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The Spirit of Travel

Words by Ella Bloor

We all romanticise the dream of signing off, packing up and heading off on an adventure. But how do you prepare for a 7-month-long adventure halfway across the world, and is it all sunshine and mountain-tops? The LifeTime Grand Prix is quickly gaining traction as the premiere event for the world’s best gravel and endurance mountain bikers. After receiving my selection into the second edition of the series in November 2022, it became a huge logistical undertaking to alter my life and relocate for this opportunity. 

The seven rounds of the series are an endurance test in itself, as athletes train and prepare for various events from April to October. There are explosive XCO events, to twelve-hour-long gravel missions to races sitting at heights of 3000m and above. Between each round, it is a scramble to alter your engine, adjust your equipment and travel to an assortment of locations around the United States. Before arriving in the US, I was an architectural designer working in Canberra full-time. I had raced plenty of MTB and road events, with a sprinkle of gravel as it’s slowly on the uprise down under. I had never raced 100 miles, let alone 200 miles, but I had a wealth of experience racing and riding my bike over the years and knew this series was my next calling.

I landed in San Francisco in early April with myself and 82kg of luggage, and despite the arduous task of navigating two bike boxes through an airport, the elation of finally being on my way was exhilarating and equally terrifying. I only knew a handful of people in the US and barely had the first two weeks of accommodation planned. The rest was unknown. But even with so much unknown ahead, I knew the discomfort of the unknown was what would lead to some of the most profound and special memories. With the special moments, I also feel it is important to acknowledge the chaos and realities of travel in our increasingly curated, digital-driven age. It’s been a rollercoaster ride. 

The United States is undoubtedly the birthplace of gravel and is home to some of the most iconic off-road events. The LifeTime Grand Prix’s seven events include the likes of the Sea Otter, Unbound & the Leadville 100. It has been a huge privilege to even be on the startline of these gruelling events, as the lottery to enter is like a lucky dip with many people missing out. Learning about the history of the Leadville 100, or experiencing first-hand the scale of Unbound is something I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience. The atmosphere of these events is something I eagerly anticipated as well. Americans are renowned for their enthusiasm, and they love getting behind people going after a goal to better themselves. The finish line is a magical place where there are tears, celebrations, and embraces from loved ones, and the raw emotions from such a diversity of people is truly inspiring.  I was brought to tears myself during the Leadville 100. My day was deflating (literally), with a handful of flats, I was long behind where I felt I could be. In the closing miles, I had a woman cheer me on - “You’re doing to break nine hours! You ARE amazing!!”- and it’s this kind of elaborate positivity, energy and encouragement that Americans give each other that enhances how special these events are. The hype is real & these events are tough.  

The incredible diversity of the natural environment across the states offers boundless opportunities for exploration. In between training and racing the events of the LifeTime Grand Prix, I have been determined to make the most of my time here. I bought an old Jeep, named him Jerry, and together with my Crux and Epic, I’ve made some seriously special memories. From the Californian coast to the dramatic cliffs of Yosemite Valley, through the desert of Arizona and the snow-capped mountains of Colorado, I’ve been humbled by the beauty of environments so different from home. 

It’s been a comical contrast of highs and lows. I’ve seen some of the best sunsets of my life and unzipped my tent to glacial lakes. I’ve almost been taken off a mountaintop by mosquitoes and slept in my car next to a gas station as a final resort. I’ve seen a bear with her cubs, bobbing their way through a sea of grass. I’ve felt the thrill of descending in the thin altitude air and had the privilege to ride some of the best singletrack of my life around BC, Canada. I’ve mastered the motel jet-boil dinner, and have become increasingly comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’ve been crumbled by the generosity of strangers, and the unity Australians have whilst abroad. I’ve also grown an appreciation for the routines my 9-5 brought back in Australia, but have leant into letting go of arbitrary deadlines we set for ourselves and to just go with it. 

Amidst the heightened sense of adventure, exploration and gratitude, the instability has me sporadically longing for familiarity. Homesickness is an overwhelming feeling that has driven me to rock bottom on occasion over the last few months. The jarring unfamiliarity of living, training and racing abroad is a part of the experience and has encouraged me to deepen my connections with the people I’m meeting as I learn about their homes. Whilst I’m missing my friends, family and people who know me, the feeling of riding my bike is so known, grounding and empowering. I’ll forever be grateful to explore the unknown with my bikes and to meet new people who share this commonality.

As I’m nearing the final months of my time here in the US, I’m excited to see what the closing chapters of this journey will bring. I’m proud to have had the courage to live adventurously and take on this challenge, and I can’t encourage you enough to do something that scares you, excites you and makes you feel so deeply connected with the present.

Whilst the intent is not to make this about me, I’m so appreciative to those who have supported me, checked in on me & followed along. Thank you.