Lael Rides Alaska Scholarship
I’ve dedicated three summers over the past six years to riding all of the major roads in Alaska, some 4,500 miles. What started as a dream to see my home state under my own power and push my limits in endurance has evolved.
A condensed backstory – in 2014, I started borrowing my mom’s road bike to ride as far as I could on my days off from work as a bartender. In July that summer, I entered my first long distance race, the Fireweed 400, a 400 mile road race that you have to finish in 32 hours to qualify for Race Across America. In that single ride, my confidence transitioned from not knowing if I could finish to feeling like I could go so much farther. That summer, I set the goal that someday, I would ride all the roads in the state.
Over the next three years, I continued traveling around the world on my bike and started entering bikepacking races – first racing the Holyland Challenge in Israel, then setting the women’s record on the Tour Divide, winning the Trans Am, helping to design the Baja Divide bikepacking route in Mexico, and setting an FKT (Fastest Known Time) on that course. I came back to Alaska in April 2017 for the first year of Anchorage GRIT, my middle school girls cycling mentorship program. I met Rue, a photojournalist for the local newspaper. We fell in love.
I had a wide open summer and the freedom of long days when the sun hardly sets. It was my time to pursue my project, to ride all of the roads in the state. I began that June, riding for a week or two at a stretch and coming back to Anchorage to work at The Bicycle Shop in between to fund the next ride. I rode mostly solo. I got my first camera. I had an incredible time, but there was little documentation and few rides that I’d shared with others. I knew there was room for more storytelling and a richer experience. Since that time, I wanted to come back with Rue to make a video and ride the roads together.
In the spring of 2020, with the onset of the global pandemic, we canceled our schedule and flew back to Alaska to ride from home and share our story, culminating in this video:
It’s not just enough for me to have these experiences, enjoy the rides with my family and Rue, and share our stories through video, photography and writing. I want other people to feel personal excitement, to see opportunity, and to go after it. That’s why I’m hosting the “Lael Rides Alaska” 2021 Femme-Trans-Women’s Scholarship. The main idea is that women will design a 1,000 mile Alaska bike adventure and fill out an application to tell me about themselves and their plan. The top finalist will receive all of the equipment they need – including a bike just like mine – and a travel stipend to make their ride happen this summer.
I hosted a similar scholarship in 2018. There were 180 applicants from all over the world, ranging from 14 to 76 years old. It was so inspiring to read their unique stories – and so hard to choose a winner. The most encouraging outcome from this scholarship was that dozens of women who didn’t receive the scholarship still made their own trips happen. They ran into each other out on the remote roads of Alaska and created their own community. The whole experience felt really empowering.
I’m hosting the scholarship again because I want to provide an opportunity for women to dream about, to make real plans, and to have something to look forward to. I love Alaska and am motivated for others to see it from the seat of a bicycle.
I’m really excited to have previous scholarship recipients Kailey Kornhauser and Brooke Larsen, Abigale Wilson from PEARL iZUMi, Cari Carmean from The Radavist, and Natsuko Hirose from Bicycle Quarterly on the scholarship selection team.
For more information and to apply, head to my web site: https://laelwilcox.com/2021/01/06/lael-rides-alaska-2021-femme-trans-womens-scholarship/
Photos: Rugile Kaladyte