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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5 thoughts on “Landing rubber side down, Antelope Wells to Alaska

  1. Nick, you’ve captured so well what I had envisioned would be a warm, personal homecoming for Anchorage’s modest champion. You and Lael have opened the world’s eyes to your unique approach to life and living and we are impressed.

    I can’t believe how prescient my Bikepacking forum post was about Cormac McCarthy. At the time I was a little concerned that it would be taken as dark, but he is such a fabulous writer based just outside Antelope Wells that the reference seemed apt.

    Thanks again for your coverage and I think we all hope to see you at future races.

  2. Congratulations Lael – super inspiring! And thanks Nick, I’ve looked forward eagerly to each post on Lael’s progress and can’t wait to read what she’ll write.

  3. Lael,

    Congratulations on an amazing ride! it sure was an awesome journey we all had out there. Too bad I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting you during the race. It sounds as if your positive attitude and smile helped the miles fly by. Passing the miles with smiles.
    All the best to you and yours.
    Congratulations!
    Josh Kato

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