Tour Divide Press #ladyshred #notimeforfinedining #isthatrealink #thatredtruckmustbeEddie #tourdivide2015

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The lady’s legs in Del Norte, CO.  The Revelate Designs temporary tattoo had survived 2000 miles and 12 days, and remained on her left calf as she arrived at the Mexican border.  Photo by the legendary Tour Divide correspondant Eddie Clark

As the final riders of the Tour Divide 2015 arrive at the border at Antelope Wells, NM, the top finishers near two full weeks of recovery.  Some riders, like Jay Petervary and Alice Drobna are refocusing their bodies and bikes for the Colorado Trail race which begins on July 26.  Both riders are attempting to complete the Triple Crown of Bikepacking by finishing the three most prominent bikepacking racing in the country: the Arizona Trail Race (AZTR), the Tour Divide (TD), and the Colorado Trail Race (CTR).  Alice will be the first woman to complete all three in one season.  Along the way she set a new women’s record on the AZTR, finishing in 9:13:53; and a new singlespeed women’s record on the Tour Divide, finishing in 19:22:04, over two days faster than her 2014 finish in 22:06:36.  Jay is on track to set an overall Triple Crown record, calculated by adding the total time on all three routes.  Alice will set the bar high for other women.  The Triple Crown of Bikepacking must be completed in one season.  Bikepacking ultra-records are published and maintained by Scott Morris at Bikepacking.net. 

Bethany Dunne, from Australia, finished the Tour Divide in 19:02:37, an hour faster than Eszter Horanyi’s record time from 2012.  Her husband Seb, who suffered a broken fork in Northern New Mexico, rejoined Beth along the route for the ride to the finish.  Seb sourced a carbon Niner fork with help from Andy Peirce, a Del Norte, CO framebuilder.

Over ninety riders who left Banff (or Antelope Wells) for the Grand Depart are expected to finish in under 30 days.  The sole tandem team of Billy Rice and his daughter Lina, comprising the self-named Team Rice Burner, are likely to finish tomorrow.  In recent days, seasonal monsoons have muddied many New Mexico roadways.  Lina’s video updates from the back seat of the tandem are priceless.  

In this past week, a flurry of media has surrounded the finishers of the Tour Divide.  Click the images below to link to lots of great reading.  Thanks to Eddie Clark at Mountain Flyer for his summaries of the Tour Divide 2015; Mitchell Clinton, a Silver City based freelance photographer; Aaron Gulley at Outside Online; Logan Watts and Virginia Krabill at Pedaling Nowhere; and Neil Beltchenko and Lindsey Arne at Bikepackers Magazine.  Eddie has followed the Tour Divide for years, traveling the west in his dusty red pick-up truck to capture riders along the route.  The other three articles are interviews with Lael.  Aaron’s interview, recorded live in person while Lael was in Santa Fe, is particularly candid.  The other two provide unique perspectives, exploring both racing and touring perspectives.  

The last two links are to local publications in Silver City, NM and Anchorage, AK.

Also, check out the stream of stories coming from Lael’s Globe of Adventure.

Mountain Flyer: Tour Divide Final Report (Eddie Clark)

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Outside Online: How Lael Wilcox Crushed the Tour Divide (Aaron Gulley)

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Pedaling Nowhere: Q&A with Lael Wilcox on the Tour Divide, Travel, and Life Off-Route (Virginia Krabill and Logan Watts)

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Bikepackers Magazine: Lael Wilcox–The Queen of the Tour Divide (Lindsey Arne and Neil Beltchenko)

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Silver City Daily Press: Un-Slowable: Meet the New Female Tour Divide Record Holder (Jennifer C. Olson)

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Anchorage Daily News/Alaska Dispatch News:  17 days and 2745 miles after starting, Anchorage cyclist sets record in Continental Divide race (Beth Bragg)

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Landing rubber side down, Antelope Wells to Alaska

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Lael departing the Ted Steven’s International Airport on her blue Raleigh XXIX.  She will begin work this week.  We hope to be back on the bikes full time this fall.  There will be more stories from the Tour Divide on Lael’s Globe of Adventure, as well as several other media outlets.   

Lael arrived at the Ted Stevens International Airport just before midnight on July 3.  She told me the day she finished the race that she wanted to be home by the 4th of July.  She hadn’t seen her sister and her family yet, in almost a year.  Fourth of July in Alaska– even though it wouldn’t be in Seldovia where she spent this day throughout her childhood– would be her homecoming.  I booked a flight from Silver City to Albuquerque, and from Albuquerque to Anchorage via Salt Lake City.

Thanks to Monica and Lucas for picking Lael up at the border at Antelope Wells, and for housing her, clothing her, and feeding her in Silver City.  Lael borrowed a bike in Silver City to get around town, and to visit Jamie at The Bike Haus, and friends Chloe and Tim.  Lucas expertly packed her bike into a box, although she was forced to cut the box to pieces to fit it onto the 8-seat airplane to Albuquerque, operated by Boutique Air.  Lael arrived in Albuquerque where she had arranged a ride to Santa Fe for the evening, catching a few moments with Jeremy, Rusty and Melissa, Owen, and John.  These are old friends who now comprise the Santa Fe crowd.  Sadly, Nancy and Sage were out of town until the next day.  We lived in Albuquerque in 2012-2013 for about six months.  Lael borrowed Jeremy’s Jones 29er to roll around town, and to meet Aaron Gulley in the AM for an interview.  Incidentally, Josh Kato also rolled through Santa Fe on his way back to Washington state.  Lael seems to think that Aaron was shocked by some of the details of her ride.  Coupled with her excitement for retelling the details– like the white fox in the night that stole her food, or the day she left the hospital and rode and hiked into the night over Lava Mountain, or the 275mi push to the finish– she seems like a crazy person.  The fact that she enjoyed the ride and is fueled by this kind of energy, is a large part of her success in long-distance events.  Not that there wasn’t some suffering, but as she says, “that’s not the point”.  

“Fueled by positivity.”  That how we describe it.  Why is excellence so often entwined with suffering?

Lael borrowed Susan’s Surly Ogre in Albuquerque to roll around town visiting old friends from Vinaigrette where we worked and Old Town Farm where we lived.  Dan and Susan were our first contacts in town, who we met through Warmshowers.org in 2011 when Lael first rode a chunk of the Divide on her Long Haul Trucker in late October and November.  We’ve since kept in contact and seen each other almost every year, and Dan gave Lael a ride to the airport the other day, almost four years after our first meeting.  Dan and Susan have advanced from supportive parents of a post-collegiate cycletourist, to participating in organized group tours, to their first unsupported bike tour in Maine this year.  We’ve also maintained contact with their daughter Jacquie, who is the foster parent to Lael’s old Cannondale Hooligan.  Jacquie used the bike to travel to South America.  We are lucky that through our travels, we have friends like family all over the world.

A group of nine wait for Lael next to the frozen yogurt stand at the exit of the terminal in Anchorage.  Seven of us arrive by bike, lifting our bikes up two flights of stairs to securely stash them inside the airport, within sight.  Lael’s parents pack her trusty blue Raleigh XXIX; they will trade for her boxed race rig.  She will ride home with us.

Lael’s mother Dawn, a schoolteacher, has raided the art room at Russian Jack Elementary and painted a six foot banner celebrating Lael’s ride.  Seventeen pink LW dots line the spine of the Rockies.  Each of us are given a pink LW bubble to hold above our heads when she arrives.  Lael exits the airport wearing borrowed denim, carrying a Cormac McCarthy novel and a powdered turmeric supplement in a clear plastic bag.

We load her boxed bike into the Prius, and slide the front wheel back into the Raleigh.  Lael pulls up her hood and pedals ahead of us.  “Bluie is riding great!”  I describe to her that I’ve installed a lightly used 8-speed cassette from a repair with a new $6 chain (at my cost).  I cleaned and tuned the bike as best as possible, removing layers of calciferous mud from Israel.  I left a mounded pile under my work stand that night.  Underneath the framebag and the mud, is a frame painted in a weathered layer of blue paint, large sections missing from the headtube and the down tube, replaced by the hardened patina of rust polished by luggage.  Underneath the shiny exterior of her Stumpjumper, there is this weathered blue bike.  Underneath the smile and the pony tail, is a girl who can sleep in the dirt, ride all night, and stay focused.  But there is one thing that never changes, she is not serious. 

While walking up Galton Pass on the second day, in respiratory distress, Chanoch Redlich comes pedaling from behind with Rob Davidson.  Chanoch, a friend from Israel, instructs Lael that she must sleep more, sound advice from his three days of Tour Divide racing in 2012.  Chanoch leans to Rob and says, “she’s good, but she won’t listen”.  That is probably also true.  She has her own way of doing things.

The group rolls away from the airport, talking in small groups along the shoulder of International Airport Boulevard.  We stop for a celebratory beer at a picnic table on the shore of Lake Hood, an active aerodrome for float planes in the city of Anchorage.  There, we enjoy the midnight sun coming from the north side of the lake, the mounded head of a Westmalle Dubbel shaken in my framebag, poured into enameled steel mugs; and Kevin’s technical prowess on his new Trek Stache+ wheelie machine.  She’s back, the race is over, life continues.

Thanks to Kevin, Nathan, Jordan, Jim, James, and Christina to riding to the airport.  Thanks to Dawn and Paul for the awesome banner and LW bubbles.  Thanks to Dan and Susan in ABQ; Zach, Blakely, Wyatt, Sierra, and Sam in ABQ; Jeremy, Rusty, Melissa, John, and Owen in Santa Fe; Lucas and Monica in Silver City; and to Lael for keeping it real.   

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Keeping it real on the Tour Divide with Lael Wilcox

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“Keeping it real” on the Holyland Challenge, Israel, April 2015.  

The HLC 2015 was Lael’s first bikepacking race and only her fourth bike race, after the Fireweed 400 road race across Alaska, a local hill climb up Hatcher’s Pass, and a fifty mile fatbike race in Anchorage called the Frosty Bottom.  The Tour Divide is her fifth.

In the entire distance and duration of the Tour Divide, Lael never showered, never slept indoors, and only sat down to one meal, in Pie Town.  Even at the Brush Mountain Lodge where she got wrapped up in an almost hour long conversation with the hospitable staff, she asked to take her blueberry pancakes to go.  “Are you in a hurry”, asked the woman.

When we arrived in Israel from Sinai this spring, our plan was to follow the HLC track across the country, from south to north, then exit Israel by plane.  Instead, we spent three months in Israel, riding circuits along the HLC track, in the Judaean Desert, in the Negev Desert, in the Golan Heights, in the suburban center, and in neighboring Jordan.  We stayed long enough so that Lael could participate in the HLC, an event which is the cultural core of the Israeli bikepacking community, much inspired by the Tour Divide.  Israelis were astounded at her performance in the event without clipless pedals, without padded shorts or cycling gloves, without a sleeping pad, and without much more than a pack full of sandwiches and a sleeping bag.  The cotton t-shirt was also an anomaly in a culture obsessed with cycling kit and equipment.  Her rusting steel frame and worn 8-speed drivetrain were incomprehensible to many.  But that is what she had, that is what she had ridden for the last nine months through more than a dozen countries.  In the week before the HLC we selected this novelty t-shirt from a suburban shopping center along the HLC track near Tiberias.  This would be her race jersey for the HLC.

During the Tour Divide, Lael would call every day or two, usually while riding out of town.  She was concerned about wasting time.  In retrospect, I realized that she was so focused on the race she simply didn’t have the urge to report much to me.  The ratio of how much I cared and worried about her to how much she wanted to call me was greatly imbalanced.  I won’t hold it against her.  We spend a lot of time together.   Now that the race is done I’ve begun asking questions, and the answers I receive are incredible.  We’ve toured together for over seven years.  It thought I knew all of her secrets.  But her secret solo dirtbag lifestyle is all her own.

In Sparwood on the first day, Lael ordered three foot long subs.  She asked the Sandwich Artist to slice each footlong into four sections, and place each in a separate plastic bag.  That way she could eat on the bike.  She ate all of her meals on the bike in a similar fashion, a skill she developed on the Fireweed 400 last summer.  After falling ill on the first night, walking up Galton Pass, and barely arriving in Eureka, she disposed of two footlong subs which she was unable to eat due to her condition.  She wouldn’t consider another Subway sandwich along the route until Del Norte, where she packed a few sandwiches from the gas station for the ride up Indiana Pass to Platoro and Horca.  She told me she hates the bread at Subway, “the bread is half baked”.

Asked which foods she preferred from the stops along the route, she clarified that she prioritized quick stops to ideal nutrition.  The hot case in gas stations provided satisfying calories.  She discovered that Fritos and cheese– packaged gas station cheddar and colby, or sliced orange American cheese, or even local cheese curds in Lima– packed well into her Revelate Gas Tank for easy access while riding.  Now that’s a gas tank!  She purchased Clif bars to augment the real food, which are now commonly available in American convenience stores.  I’m sure there are a long list of food stories which will come out in time.  I’d be surprised if she can remember half of what she ate.

She didn’t eat any candy.  None.  No gummy bears, peach rings, Mike and Ikes, Snickers, M&Ms.  Near the end of the race, she started drinking some soda.  Dry heat has a way of making you crave carbonation, sugar, and cold drinks.  She mentioned that these drinks are packed with calories, which she’d be shoveling into her mouth one way or another.  She always drinks as much water as possible when it is available, and packs as little as needed along the route.  She relied upon tap water along the way, and frequently augmented that with untreated surface water when available to reduce the loaded weight of the bike, often using only a single water bottle.  Her maximum capacity was about 4L, which she only used once when leaving Atlantic City at night.  She used the bladder one other time when leaving Wamsutter, where she filled both water bottles and put an extra liter in the bladder.  Riding towards the Colorado border, she ran out of water and went searching on a remote oil drill site, wandering into an office on a Sunday when no one was around.  She found two half-liter water bottles, each with a few sips left.  On the rest of the route water was not a challenge.

She drank coffee infrequently, only when it was convenient.  Several times she pedaled out of town with a cup of coffee in her hand.  She admits to consuming a 5 Hour Energy about once a day.  She would pack it  away for the morning.  Rise, ride for a while, awake to the day naturally, then take it like a shot in the arm mid-morning and ride all day.  

Her sleeping system consisted of a Western Mountaineering Summerlite sleeping bag and a Western Mountaineering HotSac, a VBL which doubles in this situation as an emergency bivy.  This is equipment which she has been using for years.  The sleeping bag has a busted zipper and the fabric is ragged and fragile.  It has been repaired by hand in many places.  On at least one night, she slept in her helmet, which she discovered was a comfortable solution to supporting her head and staying off the ground.  She did not pack a sleeping pad.

On the coldest nights and mornings, she would wear all of her waterproof equipment to bed if needed.  On the bike, this would help her warm up quickly.  “Mornings are always slow”, she said, “but by the afternoon, you’ve already ridden a hundred miles and the weather is warm and you’re flying.”  

The ride from Grants to Silver City is the longest section of the route without services– about 240 miles– except for the two pie shops in Pie Town.  A store is several miles off route on the rural state highway, so not a worthwhile option to TD racers.  Lael packed food for the ride to Silver City in Grants, expecting to miss business hours at the Pie-o-neer Cafe.  As she rolled out of Pie Town Kathy yelled at her through the window to come back.  She toured the kitchen and sat for two slices of pie and some leftover chicken pizza.  Kathy’s husband Stanley reheated some coffee.  Kathy packed several peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a banana for the road.  Lael enjoyed a slice of peach pie and a slice of apple crumble.

Lael signed the TD pie registry, which will be billed to Salsa Cycles who sponsored each rider with two slices of pie, and noted Josh Kato’s name.  I’d told her from Grants that he had won the race.  Lael told Kathy.  She was excited, and recounted how nice he was.  Neil and Jay didn’t stop for pie, so Josh was the first rider to present his custom Salsa Cycles top cap for two free slices.  Inside the cafe, Kathy asked to see the top cap.  Josh went outside and removed it from his bicycle to prove to her that he was indeed a valid TD racer with the metal (and mettle) to prove it.  Later that day, as photos of Josh and his top cap cycled through social media, a representative from Salsa Cycles called the Pie-o-neer Cafe to let them know that the racers don’t actually have to remove the top cap from the bike.

Exiting the Gila section of the route, turning onto the CDT, Lael ate her last handful of nuts from Grants and took her last sip of water.  She would refill water near the end of the CDT section from a stream.  She stopped at the McDonalds in Silver City at about 11:30PM with 128 miles left to the border.  She packed 20 chicken nuggets, large fries, 8 cookies, a McDouble, and a french vanilla latte.  She stopped at the gas station for a 5 Hour Energy and a few bars.  Aside from this short stop in Silver City, she moved almost continuously from the road crossing at Highway 12 south of Pie Town, all the way to the border.  That’s 275 miles.  

At a gas station in Montana, a woman commented that Lael had “that windblown look”, referring to her hair.  Thereafter, she kept her helmet on at all times.

Thirteen miles from the finish, a cat crossed the road.  “It strutted”, with wide shoulders and pointy ears.  Just when she thought this was a lackluster section of the route to an anticlimactic finish, she realized it was one of the most remote parts of the route, despite being on pavement.  She saw one bear from Banff to Antelope Wells.  

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Lael Wilcox congratulates Joe Fox at the finish in Antelope Wells, NM, the least used border crossing between the USA and Mexico.  Photos courtesy Monica Garcia.  Top photo Nicholas Carman.