Lael Rides Alaska: the start


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 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?”


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.

Baja Divide FKT Day 2: Jesus is waiting

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I’m up four hours later riding the moto road along the coast to Colonet. I forget to turn my SPOT on until the sun comes up and I’m almost in town. I stop at the OXXO to resupply. As I’m walking out of the shop with more food than I can possibly pack, Jesus and another young rider roll up. They’re excited!

“We’re going to ride with you up the mountain to El Coyote. We were worried about you because your dot wasn’t moving, but once it did you were here in a flash.”

Jesus is from Colonet, but he’s never been to El Coyote. The Baja Divide has changed the way the locals view their own towns. They all want to be part of the adventure. It’s contagious.

Four years ago, Jesus was eighty pounds heavier and could hardly walk. He was a sick man and didn’t believe he’d live much longer. He started riding a bike and he started feeling better– better and better. Riding a bicycle changed the course of his life. Riding a bicycle gave Jesus a life. When Ryan’s bike got stolen in Colonet in January, Jesus tracked down the thugs that took it and paid them 4000 pesos to give it back. He’d never met Ryan but he believed so much in the Baja Divide and the integrity of his community that he had to make it right. Salvador’s wife, Flor, gave Ryan a ride to Colonet to pick up his bike. Then, Jesus gave Ryan his bike back and offered him a ride to San Diego so he could retrieve more necessary gear. I’m blown away by the generosity we’ve received in Baja.

Outside of the OXXO, I drink a lot of yogurt really fast and we roll out together. It’s amazing to have friends. Jesus is slower on the climbs, but he bombs all of the descents. Ten miles later we pass through Ejido Benito Juarez. I don’t stop at my favorite store, but continue on into the arroyo. We start seeing water soon. The road is washed out and we get separated. I push my bike through a dozen water crossings, moving forward steadily. Then it’s a 2000′ climb and some chunky and sandy tracks. Then El Coyote. I keep rolling to Rancho Meling, stop to get water, drink a coke and pack one to go. By noon on day 2 of my Baja Divide FKT, I’ve already ridden what took us a full week to tour.

The ten miles out of Rancho Meling are insanely steep short climbs and descents. I grind my knees up most of them and have to push two or three pitches. I pedal over a grassy field past citrus trees. Nothing is easy on the Baja Divide. Even the descents are full of climbs. Eventually I make it to the arroyo leading into Vicente Guerrero. It’s full of water. The dirt road I rode in January has transformed into a flowing stream. I walk most of a mile or two to the edge of town. It’s nearing sunset.

Crossing the arroyo, a group of 20 or 30 people, including Nick, Salvador and his family, are waiting for me. They cheer me in as I push my bike across the knee deep water. One guy takes a video and we all take a group photo. The crowd demands that Nick gives me a kiss and shyly kisses me on the cheek. Nick, Salvador and a 12-year-old local racer will ride with me the next 20 miles to San Quintin. I wire in my headlamp and we’re off. It’s classic cross-country terrain to San Quintin, rolling with little ribbons of single track and high quality dirt roads. Salvador records a video with commentary on his iPhone for most of the way. I’m thrilled to have company and wish that Nick would ride with me into the night. Salvador and the kid split off to make their way home. Nick and I continue on into San Quintin and stop to get queso tacos. While they’re getting fixed, I go to the store next door to stock up on gummy candy and donuts and peanuts. I have a long remote stretch through the Valley of the Cirios ahead. I fill my water to capacity and the 7 liters is heavy, but I’ll need it.

It’s dark and cold. My body temperature drops and I’m worried about the night. It’s already colder than the day before. In the day, San Quintin is bustling, but by 9PM most everything is closed. I wish I could buy more clothes. I consider getting a motel room and sleeping for a few hours, but I’m really not that tired. I pack a couple of tacos to go and Nick gives me a big hug goodbye. I take advantage of the easy road miles. They’re fast and help my legs recover. I hit the beach at Mission Santa Maria. It’s high tide and the riding is very soft and slow. I take pressure out of my tires twice and crawl the four miles to Nueva Odisea. Town is dark. I fantasize that there’s a motel in town that I’d never noticed, but I know that there isn’t. In the dark, I roll past barking dogs and mistake a dirt driveway for the track and then start climbing. I’m motivated to get out of this cold valley. It’s past midnight and I warm up on the climb. I tell myself it’s warmer cause I’ve gained a couple hundred feet. I bed down at 1AM exhausted and set my alarm, but I don’t even need it. I shiver myself awake two and a half hours later.

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Baja Divide FKT Day 1: 5:12AM, March 2, 2017

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It’s still dark and I ride right into a stiff headwind, but I don’t care. I’m ready to get after it. Salvador and the owner of Bicicletas los Chinos drive behind me for the paved climb out of Tecate. I climb steady because I don’t want to blow up my lungs. The sun comes up by the time I hit the dirt past San Francisco. There is so much water on the route. I’ve already ridden this road four times and only once seen a tiny stream in this section. On this ride, there is gushing water and several stream crossings. I plunge right through in my shoes, soaking my feet. The shrubs are all green– so different from washed out December. About 20 miles in I pass a couple of loaded down bikepackers pushing uphill. At this point, the headwind is so strong that it is actually blowing sand into our faces. I’m fresh and jumpy and I don’t want to stop. One of the riders says he was wondering when I’d pass them. I ask the other how he’s doing and he tells me,

“I’ve been better.”

The wind lets up by the time I get to Neji. My bike is a total ripper and I’m loving it. I climb up to 4700 feet, the highest point on the route, and descend to Ejido Sierra Juarez. Dogs sound off and chase me through the village. I ride the washboard to Ojos Negros and stop at the last store on the way out. I buy drinkable yogurt and coke and Japanese peanuts and local hard goat cheese. An old man in a wheelchair asks me about my ride and my answers get him laughing so hard he ends up in a coughing fit. I drink all of the drinks and an Indian family watches me pack up my bike out front. And then I’m off. Touring the route, it took us a full two days to get to Ojos Negros. On my FKT ride I get there just after noon. It feels like time travel.

I power along to Rancho Tres Hermanos and then the route gets steep and loose and it’s hot and my legs just lose their juice. I’ve never had this experience on the first day of an intense ride. I usually feel so fresh and full of energy. It’s 3 or 4 in the afternoon and my upper thighs feel totally drained. I’m already regretting swapping my 28-tooth chainring for a 32. The route is so steep and loose! I climb on the bike at about 3 miles an hour. I have to walk a couple stretches. I make the high point, but it’s still a lot of up and down to get to Ejido Uruapan. The sun sets and I roll into town in the dark. Nick calls cause he’s worried that I’m having breathing problems. I tell him I’m breathing all right, but my legs just wouldn’t go. He tells me to eat some real food and encourages me to pick up the pace to Erendira.

Be careful out there! The road is loose and eroded.

I buy 7 beef burritos from a tupperware container off the counter of the store, fill my water bottles, drink a yogurt, pack a couple of slices of cheesecake and hit the pavement. It’s a five mile paved ride to Santo Tomas and my legs come back. I try to eat a bite of burrito, but I really don’t want it and end up spitting it out. I pull over right before the steep climb out of Santo Tomas to wire in the batteries on my headlamp. The neighborhood dogs bark fury and I’m out of there quick. I feel good in the night. The road is broad and graded to start. Nearing the Pacific it gets pretty rough, gravelly and loose and rolling and rutted from moto traffic.

I’m running a prototype Sinewave dynamo light and two Black Diamond Icon Poler headlamps– one attached to my helmet and one attached to my head tube. It’s so much light! I can see everything and I ride the rollercoaster to the Pacific. I’m focused on consistently pushing the pedals, on staying seated and riding through the terrain even if it’s hammering me. I make it through Ejido Erendira at midnight and ride another ten miles to the big rocky outcrop where Nick and I camped on our first ride last December. I push my bike up a steep incline to the rock, pull out my bivvy and sunshade and tuck myself in. I wake up in the night cold and cinch the bivvy tighter so that there’s only a tiny hole to breathe out of.

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Baja Divide FKT

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On January 2, 2017, Nick and I met 96 riders in downtown San Diego to ride the Baja Divide, a 1700 mile dirt route that we mapped down the Baja peninsula. It was not a race, rather an opportunity to meet folks, make friends and explore magnificent terrain and culture. We rode for two months, leap frogging riders all down the way. In late February, we flew back north so that I could attempt the Baja Divide again, this time with the intention of riding the route as fast as possible to set the Baja Divide FKT, the fastest known time. 

This is how it went.

The idea started forming before I could put a finger on it. What would the Baja Divide be like as a race? How would I strategize? How would the riding feel? What would be the best bike set up? How much distance could I cover in a day, day after day? How fast could I get it done? Somehow, I felt committed to the challenge of attacking the Baja Divide before I even actually decided to do it. It just felt so natural. This is our route– mine and Nick’s. I’d already ridden it three times in 14 months. I knew it– knew the land and the culture and the feel. Attempting a fastest known time felt like the final chapter to my Baja Divide year.
Gearing up for the ride, Nick rebuilt my bike. He spent hours at my Aunt’s house in La Ventana and Cale’s house in San Diego cleaning and replacing parts, installing a new fork, rebuilding the front wheel with a dynamo hub, and mounting lights. We optimized the gear and I left a lot of things behind, including my sleeping bag. It was only while buying Ibuprofen at the store in San Diego that I had the memory of pain. The pain that happens during these long, intense rides– throbbing knees and hands and feet, aching sleep deprivation and a dull brain. In that moment, buying the pills, I accepted it. I accepted the pain. It’s just part of the experience. I would not call it suffering– suffering is something that happens to you, something you can not control. Riding miles and miles is something that I choose to do, something I choose to do to see what is humanly possible. 

While we were in San Diego it rained an inch and a half. In the rain, Nick and I took the bus to the border at Tecate, crossed the border, checked into a $13 a night motel room and waited two days for the roads to dry out. 

The dirt roads on the Baja Divide contain a high percentage of clay. When it rains, the clay turns into mud, mud that clings and cakes onto tires. Within a couple of revolutions, the tires are so coated with mud that the wheels can no longer clear the frame and as a rider, you are forced off of the bike. This mud is so thick that you can’t even roll the bike, but have to shoulder it and trudge on. And then, the heavy mud cakes to the bottom of your shoes. It’s a death march.

We watched the weather forecast obsessively. I wanted to start as soon as possible because it was starting to get really hot in southern Baja.
On the day before my projected depart, Salvador from FASS Bike drove 200 miles to visit us in Tecate to see my start. He held a mini press conference in a restaurant in Tecate and welcomed local mountain bikers to hear about my ride. Salvador Basurto III has shown amazing support to riders on the Baja Divide. This route is rugged and remote with few bicycle shops. In the first season, Salvador has helped countless riders all along the route source parts and repair their bicycles. When Jace cut a sidewall, Salvador sent him a new tire. When Ryan’s bike got stolen, Salvador helped track it down. When Nick and I couldn’t get cash in Vizcaino, Salvador arranged a money transfer. He has a wall sized map of the Baja Divide in his shop in Vicente Guerrero and has hosted parties for riders coming through. He is a fantastic guy with a great attitude and we really appreciate his support. Whenever we had a problem, Salvador always seemed to have a solution.

I dedicate my FKT ride to Colleen Welch. A mother of four boys, Colleen rode with us for the group start of the Baja Divide. We crossed paths a few times down the Baja Peninsula. Colleen was always up for everything. Spending time together in La Paz, I started telling her about my plans for Anchorage GRIT and the FKT and I broke down in tears. I was overwhelmed and broke. It all seemed so hard. The next day Colleen said,

“You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to give you two thousand dollars.”

“You can’t do that!”

“You bet I can!”

And she did! Colleen made my FKT attempt possible. I am overwhelmed by her generosity. She told me that the Baja Divide was a pretty inexpensive tour and about money, you can’t take it with you when you go.

I set the start for my FKT Baja Divide attempt for 5AM on March 2. A funny part about riding solo is that you can really start at any time. There are no other racers and there’s no official schedule. I actually roll out 5:12AM. 

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