On November 1, three friends and I set off from Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Get-a-Way in Ellijay, Georgia. Our objective: to do a final recon ride of a 250-mile mountain bike route I had created in hopes of poking holes in the weak spots. The goal is to turn this into a permanent route with a grand depart. The route would be a shake down for Trans North Georgia (TNGA) or a training route with several ways of shortening for beginners who bite off too much. But first and foremost, the route is designed to show off some of best riding in the most beautiful areas of North Georgia, my home. Over the next 3 days, we ended up riding 187 miles of buff singletrack, technical descents, gravel roads, unofficial paths through old mining sites, and quiet country pavement. We cut out a large portion of the route because of unpredictable wet weather, of which only one of us was prepared for (the Scottish gent, of course). Throughout the entire trip, I was gleaming at being able to show off an area that was near and dear to me and provide a super enjoyable time to three guys from amazing mountain bike meccas and backgrounds. While I love my home state, I was honestly shocked at how much a Coloradan, a South Dakotan and a Scot seemed to enjoy the riding, scenery, and culture of North Georgia. But I now think this exemplifies what is happening right now on the bikepacking front in the eastern United States. IMG_0005For as long as bikepacking has been around, it’s been dominated by the big western routes. Tour Divide, Arizona Trail 750 and the Colorado Trail. All of these have shaped our niche of adventure bicycling. Then a new breed of trail race began to evolve: a labor of love by one person or a group of people to encourage others to explore and enjoy the best their region had to offer. The Stagecoach 400, Black Hills Expedition, Oregon Outback and Caldera are all great examples. Many of the people who make up the eastern bikepacking community cut their teeth on Tour Divide or Stagecoach. And now people up and down the east are creating their own routes with a different bent than simply covering ground: showing off the best trails, the best views and the best quality of riding for bikepackers. Ever since I was a kid I have hated Florida. It was full of old people, dinosaurs, cocky frat boys, cut-off-jean-wearing rednecks, and the kind of diseases that Victorian explorers did battle with. It was sandy and flat and smelled kind of funny. But in November of 2014 I found myself dipping my back wheel in the Atlantic Ocean, ready to embark on the Cross Florida ITT route created by Karlos Bernart. The Singletrack Samurai, as many know him, has spent countless miles, time and money creating CFiTT, the Huracan 300, and many other routes. These routes tell a story of Florida that people like me never sought out. He takes you through blackwater river crossings, through endless forests and ranches, past crazy bars that are straight out of Mad Max. He seeks out the best adventure you can enjoy on two wheels and you come out feeling like you know a Florida you never thought could exist in the 21st century. When I dipped my wheel in the Gulf of Mexico the next day, I knew I would never forget what Karlos had done for all his racers. AMLThen you have people like Chris Thompkins who has been organizing the Allegheny Mountain Loop 400 (AML 400) for several years. While the AML 400 follows the ACA’s Allegheny Mountain Loop touring route, Chris has added a level of adrenaline-fueled adventure to a region of the country that has long been forgotten by people who think the hollers of the Appalachian Mountains are only for coal miners and ignorant moonshiners. He is personally ensuring that people see, enjoy and contribute to the lands and communities he holds dear. Furthermore, Chris is pushing the envelope of Appalachian adventure with the addition of the AML_X 500-mile race. Not so much an extension of the AML as an evil twin. Think more gravel, more climbing, more miles, and best of all, more routes. It’s exactly what is happening up and down the east. Guys like Karlos, Chris, Dave Muse in Georgia, David Tremblay in Vermont, and Michael Intrabartola in New York have created routes that are built by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers. Hell, for bikepackers! These guys and many other unsung cartographers are re-calibrating what people think of adventure in the East. Not only are they finding areas that are as remote feeling as any you’ll find out west, they are linking together the best trails to produce the best experience for bikers from around the world looking for adventure. At the same time they are bringing people to the communities that need support from tourists, and are largely avoided by typical travelers.

The Project

Now a large group of people including those above are working together to link up these routes into what has been called the “Eastern Divide Project.” The premise behind this route is that the East needs a long-distance route of the same caliber as the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. While it’s called the “Divide Project” this loose-knit band of route curators believe the route will evolve into something entirely different than the GDMBR. For one thing, it will be longer. The consensus is a route that runs from Newfoundland to Key West, roughly following the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from Canada to Georgia and then on to the Florida Divide. For all intents and purposes it will certainly have more singletrack than the GDMBR. It will be longer, as estimates put it in the 4,000-mile range. It will probably have more climbing with our steep eastern mountains. And it’s also not as far off as it may seem. IMG_20151108121535 There is already a Florida Divide Route. North of that you have Trans North Georgia, the AML_X or the Virginia Mountain Bike Route, then on to the Adirondacks and the Cross-Vermont Mountain Bike Route. Thousands of miles are already mapped with just a few regions that need some adventurers to make the connection. The “Eastern Divide Project” Facebook group was started in May 2015 and has 236 members, of which many have offered their personal knowledge of local “holes” in the route corridor. In October of 2015, two of these people, Brett Davidson and James Kearns, set off to bridge one of the largest dark zones of the whole corridor. They rode their bikes 800 miles from Ellijay, Georgia to South Florida, finding remote dirt roads and glorious singletrack, all with the semi-third-world funkiness of the rural South. The excitement around bikepacking in the east is palpable and the momentum is growing for more routes and races. Back in North Georgia, when we finished our 250-mile adventure cut short, I timidly asked the guys what they thought of the route. While it was a small group, I had a Colorado Trail vet, the creator of the Black Hills Expedition, and a hard-ass Scot who has finished the Highland Trail 550 and Cairngorms Loop. I was prepared for “it was nice, but it’s no Durango, Dakota, or Torridon.” Instead, what I got was unanimous approval of the route as a perfect combination of natural beauty, flowy trails, efficient forward momentum, local color, and a solid challenge. To any of you who have ever considered riding in the east, there are enough established routes for a whole season of adventure and many more to come. Eastern adventure isn’t lame because it’s the old country with too many people. Bikers here, perhaps more than anyone else, know that great eastern adventure is almost more amazing because it survives in spite of stereotypes. The next time you’re looking for a new adventure, consider looking east. If you’re not ready, we’ll have more for you very soon!

If you are looking to help or keep up with all of the latest news, head over to the Eastern Divide Project website or their Facebook Page.


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