Continental Divide…and conquer
August 10, 2004
Dave Goggin defines his conquest of the approximate 450-mile section of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) north of Butte, Mont., with the utmost modesty ” and for good reason.
“About three weeks before I started,” Goggin said on the porch of his Russell Valley home recently, “there was the Continental Divide (mountain bike) Race. It went the whole distance from the Canadian border to Mexico. These are ultra-marathoners.”
What Goggin is getting at is in the big picture of fantastic mountain bike achievements, his 15-day trek of almost 500 miles pales in comparison to that of Mike Curiak, who recently finished the almost 2,500 miles of the 2004 Continental Divide Race in 16 days and 57 minutes, smashing the old record of 18 days and five hours set by John Stamstad in 1999.
A few days after Curiak made history and finished his legendary journey at Antelope Wells, N.M., Goggin’s began in the Port of Roosville, Mont., where Curiak’s also originated. But Goggin planned to stop his voyage at Butte, Mont. For Goggin, 46, his trip was more about an introduction to the CDT rather than exhausting himself all the way to the Mexican border. It was also about experiencing some outdoor terrain that is still relatively untraveled in the mountain biking arena.
“It’s kind of underground, which is sort of what’s neat about the whole thing,” said Goggin, a local schoolteacher and avid rider. “It hasn’t caught on yet ” this huge trail.”
In 1998, the Adventure Cycling Association put together the route for the Continental Divide Race after four years of studying maps and devising a way to patch together a network of existing single-track, Bureau of Land Management trails and Forest Service roads. But the original vision was 3,100 miles, and on its official Web site the Continental Divide Trail Alliance estimates 70 percent of the CDT is currently accessible.
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Plus side trips, Goggin estimated his trip at over 500 miles with a total elevation gain of 37,500 feet. Because the trail is a mixture of paved roads and dirt trails, Goggin took two sets of (Kevlar bead) tires for the expedition. A seven-mile stretch of Interstate Highway going into Butte, gravel roads, 4-wheel drive roads, grassed-over dirt roads and dirt tracks are just a few examples of the diverse terrain one will encounter on the CDT, Goggin said.
“I’d say the majority of it is old roads,” he said. “There’s a lot of dead roads that no one uses. It’s definitely not single-track. I’d say about 10 percent of the whole trail is single-track.”
Goggin’s bike ride spanned about two weeks from the middle of July to the beginning of August, plus the drive time to and from Montana from his Truckee home. He also rode his bike from Whitefish, Mont., to Roosville, which added some mileage to his journey.
Going north to south, Roosville marks the beginning of the CDT. In Whitefish, Goggin met a woman named Roselyn who agreed to shuttle his vehicle to Butte for him.
“That way when I got to Butte my car was waiting for me,” he said. “She was a really nice girl. So that was kind of weird. I just met someone and in 20 minutes gave her the keys to my car.”
Goggin had been planning the trip for over a year, so there was nothing spontaneous about it.
“I was so over-planned,” he said. “I left two days earlier (than scheduled) just to get going. I had to get going. By the time you’re ready, you’re just so ready.”
In fact, Goggin was teased by other riders along the way for being over-prepared. The last thing he wanted on his first major biking excursion was to be under-prepared, so Goggin pulled a trailer full of supplies from his bike.
“When I passed them on the trail (they would say), ‘Mail that stuff home,'” he said. Goggin took mostly freeze-dried foods, but he also took salami, cheese, almonds and energy bars like Clif Bars. At night, he slept in a small tent.
Goggin tried to get people to accompany him, but eventually he accepted the fact that it would be a solo mission.
“It’s just such a big commitment; I couldn’t get anyone to make it. Then it turned into ” mentally ” a solo challenge, and I’m glad I did it that way.”
One of the scariest sections of Goggin’s trek was where the trail skirts the western boarders of Montana’s Glacier National Park. Not because of the ride conditions, necessarily, but because of North America’s most feared predator.
“What’s scary is this area here,” as he points on a map, “is where they take the bad grizzly bears from other areas and they dump them here,” he laughed. “There’s also two major passes you have to climb.”
Even though Goggin only saw one small black bear, he was determined to make his presence known as to prevent any unexpected encounters. He said he would spend some of his alone time on the trail singing loudly or yelling along the way. While he was traveling, Goggin heard a story of black bears pulling campers out of their tents, but there were no fatalities in the incident, he said.
Being an elementary schoolteacher, the history of the northern Montana section was also appealing to Goggin.
“Historically, it’s really cool to follow the stuff from Lewis and Clark in Montana. They were stoked when they got up into this area and found the water flowing the other way.” (The Continental Divide marks the section of the United States where water flow moves either east or west from that point.)
But the epitome of the trip, in Goggin’s humble words, is the interesting people he met along the way.
“You have the time to stop and listen to people and hear their stories,” he said.
Mountain biking has always been a staple in Goggin’s life, including a trip from his native town of Chico, Calif., to Trinidad, Calif., (about 225 miles) with a group of friends when he was 14 years old. Goggin moved from Chico to the Bay Area his junior year of high school, but not before he made a pact with his biking buddies.
“I got it in my blood, and my friends and I all promised each other that when we turned 40 we would all do another bike tour. We didn’t. I’m the only one still riding,” he laughs.
To get in shape for the ride, Goggin said he owes a lot to the Tahoe Forest Hospital Wellness Center’s Fit to Live Program.
“He lost some weight and got his cholesterol down,” said Goggin’s wife Susie, who works at the hospital and occasionally rides with him on their new tandem bike.
Goggin has not made concrete plans, but he said he would like to gradually complete the Continental Divide section by section as working and family life permits. He also said he owes a lot to the people at Cyclepaths Mountain Bike Adventures and The Back Country for preparing his bike for the ride.
[Editor’s note: The Sierra Sun would like to hear from other readers who have biked sections of the Continental Divide. Send an account of your experience to email@example.com for publication in the Aug. 13 Sierra Sun.]
[For more information about the Continental Divide Trail, visit :
If interested in volunteering to maintain the CDT, e-mail:
For personal accounts of the 2004 Continental Divide Race, visit :
John Stamstad’s 1999 ride on the Continental Divide:
Outside Magazine cover’s Stamstad’s ride: