Every year, people from all walks of life attempt to bike the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the longest off-pavement route in the world. It spans from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico and is more than 2,700 miles long.
One couple was determined to complete this route with their toddler daughter tagging along for the ride. Bekah and Derrick Quirin have been training all year with their daughter Ellie and set off from Banff in July. While this journey may seem impossible with a young child, this isn't the family's first grand adventure. Last year, they successfully hiked the entire Appalachian Trail when Ellie was just an infant.
Cycling through America
The Quirin family began their cycling journey in Banff on July 14 with Ellie riding along in her own carrier trailer.
"As soon as we began riding, we all felt a tremendous sense of contentedness," the family said on their Instagram page. "Despite all the stress and delay of getting here, finally we are once again together, adventuring, struggling, achieving, and soaking in all the beauty. Together again undisturbed by work or stresses that come with 'normal life.' This is what it's all about for us. And we love it."
Just the first three days, they biked more than 100 miles. What's more surprising is that they say they only bike 6-8 hours a day and spend the rest of the day exploring.
On July 20, they crossed into the U.S. in Montana that "has been full of long climbs, but (mostly) full of rewarding views!
From there, they cycled on through Idaho and Wyoming. Towards the end of August, they made it to Colorado.
Towards the end of August, they made it to Colorado. On August 29, they reached the highest summit on the Great Divide — more than 11,000 feet at Indiana Pass.
Through all the grueling, long ascents, Ellie managed to keep herself entertained.
Then after spending several weeks cycling through New Mexico (one of the longest stretches on the route), they arrived at Mexico on Sept. 8. After cycling almost 2,700 miles for 56 days, the Quirin family completed the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
While that may seem like a daunting and risky adventure for a young child, this isn't Ellie's first grand outdoor escapade. Last year, the Quirins hiked the entire Appalachian Trail.
Not the family's first rodeo
On March 21, the family began their thru-hiking journey along the Appalachian Trail. Six months and 10 days later, the Quirins finished their hike on McAfee Knob, Virginia — making Ellie the youngest person to complete the trail.
Flip-flop hiking the A.T.
For the A.T., the Quirins did what's called a flip-flop hike. They started in Virginia and proceeded south. They reached Springer Mountain in Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest on May 13, marking the end of the first third of their hike (Spring Mountain is the southern terminus of the A.T.).
Flip-flopping through the A.T. offers a few advantages over just starting from Spring Mountain (for northbound hikers, or NOBOs) or from Mount Katahdin (for southbound hikers, or SOBOs). Per the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, flip-flopping allows hikers to more easily customize their trips according to desired weather for certain parts of the trail and, since the A.T. is a bit easier in the middle, it gives them the opportunity to get their trail legs. There are other positives as well, including reducing the overall environmental impact of hikers all going in the same direction and at roughly the same time.
For the Quirins, this approach made a lot of sense. It gave Ellie time to get used to the long hikes but and gave Bekah and Derrick a chance to really get used to carrying Ellie on the trail. It was probably a big help when they scaled Blood Mountain, the highest peak in the Georgia portion of the A.T.
Another perk? As the summer wound down, the family headed north and avoided some of the heat and humidity in the Southeast and Chesapeake regions, definitely a plus when hiking with an infant strapped to your back.
Best time for baby's first A.T. hike
Some may think the Quirins were crazy to attempt such a trip. But I think they're brilliant.
When my eldest daughter was 6 months old, my husband and I packed her up along with our dog and drove from our home in coastal North Carolina to Maine's Acadia National Park for two weeks of camping and hiking. Most people thought we were insane. Who takes a baby camping?
I don't think I heard a single encouraging word the entire time we were planning that trip. But after six months of round-the-clock feedings, diaper changes and interrupted sleep, that camp-out reminded my husband and I who we were and who we wanted to become as a family.
Were there challenges to camping with a baby? Sure, but there were also a lot of things that went more smoothly simply because our baby was so young. And it's exactly these reasons that make the Quirins so smart to attempt this trip now.
According to the Quirins, Ellie took her first steps and uttered her first words along the trail. ("Other than mom, dad, and no- “backpack” is her most recognizable word! How appropriate," the parents reported from the trail.) She played in creeks and on mountains. She imitated owls.
And, according to her parents' Instagram posts, "We witnessed the pure joy she felt simply being a child in a spectacular and mesmerizing creation. We never missed any of it, not one single moment."
According to her parents, she took long naps much of the way, happy to do so in the baby carrier. That means Bekah and Derrick could cover a lot of miles while Ellie slept. As for entertainment ... what could be more entertaining than the constant variation of scenery along the trail?
The challenge that the Quirins were asked about most frequently is the diapers. The Quirins planned to double wrap the diapers in Ziplock bags and carry them (outside their packs) until they could dispose of them. Planning and packing, of course, was critical.
The Quirins are both in their mid-20s and very experienced with hiking (Derrick was a local outdoor guide in South Carolina), so they knew what they were getting into for this big adventure. And now, after more than 2,190 miles, they — and baby Ellie — know a lot more about what is possible like completing the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
This story was originally published in March 2017 and has been updated with new information.