Lael’s summer riding plans

Lael’s summer riding plans

All of a sudden, it’s almost summer.

With a busier spring in the desert than expected—from starting a new Tucson GRIT (Girls Riding Into Tomorrow) cycling mentorship program to setting a new fastest known time on the 827-mile Arizona Trail—time just flew. In between were a quick trip to Alaska to give a TED Talk, riding the Ruta del Jefe, and winning the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo (below).

Lael during the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo (Arizona)

Rue and I are on in Spain now. We will spend the next three months in Europe riding, racing and documenting our experiences. The global growth of bikepacking and adventure riding fills me with hope. This is something I’m eager to share. We are very excited about the rides and races we’re participating in.

The Montanas Vacias (Empty Mountains) of Spain

First up, I collaborated with Komoot and Ernesto Pastor to put on the first year of the Women’s Montanas Vacias Rally. During the first week of May, fifty women from around the world rode this 680-km gravel route together. All were self-supported, with the goal of making it to the finishers’ party a week later. It was not a race, but an opportunity to take on this challenge as a community, meet new people, and have fun.

The Montanas Vacias traverses ‘Spanish Lapland,’ an area known for its low population density, medieval towns, and beautiful nature. Ernesto, originally inspired by the Torino Nice Rally, has taken great care to put together a spectacular route. It was exciting to ride it—with the goal of spending time with every rider. Rue has been documenting the ride with photos, as well as putting together a Super 8 video.

The participants of the Women’s Montanas Vacias Rally.

On May 20, I’ll start the Kromvojoj, an 1,400-km self-supported road race in Catalonia. The route follows quiet mountain roads. Four local friends are putting it together—this will be the first year of the race. I haven’t ridden a road race since the Trans Am in 2016. After so many trail miles this spring, I’m really looking forward to the simplicity and speed of road riding.

In early June, we’ll head to Slovenia for the Trans Balkan Race, a 1,300-km mix of mountain bike, gravel and road that’s crossing three borders—from Slovenia to Croatia, on to Bosnia, and finally to Montenegro. I last rode in the Balkans in 2014. For the culture and the beauty, it was some of my favorite touring ever. Excited to go back! Unusual for me, I’ll ride the full course ‘blind,’ as I won’t have time to tour any of the route before the race. As with the Kromvojoj in Spain, Rue will be traveling with the race directors, Luca and Bea, to document the race in its first year.

Spain with its distinctive architecture and culture.

In mid-June, we head to Kenya for the Migration Gravel Race with four stages that are each about 160 km long. The organizer, Mikel Delagrange, developed this race to help local riders elevate their competition—and to show the world the beauty of riding gravel in Kenya. The route follows animal migration paths. I’ve never been to Kenya. It looks wild and alive. After each stage, all racers will regroup to have dinner and camp together.

At the end of June, we’ll be in Iceland for the Westfjords Way Challenge, a 4-day ultra stage race on the Westfjords Way route, 1000 km in the remote NW corner of Iceland. Iceland is so far north that, in late June, the sun hardly sets. The last stage will begin at midnight. A number of cultural excursions are required along the way: soak in a hot spring; eat a waffle; visit the Arctic Fox Refuge; jump in the frigid sea… With a small team, I helped scout this route last September for Iceland Tourism. That was the seed for the challenge.

Events breathe life into routes. They get people to sign up and actually make it happen. To officially finish the Westfjords Way, you have to jump into the harbor at the finish in Isafjordur. In its first year, the Westfjords Way has successfully put on a BIPOC scholarship. Among the participants is a high percentage of local riders. I’m really looking forward to going back to ride the route as a challenge.

The Empty Mountains of Spain

Beyond that, there’ll be a little more room to breathe. We’re scouting a new route in Slovenia in mid-July for a 2023 women’s bikepacking challenge. We’ll head back to the US in late July/early August to get ready for the 300-mile Gravel Worlds Long Voyage in Nebraska. We’ll be back in Europe in early September for a gravel Tour de Mont Blanc and the second edition of the Komoot Women’s Torino Nice Rally. I promised the organizers of Across the Andes that I’d come to Chile for their race this year in November, as I missed it last year.

Tucson Grit (Girls Riding Into Tomorrow)

I’m also excited for the in-between moments, when I get a few days of open-ended touring with Rue. That’s often the most fun. I love the structure these events lend, but also love being out, not knowing where we’ll sleep or eat, and not feeling stressed. It’s all adventure, and I’m happy it takes on so many different forms.

I’m really excited to share the stories afterward!

Lael during her TED talk in Alaska.

Photos by Rugile Kaladyte.

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