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Adventure, Cycle / May 22, 2016

Interview: Tour Divide Record Holder Lael Wilcox

Written by: Jan Bennett

Every now and then, an individual comes along and rewrites the history books.  Recently, that individual has been Lael Wilcox. Last year she put the ultra endurance cycling world on notice with not one, but two record breaking rides of the Tour Divide.

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is a continuous route from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico stretching 2,700 miles along the Continental Divide. Every year a select group of riders take on the challenge of riding this great distance with no prize or podium, only pride and self accomplishment will be found at the end.

Initially I had set out to chat with Lael Wilcox and her boyfriend Nick Carman about some of the basics to prepping for the Tour Divide. After losing track of time and closing down the restaurant, I came away from the evening with two new friends and a better understanding about what made Lael’s back-to-back rides on the Divide so successful. Speaking with Lael, I was quick to realize her enthusiasm for the bike knows no bounds. The outlook that she has is simply infectious.


Q: What was the hardest part of course logistics for you?

Lael: Actually, my biggest barrier for all of this stuff is navigation. I’m a terrible navigator.

Nick: Well, not any more.

L: No, not any more. That was the biggest thing. I would get lost and couldn’t find my way. Then I started using GPS and it changed my life! I was like: I’m never going to be lost with this! This is going to show me where I am. I just have to find my track and I’m fine. Everybody has something that holds them back, or that they’re scared of.  You’re just going to have to get out there and deal with it.

Hearing this from Lael, who has accomplished so much, proves that we all have our speed bumps. What’s important is how we overcome them, not that we have them in the first place.


Q: Lael, you have a unique outlook on racing. Can you elaborate on that?

L: A lot of people think that they’re not competitive and they think that the purpose is to go out there and suffer. That’s really a sick thing to do, when you think about it. You’re not doing well and you’re forcing yourself to suffer, which means you’re going to end up hurting yourself. The point is that it’s a race. Somebody is going out to try and win. It’s not this weird nihilistic experience. You can enter to challenge yourself, absolutely, but when I hear people say that the point is to go out there and suffer, it just makes me sad. We live in such a great world and you’re spending your free time planning to do something that’s self-damaging. It shouldn’t be about this negative seeking pain. It’s about being competitive, about challenging yourself, about riding to the occasion. It’s a positive thing. This self-harming business is, eh, there’s nothing positive there. The Divide is just such a huge undertaking and inspiring. You wake up in a ditch and you feel like someone knocked you in the knees with a baseball bat and you have to get up and go do it again, over ANOTHER 9 days. You get over it, but you have to get up morning after morning and you’re like ‘What am I doing out here?’ If you’re approaching it with the mindset of suffering, there’s no way to succeed and do well. There’s has to be something rewarding about the ride than just at the end I’m going to have this result and it says that I finished in 2 weeks.


“If you gotta cry, cry on the bike. ”

Q: Lael, towards the end of your time on the Divide was there anything that you found yourself really looking forward?

L: I was so happy that Nick was meeting me at the end. That was my whole motivation for my second ride. I got caught in this awful mud and lost a lot of time and it was really tough. I was having a really hard time staying motivated because I was out there by myself. I realized that if Nick met me at the end, I would be so excited to be getting there, because otherwise you end and there’s actually nobody there. There’s nothing there. He agreed that he would meet me at the end. Then it was like every day I’m riding and I’m getting close and closer to finishing and he’s going to be there and that was so exciting that I really kicked it into gear that I started picking my mileage up again, like a lot. That was cool.

Her response was a reminder that no matter what, at the end of the day, we all have people to come home to. People that care about us and that are cheering us on. No matter how difficult things get out there, there’s always a positive.


Q:  What did you do when you actually hit that low point, prior to knowing that Nick would be there?

L: I just got on the bike. Think about it while you’re riding. I’m not going to stop, because I’ll lose too much time if I stop. You can just ride thought it. I mean, that’s what Mike Hall says, “If you gotta cry, cry on the bike.” You’re not going to do yourself any favors by sitting in the corner crying. You’ll end up getting back on the bike and think back and wonder “What did I just do? I was just over there crying and doing nothing.” Cry…while you’re riding your bike and eating a sandwich.


My time with both Lael and Nick provided me with some of the best training I think I’ve done since announcing my intent to race the Tour Divide this year. It’s easy to find ourselves wrapped up in the details while losing track of why we’re out there in the first place. It’s not just about the ride, it’s about life. It’s about finding what moves you, recognizing that, and chasing those dreams while grinning from ear to ear the whole way down the side of the mountain.
For more inspiration follow Lael on Nick’s website.

Photos by Nick Carman


about the author

Jan Bennett

An adventure seeker at her core, Jan Bennett has always been drawn to the outdoors and being active. Completing three different wilderness expeditions before graduating high school, Jan has always been at home in the wilderness. Even though she has a degree in Technology Management and a minor in Business, Jan took the leap and left corporate America in 2015 in order to persue her cycling passions. On any given day, you can find Jan in Dallas, Texas preparing her mind and body for the next outdoor adventure.

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