‘Lael Rides Alaska’: the new film and scholarship from ultra-endurance cyclist Lael Wilcox

In 2017, Wilcox rode 4,500 miles of Alaskan roadway. In 2020, she and her girlfriend, photojournalist Rugile Kaladyte, returned to document the journey and inspire others to pedal along.

Photo: Rugile Kaladyte

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Sure, Lael Wilcox’s 2015 Tour Divide course record of 15 days, 10 hours, and 59 minutes is impressive, but I’ve always been more awed by the fact that she rode her bike from Anchorage, Alaska to the start of the route in Banff, Alberta.

As Wilcox says at the outset of the new film Lael Rides Alaska, “anybody can start or finish an adventure from home.”

While many people know Wilcox as a record-setting ultra-distance bikepacker, what is also essential to her story is a sense of place. Lael is a fourth-generation Alaskan, and while she has touted her ultra-distance ride to the start of the Tour Divide as the best way to train for the 2,745-mile race, it was also a way to experience her homeland from the saddle.

In 2017, she decided to focus even more intensely on the splendor around her.

That year, Wilcox took a break from racing to focus on creating a mentorship program for girls in her hometown. She and a friend launched Anchorage GRIT (Girls Riding Into Tomorrow) that spring, and then the endless sunlight of summer inspired her to embark on something she’d been dreaming of for years: To ride all of the roads in Alaska.

And although Wilcox has been busy since then — racing around the world, creating bikepacking routes, and making films about it all with her girlfriend, photojournalist Rue Kaladyte  — she told me that she’s never felt finished with her Alaska Roads project.

“I’d been wanting to come back and make a video about this,” she said. “But it had been like, ‘oh well, it’ll be there, so I’m gonna focus on these races, these trips, whatever.'”

2020, for obvious reasons, proved to be the summer to go home.

So, in the long days before and after last summer’s solstice, Lael revisited some of her most favorite roads, this time with Rue and cameras in tow. The resultant film depicts a story of falling in love, loving to ride, and riding from home. It’s also meant to inspire.

“I’m motivated by ideas, by dreams, and how fast they can become reality,” Wilcox says. “That’s a big part of why I’m hosting this scholarship for the second time.”

The Lael Rides Alaska 2021 Femme-Trans-Women’s Scholarship will enable another woman (including femme, trans-, and non-binary) to design and ride their own 1,000-mile Alaskan adventure in the summer of 2021. The recipient of the scholarship will receive a Specialized Diverge bicycle, Revelate Designs bikepacking bags, Pearl Izumi apparel, a premium subscription to Komoot, a set of Easton wheels, a Wahoo Elemnt Roam GPS, Big Agnes camping equipment, Rene Herse tires, a year subscription to Bicycle Quarterly, Trail Butter, and a $1,500 travel stipend provided by Easton.

When the scholarship was first offered in 2018, one of the winners was a 14-year old girl who had graduated from the Anchorage GRIT program the year before. Her proposal was to ride from the storied Denali Highway back home to Anchorage, and her only request was $400 in gas money so her dad could drop her off at the start.

Anybody can start or finish an adventure from home.

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