Meet Osprey Athlete Lael Wilcox

Please help us welcome Lael Wilcox to the Osprey Athlete team! We're stoked to work with Lael this year. We sat down with Lael to learn a little bit more about her background, her goals for the upcoming year, where she finds her motivation to ride and more! Read on!

Hey Lael! Can you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?

I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska and now I live in Tucson, I still love Alaska and visit often, but the winters are too dark for me. I love to spend as much time outside as possible and the desert in the winter is a great place for that. I’m usually traveling all summer for races and trips, so I’m rarely in Tucson when it gets unbearably hot.

A person on a bike in a desert landscape Image via Rugile Kaladyte

Can you share with us how your cycling journey began? What is your first cycling memory?

I really started riding bikes when I was in college in Washington. I’ve never owned a car and have really only driven a handful of times. I used to walk everywhere. The bike was my first vehicle. What started as a simple commute, quickly became riding everywhere and a couple months later I was riding across the US. I thought I’d go on one bike trip and then move on with my life, but I never did. That was 15 years ago. I spent the next 7 years traveling the world by bike– working half the year in restaurants and bike shops to save money to fund my trips. I entered my first race on a whim. At the time, I was riding in Israel and realized I’d still be in the country for the Holyland Challenge, an 850 mile mountain bike race. I showed up with my inexpensive touring bike, running shoes and t-shirt. I was the only woman. By the end of the first day, I was leading the whole field– 25 miles ahead of the guy in second place. It all clicked– I loved racing and realized it was something I was good at. You really never know until you try it. I flew home to Alaska from Israel and bought my first race bike. A week later, I started riding 2,100 miles from home to Banff, Canada to the start of the Tour Divide, a 2,750 mile mountain bike race through The Rockies from Canada to Mexico. It all felt like a huge adventure– I must’ve seen 100 bears on my ride to the Banff. I rode over 100 miles a day and slept outside for 19 nights just to get there. That summer, I beat the women’s record on the Tour Divide by 3½ days.

A person riding a bike alongside a road, with the sun shining in the background Image via Rugile Kaladyte

Why cycling? What is it about the sport that drew you in?

At first, biking really just felt like transportation. It quickly became long distance travel. Over the years, I’ve spent so much time on the bike that it almost feels like breathing. I love that first pedal stroke, when you feel the wind rushing past you. I love every minute I get to spend on my bike. Yeah, some of the ultras end up hurting a lot, but there’s really nothing I’d rather be doing. It such a wonderful way to see the world, spend time with people and have time to think and dream for the future.

I’ve gotten to ride all over US and Europe. I’ve raced and toured in Asia and Africa. I’ve made dear friends all over the world. I feel like the bike has been such a great tool for learning languages, cultures and land. Places always become so much more important when I experience them for myself. This is something I love to share with others.

I used to be a long distance runner and really made the transition to competitive long distance cycling when I injured my achilles. Biking is so much easier on the body. Recovery is faster. I can go so much farther on the bike. It allows me to push myself further.

I love all of the different modes– mountain biking, road riding, gravel, fatbiking in snow. There’s enough variety that I never get tired of it.

Ultimately, I love spending time outside moving and I feel like biking is the best fit for that. I like to hike too :)

A person on the side of the road on a big, reaching in to a bag, smiling Image via Rugile Kaladyte

What is your motivation to ride today? What do you look for every time you head out?

This year in particular, I’m very goal oriented. I’m racing the Triple Crown, the three biggest bikepacking races in the US including the Tour Divide, Colorado Trail and Arizona Trail Race. I’ve been training more than ever. I’ve been working with a coach and nutritionist for the first time ever. I’m doing everything I can to be in the best shape of my life.

The great part is that I absolutely love riding, so it’s more motivation to spend more time out there. I got to spend 3 days on the Arizona Trail this week and it’s wildflower season. After so much rain, there are more flowers than ever– pink, orange, yellow, blue purple– it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s that perfect time of year where its neither too hot nor too cold. What a treat!

Cycling is my job, but it’s also a huge part of my mental health. Spending long days out clears my head and helps me stay hopeful for the future.

A person on a bike in the desert, with an on-bike bag and wearing a backpack Image via Rugile Kaladyte

Do you have a favorite food?

I love food! My racing is all self-supported, so I often have to rely on convenience store food– sometimes for multiple weeks. If I’m in the US, the best options are pizza or burritos. In Europe, the bakeries are much better. I eat while I ride, so I don’t lose time.

When I’m at home, I prepare almost all of my meals. I make a lemon tahini dressing and have salad every day for breakfast. I always eat with my wife, Rue, and that time is very special for me.

If I had to narrow it down to one favorite food, it’d probably be ice cream.

What are your go-to pump up jams?

I got a smart phone in 2017 and before that, I’d never listen to anything while riding. I was missing out! Now, I’ll often listen to pop music, either when I’m excited or when I’m really hurting. Through the nights, I often listen to audiobooks– it’s easier to stay awake when I’m following a story. Riding across Eastern Oregon, I listened to Steven King’s It and it really creeped me out in the night. That was a mistake! Recently, I listened to Barbara Kingsolver’s new book Demon Copperhead– that was great! Before that, I listened to Billie Jean King’s autobiography All In– I’m so inspired by all she did for women’s tennis. My favorite of all time was listening to Lonesome Dove while I raced across Kyrgyzstan. People are still nomadic there and ride horses. It just felt right to listen to a story about cowboys on a long trip north.

A person on a bike with colored trees in the background Image via Rugile Kaladyte

Do you have a few favorite Osprey products?

Raven 14

I’ve used this backpack to carry my bike across the Grand Canyon twice on two separate efforts on the Arizona Trail. The 800 mile trail is open to bikes with the exception of the Grand Canyon, where you have to strap the bike to your back and carry it across. This is definitely hard and awkward, but the Raven 14 was great for it!

Transporter Wheeled Duffel 90

What a game changer for traveling with gear! When I fly to Europe, I’m often going for several different events and have to bring multiple bikes and different set ups. This bag has made travel so much more convenient!

Radial commuter pack

When my wife Rue goes on bike trips with me, often the deal is that I have to carry her laptop so she can work on the road. The Radial pack is perfect for it– great ventilation and super comfortable. I’ll do anything if it means Rue will come with me.