Field Guide: Carlie Lamke
O&S: Let’s start at the beginning of your cycling career, how did you first get into it?
CL: I volunteered at a bike shop in college, and that's when I got my first road bike, which I actually got for free. It was like a 1980’s Miyata steel frame, it was very clunky, but hey it was free. After graduation I moved to Colorado and bought a slightly nicer road bike, and started bike a lot. I was also hiking a lot, as one does when they live in Colorado. But... unpopular opinion, I didn't really like hiking, I find it kind of slow and boring compared to cycling. So I found myself riding more and more and hiking less and less.
O&S: I’d have to agree
CL: After living in Colorado for about a year and a half I heard about an ultra bike race in Iceland and that was about six months away. At that point I had only just ridden my first century, so I was still very green, but I just signed up and thought “Whatever, let's see if I can do it”. So I bought myself an indoor trainer off of facebook marketplace and made it happen.
O&S: What was the race in Iceland?
CL: It’s called the Westfjords Way Challenge. It was a four day stage race about 1000 km, 45,000 ft of elevation. The last day (stage 4) took me about 22 hours, and I was hallucinating and it was nuts! But I did it, and it was really empowering to accomplish something so big, up until that point in my life I had never pushed myself like that.
O&S: What was the initial draw to the ultra endurance style riding, it’s quite the jump from doing your first century ride to flying to Iceland for a 4 day race?
CL: Even for my first century, I only found out about a few weeks prior and just said ‘sure why not’, of course then I didn't know how hard it was going to be. I think it’s good for me and I’ve always liked that type 2 fun, it started with hiking and backpacking, but with biking I also had the thrill of riding as well.
O&S: That’s still quite the leap to - from your first century ride to the Westfjords Challenge?
CL: That was a bit of a new year's resolution, and I may have had a few drinks when I signed up for it too… but I woke up the next day and still thought it was a good idea. Plus I had been to Iceland a year before and I always wanted to go back.
O&S: So how did you end up in Colombia of all places?
CL: I work in poverty research and my company has an office in Colombia, which is amazing. When I went there in November and a few of my coworkers liked riding so they set up a ride for us to do, they saw that I was pretty strong and they told me that I had to come back for this ride called Transcrodilleras.
O&S: From what I’ve heard it’s a crazy ride, can you give us a recap?
CL: Yeah, it’s an eight day eight stage gravel race in the Colombian Andes. Every year it’s a different route, but it always crosses the three ranges of the Andes. This year it started in Cali and traversed north. It was 600 miles and I think something like 65,000ft of climbing. And Colombian gravel is not like anything I’ve seen in the States, it’s gnarly, it’s like rocky mountain biking. Some people were on full suspension mountain bikes, and I was on my gravel bike and never in my life have I had such sore arms from cycling. But it was an amazing experience and i was the only woman to compete, so by default I was the women's champion
O&S: Colorado is a bit of a mecca for cycling here in the US, but as it turns out Colombian riding is pretty world class too, if you had to pick one what would you choose?
CL: The countries definitely value the sports differently, in the States I've almost been run off the road so many times, I get yelled at and flipped off all the time. It does seem like drivers in the States don't like cyclists all that much. Maybe I'm stereotyping a little bit but that's my general feeling. But that being said, there is still an amazing cycling community here in the US, in particular the gravel community. There's that phrase ‘the spirit of gravel’ which sounds so corny, but gravel cycling just tends to attract people who are maybe more relaxed about cycling in general. It’s those people who want to get deeper into the country, go for the dirt roads or the roads less traveled, and I do find a home in that community in the States. In Colombia, people have a love of cycling and cyclists, I think most Colombians would agree. The country is almost defined by cycling. So I never had a fear of being run off the road, quite the opposite actually, I’d be in a town in the middle of nowhere and someone would see I was riding and people would cheer me on or give me free bananas and juice. No matter what little town I was in, people would cheer me on. If you're a cyclist I would recommend going there in a heartbeat.
O&S: So is it your personality or the amazing terrain and community in Colombia that leads you to seek out this multi day adventure type riding.
CL: I think it’s both, I am definitely drawn to pushing my limits and being on the bike for a few days at a time. There was so much to explore in Colombia that I had to make the most of it. I was never alone in Colombia in finding people who liked to spend a weekend riding 300 miles
O&S: And is it true you dont ride with a computer even on these big rides or races?
CL: Yea, you can get by with a cell phone and an extra battery back just fine. I survived 8 days in the Colombian wilderness. I don't really care to have all that data.