Lael Wilcox, Perpetual Traveler

Nick Legan’s new book, Gravel Cycling: The Complete Guide to Gravel Racing and Adventure Bikepacking, shares everything you need to know to enjoy gravel cycling and bikepacking. From event profiles to dream bike set up, route planning to gear selection, Legan brings his experience as a ProTour bike mechanic and dedicated gravel junkie to this guide. Filled with beautiful photographs that will inspire you to ride unpaved, Gravel Cycling is your best resource for gravel grinders and multi-day adventures.

Enjoy Nick’s profile of ultraendurance rider, Lael Wilcox.

Lael Wilcox, Perpetual Traveler

Lael Wilcox made a splash in the ultraendurance world when in 2015, she raced the Great Divide not once, but twice. Each time she set records and placed herself among the top 10 fastest finishers in the history of the Tour Divide. Typically racing in a favorite T-shirt, Wilcox went on to race and win the overall at the 2016 Trans Am Bike Race, a self-supported road race across the United States. Previously she has toured in Africa, Israel, and eastern Europe. She and her partner, Nicholas Carman, live their life almost perpetually on the road, touring all over the world with breaks for races and time with family. When contacted for this interview, Wilcox and Carman were in Bishop, California, resting after a blistering crossing of Death Valley.

“Touring is fun because you have more time. You can take your time and enjoy the place where you are.”

Lael Wilcox from GRAVEL CYCLING by Nick Legan

Where do you call home? How much time do you spend on the road each year?

Anchorage, Alaska, is home. Only a couple months. This year I was in Alaska for two months and I worked at a shop for one month. Mostly I’m moving around, but I get back at least once every year to visit my family.

The rest of the time I’m riding, both touring and racing. I used to spend more like six months in a place, working. But since I started endurance racing I’ve focused on that and been working less. And I love it. It’s great. Really, the touring is what I love the most. I like the racing too, but it’s pretty exhausting. Seeing new places, sleeping in different places every night, and riding is what I like.

 

Do you prefer dirt and gravel riding to pavement?

Definitely. I do like road riding, but as far as touring and traveling in different countries, I’d rather be on dirt. The camping is better. The riding is usually more fun. You end up in more remote areas and definitely see a different part of the world.

 

What draws you to routes like the Great Divide?

The Great Divide is epic, especially racing it as Tour Divide. It’s just mountain pass after pass. I love climbing. That style of riding is great for me. Otherwise, once routes exist, I just want to see where they go. You see that it starts and ends at different points, but I want to see what happens in between. So that’s led me to the Great Divide, the Arizona Trail, a dirt route in South Africa called the Dragon’s Spine. Israel has a great route called the Holyland Challenge. They’re working on a cross-country mountain bike route as well. So knowing that a route exists will draw me to a new place.

 

What tips do you have for people new to gravel or those considering riding the Great Divide?

You really don’t need that much equipment. Keeping your bike and your equipment light will make your riding a lot more fun. Starting off, people tend to bring a lot more than they need. So minimizing your gear and your layers, even opting to have a lighter sleeping bag and lighter equipment, can really help a lot. Get out there and see if it’s for you.

You don’t have to race to be out there. People are often drawn to the Tour Divide or these long-distance races when they’ve never even gone on a regular bike trip. I recommend going out for a bike trip first and enjoying it. Sleeping as much as you want. Taking the days as they come. Being able to take a day off if the weather is bad. Get out there and do that first. And then, if you want to translate that into racing, you’ll do so much better.

 

Any tips specifically for female riders?

Know that there’s nothing to be afraid of. There’s no danger in being alone. Especially on a route like the Divide. It’s very safe. Just go out and do it. People may tell you not to or advise against it, but go out and prove them wrong.

As far as the racing goes, women have just looked at racing within the women’s category. And I don’t think that that’s necessary. I think for endurance racing, the women can compete with the men. I feel like they should go after those times in that race and try to be the overall winner instead of just the women’s winner. Because I truly believe that people come to these races with different skills and different abilities. I don’t think that it matters if you’re a man or a woman. You can compete. Just go for it.

 

How do you train for a race like Tour Divide or Trans Am Bike Race?

It’s funny, because I really don’t do any specific training. Often I don’t even ride fast before a race. I don’t really feel that I need to. I just ride all the time and usually feel fit for the race. The past few races, the thing that I’ve done is to ride to the start. I get a lot of miles in right before the race. That way, I’m really comfortable with my bike. Then I take a couple weeks off, and then I’m ready to go. The first Tour Divide, I rode from Anchorage to the start in Banff. That was actually a pretty long ride, about 2,100 miles. Then I took 10 days off, and then I raced.

 

Do you have favorite gear or any packing tips you’d like to share?

Yeah! I use a Western Mountaineering summer-weight sleeping bag. I really love those. They’re super light, but you also get the most warmth for the weight. That’s a favorite.

All the bags on my bike are Revelate Designs, which have been awesome for me. For racing, I usually bring a bivy bag instead of a tent.

When we’re touring, we carry a Big Agnes Seedhouse tent, an awesome tent for two people. Totally weatherproof. For a bivy, I’ve used a Western Mountaineering vapor barrier. It’s technically a sleeping bag liner, but it is weatherproof. This past race, I got a pair of Patagonia Alpine Houdini pants for use as rain pants. Those are awesome, pack really small, and are easy to move in. Those are my coldest weather layer.

Usually I bring a pair of long johns and a pair of rain pants. Often I’ll also carry a down vest because it packs really small but adds a lot of warmth.

 

What does holding the women’s Tour Divide record of 15 days, 10 hours (and 7th fastest-ever time) mean to you?

The first time, when I raced Tour Divide in late June, I was really sick. All the way through Montana, for over a week, I was having really bad breathing problems. I had to ride shorter days than I wanted to. So I really didn’t perform the way I wanted to. I was pretty happy that I finished, though. After that ride, I had taken two days off the women’s record, but I knew that I could ride faster. My second attempt, I actually wanted to break the men’s record, and I was on pace to do that five days in. But then I got stuck in the mud outside Lima, Montana. So I lost that opportunity. I still finished and rode well and took another two days off my record. I was pretty happy with that, but I feel like there’s still room to go faster.

It’s a game. The second time I rode the Great Divide was an ITT [individual time trial]. So I was out there by myself just trying to break the record. That’s mentally tough. It’s really hard to be alone, to have nobody else doing what you’re doing. If the weather turns or something goes wrong, you feel like you’re just racing time. So it doesn’t really matter, nobody really cares, if you have a hard time in the process. In the head-to-head race context, it’s a lot more fun because everybody is out there dealing with the same elements and competing. Now, if anything, I’m more into the race aspect, racing other people instead of racing for the fastest time.

 

Do you prefer to race or to tour? What are the upsides and downsides to each?

Touring is fun because you have more time. You can take your time and enjoy the place where you are.

The aspect of racing that I really enjoy is that you’re passing through so much country so fast and seeing so much every day. You spend so much time awake and outside. I like that as well. It’s just less sustainable.

 

Do you and Nick plan to continue your on-the-road lifestyle for the foreseeable future?

Yes, we’ve always said that we’ll keep doing it as long as it’s fun and as long as we want to keep going. We’ve been traveling like this for nine years now. And it seems to only be getting better. The method of travel or who we’re including or sharing experiences with is always developing. It’s been a lot of fun.

 

Nick Legan’s new book, Gravel Cycling: The Complete Guide to Gravel Racing and Adventure Bikepacking, shares everything you need to know to enjoy gravel cycling and bikepacking. From event profiles to dream bike set up, route planning to gear selection, Legan brings his experience as a ProTour bike mechanic and dedicated gravel junkie to this guide. Filled with beautiful photographs that will inspire you to ride unpaved, Gravel Cycling is your best resource for gravel grinders and multi-day adventures.

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