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Adventurous Squamish duo set to conquer the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail

Ready, set, retire, ride: A Q&A with Chris Christie, who is setting off on the inspiring 2,700-kilometre journey.

Their bags are packed, and they are set to cycle 2,700 kilometres of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR)

Longtime Squamish local Chris Christie and his partner Julie Tennock are off this week to begin their approximately 40-day journey along the GDMBR.

The route starts in Banff, Alta. and finishes in Breckinridge, Colorado.

They will experience 50,000 metres of elevation gain on the route, which crosses the Continental Divide and is 90% off-road. 

The trip is more than just another awe-inspiring adventure. 

Christie, also known for his spectacular photography, retired from West Vancouver Fire and Rescue this spring. Tennock also recently retired from her landscaping design business. 

This trip is the pair's first page of a new retired-life book.

The Squamish Chief caught up with a busy Christie as he tied up loose ends for the trip at his home in the Garibaldi Highlands.

What follows is an edited version of that wide-ranging conversation that meandered from retirement and mental health to the specifics of this trip.

You retired in March. I would think, especially with a job like you had in the fire service, that work becomes so much your identity and all-consuming. How has that transition been mentally?

I think the transition for me was fairly straightforward. I feel pretty fortunate. I've got a lot of different outlets that I had outside of the fire service and first responder career. Obviously, the big change for me is not being around the people as much — the crews and all that. And then being off of night shifts, that's been a big switch for me. It was 22 years of not sleeping in my bed. With shift work, I was at home some nights, but a lot of nights were away. It's also strange for the spouse, too, I suppose.

You have said you want to use this trip as an opportunity to talk about mental health. It is so important to talk about it more, especially for men. But there's still a challenge, particularly in a career like yours, in talking about it, no? 

For quite a while now, there's been critical incident stress training in the fire service. But that was more recognizing it. And now, there are more options for people who work as first responders to reach out and have peer support.

We've had a few guys I know of who have been off for mental stress, and the support they had from the members was unbelievable. There's a lot of hesitation for guys to say anything because they thought they'd be ostracized or get a "toughen up" type of thing, but it was the exact opposite. So it's been a great movement forward for sure.

It's cumulative in our job. At first, you don't recognize it, but then there are little things that start to happen — even with me a few times.

You ask, "Why am I reacting like this?" and you wonder if it's tied to the years of not only bad calls but just things you make up. We all have stress or anxiety that are performance related; with ours, if you're feeling that way, it impacts other people really strongly, you know, in terms of their outcomes. 

It can mean someone's future and their health and recovery and all that. So I think that's an added stress.

That also goes back to retirement. In the fire department, other people were going through the same thing. Is that part of your point about having other things to do besides your job? 

Part of the reason I'm doing this ride —  and I've been on a bike at various levels my whole life — is that I feel like it's an outlet for me that's worked well. I go for a ride, or I do one of these long adventures; it gives me a positive outlook, and I come home feeling rejuvenated, and it is a bit of a mental reset.

What would be your advice for someone who is reading this and is a few years out from retirement and who is really devoted to their job? 

That's a tough one because it is so personal.

Have some passions. Find something that you love to do and make some time every day to do it. Even at my busiest times, I tried to have at least one hour that was completely separate from the job. Just something that fired me up a little bit. It could even be a walk. Go down and see a waterfall or go down to the river and check out the estuary. Whatever it might be, find one little thing that you'd like to do.

You've done so many adventures over the years. What are the challenges specifically on this one that you're expecting?

The sheer distance. It is 2,800 kilometres and has approximately 50,000 metres of elevation gain — that's like 10 Mount Everests or more.

There's one wildfire in Montana that, by the time we get there, might mean we have to reroute a little bit. We're hoping there isn't too much smoke on the trip.

There's a lot of online information on the route, so the logistics aren't as hard as they used to be. This route is probably one of the most sought-after gravel adventures in the world, really. People come from everywhere to do it.

You will be taking photos, of course. With trying to pack light, what are you doing about your camera?

I have gone back and forth on the way I'm going to carry the equipment because I need it accessible. If I'm having to dig my gear out every time I see something interesting, it is going to really bog us down. I finally settled on a system, and I think it will work great. I'm carrying a regular full-frame camera and also a drone with me. So I'll probably add 15 pounds of electronics with me. And then, obviously, the batteries. I have to carry enough battery power to get me to the next source to recharge. I have it set up so I can go five days without seeing any type of power.

You are documenting this trip on your Instagram,@christieimages, and writing about it afterword. Tell us about that. 

We have an InReach GPS tracker, so I will post daily. And when I get home, I will write a story for It will be tied to our retirement and mental health and why this trip is so important to start our new life.

About a local is a regular column about interesting Squamish residents. To be considered, email [email protected]

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