Faster than crude oil: Anchorage’s Lael Wilcox bikes the trans-Alaska pipeline in less than 4 days
Anchorage endurance cyclist Lael Wilcox packed light for her latest ride, an 858-mile route through some of the world’s most remote areas.
She carried 20 pounds, including a one-pound tent, a selection of groceries (Lithuanian cheesecake bars; amino acid powder), repair items (brake pads; tire plugs), clothing (down jacket; cargo shorts), personal items (toothbrush); Bear spray) and various types of electronics, including a fairly large power bank to charge your phone and GPS.
“Though you don’t need a GPS to do this,” said Wilcox. “There are about four turns.”
Right, a time trial.
Wilcox, 34, left the general store in Deadhorse Tuesday morning aiming to set the fastest known time (FKT) along the route.
She reached the marina in Valdez a few minutes before 4 a.m. on Saturday.
Total time: 3 days, 18 hours and 47 minutes, including 10 or 11 hours of sleep.
Wilcox calls her effort FKT because she has never heard of anyone else try to set a speed record on the track. As a rock star in the world of endurance cycling and FKTs, Wilcox is confident that she’ll find out when someone else has made the ride faster.
We know this much: Wilcox is faster than crude oil.
During the peak of production in 1988, oil flowed the length of the 800-mile pipeline in 4.5 days, according to an April 2021 report by the Alyeska Pipeline. In these days of dwindling production, it is moving with a very un-Wilcox- Rate of 18 days.
The pipeline was in sight most of the time, Wilcox said, and for long stretches it looked endless.
“It’s just – you see it a hundred miles,” she said. “It’s unreal, especially on the Dalton where there are no trees.”
Wilcox rode through three mountain ranges (the Brooks, Alaska, and Chugach) and crossed about three dozen major rivers and creeks. It started at sea level near the Arctic Ocean, reached the 4,737-foot Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range, and survived the 2,678-foot climb to Thompson Pass in the final section to Valdez.
“I’m tired but super happy,” said Wilcox late Saturday morning after a five-hour nap.
Part of her satisfaction came from riding in Alaska, where she has deep roots – and having fans in unexpected places.
“It’s the most remote place I’ve ever driven. There’s nothing up there, ”she said. “But people came out to cheer me on, and it was unexpected. A mother and her 4 year old daughter greeted me in Coldfoot and they had a little sign with my name on it. I went to the camp with them. “
It was there that Wilcox found more hospitality. A storm the day before had left her with a soaking wet sleeping bag to put in a tumble dryer.
Later, at Mile 69 on the Richardson Highway, she ran into several young adults having a party. They gave her some rhubarb chips.
Wilcox carried everything she needed from start to finish, except water she fetched from natural springs along the way and something to eat like the rhubarb chips on the Richardson and something she bought along the way. In Glennallen she bought two cartons of ice cream and three hot dogs; She grabbed the ice and waited for it to melt so she could drink it on the way.
She aspired to consume 10,000 calories a day. She filled bags and pouches with sandwiches and protein bars, but still sometimes ran out of fuel.
“When I got to Fox it was just my last slices of cheese and almond butter and I ate them together and (it) wasn’t a great combination. But you just have to keep eating, ”she said. “When I arrived in Valdez last night, I had peanut butter on Ritz crackers. You have to eat what you have. “
About half of the route – 414 of the 858 miles – is on the Dalton Highway, a transportation route built in the 1970s to service the pipeline. Uninhabited and isolated, Wilcox covered this distance in 48 hours.
The first curve only comes at the end of the motorway, although it is not really a curve, but a transition.
“You stay on the same road, but it becomes the Elliott (Highway),” said Wilcox, and that road goes about 250 miles to Fox near Fairbanks.
Soon after, comes the first, and perhaps only, navigational challenge of the ride where you can head to the North Pole or take a slightly longer route through Fairbanks, which has bike shops for riders in need of repair. Wilcox’s bike, a Specialized Diverge, didn’t need such assistance, so Wilcox rode through the North Pole.
Wilcox was followed in the car by photojournalist Rugile Kaladyte and driver Ana Jager. Kaladyte filmed and photographed the ride for Rapha Performance Roadwear, one of Wilcox’s sponsors, who will be posting a YouTube video of the ride in the next month or two, Wilcox said.
The trip served Wilcox as a kind of honeymoon / birthday party. She and Kaladyte got married in May and will turn 35 on Sunday.
Wilcox also had the company of countless mosquitoes that pierced woolen socks and stitches her ankles.
“Oh, they were so bad,” she said. “Those further north were bigger, and then they got smaller and meaner.”
She made good use of the DEET she’d packed, but she didn’t need the bear spray – no sightings of bears or other large animals. So she packed a few ounces, which she didn’t need like the GPS charger.
There was one thing she didn’t even think of: a bicycle lock.
“Steal a bike in Coldfoot?” Said Wilcox. “Nobody will take it. Where would you go? “