Tale of epic adventure, artwork coming to arts center

The story of a pair of islanders’ 71-day bicycling trip down the Continental Divide is part of VCA’s “Talks on the Rock” series.

Islanders Bruce Morser and Bob Horsley will tell tales about their 71-day bicycling trip down the Continental Divide, and display the plein-air watercolors they painted along the way, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, at Vashon Center for the Arts (VCA).

The evening’s presentation, “Bruce and Bob Ride the Divide” is part of VCA’s “Talks on the Rock” series, and will include an exhibit of more than 70 of the duo’s works of art in VCA’s exhibition space.

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is considered the world’s longest off-road bicycle touring route at 2700 miles, running between the borders of Canada and Mexico. Only 10 percent of the trail is paved road, while the other 90 percent ranges from gravel roads to single-track to stream beds.

“The route’s a bit of a legend,” Morser said, detailing how Horsley talked him into the trip about a year ago.

“There are many possible starting and finishing locations, but we rode our gravel bikes from the Canadian border, starting at Roosville Montana, through five states — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico,” he said. “Bob, unfortunately, had to leave the trail in Silverthorne, Colorado. I finished at Antelope Wells, New Mexico, on the Mexican border 71 days later, including seven rest days.”

The route follows as closely as possible the Continental Divide, which the biking duo crossed 32 times on their route. The Continental Divide Hiking trail, another famous route, was often nearby, and Morser and Horsley interacted with many hikers. Because the gravel bike ride is self-supported, they slept in their tents about four out of five nights and cooked their meals on camp stoves.

“We carried between 40 to 70 pounds of gear, depending on extra water and food loaded for desert crossings and remote stretches,” Horsley said, “so about 67 to 100 pounds of weight between the bike and gear. We ate an unmeasurable amount of instant oatmeal, and mashed potatoes with gravy and canned chicken … Bruce and I both lost 20 pounds during the trip. A dangerous aspect was the constant challenge to find enough food to keep the calorie count adequate, and find or filter enough clean water to maintain hydration.”

The pair are longtime friends and co-adventurers.

On their first epic bicycling trip — from Gloucester, Massachusetts, to Vashon, five years ago — they each completed about 45 small watercolor paintings as their visual travel journals. But unlike that first cross-country adventure, this one proved more challenging than expected, and, as Horsley said, “far more meaningful, beautiful and rewarding.”

“Many days started in the 20s, even the teens, but still ended up in the 90s,” he said. “During the final month, our clear weather was replaced with considerable precipitation, which made everything much tougher. Muddy trails and campsites forced some creative solutions. Odd challenges like getting a daily, or semi-daily, painting done with weather extremes, exposure and fatigue were also distracting. Painting is usually fun, but it was often more of a duty on this trip.”

As stunning and challenging as the constant scroll of scenery was, though, the real treasure, they said, was the people they met along the way, both the locals and fellow riders. When altitude sickness unexpectedly forced Horsley home at 1650 miles, Morser caught up with a remarkable fellow rider they had met earlier in the trip: Harald from Norway.

“Harald became my backup riding partner for the remainder of the trip,” Morser said. “We also ended up nursing each other through Giardia, another tough side story that involves a Vashon couple who saved us, in Platoro, Colorado. We all will clearly be friends for life. Lots of other riders came and went from our lives, and I still communicate with a bunch of them.”

Equally remarkable were many local people Horsley and Morser met in tiny remote towns, ranches and camps, including an astonishing young Russian woman from a micro town in New Mexico “who literally pulled us out of our journey-threatening slump,” Morser said.

“This is said cautiously,” Morser concluded, “but I think this adventure was of the ‘life-changing’ kind. After our cross-country ride five years ago, I saw things differently, but after this adventure, I feel life differently now.”

Get tickets for Morser and Horsley’s “Talk on the Rock” about their ride-of-a-lifetime, at vashoncenterforthearts.org. Their show of paintings will be begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, in VCA’s Atrium; the talk begins at 7 p.m.