The Edge of Winter: AZ/NM/NY/DC/CA/MX

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We’re off to Baja for a few months!  Lael is riding her new Advocate Cycles Hayduke, a steel 27.5+ hardtail, and I am riding my pink Meriwether.  Thanks to the donation of a used iPhone from a friend, as a multi-purpose travel device, we now both have Instagram accounts.  Follow us there at @laelwilcox and @nicholascarman.

The first moment in long pants and a sweater, come fall.  The first afternoon in short sleeves and a shirt, when rotting piles of snow linger in the shadows and thin blades of grass emerge from the matted brown lawn.  It is the leading edge of any season which I especially relish.  For more than a month, we’ve ridden the breaking wave of winter across Arizona and New Mexico, through New York and the Mid Atlantic, and now through California and Baja California.  But it isn’t meant to be.  We’re headed south for the season.  

On Wellesley Island, NY, where my parents now live, I encountered an entire harvest of apples beneath a tree, forgotten by nearby residents in favor of store bought varieties.  And the next day, an inch and a half of snow covers them.  In Baja, we’ve encountered freezing nights just several hundred feet above sea level, yet warm dry nights at elevation, a phenomena which continues to elude me.  Above, at nearly 10,000ft,  a dusting of snow falls on the Sierra de San Pedro Martir.  Yet Washington D.C. is the coldest place I’ve been in the past month, where winter threatens with cloudy skies and 39 degree rain.  I say anything is better than 39 degree rain.  Give me Alaska, Minnesota, or New York in February, but never cold rain.  Any time we ride in 39 degree rain, Lael reminds me of the last time we rode to Baja from Tacoma, WA.  We left on November 16th, 2009 to ride south, and it rained every day until we crossed the border.  The final week in Southern California at the end of December amounted to record rainfall.    

Our time in Arizona concluded with Lael’s AZT750 ITT attempt, a pursuit which has been captured as part of a brief documentary feature, set to be released this spring.  More on that when it is released next year, but the process of filming was enlightening and a lot of fun.  Expect aerial drone shots of Lael.  What could be more fun than aerial drone shots of a girl riding her bike and eating, pissing in the bushes, hurriedly buying a dozen cookies from a small grocery?

For the filming, I was contracted to help scout film locations on the backcountry route and to transport Lael to the start.  Thus, a vehicle was rented in my name and for almost two weeks, I piloted a small Chevy Sonic around the state, bashing the undercarriage on all manner of unpaved roads.  That’s why you get the full insurance.  After the ITT attempt, we spent a weekend in Santa Fe to finish some filming, which gave us the chance to reconnect with some friends in New Mexico, crossing paths with Rusty and Melissa; Cass, Nancy, and Sage; John, Jeremy, and Owen.  Each of these people play a role in our lives.  Rusty arrived in Albuquerque the week we were leaving and took a job at Two Wheel Drive where I had worked; Melissa is riding my old Raleigh XXIX; we stayed with John’s high school friend in Athens and recently John went to ride the Bike Odyssey route in Greece; Owen sold Lael her first upright touring bars, some secondhand On-One Mary cruisers which we used to replace the drop bars on her LHT; Cass and I have crossed paths more than a few times, dating back to the summer of 2009 in Alaska; and, I believe, I was present to witness Nancy’s first day of her first bike tour, as two inches of snow fell while we climbed up Lynx Pass on the Great Divide Route in October.  It is a motley crew of bike people, and although we’ve never lived in Santa Fe, it the nearest thing we have to a bike family outside of Anchorage.  

Returning the car to the Tucson airport, I put my bike back together and head back to the AZT to reride some of the smoothest trail on the route, from I-10 back to Tucson.  Did I mention I’ve rented a car twice in my life, both times from the Tucson Airport, within a period of three months this summer?  I connected with my friend Dusty from Anchorage while in Tucson, and spent a few days riding local tech trails and buff singletrack circuits.  Dusty is the other half of the Revelate Designs team in Anchorage, although it seems most of his time is spent climbing Denali and grooming himself for shots in the Patagonia catalog.  Dusty is like the Tasmanian Devil on a bike, and likes to bump and jump everything on the trail.  I witnessed no less than three encounters with cactus in two days.  Several days prior he landed on his elbow while accidentally riding a trail in wilderness on Mt. Lemmon.  He required stitches, and was rock climbing within days.  

After a week with some of Lael’s extended family in the Phoenix area, we flew to Ottawa to visit my family in Northern New York for Thanksgiving.  There, we helped them move into a new house and enjoyed the company of my family for several weeks.  The constant passing of freighters on the St. Lawrence River is endlessly entertaining, especially as boats the size of small cities pass in the night.  From the right vantage it is hard to tell if the house is moving to the side, or if a ship is passing.  The low rumble of massive propellers warns of a passing vessel before it arrives.  I grew up in Central New York, my parents later moved to Northern New York, and they’ve moved once again further north, now about one mile from the Canadian border.

Lael received a new bicycle from Advocate Cycles while in New York.  It arrived the day before we planned to leave NY.  Her blue Raleigh was donated to our friend James in Flagstaff, who has since repaired a hole in the frame, repainted it white, and purchased a new suspension fork and luggage.  The Specialized Era was quickly sold before leaving Phoenix, the transaction taking place out front of a Trader Joe’s just two hours before leaving the state.  She was happily without a bike for two weeks,  a needed break after her year long riding binge.  The new bike, a marvelous mid-fat steel machine, will be perfect for our exploits in Baja.  

The Advocate Cycles Hayduke is a 27.5+ hardtail with a 120mm Rock Shox Reba fork, WTB Scraper rims, and an 11-speed GX1drivetrain.  Aside from a few simple modifications, the stock bike is prime to shred Baja’s mountainous backroads and sandy desert tracks.  The 27.5×3.0” tires— effectively the same outside diameter as 29×2.3” tires, thus interchangeable— grant unique abilities without the debilitating heft of a true fatbike wheel.  In short, it’s kind of a fatbike that rides like a mountain bike, or it’s a trail-oriented mountain bike which floats over loose rocks and soft sand.  Aside from the difference in wheel size— 27.5×3” vs 29×2.4”— Lael and I are riding remarkably similar bikes.  My pink Meriwether can fit 27.5+ wheels and Lael’s Hayduke can take 29×2.4” Ardents.  That versatility is one of the main features of the new crop of 27.5+ hardtails— they’re also 29ers!  

Leaving New York, we catch a ride down the coast to Baltimore, Washington D.C., and nearby Alexandria, VA where my sister now lives.  After a brief visit and a cold crosstown commute in the rain, we board our $100 flight west to San Diego.

We arrive in San Diego after a night in the Denver airport with our sleeping bags, greeted by warm sunny weather.  We reassemble our bikes and gear outside the airport and pedal across town to visit Lael’s godmother in Coronado.  There, we photocopy, cut, and paste maps; downloads digital basemaps to our Garmin; and generally prepare our bikes and equipment for several months of travel.  

We roll south out of Coronado on bike paths, through Chula Vista, and over Otay Mountain on a dirt road used most often by border patrol agents.  We descent to Tecate and cross into Mexico.  I have a series of potential routes down the peninsula, which we hope to weave into a pleasant journey and a route which we can share with others.  We traveled here five years ago, enjoying our first extended off-pavement rides on drop bars and medium wide 1.75” Schwalbe Marathon tires.  This time, we come prepared.  And even through the peninsula is crossed with fascinating routes well documented by the moto crowd, any search for bikepacking routes in Baja come up short.  We hope to change that. 

By now, now that the dust from this long summer season has settled, we’re pedaling along the Pacific Coast or the Sea of Cortez, or camping under millions of blistering stars enjoying long winter nights and a caguama of Tecate.  Considering that recovery is still a priority, especially for Lael, this is how we know to do it best.  Thirteen, fourteen hour nights will do that.



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Lael’s AZT750 rig, a Specialized Era Expert, fully loaded for freezing nights and the requisite food, water, and tools.  Despite her continued breathing issues, the bike and all systems were nearly perfect, including the 14L Osprey backpack for the Grand Canyon hike with the bike on her back.  I’m planning a brief feature of her Tour Divide and AZT bikes, for those that are interested in such details.  

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Flying the drone.

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Eric made this lovely framebag for the Era. This new fabric looks like it belongs in a menswear line.

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Afraid of the long, dark nights in late October, we devised what we consider to be the best and most reliable combination of lighting for this particular event, including a k-Lite 1000 lumen dynamo light and a 320 lumen Black Diamond Icon Polar  The Icon is an ultra-bright headlamp which takes 4 AA batteries and pushes out max light for 7-8 hours, enough for a full night of riding on spring or fall ultra events.  The Poler version includes an extension cord with a threaded attachment, allowing the battery pack to be stored in a pocket while in use (thus, not on the helmet), and it can be removed entirely during the day.  Only the lightweight head unit stays on the helmet.

The k-Lite puts out considerably more light than my Supernova E3 Triple.  Most importantly, it performs much better at slow speeds, pushing out more light while riding at walking speeds, with less flickering.  The standlight also puts out some usable light, whereas the Supernova fails to put out anything useful.  The quality and construction of Kerry’s lights are impressive.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t integrate this light into Lael’s new bike, as the Hayduke comes with Boost spacing.  An SP Boost dynamo hub is due out soon. 

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New Mexico

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Just enough time to shoot some interviews and some riding, and just enough time to ride and dine with friends for a few nights.  Thanks to John and Jeremy for a warm house for the weekend!  

We enjoyed a little of each of Santa Fe’s trail systems, including a jaunt into the local backcountry to ride the “Secret Trail” with Cass, Rusty, and Jeremy.

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Outside of the Whole Foods, we meet a young cyclist from CA named Chris.  He was beginning a brief tour down to El Paso.  He had managed to strap a full re-usable shopping bag under his seat as an impromptu seatpack.  We offered to let him borrow Lael’s cavernous Tour Divide seatbag for the trip.  Chris has some photos from his trip on his Flickr account

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Back in Tucson, ripping trails with Dusty for a few days, before riding back to Phoenix to try to sell Lael’s bike and prepare for our flight east.

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Back to Phoenix.

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New York

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Our brief time in New York— sadly, too late for the leaves (or the apples) to still be on the trees— is much overdue.  I hadn’t been home to visit in over two years.  We helped my parents move into a new house on Wellesley Island on the St. Lawrence River, which connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean.  It is a massive river famed for the Thousand Islands region, notable for over 1800 islands amidst swirling currents and historic homes, dating from a time when the East Coast and nearby Watertown were booming.  Lots of large commercial vessels travel this river.

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We mostly spend time off the bike while in NY, although we did get out for a few brief rides.  Lael is on my dad’s old Specialized Hardrock.  It’s a good bike, but it makes you appreciate the features on even our less than space age touring bikes.

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On Thanksgiving Day we volunteered with a group of employees and families at the hospital where my dad works to prepare and deliver over 300 meals to local families.  The food was prepared by the time we all arrived in the morning, but it was our job to portion and package it for delivery.  

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Finally, the day before leaving NY, Lael’s bike arrives.

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About the first thing she says to me: “There’s a new sheriff in town!”  Those 27.5×3.0” tires certainly miniaturize the appearance of my once voluminous 2.4” Ardents.  We plan to replace the ultralight stock Panasonic Fat B Nimble tires with some Specialized Ground Control tires weighing about 200 grams more, per tire.  The extra weight will be well worth it on a two month trip the desert.

There is always a learning curve when riding a new bike.  At first, it did feel a bit strange.  Once we swapped handlebars, stem, and seatpost, things got better.

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Washington D.C.

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We spend a few days with Lael’s godmother Jacklyn in Coronado, including a few trips to the beach between planning and preparing for Baja.  Both bikes get bottle cages on the fork and a couple of packable bladders in the framebag.  We install luggage and new tires on Lael’s bike, and a Salsa Anything Cage to the underside of the donwtube.  Why doesn’t the Hayduke come with a mount for a bottle cage or a Salsa AC down there?  Why do many steel Surly and Salsa models also fail to include this simple feature?  The world may never know.  

Specialized 27×3.0” Ground Control tires set-up tubeless perfectly on WTB Scraper rims, with a floor pump.  I used Gorilla brand clear repair tape for the first time.  It seems well suited to the application, and is perfectly sized for the WTB Scraper rims.  I had to use a razor to score the roll of tape for my 35mm rim.

Hose clamps keep the Anything Cage in place.  It will be used to hold a 64 oz. Klean Kanteen, as I have been doing for many years now.  This is the first time Lael has the extra capacity.

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Riding to step aerobics with Jacklyn.

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Our route out of San Diego includes a segment over Otay Mountain on dirt roads.  It is a stunning 3000ft climb to the top of the mountain, and a fast descent back to paved road 94 on the other side.  The result is a short paved ride to Tecate from San Diego.

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Baja California, Mexico!

By now, we’ve crossed the border and pedaled a week into Baja, and touched both coastlines after our inland crossing at Tecate.  Thus far, I can highly recommending crossing at Tecate compared to Tijuana or Mexicali. Tecate is a small pleasant city.  As soon as we crossed we passed a shaded park full of men playing cards.  Last time we crossed into Tijuana we saw a guy stab himself in his calf with a needle soon after crossing.  We connected to dirt roads about 20 miles out of Tecate.

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Summer Reduction: Anchorage, AK; Silver City, NM; Las Vegas, NV

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Local fishermen and families looking for fish in Ship Creek during the seasonal salmon run, Anchorage, AK.

I spent a full summer in Anchorage, Alaska, working.  Returning from Israel in May I arrived at The Bicycle Shop the next morning to build Lael’s Tour Divide bike.  I started work the next day, rode Lael out of town at the end of the week and then worked every single day until she returned from her ride from Alaska to Antelope Wells, about 50 days later.  Lael spent less than three weeks in town before turning back south toward Bellingham, Banff, and Antelope Wells for her second Divide ride of the summer, the LW ITT.  I worked during most of that ride as well, finally earning a few days away from work as the season slowed.

Less than a month before planing to leave Anchorage for the season, I flew down to New Mexico to meet Lael at the finish of the Divide, at the border of Mexico.  It was nearly– not entirely– a surprise.  

We both returned to Anchorage so that I could finish work for the season.  We sold her race bike, tidied up our affairs, and packed our bags for Interbike and adventure.  I gave the Krampus away to a friend.  Lael is riding a 2×8 drivetrain and platform pedals again, on a rusty bike with a half-dead Reba.  Still she claims it is “a good bike”.  We’ll spend the week in Vegas at Interbike with Revelate Designs, spreading our love for bicycle based adventure.  Thereafter, we plan to pack our bikes and ride into Arizona.  Ok, we might try to hitch a ride after Interbike to St. George, UT.  Anyone from Interbike headed back that way this weekend?  To SLC, Denver, etc.?

Aside from work– and I could write volumes about working in a busy bike shop in Midtown Anchorage– Alaskan summers aren’t bad, even if I didn’t always make the most of the long days and dry trails.

Anchorage, AK

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Riding along the Ship Creek slough during salmon season.

Life at the bike shop included lots of late night personal projects, including Lael’s two Divide bike edits, and this custom wheelset for Joe Cruz’s Surly Pugsley, which travelled to Norway this summer for a backcountry ramble.  He finally gave up the fight and moved from doublewall DH Large Marge rims to these feathery polished Marge Light rims.  Thanks to for providing the polished Surly rims and lightweight front hub.  I finished the build with butted DT Swiss spokes, gold alloy nipples, and a cheap sealed cartridge bearing Redline hub.  I failed the total lightweight build when I couldn’t find any high-quality 32h hubs in Anchorage, given our short time-frame for the build.

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Also from The Bicycle Shop, the analog Tour Divide Trackleaders page, exclusively dedicated to following the LW and LW ITT dots and promoting water cooler discussion about ultra-endurance racing.  This Michelin map of the American West provides a surprising amount of detail.

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Strawberries, not nearly as common as raspberries, blueberries, and rhubarb, abundant while we house-sat for Dan Bailey.

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I also hosted two cyclists during the summer, this rider from Japan and another rider from France.  I do my best to help some of the hundreds of touring cyclists who pass through Anchorage in a summer.  Recently, I enjoyed the company of Adela and Kris, two Polish riders slowly making their ways round the world.  Check out their travels at

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Salmon, even more common than berries in the summer.

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Working in a bike shops keeps me close to the “industry” for a minute, as a wave of mid-fat bikes arrive to market.  This Trek Stache+ and the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie FSR are widely lauded, and look like a fun and useful extension of fatbikes.  As fatbike sales eventually stagnate, we will continue to see the influence of large volume rubber elsewhere in the industry.

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Long nights leave ample opportunity to play in the city.  This beach is accessed from the end of the paved Coastal Trail at Kincaid Park, or by connecting a series of singletrack mountain bike trails.  This beach is often rideable through the winter.

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Salmon over the fire.

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Bike rides of various kinds filled my summer, although I only left Anchorage city limits twice.  

Riding to check in with Nate and the family.  It is always cool to see the evolution of his family bike circus.  Elin is riding a Yepp seat on the Big Dummy. 

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Her Revelate Designs Feedbag is stocked with Cheerios.

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Bill, co-owner of the 9zero7 fatbike brand is training for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the full 1000 mile distance.  Christina tries to defeat Bill, unsuccessfully.

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Riding with Tamra, Lael’s local adventuring partner, and James, Lael’s brother.  They each bought their first mountain bikes this summer.  Bright colors are popular in the industry right now.

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Riding to rub shoulders with the after-hours crowd at Speedway Cycles, home of the Fatback.  Greg Matyas is good at keeping the shop stocked with beer.  Greg bought a special bottle to celebrate Lael’s first Divide ride.

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 Riding to visit family.

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And riding until finally, after midnight, the sun sets in the north.

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Silver City, NM

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On a whim, I bought a plane ticket to Tucson to meet Lael at the finish of her second Divide ride.  I spent the weekend with friends, Lucas and Monica, who recently moved away from Anchorage.

Lucas had just received a Lenz Mammoth, one of several 29+ full-suspension bikes made by Devin Lenz for Mike Curiak.  Two models have been dubbed the Fatmoth and the Fatillac.

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We spent the day building the bike and following Lael’s SPOT tracker through the Gila, anticipating storms and her late night passage through town.  While we went riding in the evening on the new bike. a severe thunderstorm rolled in, dropping just less than 3 inches of rain at the Silver City airport.  Only later did I learn that Lael hardly got wet, although there were many signs of flash flooding.

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That’s one Fatass rear end.

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Gomez Peak Trail System, looking north into the Gila and into a night of thunderstorms.

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Silver City is a great old western mining town, still supported in part by several local mines, Western New Mexico University, and a healthy population of local business.

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Lucas leads the way around town.  Gotta love a town with a proper main street, this one called Bullard St.

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Old buildings.

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Local beer.

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Gila Hike and Bike stocks Adventure Cycling maps for the Great Divide and Southern Tier routes, and supports a vibrant local cycling community.

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Local music, including friends Tim and Chloe, formerly of the Bike Haus in Silver City, also one-time residents of Albuquerque when we lived there a few years ago.

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The Bike Haus is locally famous as an informal guesthouse and cultural center for cyclists.  Jamie, who owns the house, rents rooms to a rotating cast of interesting people and on occasion, touring cyclists are invited to stay.  The property is full of bikes and puppets; a Seussian garden encircles the house.  I stayed here back in 2011 on my first ride down the Divide.

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I welded a welcome sign at the local Bike Works community bike shop back in 2011, which still hangs from the porch.  That was my first time ever using such a machine, some kind of wire-feed welder.

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I drove down to Antelope Wells to catch Lael at the finish, arriving a few hours early.  I passed her on the final paved stretch to the border.

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Waiting at the end, at the least used border crossing between the US and Mexico.

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Helmet hair, round two.  

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Anchorage, AK

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Back in Anchorage we prepare for our next micro-adventure, a trip to Las Vegas for Interbike and a ride on the Arizona Trail.  While Texas was the intended target after the Divide, it was cheaper for Lael to return to Anchorage for a few weeks than to kick around the SW, especially as we intended to go to Interbike.  The Texas situation is somewhat tenuous, thinking about Tucson for the winter.

Lost Lake, Seward, AK

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Oh, and carbon frames don’t resist abrasion very well.  Steel and titanium win this division, followed by aluminum.  Carbon comes in last.  But the ride is nice, and light.  

That is a pinky-sized hole in the seatstay of Lael’s Stumpjummper.  I suspect she rode it that way from Lime, MT to the finish.

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The chainstay has much more material and for some reason, also features more generous tire clearance than the seatstay.  The frame has been replaced, the complete bike sold to some awesome folks in Anchorage.  Mary walked away with a 22lb gravel shredder, complete with custom framebag and dynamo lighting system.

Mary, the woman who bought the bike, lived in Crested Butte, CO from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s, and told stories of housing some of the great names in mountain biking on her couch or floor.  Wes Willams of Willets fame– strapped for cash– once paid his rent in the form of a custom titanium frame.  She claims that was frame #3.  Mary painted that frame with flowers.   

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Las Vegas, NV

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This is a familiar task, building bikes and riding away from the airport.  Conveniently this airport is in the middle of the city, although I only packed a pile of bike parts.  My new custom Meriwether frame was shipped to Las Vegas.

To prepare for the show, Eric asked that we make custom Revelate t-shirts.  Lael rebranded her two cotton race jerseys from this past year.  The Alaska Grown tee was a gift from her grandmother, and accompanied her on her second Divide ride.  The Keeping It Real shirt was purchased at a t-shirt shop in Israel and is now locally famous for crushing the HLC route across that country.

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Set up for the show.  Friday is the last day of Interbike.  We will be at the Revelate Designs booth 21186 for most of the day.  Otherwise, we’ll be walking around the show jamming our pockets full of tubeless sealant and nutrition bars.  

In an exciting twist, it sounds like Skyler and Panthea will be meeting us this weekend for an extended AZ jaunt.  We’ll all going in the same direction at the same, although we’ve never met and we don’t have any real travel plans.  With little more than a few Facebook messages, we’ll roll out of Vegas this weekend, headed for southern Utah and the northern terminus of the AZT.  The new pink frame is going to get a workout.  Back on the road in 3, 2, 1…  

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Lael Wilcox completes Tour Divide ITT in 15:10:59

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Lael takes her helmet off at the finish.  She arrived in Antelope Wells at 4:59 PM MT, for a time of 15:10:59.  Below, pushing to Antelope Wells.

Lael Wilcox raced the Tour Divide in June.  Arriving home in May from an extended period of bicycle travel, she prepared a bike for the race and rode from her home in Alaska to the start in Banff, over 2100 miles away.  She finished the Tour Divide in 17:01:51, setting a new women’s record despite battling bronchitis for the first week, with lingering symptoms to the finish.  The previous women’s record of 19:03:35 was set by Eszter Horanyi in 2012.

Returning home to Alaska in July, Lael decided that she had the time, energy, and equipment for another fast ride down the Divide, in the same summer.  Again, she prepared her bike and body and left Anchorage for Banff, taking a ferry from Whittier, AK to Bellingham, WA to shorten the distance to the start, this time only about 850 miles of riding.

Following a few days of rest and preparation in Banff, Lael departed on an individual time trial (ITT) of the 2015 Tour Divide route on the morning of August 8, at 6AM.  She finished in Antelope Wells, NM on August 23 at 4:59PM for a total time of 15:10:59.  This establishes a new female course record and the fifth fastest time down the Great Divide Route (Mike Hall’s asterisked 2013 ride notwithstanding). To provide some context, this is five hours faster than Jay Petervary’s 2012 record time of 15:16:04, which stood for three years until the latest record-breaking rides earlier this summer by Josh Kato (14:11:37), Jay Petervary (14:12:03), Neil Beltchenko (14:12:23), Dylan Taylor (15:03:01), and Alex Harris (15:12:09). The six fastest times on the Divide were all recorded this summer.

Naturally, for a race which takes two weeks and covers over 2700 miles of mountainous terrain, comparing rides which happened at different times is not easy, or fair.  But records are kept, and the spirit of an ITT is to achieve a personal goal on the route, and if desired, to record a time which relates to other riders or an overall record. 

Lael reports the biggest challenges of the most recent ride were wheel-clogging mud north of Lima, MT, regular rain showers and thunderstorms all along the route, longer nights, and staying motivated while out on the course alone.

For both rides this summer Lael rode a Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon World Cup with carbon Chisel fork, with Revelate Designs luggage, SRAM XX1/XO1 gearing with 36T chainring, and an SP PD-8X dynamo hub with Supernova lighting.

The details of her ride are recorded on the 2015 Tour Divide Trackleaders page, or link to her personal ride history on the LW ITT page

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LW ITT Update: Silver City, NM

Pushing out of the Gila back in July, under clear skies.  Photo courtesy of Mitchell Clinton, a local Silver City photographer.

Lael pushed hard yesterday to get to Pie Town early, to get through the Gila, over the 8 mile section of the CDT, and into Silver City.  But the weather had a different plan when a day with barely a 10% chance of rain  turned dark and stormy late in the day, sounded the public warning system via cell networks, television, and radio.  I received an automated message to my phone– the first ever– warning of heavy rain and hail, flash floods, winds up to 60 mph, and lightning.  The warning area reached up into the Gila and south toward the border.  The storm arrived to obscure a classic NM sunset, continuing until about 11PM and turning local roadways into rivers.

I watched Lael continue through the Gila roller coaster at night, knowing that most of those roads through the pines are underlain with granite, rocky and sandy, and generally well drained.  Lael reached the pavement and turned up the CDT about midnight, presumably in continuing rain showers.  Her progress was predictably slow, she camped late, woke early and descended the pavement from Pinos Altos to Silver City at about 6AM.  

The airport in Silver City reported just under 3 inches of rain on Saturday evening.  Regular lightning strikes persisted for hours.

I passed Lael on the paved road south of Silver City on my way to I-10 and the border, slowing to take a photo out of the window of my rented Hyundai.  She was riding a series of rollers in the aero position, the back of her black t-shirt faded to a dirty blonde.

I have a cooler full of drinks, a big sandwich, two gallons of water, a bag of grapes, bananas, nectarines, and a box of cookies from the grocery store in Silver City.  I will meet Lael at Antelope Wells later today.  She will finish in less than 16 days, as long as the Separ Road– the final stretch of dirt– doesn’t hold any surprises from the monsoon.

Follow the yellow LW bubble on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.

LW ITT Update: Pie Town, NM

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Lael stopped at the Toaster House this morning in Pie Town.  I spent a night there with three CDT hikers back in 2011

Lael camped on the climb out of Abiquiu two nights ago, reporting that as she pushed up the steep technical climb in the dark she fell a few times, once landing on he rib without injury.  Shaken, she stopped for the night and resumed at a faster pace in the AM.  Once descending to Cuba, she hammered the pavement for the rest of the day, covering a total of 220 miles to camp just before midnight.  She began riding at 4AM today along a wide gravel road to Pie Town.  

Daytime temperatures are warm in southern New Mexico, and nights are warm.  Seasonal monsoons– manifest as afternoon thunderstorms– are still in force, although they ebb and flow on a daily and weekly basis.  There may be several clear days followed by several stormy afternoons.  Lael reported minor precipitation on the last few days in NM.  In fact, I think she has seen some precipitation on more than half of her riding days since Banff.  There continues to be a low risk of thunderstorms today, Saturday, while the threat of afternoon rain returns in force on Sunday and Monday.  Lael mentioned several freezing nights in Colorado, including one night when her water froze outside Doyleville and she shivered through several hours of sleep.  That morning she began riding before 4AM to warm up.  I suspect last night was more pleasant, with forecast low temperatures around 50F now that she has left the high mountains.  Daytime temperatures are forecast in the mid-80’s today.

Lael just checked out of Pie Town, arriving 32 hours ahead of the pink LW bubble, and over and hour faster than the male record set by Jay Petervary in 2012.  She has been behind this pace since stuck in the mud before Lima.  If she pushes hard to the border she may stay on pace with this time, finishing sometime on Sunday night.  If she pushes hard, she may be into the Gila by this afternoon if and when any rain falls.  The roads around Pie Town present a high risk of clogging when wet due to the nature of the soils.  The Gila is rocky and sandy, underlain by granite.  If she pushes hard to the border she may stay ahead of Sunday thunderstorms as well.  There is one final section of dirt south of Silver City that could get messy when wet.  From Pie Town, Lael is just over 300 miles to the border.

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LW ITT Update: Jemez Mountains, NM


Lost in a burn on the south side of the Jemez Mountains with Joe and Cass, October 2012.  

Lael pushed 3000 ft up from Abiquiu last night, climbing fast to catch the final light of day. She continued on the increasingly technical track in the dark, recording similar speeds to many less technical climbs from days past.  She camped early around 11PM after a long day which began at 4:30AM.  Rising at 3:45AM, she finished the climb even faster than she had been moving the night before– still in the dark– eventually connecting to higher quality Forest Service roads on the north side of the Valles Caldera towards NM 126, and Cuba.  Over a hundred miles of pavement extend beyond Cuba toward Grants, an authorized paved alternate to the official Great Divide Route and the de facto Tour Divide route for many years.  From Cuba, there are only 500 miles left to the border.

The climb out of Abiquiu is the tallest single ascent on the entire Great Divide Route, and marks the final major mountain section on the way to the border.  The Gila and a brief section of CDT singletrack near Silver City are notable challenges in the remaining miles.

Lael called very briefly while riding into Abiquiu, the rushing wind of 20mph obscuring most of our conversation.  She said she was feeling good, ready to be finished, and still carrying enough food from Del Norte to get to Cuba, augmented with a few bags of Cheetos from the snack shack in Vallecitos (notably, not much of a town in the middle of nowhere).  Buying cheese flavored puffed corn from tiny roadside shops will always remind me of Lesotho and South Africa.

I’m in Salt Lake City en route to Tucson and Silver City.  I’ll be at the border when Lael finishes.

Follow the yellow LW bubble on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.

LW ITT Update: Brazos Ridge, NM

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Cruising through the Land of Enchantment, circa October 2011 on the Great Divide Route in El Rito, NM.  Lael was riding a Surly Long Haul Trucker at the time, recently converted from drop bars to an On-One Mary handlebar in Santa Fe at The Broken Spoke.  

Lael camped just short of the NM border yesterday, reaching up and over Indiana Pass from Del Norte as daylight faded, and descending to Platoro and beyond into the night.  She woke early this morning to begin riding up Cumbres Pass, then onto dirt and into NM.  We spent a winter living in Albuquerque and like everyone who has heard the jokes about the “Land of Entrapment”, we love New Mexico.  As the miles pile up, I know that Lael is reaching deeper and deeper to find the physical energy and motivation to continue.  Crossing into New Mexico is a homecoming, and also the begging of the end of this ride.  I watched her crawl up to Brazos Ridge this morning on Trackleaders, knowing the kind of chunky New Mexico roads she was riding, and knowing that she was still warming up for the day, in a sense.  But she has found her stride this morning as she descends from the second to last big mountain on the route.  The last big climb and the tallest total ascent on the route is south of Abiquiu en route to Cuba.

I leave tonight at midnight to arrive in Tucson on Friday morning and Silver City by Friday evening.  Lael should be passing through Silver City on Sunday, most likely.  Any ABQ or Santa Fe people want to visit Silver City for the weekend?  My friends Tim and Chloe are playing music in town on Saturday afternoon, I should have a bike to ride, and we can sleep outside.  John, Jeremy, Nancy, Cass, Rusty, Melissa, Wyatt?

 Follow the yellow LW bubble on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.

Tour Divide Update: Silver City, NM

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Tour Divide AK command center at The Bicycle Shop, Anchorage, AK.  At the moment, Lael is pushing to the border at Antelope Wells, NM.  She hasn’t stopped pedaling since Sunday morning and should finish before noon, Mountain Time.  

She called several miles out of Silver City.  I’m holding the saddle rails of a donated 12″ wheel Magna, recently unpacked and assembled by a 13 year old and a three year old on the front lawn.  Joshua has been ripping around on a 12″ Specialized Hotwalk since last summer, a pedal-less walking bike designed to instill the basic mechanics of velocipeding.  The chance donation of a pedal bike by another family, who never found use for it, is well timed.  As soon as we set the training wheel height and the saddle, we set out to ride.  Even before I arrive, he is calling it a mountain bike.

Pedaling is hard.  The motion is challenging.  The leg strength is not there, or at least not the coordination, and the combination of plastic pedals and cowboy boots is not ideal.  The bike only steers to the right as Joshua looks all around shouting orders to everyone.  “I’m in charge.  Let’s go the ‘kishla Park.”  We follow, and I assist from the left end of the handlebar to keep course.  In time, small realizations lead to riding.  Within the hour we are riding around an asphalt ice rink.  Jada piles feathery cottonwood droppings, instructing Josh to aim his tires at them.  He does, and the moment of focus is a victory.  He’s riding a bike, and is in control.

Lael immediately tells me, like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar, or in trouble with the principal.  “I fell.”  

She landed on her knee and shoulder.  It was stupid, less than 100 ft from the pavement coming down off a technical section of the CDT.  It was getting dark and she didn’t see some rocks in the road.  She’s mad, embarrassed, aching.  She doesn’t want to see anybody.  It’s not serious.  I can understand her feeling, but I don’t share the emotion exactly.  The thing that she is doing is deeply real for her, chasing miles down dirt roads into the night.  Falling is disappointing, yet it also shakes her brain into a sense of hyper reality.  She’s talking like it doesn’t matter any more.  Who cares about this thing.  I agree, but I remind her that she’s chased this thing since June 12 in Banff, since May 15 in Anchorage, and since the HLC in Israel.  It all started with that three day solo ride from Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat on the Israel Bike Trail, a manicured backcountry singletrack route across the Negev Desrt.  If that ride went well, she would race the HLC.  If the HLC went well, and she enjoyed it, she would race the Divide.  After her three day ride to Eilat she was flying high.  She hasn’t descended since then, and my fear that she has been flying too close to the sun grows more real.  Her spirits are back on the ground, covered in blood and dust.   

Joshua continues his never-ending right hand turn, bumping into the boards of the Scotty Gomez neighborhood ice rink.  The first time we sat him on a pedal bike at The Bicycle Shop last summer, he said, “I can’t do this”, which no one in the family had ever heard from him before.  We decided on a walking bike, but not the pink one to which he was so attached.  There were tears, everyone had a different idea of how to herd this opinionated two year old, and we left the store.  But I selected a red Hotwalk and we took it home along with Jada’s XS Specialized Myka.  The next day, the red bike was his favorite color, he decided.  He began walking from the saddle that day.

While tightening the axle nuts on the Magna this evening, sitting in the grass out front of the house, Joshua asks me, “Do you miss Aunt Lael?”  


“Me too” he says.

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Tour Divide Update: The Gila, NM

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Lael and Kathy at the Pie-o-neer Cafe, 8000ft, Pie Town, NM.  Photo courtesy Pie-o-Neer Cafe.

Lael is gaining ground on the women.  Even on a short day– only 156 miles– she has stretched her lead to the point that she is over 300 miles ahead of the next female competitor.  Two riders, Joe Fox and Andres Bonelli, have gained some ground and are riding steadily behind her by about 17 miles.  If they all continue pace they may never see each other.  If their paths cross, we may have a race to the border for sixth place.  Lael slept early last night and started on the bike at about 3:30AM.  She only rode about six miles before stopping for another three hours.  Either she decided that a little more sleep would be necessary, or was disturbed by something or someone in her original location.  Perhaps she suffered a mechanical in the dark, fumbling with cold hands.  These things are hard to say from cold digital data, and a solid reminder that the even 9.4mph pace that every rider seems to keep, exists outside the digital vacuum in which we read it.  It hails, it is hot and dusty, there are headwinds, broken forks, saddle sores, and frequent stops to eat, resupply, refill water, lube the chain, lower tire pressures, talk to people, navigate the route, plan the day ahead, eat pie, and sleep.  Yet, the strongest riders in this event seem to be set to autopilot, pedaling a consistent trajectory for up to 20 hours a day.  I know for certain that at least three of those things happened yesterday for Lael.  Steady headwinds and sidewinds slowed much of the ride into Grants.  The Pie-o-neer Cafe in Pie Town reports 36 seconds of hail yesterday, amid thunderstorms.  And, Lael seems to have gotten her pie.

Kathy Knapp, from the Pie-o-neer Cafe, reports: “I spied her our the window– leaving town- and yelled at her to come back.  GOOD LUCK Lael!!!”  

Lael got a glimpse of the Pie-o-neer where I spent a magical evening back in 2011.  I rolled into town on the bike in November.  On the same day three southbound CDT hikers occupied the Toaster House, the local free guesthouse for thru hikers and bikers.  The Toaster House is the gift of Nita to the community of self-propelled travelers through this corner of New Mexico.  Catron Country, NM reportedly has no traffic lights.  But there is a house adorned with toasters, full of beds and couches and old magazines and a wood stove– and most importantly, a shower and a freezer full of frozen pizzas and pies.  Nita has moved a few miles down the road and has left something very special for us.  She accepts donations to keep the freezer stocked.  One day years ago when her kids were young, she invited a lone hiker into her home.  This is how she learned about the CDT, which passes on the dirt street in front of the house  She has made an effort to invite weary travelers to her home ever since.

Back on that day in 2011, I enjoyed a few slices of pie and free wifi for several hours as a customer at the Pie-o-neer.  I was was invited to return later that evening with the others, after hours, to a private gathering.  Some friends of Kathy’s were coming from out of town.  A table of food was presented, red wine, and at the right time, there were pies.  Several small tables of friends, including our now-showered group of hikers and bikers, enjoyed the dimly lit space, sitting close to the wood stove on this cold November evening at 8000ft.  The dishwasher plays the guitar, Kathy and Nita sing, and a few other friends join with instruments and voices.  The set list is Arlo Guthrie Guthrie and Joan Baez, and other hits from the era.  These hippies didn’t go to California.  They found a better place on the Continental Divide in remote southwestern New Mexico.  Near the end of the evening, Nita and Kathy lead the group in the Kate Wolf classic “Across the Great Divide”.  I’d ridden my 1985 Schwinn High Sierra from Maryland to New York and Ontario, out to Banff, Alberta and down the Divide to Pie Town.  Nearing the end of my five month odyssey, there couldn’t have been a more perfect song for the moment.  I will always be grateful for that song in that place at that time.  Of the three hikers I’d shared that time with, I was sad to learn this past year that one of them, Benjamin Newkirk, was killed in a climbing accident in the Sisters Wilderness near Bend, Oregon.  Ben and I stayed in contact.  I helped him prepare for his first bike tour.  After countless miles in the backcountry on foot , he transitioned well to cycle touring aboard a Salsa Vaya.  But his place out there was on foot.

Salsa Cycles provided Tour Divide racers with commemorative Pie Town top caps at the Grand Depart in Banff.  The stem top cap, a small part on the bicycle, could be used as a token worth two free slices of pie in Pie Town.  Thanks Salsa Cycles!

Dylan Taylor and Alex Harris both finished yesterday ahead of 2012 record pace.  Congrats on the strong ride!  Lael and her group will be next to Antelope Wells, sometime tomorrow.

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Tour Divide Update: Grants, NM

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I’ll will never understand how Tour Divide riders pedal from Canada to Mexico with those cumbersome colored dots.  They really should consider a digital version.  Goofing off on FR 70 near NM 126, Santa Fe National Forest, NM.  Photos courtesy Elizabeth Quinley.

Lael crushed the 4000ft climb from Abiquiu yesterday, which I interpreted from Trackleaders data, verified by her account over the phone while riding out of Cuba.  She rode fast through the entire section from Abiquiu to Cuba, except for the time when a high school friend from Alaska, now living in New Mexico, dropped by for an impromptu photo shoot in the woods.  Some things never change with these girls.

The big news today is that the top three men have finished, smashing Jay Petervary’s official record from 2012 by more than a full day.  There are some fascinating details to the newest record.  Jay’s 2012 ride finished in 15:16:14.  In 2013 Mike Hall blazed the course in 14:11:55, but a necessary detour around a wildfire in New Mexico voided his claim to the record, although it was more than a day faster than Jay’s performance.  There are plenty of people that recognize Mike’s ride for what it was– the fastest Tour Divide ride ever– but lacking official record status has left that footnote to wither in favor of Jay’s official record.  But we knew it could be done, thanks to Mike.  He posted the first sub-15 day time on the Divide.  Until this year.

Jay and Neil battled all the way from Banff, with Seb Dunne, Josh Kato, Alex Harris, and Dylan Taylor in tow for much of the race.  Alex and Dylan dropped back in Colorado and New Mexico; rather, they got dropped.  Seb busted his fork.  Josh was trailing most of the way, never far behind, but always at a deficit.  In New Mexico, Josh attacked the course and caught Jay and Neil in Abiquiu, only to be left at the store as soon as he arrived.  This continued for some time, all the way to Pie Town, where Josh would catch the leaders, ride with or near them, and get left in town or on the course.  He was coming from behind. On the last night, Jay and Neil bedded down in the Gila together.  Josh– presumably unaware of where his competitors were exactly, as we know from Trackleaders data– continued into the night just long enough to pass the two sleeping dogs.  He camped not much further down the road.  It is reported that he knew they were sleeping along the route, and that he was afraid his light would wake them.  By morning, all three riders were together, pushing over the 8 miles section of the actual Continental Divide Trail to Silver City.  All three riders stopped at McDonalds’s in Silver City.  They all left about the same time.  Then Josh dropped the hammer.  Jay and Neil chased.  Josh won.  

There are more details unfolding on the forums, and the stories will soon come from the racers themselves, but Josh simply rode faster from Silver City to the border.  He pedaled faster, he stopped less.  It is reported that he ran out of water with 25 miles to go and for fear of cramping, pulled some water out of a culvert.  Even if it had made him sick, he would have made it to the finish in front.  The water was “nasty tasting” according to a follower who was present on the route to the finish.

Josh finished in 14:11:37, faster than Jay’s 2012 run by more than a day and 18 minutes faster than Mike Hall’s 2013 run.  Jay finished in 14:12:03 and Neil finished in 14:12:23.  The top three finishers all improved upon Jay’s 2012 record by more than a day.  Dylan Taylor and Alex Harris are both ahead of that same record pace.  Dylan has hardly slept in days, across most of New Mexico, and will finish in the around noon on Saturday.  

In a distant sixth place, Lael is battling headwinds on her way into Grants, NM this morning.  She is about 250 miles ahead of Eszter Horanyi’s 2012 record pace, and 270 miles ahead of Bethany Dunne, the next female competitor in this race.  She reports from Grants that she tore a large hole in her sleeping bag last night, as she camped near a barbed wire fence in the night.  We’ve already replaced the slider on the zipper once before, and she’s repaired numerous large tears in the bag.  After four solid years with the Western Mountaineering Summerlite bag, the fabric is weathered, faded, and weak.  She will leave it in Grants in a place where someone may find it.  Unsure if she will reach Pie Town before the two pie shops close, she will use the extra luggage capacity for the 240mi push to Silver City.  Lael pedaled 184 miles yesterday.

I am excited to report that Seb Dunne, who had left the route due to a damaged fork, managed to secure a carbon Niner fork with assistance from Andy Peirce, a framebuilder in Del Norte, CO.  The fork shipped overnight express.  Seb rejoined his wife Bethany on the route near Horca and will continue with her to the finish.  Bethany is tracking about 20 miles behind Eszter’s record pace.  

Thanks to Elizabeth Quinley for the photos and the LW bubble.

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