Gravitational Pull

Chad Melis leads Carston Oliver and the rest of a six-person crew across an exposed ridgeline in Montana’s Madison Range.

Gravitational Pull Earning Turns on a Backcountry Mission Between Bike Parks

My invite came on a sweltering summer night as heavy smoke blanketed Colorado’s Front Range. The American West was on fire from the Pacific Coast to the Continental Divide and a grim haze filled the air. Casually glancing at my phone, I did a double take. Opening the message, I sensed an irreversible process had begun, like rockfall on a distant peak.

The invite from my good friend Chad Melis outlined a bikepacking adventure from Big Sky, Montana, to the Grand Targhee resort near the border of Idaho and Wyoming. A passion project for adventure photographer Fred Marmsater, our mission was to connect two bike parks with 260 miles of backcountry exploration—bikepacking bookended by trail smashing. Chad, a founder of REEB cycles, assured me it would be a legend-ary trip. “Fred doesn’t do anything halfway—I’m bringing my big bike.”

Excitement and doubt swirled through my mind. The route passed through rugged grizzly bear country and, adding to my concern, I wondered whether I could hang with a group of legitimate adventure professionals. I hesitated. Though, after months of COVID lockdowns, I felt a deep need for adventure. And with a surplus of vacation time, I had no excuse. I committed to the trip and immediately ran through my faithful gear checklist in a rush of ritualistic habit. My list is like an old family recipe, a time-honored formula for self-reliance.

Weeks later, Fred cracked an IPA and grinned as our crew occupied his garage, fussing with final gear arrangements into the late afternoon at his home near Victor, Idaho.

“My friends at the Teton Mountain Bike Alliance say this has never been done,” Fred said. “There’s just so much potential out there!”

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