Lael’s Bikepacking RalliesLael Wilcox
Good routes are treasure maps. If well-designed, they are timeless—a canvas for adventure. Seasons, weather and company color the experience.
Creating events takes a track on a map from two dimensions to three. It’s simple. You set a date, a time and a meeting place. Somehow daydreams become a real possibility. At least, that’s how it feels putting together the Komoot Women’s Rallies.
Gaby Thompson and I held the first rally in the fall of 2021. Twenty-two women started in Turin, Italy, with the goal of riding the Torino-Nice Rally over eight days to the Mediterranean Sea. Nothing else was planned. Six weeks before the event, we posted an open invite for women from around the world to come together and ride.
It wasn’t a race, but definitely a challenge. Nic from the UK climbed her first mountain pass, and then she climbed seven more. For me, it was the first time I’ve been on a bikepacking trip with a group of women. It was special to have this time together and to help each other through setbacks—mechanicals, weather and fatigue.
We learned that everyone, even the really experienced riders, felt intimidated from the outset, and then realized they were so much more capable than they ever thought. We knew this was something we needed to address, and we knew we had to do it again.
In 2022, Mayalen Noriega joined as an organizer and we hosted a rally on the Montañas Vacías route in Central Spain. For registration, fifty slots filled up in 30 seconds. The rallies were catching fire. We decided to maintain a smaller group to have an intimate experience and lessen the burden on local businesses in remote areas.
It poured rain for most of the ride. Women took shelter in refuges and encouraged each other through it. A week of living on the bike translated into great friendships and a wealth of memories. For many, this was a life-changing experience.
We wanted to make sure riders from less represented groups got the chance to join—not just those who signed up the fastest. For the second edition of the Women’s Torino-Nice Rally, we left registration open for a week and selected fifty women from the large pool of applications. We gave preference to older women, women of color, para-riders, and women from different countries.
Fast forward to 2023. An incredible number—1,637 women—signed up in the lottery for the Slovenia Rally on a unique route that we scouted last August. What a response! While it was hard to choose only 50, it’s incredibly uplifting that so many women want to go on this kind of adventure and can figure out how to push pause on their regular life and make it happen. Women from 48 countries applied. One rider is celebrating her 70th birthday on this trip. Two riders are deaf. Reading these stories from afar is inspiring. My world becomes bigger when I ride with these women.
This summer, massive flooding has damaged and affected ⅔ of Slovenia, washing away houses and roads. The country is very proactive and is already repairing infrastructure. Slovenians are still asking visitors to come. Tourism is a main source of income for the country. We’ve adjusted our route—spending more time in the south and possibly including a little riding in Italy and Croatia.
Climate change is definitely making route building and event planning more challenging than in the past. I still feel that traveling by bike and adventure are important and things to fight for. By experiencing the land on two wheels, I feel a stronger connection with places and people. To put it simply, I care more.
These women’s rallies give me a lot of hope and courage. I’ve invited women to ride with me from home in Tucson, Arizona, in November. I have a lot to look forward to!
Photo credits: Rugile Kaladyte