Over the weekend, I got home from a 600-mile solo ride through the deep south. I had the privilege of spending 6.5 long days and nights within surprisingly remote forests. I encountered dozens of white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, several species of snakes, tree frogs, pitcher plants, kites, bats, and woodpeckers, and I got to watch the forest morph before my eyes over a week as I rode along. I dodged storms, got serenaded to sleep by coyotes, and was pleasantly surprised by my experience as I headed south over the last vestiges of the Appalachians in Alabama and across empty swaths of the Florida Panhandle, renewing my faith in the power of wild places, even here on the East Coast.
Unfortunately, I returned to internet drama. I knew that Lael Wilcox was out attempting the Arizona Trail at the same time I was on this trip. Honestly, I thought about her daily, as well as the feats and words of others such as Alexandera Houchin and Neil Beltchenko. I was pushing myself, pedaling about 100 miles per day from sun up to sun down, and still documenting the route and taking photos. That’s pretty big for me. I’m not a racer, nor do I want to be, so 100 miles is a personal challenge—to the point where by mile 90 on each day my ass and hands felt destroyed and I was usually muttering “how the hell do you people do this 22 hours per day, multiple days on end!?” I thought about Lael and others often when I was in dark places alone pedaling through endless national forests, grinding out the miles, searching for church spigots to save time filtering water, and hiding under gas station awnings waiting for lightning storms to pass. Morale boosts included podcasts, rewarding myself with chocolate and snacks every dozen miles, and chatting with Virginia over dinner next to my tent.
Personally, I don’t care whether Lael had a media team following her on her FKT attempt at the AZT800. And I offer her my congrats for completing that challenging route faster than anyone before her and inspiring us as usual. In my opinion, many of the rules injected into FKTs and ultra-endurance races are illogical, although complex. You can FaceTime people from your tent, talk on the phone, read a book, play video games, or paint watercolor pictures. But records are questioned if there are certain professional image makers nearby? I understand to some degree, but having spent months on my bike by myself, I don’t see the advantage or a reason why this should dilute someone’s performance as long as they are self-supported and there’s no direct contact or outside help. Then again, I clearly place a high priority in creating content to inspire others to tackle bike adventures and challenges, which is the bedrock of this website. Either way, that’s my opinion.
For the record, my general sentiment isn’t for or against anyone—Lael, Rue, or the race director of the AZT800. It’s that I think if there are FKTs, they should be able to be documented without challenge. That’s not to say that I don’t see the argument. I do. There are also nuances based on the route and we even have conflicting ideas here on the team that deserve constructive discussion. Either way, there are too many factors that can offer advantages (as in “morale” boost) in ulra-endurance bikepacking, and seeing a photographer or videographer here and there on course is just one of them. There are also a lot of individuals angry about what happened, including racers who’ve had films made about their FKT attempts—without challenge.
At any rate, I’m pretty refreshed from my ride. On the way home, I caught one of my favorite podcast’s Earth Day episode, which resonated with me as I reflected on my time spent in the forest. If you haven’t checked out “The Wild,” give it a listen below. It’s a good episode that condenses 46.5 billion years into 46, putting what’s important in perspective. Go out and ride your bike and take in some plants and animals this week.
For those awaiting updates on the Eastern Divide Trail, I apologize for the radio silence. This is a massive project with a lot of moving parts, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, we didn’t get as much scouting feedback as we’d hoped last summer, so there’s still a little more to do. As of right now, we plan to release the main map page and section guides for segments 5-7 in May. All of these are very near completion with just a couple of small connections being rerouted at the moment. Segments 3 and 4 should be ready later in the summer, and we’re hoping to have the route finished in its entirety by late August. Technically, the greater project is still on schedule as planned, although the first guides are a little bit behind. Stay tuned.
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