LW ITT Update: Ashton-Flagg Ranch Rd, ID/WY

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Tour Divide legend Jay Petervary drove up from Victor, ID to deposit a rental SPOT Trace device along the roadside for Lael.  Matthew Lee, Tour Divide organizer and Trackleaders affiliate, has a fleet of rental units and a few remained in Victor following the Fitz-Barn ride this week.  Collectively, Matthew and Jay have ridden the Divide twelve times. Photos: JayP.

Lael arrived in Lima late in the morning on Thursday, after the roads dried enough so that her wheels would at least spin through the frame.  The areas with sun were mostly dry, although shaded regions of the road were still caked in mud.  She resupplied at the store and washed in the bathroom.  Sunny skies and wide open gravel roads lay ahead of her as she exited the state of Montana for a second time this year.  Crossing the Continental Divide at Red Rock Pass into Idaho, she descended to a store just before close and proceeded onto a section of rail-trail which is famously sandy and corrugated.  Leaving the store, she rode one handed on the sandy trail and described how she almost quit yesterday.  

The weather stopped her progress entirely.  She faced a 24 hour gastric issue on the same day that forced her to stop every few minutes.  It was not her best day, and did not reflect the reasons which brought her back out on the Divide for a second time in one summer.  By the time she got to Idaho she had shifted her focus forward and was excited about the strawberries she had bought, her first fruit since Banff; the Cheetos she packed, reminding us of all the Nik-Naks sold in South Africa and Lesotho; and of the Monster Coffee energy drink she bought, which somehow signaled a commitment to continuing.  Although, she quipped, “I don’t want to eat anything ever again”.  These foods were just tokens.

This morning, Lael retrieved the plastic bag hanging from the sign of the Squirrel Creek Ranch containing a SPOT Trace tracking device and a few zip ties.  She cycled the power button several times, as Matthew prescribed, and continued riding into Wyoming.  The SPOT Trace is a newer device, mostly designed as an asset tracker for trucks, boats, and motorcycles, and is about half the size of the new Gen 3 trackers.  It functions as a full time tracker, without any customizable features and without an SOS button.

Great thanks to Matthew and Jay for collaborating to get another SPOT to Lael!  On his record-setting 2012 ITT of the Divide, Jay also lost his SPOT tracker and received a new unit in Lima, MT.

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

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LW ITT Update: Lima, MT

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Memories from Israel; and Macedonia, Arizona, France, California, and almost everywhere else we’ve been. 

8/12/15, 8:11PM

“Hi, Lael is stuck in the mud but she is doing great.  We saw her on Medicine Lodge Road and she wanted us to pass this message to you.”

I received this message from two local fishermen, on a day trip from Dillon, MT.  They described muddy roads.  From the point where they met Lael, it took them “about an hour” to reach the pavement.  I’m not sure if that was simply a measure of distance from the road, or the challenging muddy conditions.  Lael has reported some clouds and occasional drops of rain since Banff, and a thunderstorm between Helena and Butte.  The fishermen reported thunderstorms in the vicinity yesterday afternoon, although they expect the conditions in the area between Polaris and Lima are clearing.  Reportedly, they drove into the storm on their drive home to Dillon.

I’ll update when Lael reaches Lima, MT.  There may be some walking. 

Lael just called from Lima.  She was just north of a massive storm yesterday, sunny and windy where she was, with very dark skies in front of her.  She continued riding onto muddy roads, which forced her to a stop.  She camped for nine hours by the roadside waiting for the road to become passable.  She reports that the weather is warm and dry today, although it still took several hours this morning for the road to dry enough to make the effort of overland travel worthwhile.  She sounds good, slightly disappointed by the setback, mostly indifferent about the whole thing.  She told me, “if this happens again, I might call it.  It’s not worth beating myself up for no result.”  I agreed.  With impending storms in the forecast, she suggested that she may make a big push to reach the Basin, so as not to get stuck on Togwotee and Union Passes, the two highest points on the Divide north of Colorado. 

The 907 number which texted me belongs to a guy named Jessie.  I mentioned that to Lael and she said he was from Eagle River, AK and works with our friend Jordan.

A plan is in place to get a SPOT tracker to Lael in Idaho.  Tour Divide legend Jay Petervary will deposit a tracker to a rural business along the route, south of the rail-trail.  Thanks Jay!

Continuing limited updates on the Tour Divide 2015 page on Trackleaders.com.

LW ITT Update: I-15 Underpass, MT

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The Limited Edition Josh Kato Tour Divide cycling jersey is available at REI and REI.com for the low price of $39.93.  Select the color “Exuberance” to look like your favorite Tour Divide Champion.  Lael is sporting an “Alaska Grown” cotton logo tee which she received for her birthday from her grandmother.

Lael passed through Butte around 8:20 PM on Tuesday night, reporting that Lava Mountain was pretty in the daytime, and the section from Basin to Butte was not as much work as she remembered.  A SPOT device was shipped to the Day’s Inn in Butte, although we now know that the Priority Express shipment was scheduled for the next morning.  Lael is outrunning the USPS.  Yesterday was a tough day of riding including three passes between Lincoln and Helena, some chunky tracks and climbing over Lava Mountain to Basin and Butte, followed by a climb out of Butte to cross the Divide.  Leaving Montana the road will open up for some big mileage days.  

Lael laid down near the I-15 underpass at 11:31 pm last night, about 30 miles past Butte.  Neil and Jay slept for a few hours here at the end of their fourth day as well.  In the morning, the route begins a prolonged ascent up to Fleecer Ridge followed by a famously sharp descent toward Wise River.  A nice paved pass connects Wise River to Polaris before returning to dirt for the climb over the Medicine Lodge- Big Sheep Creek Divide to Lima, MT.  Today will be her last full day in Montana before crossing to Idaho and Wyoming.

When we last spoke Lael wanted me to know that what she is doing is not easy.  “I am trying really hard”, she says.  “I’m doing my best.”

Matthew Lee and I have considered a few options to get her another tracker.  There may be someone who can pick it up from Butte this morning and deposit it in Lima before this evening when Lael arrives.  It is possible to forward the tracker to Pinedale, WY via USPS and have her pick it up in a few days.  Or, JayP has recently organized a small competitive ride called the Fitz-Barn Ride from Hamilton, MT to Victor, ID.  The 467 mile route shares a section with the Great Divide Route east of Lima, MT and a  handful of rental SPOTs remain from that ride in Victor.  Perhaps someone can deposit one along the track for Lael tomorrow.

Until Lael receives a new tracker we will continue to receive updates via phone when service is available, which will be posted manually to the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.  

Follow the yellow LW ITT bubble on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.  Full SPOT tracking will resume in the next few days.  Meanwhile, Lael keeps cookin’!

LW ITT Update: Lincoln, MT

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The wheezing, gasping pink dot sucker punches the yellow dot, casting her SPOT tracker to the roadside atop a mountain pass in northern Montana.  But the yellow dot is unfazed, and keeps pedaling at almost 200 miles a day, a direct blow to the morale of the pink dot.  This morning, the pink dot labors up every hill in the Swan Valley north of Seeley Lake and Ovando, while the yellow dot cruises over a series of three low passes en route to Helena, more than a day ahead. Graphic provided by GW Neal via Microsoft Paint.

Lael has maintained a pace of almost 200 miles a day for three days.  She pedaled 219 miles on the first day to camp on the back side of Cabin Pass.  The second day, about 190 miles further down the track, she camped beyond Bigfork on the climb above Swan Lake.  At the end of the third day she passed Lincoln just after the gas station closed at 10PM, sourcing candy bars and potato chips for an overnight bivy and the ride to Helena.  I suspect she slept on the climb out of Lincoln.  She should be in Helena by early afternoon, and Butte by late tonight or tomorrow morning.  Lael rode and hiked over Lava Mountain in the dark last time, after leaving the hospital in Helena.  I’m sure she will appreciate the ride in daylight.

When she called from Lincoln, after I worried all afternoon that she was eaten by a bear on Richmond Peak, she asked, “Did I do good?”.  

Yeah, you did really good.

Look for limited updates of the yellow LW ITT dot today on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.  We should be back to full tracking mode by Wednesday.

Update: Lael checked in from Helena around 11AM MT.

LW ITT Update: Columbia Falls, MT

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Lael lost her SPOT tracking device today between Eureka and Whitefish.  In fact, for most of the afternoon her faded LW bubble was stopped at the top of of a pass taking in the sights at 0.0mph.  However, the real LW churned onward toward the Flathead Valley, Red Meadow Pass, Whitefish, and Columbia Falls.  She skipped Whitefish and called me on a paved section entering Columbia Falls.  Like a three year old that has knowingly soiled herself, her first word through the earpiece was “Oops”.  She had just realized the GPS transmitter was missing.  There are two plastic loops at either end of the device, which can be used to secure it.  One loop showed signs of fatigue after the Tour Divide.  Obviously the other wasn’t far behind and the object disembarked her bicycle without notice.

I contacted Matthew Lee and he suggested a provisional plan to maintain limited contact until we can connect her with a new device.  Lael will text Matthew whenever she has cell coverage and a communicable coordinate, such as Bigfork, crossing Highway 83, or Ovando.  Matthew will post the relayed data to the Trackleaders site.  In 2015 this seems archaic, but the early days of racing down the Divide include pay phones, call-in and lots of burgers and shakes.  The spirit lives on in MTB Cast, ten years later.  Maybe I can get Lael to “call-in”.

Since the SPOT trackers are considered “neutral equipment” and are primarily used to verify route “compliance” (and for all of us armchair spectators), Matthew has verified that shipping a SPOT tracker to a private residence or friend is acceptable if needed.  At the moment, we’re planning to ship to an address in Helena or Butte.  Helena may be too soon.  I’ve reached out to Rob Leipheimer at The Ourdoorsman in Butte for assistance.  

I spoke with Lael at length as she pedaled out of Columbia Falls.  Her legs feel great, she’s developed a minimal amount of phlegm due to the dust, but reports no breathing difficulties or coughing.  Last night atop Cabin Pass, she laid down for three hours.  She told me that she had lucid dreams through the night where she wanted to wake up and ride, but she convinced herself to stay down until her alarm sounded.  

The famous section in the Canadian Flathead that was inundated by water in June, is now almost entirely dry.  However, many roads are more severely washboarded than earlier in the summer.  The weather has been perfect thus far.  When I spoke with her leaving Columbia Falls at 7:30PM Mountain Time, she had already recorded over 160 miles for the day.

You can follow Lael’s ITT of the Great Divide at Trackleaders.com with limited updates for the next few days.  We should be back to full-strength LW tracking late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

The Lone Star Express: Lael vs. Lael

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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.”

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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. 

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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.


Lael Wilcox finishes Tour Divide 2015 in 17:01:51

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Lael was in and out of Silver City, NM in a hurry.  Despite the late hour, the 128 miles to the border, and a bloody knee and bruised shoulder, she pushed to the finish and kept ahead of her nearest competitors.  She is the first to Antelope Wells after the record-setting lead group of  male riders.  Photo courtesy Lucas O’Laughlin.

Lael Wilcox pedaled to the Antelope Wells, NM border crossing this morning at 9:47AM Mountain Time, with a total transit time of 17 days 1 hour and 51 minutes (17:01:51) from Banff, Alberta, Canada.  Her time improves upon Eszter Horanyi’s 2012 record of 19:03:35 by more than two days.

Lael pedaled from her home in Anchorage, Alaska to the start of the Tour Divide in Banff, Alberta.  Recently returning from a ten-month period of bicycle travel in Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the Middle East, she quickly prepared a new bicycle for the race and left Anchorage in just over a week, departing May 15.  The 2140mi ride to Banff took 19 days, a pace largely defined by time constraints, enabling a week of preparation and recovery in Banff before the event.  Joining the 150 other riders at the Grand Depart in Banff, Lael began her ride down the Great Divide Route to the border of Mexico with a powerful 183mi day into the Canadian Flathead backcountry.  That night and into the morning, she battled bronchitis and severe bronchitis induced asthma, continuing through the first week of the race, with lingering cold symptoms throughout the event.  On the fifth day of the Tour Divide, Lael pedaled 100 miles from Ovando to Helena to consult a doctor.  A chest x-ray and other diagnostic procedures were performed and she was prescribed an inhaler, antibiotics, and other treatments to alleviate symptoms.  She left the hospital at dusk and rode until 3AM to regain her position as the lead female.  Within a few days her condition improved and she ran away from the field, including the other female competitors.

Based upon a technicality where Lael did not have the most current GPS track for the route, as she was riding from Alaska to Banff when it was quietly published, her position with regard to the other competitors will not be honored.  However, her time will be recorded as a record-setting solo ITT.  I spoke with Tour Divide organizer Matthew Lee this morning and am confident that his decision comes with the same integrity with which Lael approached the ride.  The unofficial time recorded on Trackleaders is 17:01:51, although I extrapolated from her last position just over a mile from the finish and her rate of speed to estimate 17:01:47.  Either way, very fast.

The weather for much of the Tour Divide 2015 has been ideal and competition was high.  Josh Kato set a new men’s course record in 14:11:37.  Four other male finishers also improved upon the old record set by Jay Petervary in 2012.   

Lael rode a 2015 Specialzied Stumpjumper Expert Carbon World Cup with a carbon Chisel fork.  The details of the bike can be found on my post “Lael’s Stumpjumper”.

Thanks to Lucas O’Laughlin and Monica Garcia for picking Lael up at the border, and for housing her for the next few days.  Thanks to Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs for the best bikepacking gear, period.  Thanks to Charles Tsai at Intelligent Design Cycles for the SP PD-8X dynamo hub.  Thanks to The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage, AK for helping us get the bike together in time.  Thanks to all of Lael’s fans along the route that shouted from their rooftops, jumped out of the woods on dirt roads, or intercepted her at rural gas stations.  Thanks to those that sent photos of Lael from along the route.  Thanks to Jeff in Jasper, Michelle in Canmore, and Keith in Banff for logistics and housing before the race.  Thanks to all of the other riders out there for making this such a special event, for keeping the spirit, and for riding a bike.  Thanks to Michael McCoy and the Adventure Cycling Association for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.  Thanks to Matthew Lee and Scott Morris for the background support of the Tour Divide.  

Thanks to Lael for inspiring us all, with a smile.

Please comment below if there is anything you’d like to tell Lael.  If there is something you’d rather not share here, you can contact her directly at lael.wilcox@gmail.com

I’ll post some finishing photos later today as they come in from Monica at the border.

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.

Follow the Tour Divide 2015 at Trackleaders.com.

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