Fast Forward: The Film + Behind the Scenes with Lael Wilcox
One of three short films commissioned by outdoor co-op REI, Fast Forward is a beautifully shot account of Divide record holder Lael Wilcox’s attempt to race the Arizona Trail. But more than this, it’s an insight into her philosophy on life, her motivation to ‘ride fast’, and an inspirational story that will doubtless have you reaching for your bike, whether it’s to race, or explore the world.
For anyone unfamiliar with her name – and her rapid rise to endurance racing fame – Lael Wilcox is more than just a cyclist who likes to ride fast. Embracing both competitive riding and unhurried bicycle travel, she’s known for first touring the races or Individual Time Trials in which she participates, believing that “it’s a huge advantage to have seen the whole trail before racing it. It makes it like your home turf… even though I don’t live anywhere.” The lack of permanent residence is a reflection of her somewhat “feral existence”, as she puts it, in which half the year is spent gathering funds, and the other half exploring the world on two wheels.
Filmed and edited by: Talweg Creative.
As if that’s not enough, Lael also enjoys riding to the start of each event, from local fatbike races in Anchorage, to the Holyland Challenge in Israel, and even both Tour Divides she completed in 2015, once of which involved an epic 2,100 mile prologue from her hometown in Alaska. Prior to the making of this film, she rode from Nevada to the Arizona Trail’s starting point north of the Grand Canyon, tackling the route with her partner Nicholas Carman first, before stopping just shy of the Mexican border to return for the race.
We asked Lael to share her experiences on riding the AZT, on how it felt to be filmed, and how she and Nicholas chose to set up her bike for such an endeavour.
On racing the Arizona Trail:
“Everything about the AZT is difficult. Doing this at the end of October makes it even more challenging. The nights are really long, the trail is chunky, and in places the trail is overgrown. Nobody finishes the AZT without scars on their legs.
Rain in the forecast can mean wheel-stopping mud in the north, potentially making the trail impassable. The elevation range adds a complexity to planning, as there can be snow north of the Grand Canyon and 100F heat in the south. How do you pack for that? But the trail is exceptionally beautiful and fun, and there is lots of good riding and the trail is constantly changing. You have to talk yourself into a cowboy fantasy and just live it. It is an adventure, it really is.”
On being filmed:
“It is funny because you are riding for 12 hours and you see someone on the side of the trail with a camera. You don’t say anything to them and they don’t say anything to you, but you know they are there. When I first started having serious problems, including a severe nosebleed, there was a drone flying over me on a section of doubletrack through Babbit Ranch. I tried to be as honest as possible about who I am. Talweg Creative, the company that shot the film, allowed me to be myself. They captured what was actually happening, as much as they could along a route that is very difficult to access. The AZT is basically just a walking trail.
The point of the REI project is to inspire people to get out on trails, and I fully support that, because trails are inspiring. I see a trail and I just want to follow it, to see where it leads. The project was exciting, it was an adventure. If you are curious about a route or a trail, get out there. If you have to quit, then quit. But try, even just for a day.”
A special note on the women’s record:
Alice Drobna holds the women’s record on the Arizona Trail Race (750), having completed it in nine days and 14 hours and 53 minutes, set in 2015 on a singlespeed. Prior to that the record was 14 days – which Lael refers to in the film, but was quoted out of context in the final cut. The men’s record is currently held by Kurt Refsnider, with a time of seven days, six hours and 35 minutes, set during the Arizona Trail Race in 2010.
“Alice’s record on the AZT750 is awesome, and I totally respect her 2015 season. She is the first women to complete the bikepacking Triple Crown, and she established competitive times in all three races.”
How Lael’s bike was set up, and some of her favourite gear:
- Specialized Era Expert Carbon 29er
- Specialized Ground Control Grid tires 2.1/2.3” (Grid casing is great for AZT)
- Roval Carbon wheelset, with SP dynamo hub and K-Lite lighting
- SRAM XO 1×11 drivetrain with 28T ring
- Black Diamond Polar Icon battery headlamp (the best battery powered bikepacking light! 320lumens for 8hours on 4AA)
- Revelate Designs custom luggage: framebag, seatbag, top tube bag, OR silnylon bag on handlebars with bivy
- Osprey Raptor 14 for water and Grand Canyon bike portage (small pack, worked surprisingly well for the GC hike)
- Blizzard Survival bivy
- NS Aerial Pro platform pedals and Salomon trail running shoes
Both Lael and her partner Nicholas Carman are regular contributors to the site, sharing routes, gear tips and bike reviews. Currently, they’re to be found in Mexico researching the Baja Divide, a 2000 mile bikepacking route across the peninsula. Thanks to Nicholas Carman for supplying all images.
Lastly, if this film inspires you to race – or just ride – the Arizona Trail, learn more about the route here.