Lael is riding to Texas, from Alaska, again.
And by now, Lael is over 260 miles and about 28 hours into her ITT (individual time trial) of the Great Divide, and is crossing the border into Montana from Canada. She began on Saturday August, 8 at 6AM local time. She ended her first day on the back side of Cabin Pass, about 219 miles into the route, deep in the Canadian Flathead backcountry. She woke early to warm her legs for the steep climb up Galton Pass; she faced some of the most severe respiratory distress during the Tour Divide on this climb, just before the border, forcing her to walk. Judging by every method and metric I have to interpret her yellow LW bubble, she’s flying.
Lael arrived in Anchorage a week after the Divide. She was full of stories which everyone was desperate to hear, asking the same round of usual questions we get on our bike tours, although now she actually has wildly engaging answers. “What’s the craziest thing that happened?” The white fox. “The scariest?” Not being able to breathe. “The best?” Being able to breathe, and riding over Lava Mountain in the dark. “What do you eat?” Fritos, anything in the hot case at the gas station, cheese, lots of juice, probiotic drinks, and a bunch of soda in New Mexico. “How often were you able to shower?”
You know the answer to that one.
Within the week, Lael was looking toward employment, likely returning to the restaurant where she worked last summer. The space is nice, really nice. The food is good, but not great. The beer list is alright. The service is pretty good, but the kitchen is slow. Management is uninspiring. The space is really nice though. Oh, and one of the girls that she enjoyed working with has quit, and has filed a harassment lawsuit against the company. Fuck that. Mediocrity with a dash of harassment is no path in life.
There are other restaurants in Anchorage, but Lael immediately contacted a friend and restauranteur from Santa Fe. We worked in her second Vinaigrette restaurant in Albuquerque, a fresh salad bistro with attractive plates, a fun and digestible menu, good prices, inspiring decor, and management and owners that are passionate about the product and long-term success. Erin is opening her third restaurant in Austin this fall, and has cultivated a small farm near the city to provide some of the produce to satisfy the seasonal menu. Lael received an e-mail response offering employment. No start date, no real details, but reportedly, “there is lots of work”. So, we’re moving to Austin, Texas for the winter. Lael has helped to open new restaurants in Annapolis, Tacoma, Anchorage, and Albuquerque. She has worked in restaurants since the age of 16, when she was promoted from a dishwasher to a baker at the popular Middleway Cafe in Anchorage. One of her strongest memories of cycling, in the time before we met, was riding her mom’s white Sekai ten-speed across midtown Anchorage at night to bake, returning home in the warm morning sun of an Alaskan summer.
Lael decided that with a few months of summer remaining and a prospective fall start date in Austin, she would ride to Texas from Alaska. The gears started spinning, and she soon realized that if she could recover in time, she could include a fast ride down the Divide on her way to Texas. I told her to sit on it for a few days. Every morning I’d ask how she felt about the idea. By the end of the week, her mind was made up. I booked a ticket on the Alaska Marine Highway System— aka the ferry– which would shorten her ride to Banff while giving her the opportunity to finally see Southeast Alaska. The next seven days, like the week after we returned to the States from Israel, were busy with planning and preparing her bike and equipment, although this time a little easier and only requiring one late-night wrenching session. For a week, Lael also worked at The Bicycle Shop to save a bit of money. It was a new experience for her and in a short time, she learned a lot.
In the middle of July, Lael’s family gathered several times to welcome her home and send her off. In this time, the family shared Lael’s 29th birthday, and her grandfather’s 92nd. Her mom was thrilled to be able to recycle the numbered candles.
On the evening of July 19, Lael, Christina, and I rolled out of Anchorage toward Girdwood. We quickly pedaled the forty miles along Turnagain Arm, passing traffic returning to town from weekend activities on the Kenai Peninsuls. We camped in a grove of trees in town, in the shadows of the Chugach Mountains. Lael continued to Whittier the next morning to connect with the ferry. She packed a jumprope, a yoga mat, and running shoes. The trip from Whittier to Bellingham took four and a half days. Cabins are available, but it is also possible to camp out on the deck of the boat. There are reclining deck chairs that you can use, or you can set up a tent. She spent the time aboard the boat jumping rope, writing a complete handwritten account of her Tour Divide ride, and reading Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer, an autobiographical account from the woman who famously ran the 1967 Boston Marathon despite the official ban on female participation. However, it is Bobbi Gibb, who ran unofficially in 1966 in a time of 3 hours and 21 minutes, that was the first female marathon runner in the Boston Marathon. The ferry stopped in Yakutat, Juneau, and Ketchikan.
From Bellingham, Lael connected to the Adventure Cycling Association’s Northern Tier route all the way to Sandpoint, ID, before turning north through Libby and Eureka, MT to Fernie and Sparwood, B.C. where she would retrace the Great Divide route back to Banff. To arrive in Banff within her prospective schedule, she averaged a little over 100 miles per day from Bellingham.
Lael reported from the road:
“Northern Washington is western! Super cool western towns all the way across.
Concrete, Mazama, Winthrop, Tonasket, Republic, Chewelah, and more. Lots of bike paths.
I loved it.
Lots of Mexicans= delicious tacos.”
In Banff, she received a box with bike parts and equipment to prepare for another fast Divide ride. She spent the week resting, planning, reading; running, riding, swimming, doing yoga, and jumping rope. She weaned herself off coffee and hasn’t had a beer in weeks. In her final days in Banff, she’d call me at any time of day with an energy that can only be described as seething. On the night before departure, she found a hair trimmer at Keith’s house where she was staying and freshened the shaved panel on the left side of her head. She has been doing this since Poland several summers ago. Some of the girls there would wear their hair like this. Anymore, the shaved panel is her “race face”. She is ready.
I awoke at 3:30AM on Saturday to speak with Lael before the start. She said, “I’m just going to put these dishes away and get on my bike.”
Follow Lael’s ITT on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page. Outside of the Grand Depart, riders are allowed to record times for solo rides throughout the summer. Few riders choose to do this. However, another female rider, Lindsay Shepard, will finish her ITT in Antelope Wells this afternoon.