Emily Chappell in conversation with Lael Wilcox.
I had researched both women prior to the event and although I was in awe of their endurance stats, I didn’t really understand what a big deal this was until I walked into Rapha’s upmarket Soho emporium, usually a haunt for skinny white men, but tonight packed with women! The general hubbub was a mix of reverence and flirty excitement and rightfully so. Lael, fizzing with boundless passion was complemented by the witty, softly spoken (and a little bit proper) Emily.
In 2016, Emily Chappell was the fastest female to cycle the grueling 3800 km Transcontinental Race. That same year, Alaskan born Lael Wilcox won the 6800 km Trans Am bike race completing this tough, self-supported endurance event in just 18 days and 10 minutes and being the first American ever to win. They are the stuff of legends but what stands them apart is their dedication to getting women on bikes and in particular, bike packing. Lael is the founding member of Anchorage Grit a bicycle mentorship programme in US while Emily in heavily involved with The Adventure Syndicate here in UK.
Fresh from the Women’s Torino Nice Rally, a 700 km gravel and tarmac event through Italy and France over 10 mountain passes, Emily opens by asking Lael about this event. “We all set off together but everyone is self-supported and you try to get to the end in a week for a party on the beach in Nice. It’s not a race. I love racing but for this I wanted people to just ride bikes however they wanted to ride them. I wanted it to be a challenge where we could talk, camp together make friends and share stories.”
Emily who also took part, noticed that virtually every woman on the Rally had experience some level of self-doubt prior to the event and wondered how this could be overcome.
“Be honest. Share your story and let others know your experience. Invite them for a ride.” said Lael “Personally I don’t have self-doubt as I think … well, my leg isn’t going to fall off…… something is going to go wrong ….. many different things will go wrong they always do but the worst failure is not showing up.”
Lael started riding as a mode of transport. Little by little she ventured further and further until one night she decided to ride after work, stay out and then ride to work the next day and boom an endurance athlete was born.
“Everyone should ride through the night just once” she says “with the Trans Am I was riding for 19 hours a day. When you ride 19 hours a day you feel terrible. Your feet hurt, your hands hurt but you are also seeing the most beautiful sunsets and riding through the most beautiful thunderstorms.”
Although she is honest about her competitive streak “if I’m in a race I want to win” it isn’t just about the racing recognition. Her trailblazing spirit of adventure is infectious. Her face lightens up when talking about riding her bike super long distances. “You look at a map and think what’s it like to ride across Russia? Some people know what that’s about but I don’t so I want to do that.” Afterall, this is a woman who wants to ride every race twice “my ideal set up is to go ahead of time so I can ride the route with my wife Ru and really experience it and then I get a chance to race it after.”
She ended on her snack tip, not chips not pizza although both have been contenders, but a pint of ice cream, put it in your bike bag until it’s melted and then drunk. “It’s The Best.”