BEND, Ore. — Corinne Burt was snowed in at her home in Bend late last winter. With little else to do, she started surfing the web and came across the North American Epic, a 9,000-mile supported bike ride from the Northwest Territories of Canada to Panama.
Frustrated with her job in the real estate industry and ready for a change, she impulsively signed up for the ride across the continent.
“I thought about the job, and the bike trip, and I just clicked the sign-up button, just like that,” she says.
“When I was able to get out of my driveway, I quit my job. I rented my house out and I went on the trip.”
Burt, 54, was one of 12 cyclists to complete the 5 1/2-month journey on Dec. 15 in Panama City. She registered for the trip through Toronto-based TDA Global Cycling, which offers a variety of supported bike tours. She says she paid about $25,000 for the trip, and TDA provided the route, food and lodging along the way.
The cyclists averaged about 70 miles per day, staying on mostly back roads away from heavy traffic, according to Burt. They started in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, on the Arctic Ocean on July 4 and made their way south through the Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, then into the United States and through Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Arizona.
They crossed into Mexico, then zigzagged down Baja California before taking a ferry to Mazatlan in mainland Mexico. From there they continued south through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and finally, Panama.
From the start of the ride down to Baja, the cyclists camped on riding days and stayed in hotels on rest days, Burt says. Once they reached mainland Mexico, they stayed in hotels nightly for the remainder of the trip.
For Burt, it was an eye-opening adventure of a lifetime. She considered herself a “pretty serious” recreational rider before the trip, but says she had never bike toured before and had never even camped before.
“Most of the people on the trip were pretty experienced bike tourers and campers,” Burt says.
“It was just me and one other person who had never done a bike tour before. But I felt like I was prepared for the trip. I had done some 200- and 300-mile training weeks before I left. I didn’t feel unprepared. But for that many miles a day every single day … that was something I had never done before, clearly.”
Burt says she knew the beginning of the trip from Tuktoyaktuk would be difficult, as the roads consisted mostly of rocks and dirt spread out over the permafrost of the tundra.
“There’s basically nothing there,” Burt says. “It’s almost like a desert. Little tiny shrubs can grow and nothing else. The road itself is pretty challenging. It’s bumpy, uneven and loose. It can be challenging riding. But I knew that going in.”
For the entire route Burt rode a steel-framed Surly Straggler with 48-millimeter tires designed more for gravel roads than paved roads.
“Every time I was wishing for my road bike, I ran into something that made me happy that I had my gravel bike,” she claims.
Burt says the highlights of the tour included the Canadian Rockies near Jasper and Banff, Alberta, Glacier National Park in Montana, and the Canyonlands area of Utah.
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