Local cyclist ready for challenge of a lifetime

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Grace Ragland of Huntsville embarks this week on a trip of a lifetime. But it will also be one of the biggest challenges she's ever faced. She started riding a bike when she was a little girl. “And if I wanted to go anywhere, I had to ride my bike to get there,” she recalls.

She really fell in love with riding after she graduated college and went on a ride with friends. “We rode about 15 miles and I thought, this is awesome,” she remembers. “And I was pretty much hooked at that point in time. And that was in '84.”

Then last year, she made a big decision. “I thought, I've got to do this. I mean I got to do it now,” she said. Friday, Grace starts the Tour Divide 2018, a race the length of the Rockies. “The ride itself starts in Banff, Canada, and it finishes in Antelope Wells, New Mexico,” she said. “They say, you'll see varying distances, but basically it's 2,745 miles.”

Grace has been putting a lot of time in the saddle to get ready. “It's not something that you just decide I'm going to go do but for years, I've been riding and my endurance has slowly increased,” Grace added. “It takes years to build endurance.” She’s 57 now and says it’s time. “And it's just getting harder and now's the time to do it for sure,” she said.

The terrain won’t be the only thing though. “I'm going to be in the snow. I go through Montana. There's these things called grizzly bears that everybody keeps talking about. And they just woke up and they're hungry. So you've got to be able to deal with the wilderness,” she said with a smile. “You have to have the mental attitude and the want and the desire to do it.”

Grace will be roughing it for weeks. “My tent is in here,” she said pointing to a bag on her bike. “And that’s my sleeping bag. I have some clothes and rain gear in here. I have some food. I have my water.” She’ll be replenishing supplies along the way and relying on herself. “I'm going to do what I can do, the best I can do,” she said.

You might say Grace has something to prove. “I was diagnosed with MS in 1980 and my first symptom of M.S. was when I was 10 years old. So I really don't know life without MS.” She remembers the day her mother gave her the news. “She said Grace, I want you to read all this and then I want you to throw it away. It's information on Multiple Sclerosis. You have a diagnosis of MS,” she recalled. “You're going to go live your life to the fullest and you'll figure it out.”

And it looks like she’s right on course, conquering more than just the trail. “I leave MS in the dust is what I like to say,” Grace added. “My bike is one of my disease-modifying therapies. It keeps me healthy. It keeps me happy.”

The Tour Divide 2018 will be a test of endurance. “It could be 40 days, it could be 50 days. If it's 60 days, I don't care, I'm going to do it! I'll be tired, but I'm going to do it,” she said. Her goal is to finish and she has a plan of attack. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” she said with a laugh. “So I'm going to take it one day at a time.”

We’ll be keeping up with Grace during the race. And you can too. Here’s a link to her GPS tracker. And she's sharing her great adventure with daily updates on her personal blog along the way. Click here to see how she's doing.