GW Neal has overcome a lot over the last couple of years, from receiving a kidney transplant to taking on a 2,200 mile self-supported bikepacking adventure and more. Learn more about his most recent adventure, his challenges, and his goals for the future below. Where are you from? I’m from Anchorage, Alaska. I moved here in 2011 with 2 bags and a bicycle. I grew up in Washington, Pennsylvania. What do you do for a living? I’m the guy on the other end of the phone at When did you start cycling and how did you transition into adventure cycling? I started cycling with BMX when I was young in the 80’s. In high school I got into mountain biking with a small group of buddies. In 9th grade I broke my MTB and couldn’t afford to fix it. I worked off the cost of the repair at my local shop and that led to my first bike shop job. I’ve continued to ride since then, even seriously racing a bit at times. I would say my transition into adventure cycling started to take place just before moving to Alaska. I was a daily commuter and enjoyed long distance riding. After riding a loaded fat bike into the Alaska backcountry, I was hooked! After battling some health issues resulting in a kidney transplant, you decided to tackle a bike adventure to regain your fitness and strength. What route had you originally planned to complete? Why did you choose this route? I originally planned on racing the Tour Divide this year. I was training pretty hard through the winter and into the spring. I became mentally exhausted with the daily preparation and discussion of the Tour Divide and decided to switch my route. I researched some different off-road and on-road routes and found the ACA Sierra Cascade Route very appealing. GW Neal You ended up having to re-route mid-way due to forest fires in California. How did you develop your alternative route? I rode 3/4 of the Sierra Cascade Route and I had heard of several forest fires shortly after entering California. As I made it closer to Tahoe the buzz about forest fires in the area was very loud. I actually rode through a pretty serious fire on 395 as I made my way into Lee Vining, California.  I stopped into the library to use the internet and met up with some US Forest Service Fire Fighters. I showed them my intended route and they told me about other fires that would stop me from passing through my intended route (mainly through the Lake Isabella, California area). The temperature had also been 100+ degrees for a few days leading up to Lee Vining, so I took the rest of the day to do some research and figure out how to get to San Francisco. From there, I just kept the Pacific Ocean to my right as I made my way to Tijuana! How did you figure out you needed a kidney transplant? What type of symptoms were you experiencing? How was the donor process? It seems like you got one pretty quickly. I was diagnosed with Lupus Nephritis when I was 11 years old. For the most part I managed to live a relatively normal adult life. End stage renal failure, dialysis, and a kidney transplant where always in my mind as a possible outcome, but I guess a person never really wants to actually believe it. During the fall of 2013 I started feeling incredibly tired and in December I started losing my vision. I’m a bit stubborn so I finally gave in and went to the eye doctor. My retinas were swelling and causing loss of vision. They took my blood pressure thinking that it might be the cause of the swelling and it was 240/150. I was in the nephrologist (kidney doctor) office the next day and on dialysis very shortly after that. I spent the better part of a year on dialysis. During that time my girlfriend’s sister (Sandlin Seguin) offered to donate her kidney to me. We were a match, and I am really happy about that! When did your kidney transplant take place? How soon after were you able to begin riding? How soon after did you leave for your trip? 12/29/2014. Since they do not transplant organs in Alaska I had to go to Seattle for the surgery. I had a couple of compilations. I had rejection and micro-clotting in the transplanted kidney. It took 10 very horrible days to beat it. The whole process took me about six weeks until I was allowed to fly home. I think I was back on a bike within the next month. I was on blood thinners and the doctors did not want me riding because they feared that I would fall and acquire serious internal bleeding. Like I said earlier, I am a bit stubborn – so I got on craigslist and bought a 3 speed Worksman folding tricycle off of an elderly lady and attempted to ride it around my block. Once I made it around once, then I went twice, and so on. Eventually I was going fast enough that the tricycle was actually more dangerous, so I switched to my fat bike. A much more stable choice. In August of 2015 – just 8 months post transplant I did about 700 miles on a bikepacking trip around the state of Maine. This year’s Sierra Cascade trip was about a year and a half post transplant. GW Neal Tell us about the route – mileage, elevation gain, terrain, resupply, etc? The route was amazing. The areas in Washington and Oregon were much more remote than I had expected from a road touring route. The road conditions were also rougher and in general more fun to ride than I expected. Most of the riding was done on Forest Service roads that may or may not have been taken care of during the last 50 years. Resupply was relatively easy and not an issue, however there are multiple areas throughout Washington and Oregon with 90 to 120 miles of no services. For my particular trip I rode a total of 2,137.72 miles and my elevation gain was 132,398 feet.
What did your rig look like? What bike did you use?
I built myself a Tour Divide rig prior to changing my route, and since I had it built I decided to change my MTB tires to a 40c gravel style tire and ride what I had.  Nicholas Carman gave me a Surly Krampus frame last year and I got the Niner carbon fork for it. I rode a SRAM XX1 11 speed set up. I had a double spider on my crank with a 34t front chain ring and a 28t chain ring for a finger shift insurance granny gear. This set up worked really well for me, but I wish I would of used a 36/30 instead. The 28t is very low. I ran a Son Dynamo hub, a K-Lite lighting system, and a Sinewave USB charger. My bike bags are by Alaska’s Revelate Designs and Stephen Balcao. GW Neal What was your favorite town you passed through? That is such a tough question because I experienced so many amazing places. But, I made a wrong turn coming out of Crater Lake National Park and descended about 20 miles in the wrong direction. The descent was a beautiful mountainous decent ending with cows running along side of me in open range fields on both sides of the road. The sun was in that perfect spot as it was setting behind the mountains and I ended up in a small town called Fort Klamath, Oregon. That was a magical ride – even if it was in the wrong direction!
Did you set any goals aside as far as finishing time goes? Was that effected by unknowing how your body would react?
I did. I take a monthly anti-rejection infusion that a medical professional has to deliver through an IV. I gave myself the maximum time allowed in between infusions of 33 days to fly down, complete the route, and then fly back. My personal goal was to finish in 30 days. It took me 29 days 9 hours and 9 min. I was very happy with that. A fast touring pace! Describe the sense of accomplishment and praise for your body after completing such an incredible ride after a long stretch of inactivity and health issues? First of all, I can’t describe how grateful I am! I couldn’t walk around my block a year and a half ago. My biggest worry was that I would do damage to my transplanted kidney. After returning to Alaska I quickly went into the lab for blood tests. The true sense of accomplishment and relief set in when the doctor told me that my blood work was ” boringly normal”.  I can’t tell you how happy I am that I can get on my bike and ride 100+ miles and then eat a huge slice of pizza. Man,.. pizza is awesome!
How did the kidney transplant effect your original cycling goals for the year?
The kidney transplant has kind of given me a different look at what is really important in life. For me, experiencing adventure and pushing myself on the bike is very important. The kidney transplant has made me go after some cycling goals that I have sooner in life, rather than later. I’d say if anything the transplant has caused me to get after and attempt my goals instead of just thinking about them.
What’s next?
I still plan on racing the Tour Divide. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the rest of the Alaskan summer and continue thinking about other future bikepacking trips.
Anyone in particular you would like to thank?
My girlfriend Kelsey Preecs, My parents Bill and Debbie Neal, Gordie and Connie Preecs, Jordan Villella at Aerotech Designs for some sweet threads, Dusty and Eric at Revelate Designs, Stephen Balcao for the frame and top tube bags, Kerry at K-lite, My boss James Stull for giving me the time off of work, and last but not least, Sandlin Seguin; thank you for giving me your kidney. I can truly say that without you, this would not have been possible. If you want to follow more of GW’s adventures, head over to his blog here GW Neal

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