Around the World in 110 Days: Meet the Cyclist Hoping to Break a World Record

Chasing170 the Guinness World Record, Lael Wilcox will cycle an average of 170 miles a day.

Woman riding a road bike as the sun behind her

Lael Wilcox is one of the most accomplished long-distance cyclists but started competing relatively late.

Courtesy of Specialized Bicycles

At 7:06 a.m. on May 26, Lael Wilcox pedaled away from Grant Park, Chicago, and a clock literally began ticking: Wilcox was on her way to attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the fastest women’s trip around the world by bicycle, which she hopes to complete in 110 days. To accomplish this, she will need to ride at least 163 miles a day for 3.5 months.

To qualify for the record, Wilcox must notch 18,000 miles in one direction, with the same start and end point. (It’s no arbitrary number—18,000 miles is the circumference of the Earth.) Hopping between continents is permitted—as is sea and air travel—but 18,000 miles, regardless, must be ridden by bike. Since 2018, the record has been held by Scottish rider Jenny Graham, who finished 18,400 miles in 124 days and 11 hours.

From Chicago, Wilcox will traverse North America, then head to Europe before flying to Bangkok to cycle across Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore; she’ll then tackle Australia and New Zealand before flying to Alaska and starting the route back to Chicago.

Wilcox, who grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, has won some of the world’s biggest bike endurance races since entering the sport roughly a decade ago. Ahead of her grand adventure, she spoke to Afar about traveling light, sleeping on the road, and why the best way to experience a place is actually by bike.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

When was the first time you thought about the Guinness World Record?

In 2016, when I was racing across the U.S. That was the launching pad. I even went as far as getting a new passport, but I was such a dreamer, because I could hardly afford to even race across the country. I didn’t have a plan and I didn’t have a budget, but was just so in love with the thought of being out for that long, and all I would get to see. How it was a combination of this passion project of travel but with this competition behind it.

That race across the U.S. is still my longest race. It was 4,200 miles. I ended up winning the race overall—the entire field, men and women—but I was totally smoked. There’s no way I could have kept going. I was so exhausted. It took me 18 days and 10 minutes. This ride, I’m shooting for 110 days. It’s longer, but that was 2016. This is 2024. So I’m coming into it with a different level of resilience than I had; I was fairly new in the sport at that point. And I was just going all from heart and not from experience. I was digging myself into the ground, just trying to go as far as I could every single day and giving myself a hard time.

Now I’m in a place where I’m excited that this is my mission for the summer. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

The passport is new again, I’m guessing.

There were a few things I had to look into a bit in advance, like the passport and visas. I have to register my ride through an association, so that means I have to have a daily log of my miles—where I start and stop. I have to compile this information to prove that I actually did the ride. [Follow along on Lael’s journey.]

It’s a privilege to be an American because you can travel almost everywhere without visas. So I’m really grateful for that. And as long as I have these basic things covered, then I’ll just see how it goes.

You don’t have a set route within these points. How come?

I have a plan, more or less, but I don’t have to entirely stick to it. Anybody attempting this has to make their own route. And that makes a lot of sense because politically things change. I basically start in Portugal for the European stretch and then end in Tbilisi, Georgia, and then fly to the next spot.

But that’s also the fun of it too—I get to go to a lot of new places that I’ve never ridden and I’ve always wanted to.

What countries are you most excited about riding in?

Definitely Georgia. It’s a different alphabet, with huge mountains. It’s the birthplace of bread and wine. And I’ve just been fascinated with it. I’m also riding across Türkiye. I’ve never been there, and that has such a strong influence on so many countries around it—the cuisine, the colors, where trade passed through. These routes are ancient, a lot of them. And then I get to see it kind of in the modern day and see what it’s like to actually be there. I’m trying to average 170 miles a day, so taking in that much day after day is going to be amazing.

Are there days or times where you’ve built that into the itinerary—where you can just be?

People ask me that: How do you see a place if you’re on your bike? I think you see it in a different way. You experience every sunrise, every sunset, you have to buy food, you have to find a place to sleep. I’d love to engage more culturally, but I don’t have time for that. But riding through Paris, I’ll go past the Eiffel Tower, I’ll be in places where I’m present with all of these iconic things. I’m also inviting people to ride with me for stretches so it feels more like a local community.


Lael Wilcox is riding around the world unsupported, though says she will accept shows of hospitality when offered.

Courtesy of Specialized Bicycles

You mentioned people. Your wife, Rue, is along to document the trip and help produce a daily podcast. And you’ll mostly be riding solo, but you won’t be alone. What does your support look like on the road?

The record doesn’t have a distinction between supported or self-supported. Basically, as long as I ride the distance, it counts. But everything I’ve done is self-supported. I don’t want anybody to have to help me. What a boring job—to hang out in a car and hand me a burrito or change out my water bottles or clean my bike.

I can do it. So that’s more how I want to travel. I also can’t imagine like having a car follow me all the time. I think part of what I like about this is the head space of just being out. But the nice thing about it not being strict is that people can come meet me, and if they bring me some cookies or something like that, I can accept them. If someone invites me to sleep at their house, I can do that. A lot of the racing I’ve done is stricter, where you can’t receive any assistance. But the thing with that is that sometimes you’re turning down kindness. So I like having the freedom to do it differently along the way.

I like this bigger idea of freedom—that a bike offers a different way of seeing the world.

I’m exposed to the weather, the air, I have to climb up the mountains, I get to go down them. I think it’s the most fun—the most fun and the most involved mode of travel. I like walking and I like running, but you never get a descent; you never get to coast. On a bike, you feel the wind rushing against you. Everything feels exciting.

I like that. And I like that when you work hard, when you’re climbing, you get warm and that keeps you going, versus riding a motorcycle. I like how dynamic it is that you’re involved in the whole process, but you also get some moments of rest as you descend.

In a way for me, it’s become so normal. It’s where I think best, because I have all this fresh air and an appreciation for the place I’m passing. Because along the way I get hungry, I get tired. I have to take care of my own needs, but at the same time, I get to witness everything around me.

It’s pretty quiet, too. I see a lot of animals and I like that. It’s funny. When I got into this sport, I didn’t love it. I just did it because it was a cheap way to travel. It’s become so much more than that. It’s become what I want to do every day.

As travelers, we talk a lot about jet lag. How are you planning to manage that with your schedule?

I’m incredibly jet lagged [now]. I just got back from Spain a couple of days ago and I’m like, Oh my God, how am I going to do this when I’m so exhausted? Jet lag really throws you for a loop. It’s like I’m seeing sideways.

When I raced across the U.S. I averaged five hours of sleep a night for most of it until the end, when I started cutting back on sleep to catch the guy who was in front of me, which worked. But for this, I’m out for so long that I have to sleep a bit more, so it’ll be between six and eight hours just to stay sane. I’m going after my best result, which means that if you’re sleep deprived, you can make a lot of mistakes. And then that costs you more time. In the end you think, Oh, I probably should have just slept a few more hours. So that’s kind of the strategy for now. We’ll see how it plays out. The nice thing is that I can kind of change strategies as I go and see what works best.

As travelers, we also talk about gear and packing. What does that look like for 110 days on the road?

I ended up on the newest model of the same bike that I raced across the U.S. in 2016, a Specialized Roubaix. It just flies. It’s designed for people who race the Tour de France, but I’m going to race it for 110 days, so I have to add all this equipment to take care of myself on the road. The thing with that is that you don’t want to make it too heavy.

To navigate I use the Wahoo Elemnt Roam—a little GPS bike computer—and then on my handlebars, I have a mount with the GPS and my phone to find stores along the way. That’s mounted to a special case with a quad lock. It looks like a control panel of a jet or something. There are so many gadgets. Along the way, as stuff wears out, I’ll replace parts. I’ll replace the chain and the gears. For this long of a ride, I might end up doing that four or five times.

For packing, it’s almost like the same amount of gear you just bring for a single overnight just for 110 overnights—a sleep kit, basic tools, one outfit. I’ll be living in that. I can’t bring everything for every situation. So I just bring stuff to sleep, some food, some tools, and make it work.

How does who you are as a traveler play into riding around the world? Are you someone who just rolls with the punches?

I was drawn into this style of racing because I like going into situations that are unknown and with unexpected outcomes, and I like thinking on my feet and figuring it out.

In this sport, you really have to, because you really can’t calculate every situation. Even if you make plans, it’s usually kind of worthless because it never works out. For me, that’s perfect because I don’t really like planning in the first place. I can just kind of wing it. This ride, it’s like, Yes, I want to break this record. I feel very serious about that, but I’m also like, Oh, the opportunity of a lifetime. I can’t believe I get to do this. I get to actually ride my bike around the world for three and a half months and see all the places and experience them.

Is there anything else you want people to know about your trip?

I started competing when I was 28 or 29 years old. People said, Well, you’d better do it while you’re young. Now I’m 37 and I’m still doing it. It’s a gift that I get to do this and I’m healthy and have this kind of access and freedom.

But I also hope that people in their own lives feel like if they are curious or want to have some kind of adventure, then they have the confidence to try. And I think my story, that’s maybe why it’s important. Because people look at me and see I don’t look like a super human, and I do these things that seem impossible, even to me. That’s something worth fighting for.

Katherine LaGrave is a deputy editor at Afar focused on features and essays.
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