We have 3 winners! Kailey Kornhauser, Brooke Larsen and Alana Parent receive the Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship

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Brooke Larsen & Kailey Kornhauser

Kailey and Brooke are committed to cycling through Alaska to learn more about climate change, land rights and environmental injustice by listening to stories and experiencing the land under their own power. After their trip, they will produce a website to share these stories through writing, videos and photos. They have turned the Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship from a bike trip into vehicle to promote awareness and change. For me it appears this project is multifaceted– it’s about connecting with people and the land; it’s about building confidence and being role models to other women on bikes; it’s about supporting each other and working together; it’s about learning and teaching and sharing the story of the Alaska and the way it is changing; it’s about getting people to care because they can relate. If this is what Kailey and Brooke are putting together when they’re 25 years old, I can hardly imagine where the next ten years will take them.

They’re initial Alaska ride plan is simple. From mid-July to mid-August, they will pedal from Seward to Deadhorse, interview people and camp along the way. They would also like to visit Homer, Valdez and if possible, some villages on the North Slope. Please be in touch with them if you would like to speak with them about climate change or land rights or if you know someone they should be in touch with along this route, especially if you would like to help them with airplane travel to remote locations.

A private donor, DJ Brooks, has generously offered to cover the $1000 stipend. The trip will definitely require more funding. Please be in touch with Brooke and Kailey if you would like to help fund their project.

If nothing else, please read some of Brooke’s writing. It is beautiful.

Contact Brooke and Kailey via email:
kailey.kornhauser@gmail.com
jbrookelarsen@gmail.com

Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, as the recipients of the Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship, Kailey and Brooke will receive a Specialized Diverge, Revelate Designs Bikepacking luggage, 10,000 Alaska Airlines miles courtesy of Revelate Designs, a Big Agnes tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad, Patagonia apparel, GU Energy nutrition, a copy of The Milepost, a subscription to Komoot, and $1000 travel stipend courtesy of DJ Brooks.

Read Kailey and Brooke’s full application here:
?Lael Rides Alaska? Women’s Scholarship application

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Alana Rose Parent

When I told my mom about Alana’s application and that all she asked for was $400 to pay for her Dad’s gas money , she said, “That girl is going to do this trip! We will find the money to help her get out there.” Then, I told Kellie Nelson from Big Agnes and she said, “Let me see what I can do.” And she came up with a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Then I told Rita Jett that Alana has a Specialized Jynx that she earned during last year’s Anchorage GRIT program. Rita said, “Let me see if I can find her a better bike.” Rita is giving her a Specialized AWOL– a well built and reliable touring bike.

Alana, you’re doing this trip! Congratulations! I’ll do everything I can to help you make it happen.  I am so proud of you.

Alana plans to begin her ride in Cantwell, AK at the end of May when school lets out. From there, she will ride to Coldfoot and then back to Anchorage. For safety, either her Dad or her brother will drive near her throughout the trip.

Alana participated in the 2017 Anchorage GRIT program. She will come back this year as a student mentor. Last year, she displayed motivation and leadership and it was amazing to see her gain confidence and skills. This girl will go far.

My mom is donating $100 to Alana’s ride and Odia Wood-Krueger from Advocate Cycles has offered to help fund the trip. If you would like to contribute money to make Alana’s ride happen, please write me at lael.wilcox@gmail.com This is our community, let’s get this girl out on her ride!

Read Alana’s full scholarship application

For me, the most inspiring part of the Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship was how many women not only wanted to ride a 1,000 mile adventure in Alaska, but also fully believed they were capable of accomplishing this goal, created a route, made a budget and made a plan. It was an incredible privilege to read their stories, perspectives and dreams. They have all created the framework to make this adventure happen– beyond that, all it takes is gear, funding and time. These women have the skills, confidence and creativity to dream up adventure.

Thank you to all of the applicants for your hard work and honesty. Thank you to Rita Jett, Cait Rodriguez, Kellie Nelson and Holly Hill for being on the selection committee. Thank you to Specialized, Revelate Designs, Big Agnes and DJ Brooks for supplying the equipment and funding.

When I spoke with the finalists this past week, I asked them, “If you didn’t get this scholarship, would you still make your trip happen?” If you really want to ride in Alaska, you will find a way. Know that I will help you as much as I can.

“What if there were 50 women adventure riding in Alaska this summer?”
–Cait Rodriguez

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10 Finalists for the Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship

There were 158 applications for the Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship. Rita Jett, Cait Rodriguez, Holly Hill, Kellie Nelson and I read all of the applications. We had a conference call last Monday and came up with a list of seven finalists together. This week, I called each of the finalists to get to know them better. I’ve included a couple more applications in this post because I want to share their stories and give some insight into this process. Reading and re-reading this applications, I’m still having a hard time making a final decision. Here are some of the finalists, introducing themselves in their own words. I will announce the recipient of the scholarship tomorrow and she will come ride her 1,000 mile adventure route in Alaska this summer.
Jackie DiazJackie Diaz
Hometown: Toronto/ Mexico City
Age: 25
“It would be a privilege to continue to demonstrate to the girls around me, that biking is an empowering tool. Being a strong woman is beautiful, and that anyone can truly hop on a bike and allow their legs to take them places. My one and only bike trip from Canada to Mexico City genuinely changed my life. This is a message I love spreading around!

My first encounter with hostility was in two different bike shops in Victoria, BC. The men working in these shops laughed at me when I mentioned I wanted to bike the Pacific Coast. One man rolled his eyes and said I was too ambitious. How can a girl with no previous bike experience think she can just go alone? My tree planting friends whom encouraged my bike tour, did not foresee that I would struggle this much to get my trip started.

After looking into more bike shops in Victoria, I found acceptance in a bike co-op called Recyclistas. I knew this was the right place, because of the excited reaction I received from telling the shop owners I was going to go all the way to Mexico City! When I shyly mentioned using buckets as panniers, they cheered me on with a loud “Fuck ya bucket panniers rule!”. They never once thought that being a girl was a disadvantage. I love that shop.

A comment that I often received was “A girl? Alone? To Mexico?” It was incredible that despite telling these people that I was originally from Mexico, they still felt the need to tell me that they knew more about the place than me. Often asking if my dad was okay with it, and if my mother gave me permission.

I plan on riding in Alaska in early July, right after my tree planting work contract finishes. The trip will take between 8-10 weeks.

Currently I am riding solo. But I have two tree planting girlfriends that are prepared to join me!

ALSO, I would be so happy if Grande (Lael’s friend) would ride with us for as long as she can. I began following her on Instagram; I see her as a role model. Prior to her, I had no other Hispanic women to look up to in the cycling community. Representation matters.”
20800122_1046161592153601_414303257323886231_nMolly Harrison
Hometown: Westland, MI
Age: 28
“Biking is not something that has ever come easy to me. As a kid, I was one of the last on the block to take my training wheels off, and I was shrouded in embarrassment about it. The fear of falling gripped me to the point that I didn’t even want to try. And although it finally happened for me, it has never been second nature.

I grew up a Midwestern girl in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, with zero experience in the outdoors. I had dreams of living in downtown Detroit and becoming an English teacher, which is what I attended Michigan State University for; I received a degree in English education, and specialized in urban education, hoping to make a big change in the lives of students through books. After a summer spent in the mountains of Colorado working as an Americorps member in environmental conservation, I knew I no longer belonged in the heart of a city. I saw that there was a way to both teach and learn in the outdoors, and my sense of “classroom” began to shift.

From being a conservation corps leader, to leading young children on outdoor, educational adventures, I found my place on the Colorado Plateau. It was here that I learned to climb, canyoneer, ski, mountain bike, and solo backpack. One of the most prominent and defining experiences I have had is hiking the Colorado Trail solo with my dog Sprocket in the summer of 2016. I think the Colorado Trail is a great precursor for planning bigger solo trips, such as the proposed bike scholarship trip, and this 500 mile stretch of trail gave me more confidence and awareness of self than anything I had ever done before. It allowed me to flex my decision-making skills, battle loneliness, and learn to enjoy being by myself.

I now work for a company in Mancos, CO called Alpacka Raft. We handmake packrafts here at our shop, and I run the customer service side of the company. The company is run almost entirely by strong, willful women, and that has been a huge change from most of my experience working in the outdoor industry. But working with Alpacka has also shown me there is still a huge disparity in the number of women who use bikes and boats for their own trips in relation to men, and it has spurred me to become more of a voice for inclusion. I want to see more women planning and executing big trips, and if I could be even just a little part of that through this scholarship, I would feel honored to lend my experiences to others.”

ROUTE OVERVIEW
Approximately 1149 miles of travel by bike and packraft:
Fly into Fairbanks, AK
Packraft with bike to Nenana via Chena River (approx. 55 miles of paddling). Resupply
Bike south to Cantwell via Hwy. 3 (approx. 94 miles riding) Resupply
Turn east onto Denali Hwy 8 and ride to Paxson (approx. 134 miles riding) No resupply until Copper Valley IGA
Turn south onto Hwy 4 to McCarthy (approx. 189 miles riding) Resupply
Return from McCarthy north and continue on Hwy 1 to Tok (approx. 257 miles riding) Resupply
Tok to Hwy 5 to Eagle/ Eagle (approx. 165 miles riding) Resupply
Packraft with bike from Eagle to Circle via Yukon River (100 miles of paddling) Resupply drop at Post Office
Bike Hwy 6 from Circle to Fairbanks- with a stop at Circle Hot Springs! (approx. 155 miles)
Return flight from Fairbanks, AK
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Judi Lehmann
Hometown: Sitka, AK
Age: 76 (!)
“As an experienced ultra-marathon cyclist, now living in an island town with only 50 miles of road, I feel the need to continue distance riding, experience more riding in Alaska and share my adventures with others. I am also a board member of the Sitka Conservation Society and would like learn more about the areas that are being environmentally threatened.

Although I am now older and do not ride the long distance days, I still have the skill and endurance to do a 75 mile day. Most recently, last May, I did a 80KM. mountain bike race in Bhutan. Although I was by far the oldest and came in dead last, I completed it.

I can change tires efficiently and do most minor bike repairs. I have ridden the Iditasport 100 and do ride fat tire or studded tire bikes in the winter. I own several bikes and would donate scholarship bicycle to GRIT or some other young woman after ride.”
4.jpgConcetta Leialoha Sousa-Sommo (just call me Lei)
Hometown: Cuba, MO / Anchorage, AK
Age: 28
“I was biking more than I ever had, and yet my skill seemed to plateau. My moral was low – I felt angry when I rode rather than filled with sunshine. I was so intimate with the feelings I held dear while cycling that the change was one of the first signs that something was amiss.

After a series of Dr. appointments, scans, surgeries, pokes and prods, I was diagnosed with classic nodular Stage II Bulky Unfavorable Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Cancer. Fuck.

What followed was the most challenging and substantial year of my life. 2017 was a year of fighting to survive, while redefining life itself after my world had been turned upside down. Life was a daze. Meetings with doctors and nurses explaining what was happening, and what was to come. My left lung was being impeded by tumor 4” in diameter over my heart and lung. There was fluid around my heart. Tumors all along the lymph node bands in my neck, chest, and armpits. Chemotherapy would take my hair, my eyelashes, my immune system, my ability to have children.

For a time I could only fantasize about hopping on my bike. When the dizzy stopped being a constant, I put my helmet back on and ventured out into our great world to escape reality on bike. It may have only been a spin around the block or to the creek just across the way but to me it was just as satisfying as a century.

I stayed in Sacramento to await radiation therapy at one of the country’s top comprehensive cancer facilities, which just so happened to be 5 miles from my long-lost half sister’s house, easily navigated by greenway. What a better way to power through daily run-ins with radiation than building a relationship with a sibling I had only met a handful of times over my entire life and pounding out 10 miles of commuting via the American River Pathway?

The women’s waiting room at the cancer center became a daily hang. Thinking of the raw emotion clouds that sometimes hung in the room as ladies came and went from diagnosis or treatment still makes tears well. I never imagined a women’s only waiting room would hold so much meaning, or the power that could be drawn from women comforting women. Beautiful stuff.
Sometimes I felt guilty walking in with my helmet, aglow with gaining strength and the sun. That feeling was all on me though because the ladies, who ranged in age from peer to late 80’s, let me know that I was an inspiration. Insane but inspiring. I shrugged them off saying the route had no elevation gain, but that never quenched their consternation.
August 12, 2017 is a day that will be with my always. It was the day I found out I was officially cancer free, and the best day of biking I’ve ever had.

All my first pivotal moments as a cyclist took place in Alaska.

A Prince of Wales (POW) adventure has been on my bikepacking radar for many years now. I’ve carried this dream with me since my first arrival in Alaska when I fell in love with the coastal fjord communities, when I walked the beaches of Lake Superior and when I fantasized about lushes coastal rainforests while bikepacking Eastern Oregon’s high desert. Dozens of hours have been spent analyzing the island from Google Earth, street view, satellite, USGS quadrangles, USFS motor vehicle use maps and magazines.
Over the last year, however, my vision of bikepacking POW has been evolving. As I watch routes like the Baja Divide and Oregon Timber Trail explode onto the cycling scene and hear rumors of efforts such as turning the Alaskan Pipeline maintenance corridor into the Trans-Alaska Trail, I’m struck by a much more ambitious collective question:

What if you could cycle the entire west ‘coast’ of North America on nothing but mostly singletrack and rugged USFS gravel roads?”
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Brooke Larsen & Kailey Kornhauser
Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah
Age: Both 25
https://www.layersexposed.org/
“As you will notice, there are two of us applying for this application. You might ask, why are two people applying for a single scholarship? First, we want to make it clear that while two of us are proposing this ride, we do not expect two scholarships! Between the two of us and one scholarship, we have enough gear and supplies to support a collaborative trip. We are proposing a big project and ride that we believe requires two women to carry out. To summarize, we are applying together for the following reasons:

1. The only thing cooler than one woman riding across Alaska by herself is two best friends riding across Alaska together!

2. This past summer Brooke rode her bike 1,500 miles around the Colorado Plateau collecting stories from locals about the impacts of climate change and environmental injustices on their lives. Kailey came for 500 miles, and it was definitely the most fun 500 miles.

3. We are proposing a ride that combines bike packing and story-listening. On Brooke’s last bike tour, she interviewed 28 people. On our ride through Alaska, we hope to listen to around 20 stories about climate change, land rights, and environmental injustice in Alaska and share the stories through writing, videos, and photos to inspire people to take action, both through riding their bike and acting for climate justice. The work required to reach out to locals and keep up with the logistics of a bike tour is really a two person job.

4. We want to make bike touring/packing seem more accessible! In the past we have recorded videos and written stories in an attempt to shed light on biking as a sport for all types of people. Kailey does this by writing and recording funny videos about the experience of being fat while riding fatish bikes. We both hope to continue this type of work on every tour we take.”

IMG-2403Alana Rose Parent
Hometown: Anchorage
Age: 14 years old
“I have seven brothers (I’m the only girl). I share a room with two of my brothers. I have good grades in school and I like to help in my community. I enjoy biking and dancing very much.

I really enjoy biking outside of town. I’ve done some bike packing but not a bunch so it would be good to learn more and get better at it. Also it would help me with my biking skills and I’m always up for an adventure. I get to explore new places in the state I have grown up in for pretty much my whole life. The trip sounds like it would be lots of hard work and fun to. It will help me grow as a biker and a human being.

I really have not explored passed Willow that much. I went to Fairbanks once when I was younger but that was it. I would love to explore more of Alaska and biking opens up your eyes to more. I say this because you are going slower so you can see and hear more around you.

I will be starting in Cantwell Alaska and then I will bike to Coldfoot. From Coldfoot I will bike to Anchorage. Anchorage will be the end of my trip. That will get my About 1,029 miles.

For transportation I am only asking for $400 that will pay for gas for my ride to Cantwell (which my father will give me a ride). The rest of the money will go for his gas on the trip.”
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Marisa Muro
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Age: 44
“My family emigrated from Mexico and landed in Chicago. My parents both worked multiple jobs so my siblings and I spent a lot of time on our own. This definitely contributed to my resourcefulness and fierce independence. Eventually I ended up in foster care. I was in my early teens when this happened so it was a pretty turbulent time. It would be an understatement to say that I come from humble beginnings. I am also deaf and my deafness was due to the severe abuse I suffered as kid. I would not change a thing. All of this has allowed me to be a more compassionate and humble human. It has given me the kind of grit needed to pursue solo cross country bike trips. I rode the Trans American Bike Race last year. I did not finish because I ran our of funds in Montana, but I hope to return better prepared for 2020. I just have a lust for life. For me keeping a child-like wonder about everything is what keeps it all in perspective. You have to remain curious and in awe of all that is around us. A couple years ago I was homesteading with a friend. We bought 10 acres of land in Northern Arizona, just west of Flagstaff in the juniper woods area near the Mojave desert. We were in the middle of nowhere and it was great! There was one bumpy 45 minute ride in and out. The nearest town had one gas station and a diner where we had the best breakfast sandwiches and burritos. When we got there was nothing there. We camped for an entire year while we built a tiny 14×14 sqft house by watching Youtube videos. We did everything ourselves as we learned along the way: installing windows, doors, siding. The roof was the most challenging part of our build. The first year we did not have enough power from our tiny generator to operate power tools so we did all the work by hand. It was a slow process, but the end result was amazing. I’m still in awe that I made a house by hand!”
IMG_6859Cami Carrasco
Hometown: Clear Lake Shores, TX
Age: 20
“I can’t imagine why anyone would see this opportunity and not jump on it. My friend sent me the link one day, thinking I might be interested and he wasn’t wrong. 1,000 mile on the roads of Alaska?! Summer plans, canceled. Alaska I’m coming! I see Alaska as the frontier, a land untouched and calling out to be uncovered. Bikepacking across Alaska would be a notch on my belt to remind me of what I am capable of. This scholarship gives me the chance to put my grit to the test, face fears and shake hands with the northernmost parts of America.

I also have two things I need to fulfill this year and this decade. Instead of picking a resolution for the New Year I choose a theme; this year is “fearless”. I chose this theme because I knew I would be stepping into a new season of life and I would need to approach it with unbridled moxie. Taking on Alaska by bike requires a certain level courage, nerve or cojones. Call it what you will but I need some more of it. On top of that, my theme for the coming decade is “low-key badassery”.

This scholarship would cultivate more of that in me. I never want to lose sight of the excitement the world offers day after day. I always want to be pushing myself to try something new and take on new endeavors as I grow older. I can promise you this won’t be the last dream I need to fulfill but it sure will check off one of biggest on my list. It’s my dream to get to Alaska to be challenged, humbled and witness the beauty it has to offer. I will no doubt make it to Alaska someday, but I prefer that “someday” be August 1st, 2018.”
Judith Humbert - Alaska Women's Scholarship
Judith Humbert
Hometown: New Zealand & the United States
Age: 57
“I’m keen to see more active representation of older women of all sizes and backgrounds in long distance cycling touring and outdoor pursuits. It’s much needed! I believe adventure knows no age or limits and cycling is a great way to make new connections and discoveries.

I’m the only woman in my generation in my family. Growing up I seldom saw women in non-traditional roles so after looking for many years I finally decided to go for it and create my own.

I believe strongly in the value of connecting across lines and colors, spaces and places. My professional interests lie in the intersection of nature connection and human relationship, re-membering our true self and reaching out to build community.

This year I’m keen to cycle the length of Alaska from Deadhorse to Homer to create One Minute Stories, an interactive community project utilising storytelling to envision a future of hope.

On the back of the bike I’ll carry a sign saying ‘Tell me a story about hope and kindness’. I’ll ask friends here in New Zealand to help make some messages to get the ball rolling and put them in a handmade crocheted bag. The idea is for a new friends I’ll meet on the journey to take a message for themselves and then take a few moments to write or draw a new one to be passed along to another person farther on down the road, weaving a web of hope in challenging times.”
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Malay “Taco” Rexford Khamsyvoravong
Hometown: Oakland, CA
Age: 31
“On my first day working at YBike, a collection of youth bike initiatives of the Presidio YMCA in San Francisco, I saw a colleague’s photo of his bike taped on the wall. The bike was in a patch of sunlight, resting casually against a tree next to a tiny tent. As I struggled to lift my rusty orange Huffy onto a wall hook, I thought, ‘These people must be a special kind of crazy.’

A year earlier, I had bought a bike to beat an unpredictable bus system in Oakland, to get to work on time, and to return home safely at night. In the beginning of bike ownership, I would only bike the first mile and walk the last two to work, terrified of cars. The distances I dared to undertake expanded once I moved further from the center of town. The hills in between my house and frankly, anywhere else, spurred me to use my gears (improperly) and to develop a daily ritual of fixing my dropped chain. While not the most natural rider, I began to enjoy the challenge of navigating traffic and trying to get up hills without my bike falling apart.

At YBike, I found myself surrounded by folks with an incredible wealth of knowledge about a world I had barely known existed. My colleagues were former bike messengers, mountain bike enthusiasts, road warriors, professional mechanics, unicyclists. They were gracious and generous in sharing their stories and expertise with me. They demonstrated levels of patience that I later realized was uncommon in many bike spaces.

When I started teaching, my younger students displayed a sense of wonder and confidence that I hadn’t anticipated. One of my first students I taught to ride blurted out, “I feel like I’m flying! It’s FREEDOM!” On the streets, their easy acceptance of riding in traffic began to shift my mindset: the streets are everyone’s space, and everyone has a right to feel safe and enjoy them.

I wanted to increase opportunities for young folks to engage with bikes from multiple entry points. Banking on the expertise of our multi-talented staff, I shifted our physical education program from being a strictly traffic safety-focused curriculum to include elements of bike polo, mountain biking, and maintenance. I helped usher in a cycle track racing program for high schoolers, led by a local female professional cyclist with an inspiring vision of expanding the sport.

In the summer of 2015, I started a girls bike program and camp “…with the purpose of getting more girls riding and exploring the great world of bikes.” Our girls program embraces being loud or quiet, silly or serious, and daring in the ways they individually choose to define it. We engage with bikes from as many angles as we can think of- bikes as our loyal steeds on scavenger hunts, bike parties, mountain biking, crafts, mechanics, and the list goes on. I view biking as a radical tool for engagement, and I want to stoke the flames of excitement from wherever folks are at.”

Lael Rides Alaska: to Cantwell

Lael's Camera Photos Cantwell 04

We wake up late and drink coffee and talk and laugh and I get a late start leaving the A-Frame. I definitely want to ride 150 miles to Cantwell today.

Nick gets in the car with Christina and her mom to drive back to Anchorage.

I pedal 40 miles to the Talkeetna Junction, stopping at Sheep Creek Lodge for chocolate milk. There’s a weird laundromat and they won’t fill up your water bottles, so I buy a gallon and leave half of it just outside the door.

Talkeetna Junction has a gas station and cell phone service. I stop to call Rue because she’s planning on driving up to meet me in Cantwell. I talk to Nick too and he doesn’t want Rue to come. I try to call the 1800 National Park number to find out when we can put our bikes on the bus to drive into the park. The line just keeps ringing and ringing so I call the front desk at McKinley Creekside Cabins. I worked there for two summers a decade ago. I ask the front desk if she knows anything about the bus schedule. Then I ask her to ask Holly and Tracy if it’s okay if I camp there for the night. Then I tell her I’ll call her back for info on the bus. I send Tessa Hulls a Facebook message because I saw that she’s visiting friends in Kantishna and I’ve never gotten to meet her and I’d really like to. Then I realize that my tires have lost a lot of air and I try to pump them up with my hand pump, but the hand pump won’t let air out. Then an older lady walking by asks me where I’m going and I tell her and she has a floor pump and she’s been on bike trips and we pump my tires up together.

I call Nick again because my pump doesn’t work and Rue can bring me one. He just doesn’t like it. I don’t want to ruin everything. The two of them plan to meet up to talk about it.

I call Creekside again. Holly has relayed a message that I can come sleep in the treehouse. She’ll be out of town, but the door is unlocked and I’m welcome anytime. Many buses run into the park everyday. We’ll show up at the visitor center and figure it out.

Three hours later, I get back on my bike. It’s well past noon and I have 113 miles to get to Cantwell.

I make a quick stop 16 miles down the road at the market in Trapper Creek to pick up a phone charger. I’m pretty surprised they have one. I left my phone charger, cache battery and camera chord in the A-Frame in Willow. It’s typical. I lose everything.

Then it’s 97 miles and nearly 4,000 feet of climbing with no services to Cantwell. I ride into a headwind, but it’s so beautiful that I don’t even care. I’m out there for hours. I’m listening to music and my mind is somewhere in the mountains and Rue is on her way. She took the redeye from Chicago, didn’t sleep at all, met with Nick in the afternoon and got in the car to drive four hours north to come find me. I drink a little whiskey on the way and stop at the Chevron in Cantwell. My brain is pretty wind blown. I drink a coke and eat a bag of popcorn and buy $60 worth of gas station food. It’s the best stocked market for the next hundred miles. I post photos on Instagram and talk with the cashier.

Do you know Bugbee?

Yeah! He’s my good friend.

I used to live in Bugbee’s camping trailer next to his cabin above the Nenana River.

No way!

We try to call Mike Bugbee and it goes to voicemail, so I leave him a message:

Bugbee, it’s me, Fireweed. I’m here at the Chevron with your friend Steve. I’m riding my bike into Denali tomorrow. I hope you’re having a great summer. Wish you were here!

I call Rue again. She’s still half an hour out, so I start making the 13 mile climb to Creekside. The sun is casting a glow and it’s close to 10PM. It’s an absolutely beautiful corridor.

Rue catches me stopped taking a photo of the powerline bisecting the mountains.

What are you taking a photo of?

Nothing.

I’m sheepish. I’m really just taking a picture because I’m feeling really good.

We’re both quiet and we’re both smiling and we head for Panorama Pizza. Rue has been listening to Dancing in the Dark on repeat for the entire drive up. She hasn’t really slept in two days.

Panorama is a pizza bar that stays open until five in the morning. We order slices and ciders and station ourselves on the patio next to the cornhole boards. It is bright as day. It’s Buffalo Chicken pizza and it’s greasy and I don’t care cause I’m feeling giddy. We eat half of it and head out to take the bridge over Carlo Creek to find the treehouse.

Follow the creek past the property, past employee housing and the moose racks and the abandoned bus. Climb the little ladder and there you are. We open the door and it’s dark in there, but it’s still light outside, so we pull the mattress out of the treehouse and onto the porch and lay down to sleep.

Tomorrow we’ll go to the entrance of Denali National Park. We’ll find a bus to take us down the 90 mile dirt road to Kantishna and ride our bikes back out. Vehicular traffic is prohibited on the park road. Buses or feet or bikes are the only way to get in and out.

I’ve ridden this road before and I’m riding it again because I’m riding all of the roads in Alaska this summer. Two hundred fifty-five miles done, four thousand three hundred to go.

Lael's Camera Photos Cantwell 02

Lael's Camera Photos Cantwell 06

Lael Rides Alaska: the start

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June 24, 2017 photo by Nicholas Carman at The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage, AK

I set the date for June 24 to begin my summer project– to ride all of the major roads in Alaska. My bicycle didn’t arrive until the morning of. Nick put it together. I was at work that day at The Bicycle Shop, but mostly I was just getting ready for the trip. I strapped my sleeping bag and tent to the handlebars, packed clothing in the seatpack and tools and food in the framebag. I ripped out enough pages of the Milepost guidebook to get mile by mile from Anchorage to Denali National Park and Deadhorse, 1,000 miles away. In the shop, we have a wall sized map of Alaska. I spent hours staring at the roads and where they deadended, staring at the names of the towns and the texture of the mountains. And after I go up to Deadhorse, I’m going down to the three hot springs north of Fairbanks, and then I’m coming back to work and then I’m going to Nome. There are three major veins out of Nome. I’d spent enough time staring at the lines on the map. I had to see them.

That Saturday, we closed the shop at six. Friends and family met to ride me out of town. Alana from Anchorage GRIT, my middle school girls cycling mentorship program, was there. Anne Marie and Catherine, my first babysitter’s daughters, were there. Joshua, my five year old nephew was there. Maryann, my best friend growing up, was there. Christina Grande, my other best friend was there. Nick was there. Rue wasn’t there– she was in Chicago, flying back to Anchorage in two days and planning to drive out to Cantwell to meet me so that we could ride the Denali Park Road together.

We set out at seven to ride sixteen miles to the Eagle River Campground. The sun was high in the sky and it stayed that way all through the night. Summer in northern latitudes is unreal. You don’t need lights.

We had a fire and cooked and ate. Meriddy Littell, a sage nine year old, taught Joshua how to light his stick on fire, turn it to coal and draw on rocks.

We slept.

The next day, my parents picked up Joshua. The rest of the group rode back to Anchorage and Nick and I continued on, north to Palmer, over Hatcher Pass to my parents A-Frame cabin in Willow on Crystal Lake. My family and Chrisina and her mom met us there.

The next day, I rode north alone.

Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship

Lael Rides Alaska, Lael Wilcox, Hope, Palmer Creek Road, Alaska

Palmer Creek Road August 8, 2017, near Hope, Alaska. Photo: Rugile Kaladyte 

On behalf of Specialized Bicycles, Revelate Designs, Big Agnes, GU Energy and Patagonia, I’m offering the “Lael Rides Alaska” Women’s Scholarship.

Design and ride a 1,000 mile route in Alaska this summer. Expect the ride to take about three weeks. Include an entrance and exit strategy and a budget.

One woman will receive:

— Specialized Diverge bicycle
— Revelate Designs bikepacking bags
— 10,000 Alaska Airlines air miles courtesy of Revelate Designs
— Big Agnes tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad
—$1000 community funded travel stipend
— Patagonia apparel
— GU Energy Nutrition
— a copy of The Milepost guidebook

Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? How do you want to get there? Be Creative. You can include planes, trains and ferries in your trip plan. You can ride alone. You can ride with others. Do you want to pedal north of the Arctic Circle? Do you want to ride in the rainforests of Southeast Alaska? Do you want to link up as many glaciers as possible? Do you want to spend the 4th of July where the sun never sets?

Lael Rides Alaska, Lael Wilcox, Specialized, Specialized Diverge

Specialized Diverge after hitching a ride with a semi-truck July 3, 2017, out of Deadhorse, Alaska. Photo: Lael Wilcox

In the summer of 2017, I set out to ride all of the major roads in Alaska, a total of 4500 miles. I used The Milepost as my guide— any road in The Milepost was a road I had to ride. Over twice the size of Texas, Alaska is a massive land with a very limited road system and less than a million people. Roads reach out like veins to the different corners of the state. I am fourth generation Alaskan. There are so many places I’d only ever heard of and never seen. I wanted to see those places and everything that was in between. I wanted to learn the roads, the terrain, why they exist and who’s out there.

What I found was stunning. The roads are a mix of pavement and high quality gravel. Fifty miles beyond any hub city like Anchorage or Fairbanks or Delta Junction or Tok, there is almost no traffic. The roads are so quiet that at times, they feel like bike paths. I pedaled past muskox, foxes, moose, black and grizzly bears, bald eagles, and at least a dozen glaciers. I rode through the Brooks Range past tree line where the rolling tundra descends to the Arctic Ocean.

Lael Rides Alaska, Lael Wilcox, Prudhoe Bay, musk ox, musk oxen

Musk oxen gather along the pipeline July 2, 2017, near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Photo: Lael Wilcox

I rode fast and far. Covering around 150 miles a day for the first month, I didn’t have lights and I didn’t need them. The sun never went down. Sometimes I rode until three in the morning and slept in until noon. When I got tired, I pulled over on the road to camp. There’s nobody out there— you can sleep almost anywhere. When I met people, I stopped to visit. It wasn’t a race. I wasn’t rushed. It just felt like total freedom and endless days— time enough for everything and I could ride as much as I wanted.

Lael Rides Alaska, Lael Wilcox, Alascom Road, Glacier View

Lael Wilcox rides the Alascom Road on August 27, 2017, in Glacier View, Alaska. Photo: Rugile Kaladyte

The “Lael Rides Alaska” Women’s Scholarship is my effort to provide the equipment for another woman to go on her own Alaska Roads adventure.

Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? How do you want to get there?

Email applications to lael.wilcox@gmail.com by March 17, 2018. The recipient of the scholarship will be announced on March 26, 2018.

AK women’s scholarship application

Baja Divide FKT Day 7: Lavanya!

I ride the remaining miles into Vizcaino in the early morning hours and make it to town before 5AM. I find the only 24 hour convenience store to resupply. I buy more food than I can pack, eat a cup of noodles, drink some yogurt and hit the pavement. I am so grateful for the paved miles out of town. For the first time in days, I’m back in cell phone service. I call Nick from the saddle. He’s in San Ignacio waiting for me with Lavanya and Al and Derryn and Agustin. Out of 200 applicants, Lavanya Pant won the Baja Divide Women’s Scholarship. She began riding the route on February 14. Nick caught up with her & Co. in Vizcaino. They all rode the route to San Ignacio and took a day off to wait for me to come through. I’m so excited to get there!

It’s amazing how much conditions can change on the Baja Divide depending on weather. After inches of rain in January, the stretch between Vizcaino and San Ignacio was firm and easy. Two months later, the route is bone dry and the sand is super soft. I let out most of my tire pressure and struggle to stay upright. It is just so hard and it’s so hot and I haven’t showered in six days and my skin is starting to crawl– a mix of sweat and sunscreen and blood and grime. After hours of struggling through the rocks and the sand, I make it to the oasis outside of San Ignacio, complete with pools of fresh water and date palms. I limp down the rocky slope to the water, submerge my whole body and scrub my skin. I hustle back on my bike and rock crawl the rest of the distance to San Ignacio.

Just out of town, among the palms, I see a figure walking towards me. It’s Nick! I hoarsely call out to him and he comes running towards me and we hug and I start crying. But I can’t stop, so I get back on my bike and he runs behind me. And I say, I wish I could walk and you could ride this bike and he says it doesn’t work like that. I mile down the way, Lavanya starts running towards me and I stop and we both start laughing and then we both start crying and then we hug and then we both start laughing again. The whole thing is so surreal. How did we get here? Where are we? It doesn’t even matter because we’re here together. But there’s no time to delay. I’m stiff as a board, but I pedal the final mile to San Ignacio, breeze through town and stop at the last supermarket.

My brain is fried. They all wait for me to resupply. I buy too much stuff and try to consume a lot of it on the spot and buy a massive bottle of sunscreen. I tell them about the trash bag and the bleeding and my aching knees and it’s so great to have friends. It all feels like a funny story that isn’t really my real life. Nick heads back to town because he has to catch a bus to San Jose so that he can catch a flight to Salt Lake City for NAHBS, but the best news is that he’s coming back to San Jose to meet me at the finish. I can’t wait!

I roll out towards Laguna San Ignacio with Lavanya, Al and Derryn. The 35 mile paved stretch feels like a blessing. We ride into a headwind, but I don’t care because I’m side by side with Lavanya and she’s telling me stories about Japan and India and Australia and her female riding group The Winona Riders. She’s full of stories and kindness and we’re already old friends. My voice starts to soften and return. The time flies and the sun starts to set in reds and purples over the laguna. This place is magical.

Lavanya, Al and Derryn stop to camp for the night, we say goodbye and I keep on. I reach the Laguna and stop at a small store at dark for water and a couple fried sweet bean empanadas. I continue past hand painted signs to whale watching excursions, through Ejido Luis Echeverria. It reminds me of the villages in Alaska– trailer parks in an isolated grid. There is no water source, but this place is supported by a solar panel network.

I continue pedaling on the dry, barren lake bed. My goal is to make it to some vegetation and ten miles later, I find it. I pull behind scrub brush, lay on my back in the sand to take five deep breaths and wind my way down. This moment of submission is the best part of my day. My pain and my work go back into the earth and I commit to limited rest and tomorrow. I pull out my bivvy, trash bag and sweat pants and it’s not too cold.

Baja Divide FKT Day 6: To Vizcaino

Alejandro at the Piedra Blanca snack stand

I’m moving by 3AM. The new pattern of sleeping early and rising early is working great. I don’t dread the nights and I actually enjoy the dark early morning hours on the bike. I pass the turn off to San Rafael after sunrise. I could use some water, but I don’t want to waste any time, so I keep moving. I can’t rush a visit with Pancho so I just don’t go there. A couple hours later near Rancho Escondido, a couple of ranchers in a truck stop and offer me water. I am so grateful. It’s hot as hell.

The climb to Rancho Piedra Blanca is so steep that the top is actually cemented to make it passable for vehicles. Near Piedra Blanca, the wind picks up. It’s a tailwind! I stop at the snack stand at the ranch. This place is so familiar. The rancher’s wife offers to fill my water and the googly-eyed shopkeep, Alejandro, proudly invites me into his plywood stand so I can pick out my chips and soda. It is stocked! I buy a coke, an orange soda and a powerade, 2 bags of cheetos and 5 de la rosa marzipan discs. I slug the soda and leave so fast that I forget my helmet and have to go back for it. Alejandro just laughs.

The wind is ripping. It feels like a miracle. I fly through El Arco and get on the road to Vizcaino, a notoriously sandy section of the Baja Divide. I drop my tire pressure to beach ball status and at first it rides fine. Then it gets soft and I’m on an off the bike a bit, but I’m making distance. The sunset out of Vizcaino is extraordinary– purples and pinks flush the clouds. Silhouetted cactus contrast the skyline. The road firms up and the track follows a series of rocky rollers. For the first time in days I feel supported in this landscape. I feel like I’m in the right place. I’m all alone, but it’s not too cold and I have a trash bag and a pair of sweatpants for warmth and I’m going to make it. In the evening of the fifth day of my Baja Divide FKT, I cross the state border from Baja California to Baja California Sur and into a new time zone. I pull over to sleep. I lay on my back and take five deep breaths and accept the day and the night and my place. I pull out my gear, set my alarm and sleep in peace.

Baja Divide FKT Day 5: Cruzando

I’m up in the dark and riding before 3AM. I leave the blanket on the side of the road and pedal the washboard to Santa Rosalillita. I’m into town just after 5AM. Both of the stores are definitely closed, but I still have a couple of cold quesadillas and water from San Jose del Faro to get me through to Nuevo Rosarito. A couple of fishermen are preparing their boats in the dark and the town dogs bark at me. White beaches dot the stretch of Pacific coast after Santa Rosalillita. The riding is fast until the route turns inland onto chunky rock terrain back to Mex 1. I make this turn at daybreak, unthread my headlamp and delayer. I ride the rocks to the pavement, loving my new SID fork and big wheels. Riding along Mex 1 for two miles to Nuevo Rosarito I take my headphones out and realize that my front wheel is making a racket. I stop at the store in town and adjust my brakes– this is nearly the limit of my mechanical ability.

The store is pretty sparse. I buy drinkable yogurt, coke, gummy candy, cheetos and packaged donuts and fill my water from the purificada. The day heats up. Day and night temperatures vary dramatically in the Baja desert. I freeze in the night and roast in the day.

The climb from Nuevo Rosarito to Mision San Borja is fairly straight forward. I stop at the mission to fill my water. I wash my hands and my face and submerge my whole body under the spigot while a German couple with a massive vehicle watch. They look confused, but they don’t say anything. The mission caretaker comes to say hi and asks if I’d like to visit the mission. I tell him I visited last month when I rode through with the group. He is very kind and says I can sit and rest and eat in the shade. I tell him about my FKT and that I have to keep moving. He points at my leg and tells me that I’m bleeding. It’s true, I have a large open sore on the inside of my right leg. I didn’t even notice because my knees are so sore that it’s hard to feel anything else. He instructs me to wash the wound and I do and then I’m back on the bike, climbing away from the mission. And that’s where I fall apart. My knees are revolting. They don’t want to bend and they don’t want to move and I’m struggling and it’s frustrating because this terrain isn’t actually that challenging. I stay on the bike and tell myself over and over that it’ll get better. This pain won’t last forever. My knees will start moving again. I just have to get through the afternoon.

I hit the pavement to Bahia de los Angeles and it’s an easy cruise into town. I descend to the Sea of Cortez at sunset. Crossing the Baja peninsula back and forth between the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez never gets old. I stop at the store in Bahia and load up on food and water and Ibuprofen and batteries. I buy a single giant plastic garbage bag– my new sleep system. On my way out of town, I spot a small clothing store manned by a young boy. I buy a pair of knock-off brown Nike sweatpants– part 2 of my new sleep system. I ask to use the bathroom and when I come out, the boy’s mom is back, hollering at him. Apparently, he undercharged me for the sweatpants. I pay the difference and get the hell out of there. By the time I leave Bahia, my legs feel fine. The knee pain has faded and once again I can spin efficiently. It’s amazing how the body recovers.

I start riding the gravel towards Pancho’s place at San Rafael, make it another ten miles and pull over to sleep. Before pulling out my bivvy, I lay on my back with my eyes closed and breath deeply five times, resting my body into the earth. My brain travels into la la land and peace. I pull out my bivvy and sunshade, put on my new sweatpants, pull my new trash bag around me and get into my bivvy. I cinch the cord tight and successfully sleep for five hours.

Baja Divide FKT Day 4: The Wild Pacific

Riding the Wild Pacific with Nick and Alex in 2016 while scouting the Baja Divide.

I wake up 2 hours later shaking with cold. I know I need more sleep. I cinch up my bivvy tighter, stuff my hands down my pants and draw my knees into my chest in an effort to keep my whole body close to my core. My knees are groaning and stiff and this is hell for recovery, but I’m so tired that I fall back asleep within seconds. I dream that I’m still on my bike and I wake up and it’s cold. I go through my coughing and pills and inhaler morning routine and get back on my bike.

The first couple of minutes are stiff, but riding in the dark in the morning is always better than riding in the dark at night. Miles are miles and I’m doing my best to get them done. Sunrise near Catavina is extraordinary. Massive boulders and cirios and white sand come into view. It’s cold and clear and I cross Mex 1, skipping the six mile detour to Catavina. It feels so good to eat miles for breakfast.

The next 45 miles to the Pacific are not easy– full of steep climbs and descents. The route passes through dense vegetation and after so much rain, purple flowers bloom among cirios and cardon and shrubs and a multitude of cacti. I am nowhere near the end of the Baja Divide, but I don’t care. It feels like an endless ride.

I make it to the Pacific. It’s Sunday and the fishing community of San Jose del Faro is entirely deserted. I need water. With no one to ask, I start creeping around the shacks, looking for water. I smell into two plastic gasoline tanks before finding a third that is odorless. It’s huge and heavy with a siphon hose next to it. I don’t know how to use the siphon, so I look around and find a black bucket that smells like fish guts. I tip the massive barrel over and spill water into the bucket. I use my water bottle to transfer water from the bucket to my 6 liter water bladder. It tastes a little fishy, but it’s the best I can do and I’m just happy to have water.

I’m back on my bike, climbing away from the coast. The climbs are steep grinds and the midday sun is hot. I listen to music and eat cold quesadillas when I need to and the afternoon passes. The wild Pacific stretch of the Baja Divide is remarkably remote with only three houses on the 75 miles between San Jose del Faro and Raul’s camp at El Cardon. The tide must be higher than the previous times I’ve ridden through this area cause the GPX track is unrideable in places– inundated with water. I detour inland when I need to. Crossing a flat expanse near the end of the day, my wheels get stuck in death mud. I get off of my bike and push my way through and it’s a total mess. The sun sets. I wire in my lights and plug in my headphones and hammer through the washboarded terrain. I’m making a plan. I’ll get to El Cardon and if anyone is home, I’ll ask for some plastic to add to my sleep system.

It takes a couple of hours to get to El Cardon and when I do, the place is dead silent. I start poking around the property. I find a blue tarp, but it’s covering a motor and seems important, so I don’t take it. Then I spot it! It’s an old felt blanket hanging from a barbed wire fence. Total score! I roll the blanket up and clip it to the top of my seatpack. I’m thrilled. I won’t be cold! I ride another fifteen miles away from El Cardon, roll my bike down the side of the road and set up my new sleep system in the sand. The felt blanket is so big that I can fold myself into it like an omelet. I bed down at 9:30PM and set my alarm for five hours later. Folding myself up in the blanket feels like a victory and on the fourth night of my Baja Divide FKT, I finally get some rest.

Baja Divide FKT Day 3: La Valle de los Cirios

Upon waking, I hack up gobs of green phlegm. I’m not even fazed. These symptoms have become so normal. It almost feels like I’m watching myself from the outside, that I’m not actually dealing with this situation. I take Ibuprofen, puff my inhaler and stuff my bivvy into my seatpack. I’m wearing all of my clothes and shivering so hard that my whole body is shaking. The first few pedal strokes are stiff. My knees don’t want to bend, but a few minutes coaxes them into form. I pull over half an hour in to take a caffeine pill which immediately elevates my mood. I’m ready to have some fun. I put in headphones and start into a playlist full of pop. It’s the first time I’ve ever listened to music during an endurance ride and it feels amazing. I’m riding in the dark in the middle of nowhere listening to Nelly. Everything hurts less and matters less and I actually feel pretty good. The stretch from Nueva Odisea to El Sacrificio is a total ass kicker and one of the most remote feeling sections on the entire Baja Divide. The climbs and descents are steep and loose and endless. But there’s water! I pass three streams and no people. The day heats up and at the final stream I stop, submerge my whole body into the water, fill up my bottles and drink. Water in the desert feels like a miracle. Down the road there’s an abandoned ranch. Ten miles later there’s a man making food over a fire next to an out of commission semi truck. I can’t imagine how it got there.

I make it to El Sacrificio in the afternoon. A cycle tourist greets me and it’s not until I start talking that I realize I’ve lost my voice. We are the only two people at the roadside stop.

“How far are you going today?”

“As far as I can get.”

“You been cold at night?”

“Yeah! I didn’t bring a sleeping bag.”

“Me neither. I thought it was going to be warm here. I bought a couple of blankets in the last town.”

I tell him about my ride. The truck stop isn’t making food, so I throw out my trash, slam a coke and a Monster, lube my chain and I’m back out.

I stop at El Descanso three miles down the road. I order 5 bean burritos and 5 quesadillas to go from the young girl I saw in January. She’s kind of an eye-roller, but she conveys the message just fine. By the time I fill up my water, the food is ready. I’m packed and out and it’s music time again. I’m fueled by pop and caffeine and I’m soaring. The road is rough and rocky, but I stay seated and keep the pedals turning and take the beating.

The afternoon passes fast and it’s dark again. I confuse the turn to San Agustin with an abandoned store two miles down the road. An alarmed man comes out as I accidentally trespass through his property.

“I’m trying to find San Augustin.”

“It’s back that way.”

“How far?”

“About 2 kilometers.”

I backtrack on the pavement and detour half a mile to San Agustin because it’s my last chance for food for the next 165 miles. Military men are sitting on the porch playing with their phones. Two little kids are playing soccer out front in the dirt. It’s 9PM and I order ten quesadillas to go.

“How many?”

“Ten.”

The woman confirms with me multiple times that I actually want ten quesadillas. She splits the stack into two and wraps them up in aluminum foil. I buy a gallon of water and prepare to leave.

“How far are you going tonight?”

“A little bit farther.”

“Where will you stay?”

“I’m camping.”

“You can camp here.”

“I’ll go a little bit farther.”

She’s kind and I want to sleep, but I don’t like being off of the Baja Divide route. I pedal back down the pavement and begin the rough moto track towards Catavina. The night is cooling off. I stop, intending to sleep, but my mind is too wired for it. I’ll push on just a little bit farther. The road is gravelly and rough and I call it. I tuck behind a bush, set my alarm, slow my breathing and fall asleep.

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