stories • happenings • adventures

September 12, 2019

Alana Rides

Posted by in BikepackHER

To start this post off I’d like to share a few facts you may find interesting:

  • Girls and boys share similar attitudes about exercise and bicycling until age 14, at which point more girls fear injury and doubt their own athletic competence.¹ 
  • On average, boys cycle nearly 6 times as much as girls (138 miles/year versus 24 miles/year.)²
  • People who are confident biking as adults are more likely to have biked frequently when they were young than those people who aren’t biking as adults.³

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.

Did you ride bikes before GRIT?
Before GRIT, I never did anything cool or serious on a bike like go mountain biking. I had a very bad old bike that I won in a contest in elementary school. That bike was too small for me and it broke down all the time. Even before GRIT I used my bike as transportation since my mother did not own a car for about four years.

What went through your head when you started GRIT with the challenging goal of a 60 mile bikepacking trip at the end?
In the beginning, I was very scared to start the GRIT program because I knew close to nothing about bikes and I wasn’t very good at riding a bike to begin with. I was terrified about the bike trip, but also excited to complete the program and learn more about bikes. Through the program, my passion for biking grew which was sparked by Cait and Lael. That summer after GRIT,  I rode my bike pretty much every day. I also followed Cait and Lael on social media as they traveled around bikepacking which I thought was one of the coolest things I have ever heard of or seen.

How has participating in GRIT and the Lael Bikes Alaska scholarship influenced your goals for the future?

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.

Can you tell me about a mental or physical challenge on one of your tours and how you were able to overcome it and stay positive.

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.

What would you say to other women who are interested in solo touring, or want to get into mountain biking, but are unsure about their abilities?
I would say, “Go for it!  Don’t be afraid!” I am still terrified of mountain biking, but I try my best to get out and do it as much as possible. For solo touring, don’t push yourself too hard, but also don’t be afraid to get out and explore. I know sometimes it can be scary being a girl by yourself, but if you let your fear rule the day, you may miss out on some amazing life experiences. 
What is the best part of bike touring for you? 

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.

What bike tour do you have planned next?
In March of 2020, I would actually like to do an off road touring trip! This 125 mile trip would take place on the Sky Islands Odyssey (East Loop) in Patagonia, Arizona. My hope is to go on this adventure over spring break of the 2019-2020 school year. I am currently fundraising for it by selling handmade bike jewelry at the Bicycle Shop on Northern Lights Boulevard.  I also have a Go Fund Me to help defray the costs of the trip. During this trip, I plan to meet up with Lael Wilcox for a few days, which is one big reason I wanted to go explore Arizona. Additionally, this adventure will hopefully be the start of more off-road trips. I am also in the beginning stages of planning my next road tour trip and am currently taking suggestions on where I should go. You can contact me at my email for more information on upcoming trips or how to get involved.