Geriatric Great Divide

Rani Merz holds the reins in the wagon behind her 16-year-old Icelandic mare Chirpa.

An old pony, an old man and an old woman in an old wagon

If you saw a

woman sitting on a covered wagon behind

a single horse going down U.S. Highway

191 last week, there is no need to check

your vision.

Setting off April 30 from Antelope

Wells, N.M., and rushing to Roosville,

Mont., in time to greet an anticipated

grandchild due Sept. 20, Bob and Rani

Merz began the adventure of a lifetime.

Following the Adventure Cycling Great

Divide Mountain Bike Route, the couple

from Salmon, Wash., followed a path that

brought them through Pinedale on Thursday,

July 18. Sitting on a miniature covered

wagon that carries food, water and

shelter behind her 16-year-old Icelandic

mare named Chirpa, Rani plods along nine

hours a day.

Bob in a slightly more modern truck and

trailer scouts the way, picks up groceries

and prepares a place to stay in advance of

her arrival each night.

“We are just trying to encourage people

get out there and do whatever gets them

moving,” Rani said.

“For the most part, we’ve met the nicest

people,” Rani said. The exception would

be a few drivers who are impatient about

the slow but steady pace that Chirpa maintains.

On her website, Rani posts, “I have

dreamt about a journey on (the Adventure

Cycling Great Divide Mountain Bike) route

since my dad was an Adventure Cycling

Member – waayyy back – and I first read

of its proposal. I’ve watched it become a

reality – and nearly gotten too old to go.”

Not new to adventures, Rani maintains

a journal online of many hiking adventures

in the past.

She was in the Guinness Book of World

Records, at the age of 14, for the longest

continuous time spent on a horse – eight

days, seven nights.

She rode her horse from White Salmon,

Wash., to Madeline, Calif., in 1978.

She hiked 1,800 miles on the Pacific

Crest Trail in 2008, starting on the Mexican

border and ending up at Crater Lake,


She hiked the Wainwright Coast to

Coast Trail in 2010.

Despite snow in Colorado and New

Mexico, inconsistent Internet service and

struggles to keep moving, Raini and Chirpa

passed through Sublette County on her


The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

is Adventure Cycling’s premier off-pavement

cycling route, crisscrossing the Continental

Divide in southern Canada and the

United States. The route is defined as remote

and features spectacular terrain and

scenery. The entire route is basically dirtroad

and mountain-pass travel every day.

In total, it gains more than 200,000 feet of

elevation. Nearly 2,100 miles of the route

is composed of county, Forest Service and

Bureau of Land Management public lands.

The trail includes 60 miles of singletrack

trails and 950 miles of paved roads,

including close to 50 miles of paved bike


The route continues into Canada, but

Rani is putting that section off for a future


“I can’t backpack anymore,” Rani said.

The wagon with a little walking and a little

riding is her alternative.


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