To start this post off I’d like to share a few facts you may find interesting:
Anchorage GRIT was born in 2017. The brainchild of Lael Wilcox & Cait Rodriguez, Anchorage residents and avid cyclists with a passion for empowering youth on bikes. There has been a lot of leg work from Cait, Lael, a team of eager mentors, support of teachers and administrators, local cycling organization Bike Anchorage, Revelate Designs, Specialized, Big Agnes and some fundraisers and community financial support (whew! that’s a long list), in making this cycling program possible.
The six-week program took 12 girls in seventh grade, aged 12-13, put them on bikes, paired them with mentors, and a goal of a capstone campout six weeks, and nearly 60 miles, down the road. They learned a range of on and off the bike skills from bicycle mechanics, to tracing patterns for their own panniers, and learning about navigation. GRIT will be in its fourth year this coming spring, 2020. It’s likely that some of the girls packed away the skills they learned from participating, that they won’t really value the experience they had until they’re older, and cycling resurfaces down the road. But it’s also known that impact of GRIT has changed the course for some of them.
We reached out to Alana, who was a part of the inaugural year of GRIT in 2015 to catch up. She’s come back as a mentor in the subsequent years. We’ve also kept in touch since I met her through GRIT. She was looking for ways to fund her bike tour last summer and I suggested she make some jewelry with bike parts we had available at the local bike collective, she jumped on it! The next week earrings and necklaces were at the collective and she had a booth at a First Friday show shortly after. You can now buy them at The Bicycle Shop. And she funded her bike tour(s), which you’ll read more about below.
We asked her a series of questions about how GRIT has impacted her, and here is what she has to say.
How old are you now, and when you started biking?
I am 15 years old and a sophomore in high school. When I was 13 years old, I started biking with more confidence and enthusiasm after participating in the GRIT program.
GRIT definitely got me addicted to biking. The Lael Bikes Alaska Scholarship only made that addiction stronger. It also made me experience how challenging bikepacking is. Besides the physical challenge, it is also really emotionally challenging. Before I participated in GRIT, I really didn’t see cycling as a part of my future. I now believe it will be a key component of my life forever, whether that is commuting to work or long distance bike packing trips when I’m older. I hope to get into racing in the near future, as well.
Some hardships I encountered on my first tour included weather and social isolation. During this tour, I biked through the pouring rain and the hot, hot sun. The rain made me cold and soggy, but I also noticed that I bike faster in the rain. The hot sun wore on me the most. It was very mentally challenging to deal with the constant heat of the sun’s pounding rays as I biked. In fact, the hottest day of the trip was when I biked from Nenana to Fairbanks as there was no wind and over 5,300 feet of climbing in 70 degree weather. The other main challenge I encountered was the mental strain of being alone yet not truly physically alone. Engaging in little to no social contact was the scariest part of this trip. I ended up getting lost in my thoughts and becoming more depressed and alone as the days went on north of Fairbanks. Even with my dad and my dog along with me most of the time, I still felt alone. Eventually, it got to the point where my dad and I didn’t talk for five or six days and I found myself crying on the side of the highway a lot.
I love the views. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful places on the west coast by bike. Biking at 11 miles per hour and experiencing all the weather really adds to the experience. By going slower, it is possible to capture more of the beauty. For me, it was very mystical biking on the Avenue of The Giants road In Humboldt County, California through the pouring rain. It was also magical waking up at 6:30 am on the Pacific Coast in Ocean Cove California to the roaring waves and the mist in the field around me. This nature and these natural habitats may not be around forever due to climate change and lack of protection, so I feel especially happy and lucky that I had the opportunity to experience these places and lovely views.
Sources (People for Bikes)
³ Dill, J., and McNeil, N., 2012 – Four Types of Cyclists? Testing a Typology to Better Understand Bicycling Behavior and Potential (Working paper)