbed it hard and fast. No joke, if I had been on a smaller bike, it would have sucked for this part. The bigger 1190 allowed me to push to the starting line, then push back home extremely efficiently. And without as much expense as U-hauling the bike to and from, etc.

    "I like how GPS Kevin really outlines his alternate routes"

    Part of me is convinced this is because there are sections of the official GCDT that are challenging for even the most experienced rider/cyclist. Whenever I took a green route I was never saying, "man, this sucks, I should have taken the blue route." Some of the green routes were still challenging, which left me wondering just how hard the official blue route was.

    "what kind of speeds did you typically average?"

    Great question. My GPS says 41 mph was my average speed for the entire trip. Let's break the trail up into 3rds: my average in the northern part was probably 30 mph. In the central part it was probably 40. Then in the southern part it was probably 30. The most technical areas being the northern and southern parts. My goal was 200 miles per day with 6 hours of riding. I found myself riding for 6-8 hours a day. Some days I did less than 200, others I did more. I really like your goal. :)

    Take that trip! Love your idea. A month sounds like a good amount of time. Take it day at a time. There are a lot of additional variables to account for when riding the backroads that are really hard to anticipate. Mainly weather, free range animals, and terrain difficulty.
    #4
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  5. lets_go_adv

    lets_go_adv Adventurer

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    Threw together a short video from my GoPro Hero Session. Hopefully this works.

    #5
  6. WilsoDRZ

    WilsoDRZ Adventurer

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    It's great to see other's reports on the CDT. I rode S to N on a similar route at the same time, I like to think we waved to each other at some point. But was that a dig on the Dr. Z??:hmmmmm
    I definitely hated the asphalt stretches but I also went in with the idea of doing all the reds and none of the greens.

    Where is the tunnel in your video at 2:43??? I've seen this a few times in other reports but didn't encounter it on my ride.
    #6
  7. lets_go_adv

    lets_go_adv Adventurer

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    Not a knock on the DRZ! I have one and at times was wishing I had it instead for the more difficult areas and exploration. :nod

    That tunnel is on the dirt road section that runs right next to I-15 in Montana -- just south of Bernice, MT all the way to Butte, MT. I'm 99% sure of that. If you took red routes, you indeed went around this section (as seen below)...

    Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 1.14.14 PM.png
    #7
  8. WilsoDRZ

    WilsoDRZ Adventurer

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    Yep, I did the red route to Bernice. I can't even remember if it was good. Each time I write a day's report, I have to re-live the section through pictures and waypoints. It all started to blend together.
    Did you get the same feeling doing it in 12 days like I did?
    #8
  9. lets_go_adv

    lets_go_adv Adventurer

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    Yes. It was hard to keep up, and keep it all in perspective. At first I was pissed off. "I can't even remember the names of the towns, things blow by so fast," I kept thinking to myself. The only thing I could really take notice of was the changing landscape, and even that happened quickly.

    Too often I found myself only focusing on the road and obstacles. I felt lost/absorbed in the challenge. That might not have been the best way. Ultimately, there's a number of ways to approach this trail. I struggled to pick one. If I could do it again, I'd take a month, go a little slower, and stay a couple of nights in one place at various times to debrief, absorb, take notes, etc.
    #9
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  10. Critic

    Critic More or less!

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    Great observation of your travels! Unfortunatly, It took me a long time to catch on to that. But then, there were a lot less moto travelers when I started. Maybe more to the point, there was not the means to communicate how, what, and to what extent people were traveling on moto's. The BMW GS was not built yet, so there wasn't adventure motorcycles. All you had where moto's like the Triumph Jack Pine or T100c, which riders rode on adventures; wait no not adventures, it is to early. Well, they did ride them on trails, in the desert and desert racing, in enduro's, across country, hare scrambles, scrambles, over mountain passes, and about any other enviroment that riders do today. Sorry, I had to get that out! I also rode BMW's that way from 1977 through the early GS to late 90's.
    BUT, I did not think about going to the next step, as you are doing. I keep blasting by better roads and more interesting terrain. Thinking; if I get back this way, I should take that trail I passed or I should have taken the time to check out that area in more detail.
    I think about what riders did in my Dads time! 45 cu. in. and 80 cu. in. and ..... wait, they didn't have many paved roads! I guess maybe they road GS's. Ha! Ha!
    It is amazing what the power of advertising can do, like change history!

    I'm ready for the next installment of your trip. Correction, ADVENTURE!
    #10
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  11. Use2btrix

    Use2btrix Been here awhile

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    Great report and thanks for all the detailed answers to my previous questions.

    When you camped/stayed in hotels, did you plan any specific ones or need to book ahead of time, or were they frequent and vacant enough along the route that you could find something pretty soon once you were ready to turn in for the night?
    #11
  12. lets_go_adv

    lets_go_adv Adventurer

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    I never had any real issues finding something last minute, even when I ran into various events that were happening in towns along the way. I don't plan ahead. I knew the starting point, my GPS route, and the end point. Everything else was discovered as I went. Drives my wife completely mad. :D
    #12
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  13. Bob

    Bob Formerly H20Pumper

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    Nice report!
    Thanks
    #13
  14. Allucaneat

    Allucaneat When do we stop to eat? Supporter

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    Great first post! I also have an 1190R so the thread title caught my eye. Would you mind listing the tools that Adventure Designs recommended (unless that was paid service by them)?

    Your food budget seems to be about 1/3 what I would have planned for, but you can guess by my forum name I put food pretty high on my priority list.

    I like your style!

    I'm looking forward to more pics and description of your trip!
    #14
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  15. lets_go_adv

    lets_go_adv Adventurer

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    Here's a picture of the tools. Like I said, it covered 99% of what I needed while I was on the trail. Super happy with this tool kit. But breaking the rear axle nut was no joke on the KTM 1190. Needed something more. Worth noting, the multi tool and the pen I added to it.

    IMG_2467.JPG

    I'm a big fan of your forum name (and all you can eat buffets)! I didn't need near as much food as I thought I might. And I don't mind only eating twice per day. So much of the riding is still just sitting and taking in the scenery. I never packed any food in the first place because I knew bicyclists take the route. "If they can do it on bicycles, then on a motorcycle I'm never too far from anything," is what I told myself. Turned out to be right.
    #15
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  16. guavadude

    guavadude Dirt Nap Enthusiast

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    Hey Dean, Rob and I met you out on the route somewhere! We were very grateful for your advice to bypass sections. We ended up creating our own route through Glacier Park and came up to Banff on the East side, bypassing Eureka.

    What a great time and a great adventure for sure. Wish we had more time to hang and swap stories. Ride safe and I hope our paths cross again soon!
    #16
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  17. lets_go_adv

    lets_go_adv Adventurer

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    I suppose I should tell the story of the moment in the video at 3:02 -- that's what the lady at the Mercantile shop at the bottom called, "John's Hill" in the GCDT. Absolutely bonkers. Most cyclists find a way around it, up or down. It's steep. It's down the side of a mountain. I should've whipped out my phone to get a real grade percentage. I can't even begin to guess.

    At first I missed the turn. I started to go toward a peak. After a water break I looked at the GPS and realized there was a right turn I missed. "Impossible," I told myself. "There's nowhere to go to the right." But Kevin's routes were usually right, so I managed to turn the KTM around on a slanted double-track. "This turn better be there, but not really," I thought. Sure enough, there it was, but it quickly disappeared over a ledge. "No way. Surely this slants off along the mountainside." Nope. Straight down. Sandy, rocky, extremely loose... ripe for a runaway 600 pound KTM with gear.

    At first I kept the bike running, worked both hands, and kept the left foot on the ground. That sucked. I had terrible balance at the steep angle, and my clutch hand was shot. I stopped and thought for a bit. New tactic...

    I turned the bike off, but left it in 1st gear. This would move the rear brake to the left hand, keep the front brake on the right hand, and allow me to keep both feet on the ground (nothing new to some of you experts out there I imagine). This is when things started working in my favor. I never had the chance to use the clutch. Every time I inched out the front brake, the rear tire just slid down the hill. So, inch by inch, I made my way down that damn mountainside. It took around 45 minutes. There were flies everywhere - in my eyes, nose, mouth, you name it. Montana scared the crap out of me that day, but didn't stop me.

    If I was to be going up that hill, I'm not sure I would have made it. That's when you know you're in an adventure. There is no certainty. Only your resolve.
    #17
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  18. lets_go_adv

    lets_go_adv Adventurer

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    Yo!!! So great to hear from you :) Glad you guys made it safely. Your advice on the section below Abiquiu was critical. What a crazy bit that was. I went the route you plotted in my GPS, but had a chance to glimpse up at what I would've come down. Nasty stuff. Many thanks, friend. :)

    Do you have the link to your RR?
    #18
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  19. EXEBECHE

    EXEBECHE Adventurer

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    If I was to be going up that hill, I'm not sure I would have made it. That's when you know you're in an adventure. There is no certainty. Only your resolve.[/QUOTE]


    That hill changed my day from relaxed riding to intensive focus and a steep hike up to get Mrs Exebeches bike! Not the easiest slope to descend safely. And my DR200 only weighs under 300#. I eagerly await more intel on your ride, as we return to the bikes in Bozeman this September to continue southbound on the Divide.
    #19
  20. guavadude

    guavadude Dirt Nap Enthusiast

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    We hit several towns that were completely sold out except for the last room which we grabbed. I think it all depends on where you end up each night. Some towns like Banff we knew would be packed. Luckily we decided to stop in Canmore, 20 min south of Banff and found a room. It was cold and raining and we had been pushing all day. It would have sucked to push on to Banff and then have to tent camp in the dark.

    In the planning stages, I tried to guess how far we'd ride each day and where we'd need a hotel or camp. That got thrown out after the first day. Next time I'll reserve rooms at mid level hotels and then cancel a day before as needed. If you don't have any reservations you run the risk of no rooms or having to pay a premium because only the priciest are left.

    The other thing is that cell coverage was spotty at best. We each had different services and sometimes Rob's would work when mine didn't so that helped.
    It was often impossible to try and find an empty room online and we just had to start calling which burns time.

    Since Summer is such a popular time for tourists, the busy towns will fill up and the smaller towns will have less options, and fill up. Also, since we were out for three weeks, we found ourselves camping less as the trip went on. A hot shower, free breakfast and good night's sleep can make a big difference in the ability to keep forging on. We also opted for hotels when passing through the most bear infested areas....but Dean mentioned sleeping on a park bench so he's obviously more hardcore than we were!
    #20
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