The Eastern Divide bikepacking route stretches more than 5,000 miles from Cape Spear, Newfoundland to Key West, Florida. Or maybe it’s 5,690 miles. Actually, it’s probably more like 5,900 miles long.
“It was advertised as 5,000-plus. And so I started making a plan around 5,000 miles and give or take 100, maybe 200,” Eddie O’Dea told me. “Then, at about the time we started launching the marketing for the Georgia Cycling Association, and the fundraising effort for it, Logan [Watts] at Bikepacking published that it’s 5,900 miles. That’s more than a big ‘plus.'”
O’Dea set out on August 1 to raise funds for the Georgia Cycling Association and to be the first to complete the Eastern Divide bikepacking route, a meandering chain of dirt roads, pavement, and singletrack first imagined back around 2014 or 2015. Brett Davidson, along with Logan Watts, Karlos A Rodriguez Bernart, Chris Tompkins, TJ Kearns, Daniel Jesse, and others, planned and scouted the route for several years, but until now, no one had attempted to bike the whole thing in one go. In fact, five years ago when we asked O’Dea what he thought about riding the Eastern Divide Trail, he didn’t sound very enthusiastic.
“I don’t know about racing the whole Eastern,” he said. “It sounds absolutely brutal. I don’t know what total mileage on that is gonna be. It’s probably like 3,500 miles and 400,000 feet of climbing.” It turns out he wasn’t too far off on the amount of climbing (it’s now estimated to be 310,000ft) but he was way off on the distance.
When I spoke with O’Dea over the weekend he was waiting on a ferry to cross from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia, 500+ miles into his 5,900-mile trip. The seven-hour, Port aux Basques to North Sydney ferry runs just twice a day, and tickets generally need to be reserved a few days in advance. On Friday, O’Dea found himself struggling to make his scheduled departure. With 95 miles to go, and nine-and-a-half hours to get there, O’Dea was determined to make it in time.
“It was race on now. 95 miles, 9.5 hrs. There’s a chance,” he wrote on Instagram. “Heads winds, bug stings to the throat, nearly a car collision, close brushes with ATVs, didn’t matter. I was getting to that ferry. The next 6 hours was full gas. Aside from a quick grab of wild raspberries I was flying up the last significant climb. Unfortunately once again there was no coasting down the other side. 0 recovery.” He missed the ferry, and would have to spend the weekend cooling his jets in Port aux Basques.
Live tracking for the Eastern Divide attempt.
As a seasoned bikepacker who has held course records on numerous long-distance routes over the years, O’Dea has come to expect the unexpected. Like leaving behind all of his trip money midway through the Tour Divide. “Pro tip, spread your cash and your credit cards out in your kit, don’t keep it all together,” he told us after the ride. Being the first to bikepack a new route adds even more unknowns to the equation. The Lupine section of the Eastern Divide, where O’Dea started last week and which stretches from Cape Spear to Port aux Basques, seemed to offer a relatively mild start to the ride.
“I thought this would be a pretty fast section on paper. You know, it’s a railroad grade, it’s 560 miles, 23,000 feet of climbing. Sure the numbers are big and all but that’s not a huge climbing ratio.” While the grade generally remained between one and three percent, it was mostly ATV track with mushy, loose gravel which meant very little coasting. “My expectations of everything have gone out the window.”
O’Dea originally planned 40 days to complete the route, but that was when he thought it was give or take 5,000 miles long. He tells me he’s hoping to average 125 miles a day, which works out closer to a 50-day finish. “I just don’t know what the terrain is gonna bring. I’m trying not to set too many expectations.”
Still, he is hopeful that once he gets further south the route will become more predictable. “Once I get there, it’ll be a bit of a relief, just because mentally I won’t have to spend nearly as much energy, you know, navigating, thinking about where the resources are, you know, pulling my phone out to check, ‘Which way do I go here for food’ or whatever. I can do it all from memory. All of Georgia and probably half of Alabama.”
So far O’Dea has raised more than $18,000 for the Georgia Cycling Association, the youth mountain bike group he’s supported for years and where he’s currently serving as a Board member. Anyone can contribute by pledging a per-mile gift or a one-time donation. The group has also set up a hotline for supporters to send words of encouragement via text message.
“I could put my head down and go about this as a race […] but the main goal is to raise money for the Georgia Cycling Association,” he says.