Ritchey Logo
Getting Lost on the Ritchey Ascent

Let's Get Lost

The art director for Adventure Cyclist convinced Ritchey to let her ride the Ascent to experience some of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

Photos and words by Ally Mabry

I live in Missoula, Montana, a mere 40 miles by bike from the legendary Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR), scouted and mapped by Adventure Cycling Association, where I have been employed for almost five years.

A surprisingly time-consuming (though lovely) aspect of my job is meeting and photographing visiting cyclists as they pass through Missoula on bike tours, a project that we’ve maintained for 40 years. Lucky for us, Adventure Cycling HQ is located within reasonable distance from both the TransAmerica Trail and the GDMBR, two of our cross-country legacy routes. We welcome hundreds of cyclists per year through our doors, a lot of them traveling one of these two routes (and many who are not.) As a result, I have the immense pleasure of listening to many energized stories that cyclists spout in between bites of ice cream as they tour our office building. Many of these stories, as you may have guessed, involve the GDMBR.

Ritchey - Let's Get Lost on an Ascent
Atop the Ritchey Ascent on one of my favorite gravel roads in Montana near the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

I’ve had the honor of photographing Lael Wilcox on her way up to begin an FKT attempt on the GDMBR; multigenerational families separately giving me their own vivid anecdotes; lovers who started biking solo, but met and fell for each other somewhere back in Virginia; immigrants intending to actually see, feel, and experience the enormous, beautiful country they now call home; a handful of traveling musicians with either a guitar, banjo, or viola in tow; and countless other stories that have filled my ears, heart, and the filing cabinets by my desk.

Lael Wilcox is the 5326th portrait in The National Bicycle Touring Portrait Collection maintained by Adventure Cycling. Photo by Rue Kaladyte.

Another (smaller) part of my job is reviewing gear for the magazine, Adventure Cyclist, for which I am the Art Director (my actual full-time job). I tested and reviewed the Ritchey Ascent for our July 2022 issue and easily fell in love with it in the process. When my time testing the bike was up, I slyly convinced the fine folks at Ritchey to let me keep it for an extra couple of weeks so I could finally experience the magic of the GDMBR for myself; the magic I’d heard so much about for half a decade.

Ritchey - Let's Get Lost
With a double quilt stuffed in the seatpost bag, clothes and sleeping pad in the front roll, and camera gear in the hip bag, this minimal setup was only possible because I shared gear with my riding partner.

We started our adventure in Helena, about 640 miles south of Banff on the route, the smell of a nearby elk sticking in my nose. My partner, Joel, and I were loaded pretty darn minimally for this trip because we’d planned our resupplies to be every day, alleviating us from carrying a ton of food at any given time. One of the many beautiful things about touring the Montana section of the GDMBR is how frequent water crossings are — with the advent of water filters like the Katadyn BeFree that functions as a water bladder, we didn’t need to carry more than a few hours’ worth of water at a time.

In my initial review of the Ascent, I describe riding it unloaded as “nothing short of a well-coordinated salsa boogie, moving side to side quickly and gracefully.” Loaded, it becomes a stable, comfortable boat that sails down a Forest Service road with gusto - the ideal vessel to carry me on my maiden voyage down a route laden with beauty.

Ritchey - Let's Get Lost on an Ascent
Classic July storms rolled in and out as we pedaled across ridgelines, giving us quite the show when we weren’t hunkering under trees.

We planned our trip during an unexpected heat wave after a couple weeks of unseasonal rain. While the heat was really unpleasant and the mosquitoes even worse, it was made up for by the incredible wildflower blooms that carpeted the hills all around us. I had never seen such prolific bear grass in all the time I’ve spent in Montana. A welcomed respite from a personally tumultuous spring filled with grief and a bit too much airplane travel for my taste, the mountain views, open air, and fresh smells relaxed and regrounded me.

Ritchey - Let's Get Lost on an Ascent
Native to Montana, beargrass can grow up to five feet tall.

It’s true what they say about bike touring healing the soul. I unexpectedly lost my father to a stroke in June this year, and the resulting waves of grief shook my family pretty hard. The following hours upon weeks of going through the motions as we called family, friends, banks, and other various personal services took its toll and had me yearning to escape to the mountains on a bike. Out in the woods, getting lost in the rhythm of climbing and descending, sleeping in a tent for nine nights straight — it brought me back to a place of peace that I hadn’t experienced in months.

Ritchey - Let's Get Lost on an Ascent
Camping south of the Pioneer Scenic Byway is hard to come by, but we found a small section of BLM land that wasn’t landlocked by private land.

Before the tour, going on mostly day rides with the Ascent, it hadn’t occurred to me that the action on the indexed Paul thumbies might be a bit too much. About three days in, I noticed my right thumb feeling pretty fatigued and realized the consistent shifting over multiple days was to blame. Easy fix! The action on the shifter can be loosened or tightened by using a 4mm allen key on the top. A quick half turn — problem solved.

Ritchey - Let's Get Lost on an Ascent
Paul Klampers are hands down the only disc brakes I have ever ridden that are completely silent when engaged.

I fell in love with dirt touring by riding most of the length of the Baja Divide in 2017. The route follows a lot of the infamous Baja 1000 roads, which have been completely destroyed by the vehicles that charge down them in pursuit of being the fastest down the peninsula. Although this makes for horribly rutted-out roads, mountain biking on them is extraordinary.

I was reminded of Baja every time the GDMBR turned to a dotted line on the map: ATV-only terrain. Somehow, by some kind of wizardry, this steel bike with not a lick of carbon componentry weighs 24.1 pounds without pedals, making it so light that you can essentially throw it up hike-a-bike without breaking a sweat (I’m exaggerating, if you didn’t pick up on that, but you get the idea). When I had to exchange my riding position for a hiking position, I had no trouble maneuvering up steep, loose terrain.

Ritchey - Let's Get Lost on an Ascent
I was only afforded this stellar view because I left my puffy at our lunch spot and had to backtrack before dark — sometimes a thorn becomes the rose.

Tom Ritchey really nailed it with this bike, in my opinion. The goal to inspire riders to “get lost in the woods” certainly worked its magic on me. These routes that are developed with the intent to follow a divide are really special, and I’d like to continue seeking them out for future tours. To move through evolving landscapes and to notice the differences in flora and fauna as one pedals themself across a divide is a really incredible experience. And there’s the added bonus of experiencing similar personal evolutions while pedaling across a landscape for multiple weeks. When I am finally able to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in its entirety, I will most definitely be atop this Ritchey Ascent.

Related products

Ritchey Newsletter

Join now for engaging stories, exclusive offers and product news delivered right to your inbox.