On April 12, 2022, Lael Wilcox set out to ride the 827-mile Arizona Trail faster than anyone had before. She completed her ride 9 days, 8 hours, and 23 minutes later on April 21. This is her story.
On April 12, 2022, Lael Wilcox set out to ride the 827-mile Arizona Trail faster than anyone had before. She completed her ride in 9 days, 8 hours, and 23 minutes on April 21. This is her story.
Note: Lael’s time is not recognized by the AZT Race administration which prohibits media coverage. The current official records: Men’s – Nate Ginzton – 9:10:44; Women’s – Chase Edwards – 10:18:59
The Arizona National Scenic Trail is 800 miles of singletrack, stretching from the Mexican border to the Utah border and traversing most of the state’s major mountain ranges. With initial development in the 1990s, the hiking trail passes through several wilderness areas, requiring bike detours. The current bike route is 827 miles, including a 24-mile required bike portage through the Grand Canyon (wheels can’t touch the ground).
Ahead of me, the Arizona Trail snaked into the forest, disappearing behind the shadow of ponderosa pines, and re-emerging in a stretch of marsh lit by a sliver of moon. I dismounted my bike and plunged off a muddy bank onto a log submerged in stagnant water. After seven scorching days racing through southern Arizona, this riparian zone on the rugged southeast flank of the Colorado Plateau offered a reprieve from the harsh Sonoran desert, but without the constant pricks and jolts from agave, cholla, and cat’s claw to center on, my mind wandered where I didn’t want it to go.
It was November 2nd, or maybe 3rd, depending on whether or not the clock had struck midnight yet. I didn’t care. This time last year, I was deep in the relentless clutches of psychosis, and moving my body outside, no matter the time of day, made wrangling with grief and humiliation easier.
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The beauty of bikes is in the people who ride them—and how they all have a story. I have little doubt that everyone—serious riders, aeroed and grimaced, and carefree cruisers alike—have experienced that epiphanous fresh-air feeling of freedom that accompanies spinning your legs astride two wheels. Sometimes we just enjoy it at the moment—letting the short-lived wave of release and clarity wash over us during a weeknight burrito run, or a trip to the coffee shop. Other times we chase that feeling down with the hope that, somehow, it might change our life.
What first intrigued me about Josh Uhl was, however, not his history with bikes but his podcast Here For Now, which he started in February of 2021. Josh uses this platform to have intentional and intimate conversations with his guests about motivation, struggle, and the big whys of life. Listening to an early episode with Peter Hogan, where the recovering addict asserts that “Bikes aren’t God,” and to a later episode where the writer Zoe Röm reflects on the delusion of “authenticity” on social media, I found myself frequently nodding along. Yes, exactly.
When this year’s last winter storm went big (like, really big) we realized we’d have to adjust our plan to bikepack the Coconino Loop in northern Arizona. We shifted our focus South, to the Arizona Trail segments around Tucson, hoping the lower latitude and elevation would deliver the sunshine we craved.
Instead, we were greeted in Tucson with heavy rain, so we postponed the trip by a day, hoping it would blow over. When the next day also looked rainy, and kind of snowy too, we lost half our riding crew. My partner Brandon, our friend Sarah and I decided to make a start anyway.
Towering over Flagstaff and the surrounding area, the series of mountain summits comprising what are contemporarily referred to as “San Francisco Peaks,” or just “The Peaks,” have held spiritual and cultural significance since long before Spanish colonists arrived and began assigning names to geologic formations.