Miles of Portraits: Alaska – Getting Out The Door

Miles of Portraits : Alaska Intro photo of all the gear on the ground.
Yes, all of that fits onto two bikes for a thousand mile journey.

Getting out the door is an adventure in and of itself.

Who better to get us out there than Lael Wilcox, an endurance bikepacker, Trans Am Bike Race legend, star of PEARL iZUMi’s most recent film, I’m Not Stopping, and all-around badass? Earlier this year, she put a call-out to women of all walks of life to design a 1,000-mile route around Alaska. The winner of the Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship would ride their route on a brand new Diverge bicycle and get a bunch of cool swag.

I applied and promised myself I’d go no matter what. When I got notified that I wasn’t selected, the first step was to find Erik, my pal and fellow type 1 diabetic who I biked across America with last year. He says yes to every adventure. We soon made it our goal to find a way to get ourselves to Alaska anyway.

What is type 1 diabetes? I like to tell people it’s a condition in which we must do all the work for our non-functioning pancreases. Low blood sugars can be lethal and so can high blood sugars. It’s a life-long catch-22 and to be honest, it takes a lot out of us. But if this chronic disease has taught us anything it’s that our health is not a guarantee. We refuse to put off our dreams for “someday.”

We’ve both made it our mission to live our lives in motion. Our outlooks are similar in large part due to our diagnosis.

The second step in planning for this bike trip was how we were going to make this financially successful.

We settled on a plan to continue Miles of Portraits, a photo series that captures the people we meet when riding our bicycles really, really far. The series, which I started on our TransAm ride last year, is a refreshing reminder of the kindness that exists across America.

I currently manage my diabetes with multiple daily injections. Before eating any amount of carbohydrates, I must take the right amount of insulin.
Erik Douds checking his insulin pump on the ride through Alaska.
Erik manages his diabetes by "looping." He's part of a niche community that has managed to hack their insulin pumps to make them work like artificial pancreases.

It still blows my mind today that within two months, we found sponsors like PEARL iZUMi and successfully Kickstarted Miles of Portraits to Alaska. We’d ride 1,000 miles around the state; I’d take portraits and Erik would shoot a film.

There were some logistical hurdles to get over. How was I going to avoid paying $600 to ship my bike to Alaska? Is that snow in the forecast? How much peanut butter is too much peanut butter? Bear canister or bear bag? Bear repellent or bear horn?

We also had some T1D-specific obstacles to overcome. Would we keep our low blood sugar snacks in our tents in grizzly-country Alaska? How much and what type of food did we need to carry for five days out of civilization?

This is a long list of questions but we’re used to answering them. People pull us over to ask us about our lives as we ride. Eventually, I started flipping the question around on these inquiries. Miles of Portraits: Alaska is a film that continues to document not only our story but also theirs.

This episode is the first of Erik’s five-part film, telling the story of how this trip began and the kind souls who helped push us off on our journey. We’ll be releasing a new chapter every week for the next several weeks. We hope you’ll follow along!

Also, you can get your own copy of the magazine of portraits here.

Miles of Portraits: Alaska | Getting out the Door

Miles of Portraits: Alaska Episode 1

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Annalisa van den Bergh was born and raised in New York City by a Venezuelan mother and a Dutch father. She's a visual storyteller with a BFA in Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). She's currently riding her bicycle around the world and taking pictures of the people she meets. The project, called Miles of Portraits celebrates the ways the bicycle brings people together.

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