When you think of ultra-endurance bike racing, one name usually comes to mind — Lael Wilcox. I admire this Anchorage native’s easy-going, love for adventure, can’t wait for the next challenge attitude. She doesn’t seem to waste energy on what is out of her control and just really enjoys being out on her bike…a lot. She says “cycling makes her feel alive.”
I had the unique opportunity to sit down with Lael, socially distanced with her in Tucson and me in Chicago. During our discussion of off-season and training, Lael mentioned she’d be happy riding up Mt. Lemmon every day. If you aren’t familiar with Mt Lemmon, it is a well-known training ground for both cyclists and triathletes. Not sure anyone refers to being “happy” climbing the 29 miles to 8,200 ft. Well, no one except Lael.
My interview questions ranged from nutrition and training to efficiently packing for a race. There was also discussion on sleep deprivation and encounters with wildlife. Nothing like waking up to a white fox stealing all the food out of your frame bag. Or a grizzly chasing you down the road. The discussion turned serious when Lael mentioned she was less worried about animal encounters and more concerned about getting hit by a car. I think we all echo her concerns.
We also talked about one of Lael’s most recent projects. It was supposed to be a full west to east crossing of the Sierras with Chris Burkard, Rugile Kaladyte, and Eric Nohlin. Between first the 2020 general situation and later in the year devastating wildfires, last-minute rearranging of the route was required. Finally, in October they set off on their adventure. The final route was a 177-mile loop linking two national parks with 22,000 feet of climb and a 30-mile hike-a-bike section thrown in. Their adventure was captured on film and fitfully named The Long Way Around.
I asked Lael about her two initiatives GRIT and Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship. GRIT stands for Girls Ride Into Tomorrow and is a program that introduces teenage girls to adventure racing. The program culminates with a 60 mile, three-day adventure ride from Anchorage.
The scholarship came about after Lael decided to ride all the major roads in Alaska which was a 60/40 mix of paved and dirt. The 4,500 miles were completed over a series of rides and took her over 3 months to complete. Then in 2018, Lael sponsored the first scholarship and just a few weeks ago the window for the 2021 submissions was opened.
So ladies, start designing a 1,000-mile bike adventure in Alaska, make a GPS route, budget, and plan. Be sure to submit your application before the February 6th deadline. The scholarship recipient receives a lot of cool gear, including a bike. But what’s truly important, whoever wins will have an amazing adventure that they’ll treasure for the rest of their lives.
To hear my full interview with Lael, check out my video on YouTube.