Many of us work all year to afford a few weeks of vacation play or relaxation.

But Anchorage's Lael Wilcox has turned that working stiff formula on its head. She and partner Nicholas Carman work only as long as necessary to afford lengthy bike trips in other parts of the world. And now they're off again, leaving last week to ride through Europe over the next few months. In addition to Europe, they've pedaled across Canada and the United States, including riding across the Great Divide and down the East Coast from Maine to Key West.

Before they left Alaska's largest city earlier this month, they shared their story with hundreds of people during a show-and-tell session at The Bicycle Shop.

"We spent half of last year bikepacking across Europe, and are soon to embark on another period of travel, beginning in Eastern Europe, where we left off last time," Carman wrote on his blog before the session.

"Our bikes were ready to ride weeks ago, but in the interim, I've built them to be even better. New tires, chain, cassette, chainrings, bottom bracket, shifters, brake levers, and brake pads are all fit to Lael's bike; water storage and lighting systems designed and built for mine."

Ride, work, ride

The couple has worked six or seven days a week since March, saving as much as possible to make their latest venture possible. It's a lifestyle born years ago in Washington state, they told The Bicycle Story blog.

"I worked in Tacoma for a few years, growing more familiar with bicycle mechanics and life on a bicycle. One day, Lael and I rode our fixed-gear bikes from Tacoma to Seattle to visit her sister. ... The ride was nearly 50 miles. Though we were a little tired and very proud, it seemed easy," they wrote on the blog.

"En route to Seattle, Lael suggested that if we could ride 30, 40, 50 miles in a day, we could string some days together and really go somewhere. We planned a cross-country road trip for the summer, which fell through. Instead, we left on Sept. 18, 2008, from Portland, Maine, on our bikes. We arrived in Key West, Florida, two months later via Montreal, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

"It is also important to note that we immediately found work in Key West. After a few months of sun and saving money, we left town on our bicycles. This has been the approximate pattern ever since: ride, work, ride."

Falling into that pattern became both natural and rewarding.

"Work hard with a purpose, save money, don't worry too much, save money, sleep outside, ride a bike, don't buy stuff, don't worry, ride a bike, save money, work hard and eventually quit your job because your life is more important.

"We each make less than $15K per year, I think. Lael works at restaurants mostly, but has also worked as a math tutor, English teacher in France, baker, and a pedicab driver in Key West. I've spent some time in restaurants in Alaska and New Mexico, as a pedicab driver in Key West, as a marine forklift operator in Tacoma, a few months at Velo Orange in Maryland, and less than a year in bike shops in Anchorage and Albuquerque.

"A lack of overall structure is probably more important than anything. … Last week I went riding every day for seven days after work, and came home past midnight every night. At some point, I'll wake up to a substantial savings and an overwhelming urge to get out of town."

Talented racer too

Last week, shortly after their presentation at The Bicycle Shop, the urge was answered. The couple hitched a ride to the airport with Wilcox's sister at 2:45 p.m. By dinnertime, they were sipping beer while flying over the North Pole, en route to Frankfurt to begin their latest journey.

In addition to work, Wilcox, an East High graduate, picked up an impressive cycling victory in her home state this summer, capturing the 400-mile women's solo division of Alaska's biggest bike race, the Fireweed 400. Her time of 27 hours, 37 seconds was just 12 minutes behind the overall champion, Martin Renner of Homer.