Faces Behind the Dots: Queen’s Ransom

Created by the bikepacking mastermind John Schilling, the Queen’s Ransom is a 225-loop showcasing some of the best trails in the desert west of Phoenix. This non-competitive ride is a favorite winter getaway for desert bikepackers and is considered one of the best loops around. With three nights of camping as a group, it’s as much about the friendships and community created as it is about the riding. There have been known to be surprise margarita stops along the route and ample resupplies to make it a fun romp around the desert. A great group of women are showing up to this year’s event, and we wanted to showcase their stories in this series.

Emily Elliott (she/her)

Bike: Quiring ti 29+ hardtail lovingly dubbed the Space Cowgirl

Where’s home: Redlands, CA

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your bike riding/bikepacking background?

I’m 37 and living the dream with my husband and 3 little dogs. I pay the bills by working as an [urban and regional] planning consultant and spend a lot of my free time doing something bike related. 

Like a lot of kids, I grew up with 16″ & 20″ Huffys, but in a hilly rural area not well suited to K-mart bikes, cycling didn’t really stick.  Fast forward to 2019 and I was coming to the end of a competitive strongwoman career. Having achieved many of my strength-sport goals including earning pro status and winning my first pro contest, cabin fever and isolation from always being in the gym, always on a strict diet, always prioritizing recovery, etc. was taking a toll. I was burnt out. At my husband’s suggestion we got bikes and I quickly fell in love with riding as a means of getting outside, socializing, and staying relatively fit and healthy without the monotonous grind and high expectations I was used to. It was freeing. The pandemic quickly forced the full transition from strongman to bikes and it became my new obsession.  Summer 2020 was my first bikepacking experience on a rigid steel mtb riding in the San Bernardino mountains with my brother. I was (and still am, but less so) afraid to ride at night. I was (and still am, but less so) afraid to ride alone in remote areas. I was afraid (not anymore) of my bike breaking and not knowing how to fix it. I was afraid (and still am) of mountain lions. My brother really helped me develop confidence in all these areas by showing me what I CAN do. He helped teach me how to work on my bikes and I’ve learned “through YouTube all things are possible”. I’ve spent countless hours sitting criss-cross applesauce on my garage floor with my dogs watching videos on how to pull and install cranks and bbs, how to bleed brakes, how to tune suspension, how to service hubs and headsets, how to not lose my shit with a tire that just.wont.go.on. In fall 2020 I went on a solo 6-day mini version of the SoCal Desert Rambler on that same steel bike and learned so much about myself and what I CAN do. There was still so much I didn’t know.  It was hard, there were terrifying moments alone in the dark on isolated roads, there was pain and cold, and there was community, connection, euphoria, wonder, and sheer amazement. I learned I CAN do hard things and haven’t looked back. I started bikepacking more and brought my heart-dog Skipper (rest in peace, buddy) on several trips with me – the Vermont Gravel Growler, Anza Hapaha, and numerous trips scouting around east county San Diego. We found and made friends that opened new doors of opportunity. I found new challenges like the Queens Ransom, Stagecoach 400, and Monumental Loop and made even more friends. 

Recently I’ve put my Geography and Planning degrees to use to add route making and ride organizing to the things I love to do. Last year, in partnership with local stakeholders, we launched the @RanchitaRambler route, geared toward first time bikepackers with the premise of supporting rural communities with our business while practicing LNT. Just before the Grand Depart, we presented the route, concept, challenges, and considerations to urban planners at California’s state planning conference, and just this month we produced the “Spicy Rambler” version of the route catering to those looking for a challenge. Inspiration for the Ranchita Rambler actually came as a result of meeting and riding with John Schilling on his Queen’s Ransom route.

How did you hear about the Queen’s Ransom? Have you done it before?

I heard about the QR through social media, and in fact, that’s how I’ve met so many wonderful people, events, and routes. 2022 was the first year and I’m so stoked to go back for 2023.

What are you most looking forward to on the route?

The thing I love the most, and what inspired me to create the Ranchita Rambler, is the style of the ride – it’s not a group ride, but it’s not a race. We ride our own rides, self-support, but camp together and share stories of our days’ adventures and experiences over camp meals. The camaraderie and community building that comes out of this format is totally rad.  As a rider, I felt way over my head with the technical terrain, and while I was among the last to roll into camp a couple nights, the cheers and encouraging cries of “welcome home!” filled my heart with stoke.

What’s your sleep kit? Do you prefer to sleep under the stars or in a tent?

It’s always different and just depends on the weather! I’ve come to really enjoy cowboy camping as my favorite (but trickier with a small dog, aka coyote bait), but for QR this year, I think I’m going for a 1p tent.  Group camping is fun, but in the sparsely vegetated desert and close quarters, I’m looking forward to a little privacy for changing and hygiene. I think of this event as more of a “glamping” ride, so comfort frills like extra layers, stove, and a tent are welcome. I’m experimenting with lightening my sleeping bag in exchange for poofy pants/jacket/socks and so far so good! It makes packing a little easier on a small frame bike by being able to break up the bulk.

What are you packing for dinner?

John’s event provides an option for a drop bag – fresh clothes is a perk! I love ice cream cookie sandwiches at gas station stops, it’s one of those things I reserve just for bike trips and I’ll probably toss the Mountain House biscuits and gravy in my bag – I love how warm and satisfying it is for breakfast or dinner!

Is there something you hope to learn or gain from riding the Queen’s Ransom?

One of my best memories from last year’s QR was all the great conversations I had with the other riders. Sure the quiet time riding on my own through the desert dreamscape was lovely, but so was hearing about others’ adventures, life experiences, and stories about what brought them to bikepacking.  In the post-pandemic era where I find myself craving connection and community, nothing beats riding bikes for days with people who feel like long time friends. So to answer the question, I’m looking forward to learning about the other riders, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t also think of the QR as a bootcamp to ride bikes better. :D

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I just want to shout out John for being an advocate for women bikepackers and making sure there is space for us when we easily could have been crowded out. The Queen’s Ransom, for me, is about community over competition and I feel that with the vibe he’s curated. There are several ladies this year and I am here for it!


Beverly aka The Bevinator

Bike: Phoenix AZ

Where’s home: Pivot Les

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your bike riding/bikepacking background?

I’ve been a mountain biker for at least 30 years (from Ultra running background) but am fairly new to the Bikepacking craze. (Have a few overnighter ‘s under my belt)

How did you hear about the Queen’s Ransom? Have you done it before?

Have known John quite awhile. I have not done  QR and will only be doing about 140 miles of the route.

What are you most looking forward to on the route?

It’s going to be a beautiful desert out there. Can’t wait to camp out under the stars and meet some new friends!

What’s your sleep kit? Do you prefer to sleep under the stars or in a tent?

Bivy sac and thermarest foam mattress.


Anna Gallo (she/her)

Bike: Pivot LES 

Where’s home: Gold Canyon, AZ

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your bike riding/bikepacking background?

I’m 37 this year. My passion is riding bikes. I honestly believe I work to be able to do what I love, and that’s riding my bike with friends, challenging myself and trying different types of riding, XC, gravel, bike parks and soon, with Queen’s Ransom, bike packing.

I truly started my love for mountain bike riding in 2017. I joined San Tan Racing and began doing XC races. I fell in love with Arizona because of it. 

Before that, I didn’t even know it was a sport or activity until I moved from Oregon to Arizona. My first mountain bike I owned and rode was a Craigslist hand me down Specialized downhill bike from 1995. I rode it occasionally on a Sunday here and there.

I’ve never bikepacked before. So why not start with a ride like the Queen’s Ransom?

What does life look like outside of riding bikes?

Outside of bikes,  I enjoy traveling to new places both domestic and international. I also enjoy setting up my telescope and stargazing.

 I also enjoy rock hounding and hiking with my boyfriend Patrick. I spend a lot of time with our 15-year-old chocolate lab Madison and work for a company called SMS Assist as an Operations Manager.

How did you hear about the Queen’s Ransom? Have you done it before?

I heard about it from the infamous John Schilling. 

What are you most looking forward to on the route?

2 big things I’m looking forward to. 

1. The challenge. I’ve never ridden more than 175 miles in one week let alone carried camping gear, food, supplies etc. on my bike before. It’s going to be insane. But I love a challenge and I’m looking forward to seeing what I’m capable of.

2. The scenery. I absolutely love the beauty of the desert. Especially the areas this route takes you. This year is going to be especially beautiful with the wildflowers that are blooming from the cooler, wetter winter.

What’s your sleep kit? Do you prefer to sleep under the stars or in a tent?

Honestly, if it wasn’t my first time, I’d totally be cowboy camping. But alas, I’m going to bring a down sleeping bag and borrowing John’s Big Agnes tent. 

What are you packing for dinner?

We will be close to my house the first night of camping so we will be getting tacos I believe from near by town. The nights where we won’t have anything,  I plan on brining some freeze dried foods. Something with protein and carbs like beans and rice or quinoa. Or pastas. 

Any other special snacks you’re looking forward to?

Anything salty and sweets. Pickles, jerky, gummy bears. 

Is there something you hope to learn or gain from riding the Queen’s Ransom?

I hope to gain my confidence in myself from doing this. I am a little nervous to do this as my first true bike packing experience. A lot can go wrong. I just want to feel confident that no matter what, I can over come the challenge and complete the ride.

I also want to find out if this is another cycling discipline that I will fall in love with or not. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’m excited to have so many others who will be riding this route and challenging themselves. Sharing this kind of experience and accomplishment with others who understand what you are doing, just validates the challenging experience. 

Shout out to John Schilling for putting this together and giving me this incredible opportunity to do this.


Kara Woolgar (she/her)

Bike: 2020 Niner Jet 9 RDO 

Where’s home: Mesa, Arizona

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your bike riding/bikepacking background?

I have been a pediatric nurse for 18 years! I work in rare disease.  I love my patients and my job.  However, working in medicine can be stressful at times. Biking is my happy place and has always been a positive outlet for me. If life gets stressful, I go for a ride and then I am ready to tackle whatever life throws at me. I just love being on two wheels and have been riding for about 18 years.  I used to race road bikes but loved riding centuries with a lot of elevation gain.  About five years ago I took up mountain biking so I could hit the trails while I was camping with my husband. I quickly fell in love with mountain biking and love the adventures my bike has taken me on. I lead rides for my local shop Spartan rides and I am a mountain bike coach for Ninja mtb performance.  I enjoy helping other ladies gain confidence on the bike and find the joy of riding.  I like camping and exploring the outdoors. I always thought bikepacking would be great because it combines the two things I love to do. I have gone on a few trips and I am hooked. I like exploring remote areas with friends by bike that most people don’t even think about going. 

How did you hear about the Queen’s Ransom? Have you done it before?

Hawesaholics Babes Ride On (HBRO) is an awesome local women’s group.  There was a lot of buzz around bikepacking but many of us didn’t know where to start.  John Schilling (the mastermind behind the Queen’s Ransom) was more than willing to host a Women’s bikepacking Q&A followed by an overnight bikepacking 101 trip. I was quickly hooked!   John shared many Queen’s Ransom stories. I thought the ride sounded insane so of course I set my sights on joining him for 2023. 

What are you most looking forward to on the route?

Enjoying the wildflowers and breathtaking views! I hope we get a few amazing Arizona sunsets.

What’s your sleep kit? Do you prefer to sleep under the stars or in a tent?

I am using the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack tent. To keep things light I will be using the fast fly setup.  Even though we don’t get a lot of rain in the desert it makes me to nervous to take the risk and sleep under the stars.  I am excited to try out my new 20-degree UDG bandit custom quilt on this trip. I am happy it shipped in time. 

What are you packing for dinner?

Since we will have some great SAG stops and a few gas stations along the way, I decided to leave leave my stove at home. I will be eating crackers and prosciutto for dinner with snacks! I love my oatmeal by Picky bars. They are in convenient pop up cardboard bowls so they pack flat.  Looking forward to using hot water at the gas stations for a hot meal.

Is there something you hope to learn or gain from riding the Queen’s Ransom?

I know this ride is going to be a challenge for me.  I am sure I don’t know fully yet all the things I will gain on this ride.  I am looking forward to pushing my limits with friends and hopefully sharing many laughs along the way.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It has been great training and planning for this ride with a few other local ladies!  I am looking forward to meeting new friends and spending four days exploring Arizona rugged trails with them.


Nancy Gray (she/her)

Bike: Pivot Mach 429 SL (QR steed), Intense Hard Eddie Singlespeed, Spectrum Road Bike

Where’s home: A little Arizona community nestled between Tonto National Forest and McDowell Mountain Park

What does life look like outside of riding bikes?

Growing up a favorite movie was Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’d say I’m a bit like “indy” – Indiana Jones. I’m a professor whose students likely don’t suspect that I spend breaks on adventures such as Queens Ransom – a moniker worthy of a Raider’s flick. 

How did you hear about the Queen’s Ransom? Have you done it before?

Via the master of ceremonies himself. I’ve known John Schilling since the early days of the Arizona Endurance Series (circa 2010). Have completed many bikepacking forays, not the least of which is Queen’s Ransom – 3 times and counting.

What’s your sleep kit? Do you prefer to sleep under the stars or in a tent?

When the weather is great – under the stars in a bivy. If the forecast is cold or there is a chance of rain a UL Big Agnes is the ticket.

Is there something you hope to learn or gain from riding the Queen’s Ransom?

Why I keep doing this?


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