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Revelate Designs
August 20, 2015

After work special

Posted by Revelate Designs

A week of rain forecast – but then it cleared up nicely. Billy, the Revelate web guy, planted the seed, “Bike in Rabbit Lake, climb N. Suicide”. I respond, “sure as long as we do the North ridge!”. I got to the shop early, worked through the day, Dusty joined in, meet up, load up bikes, 90’s punk blaring out of Billy’s iphone. Started pedaling uphill into the mountains on a beautiful evening.

Rabbit Lakes is a short and sweet ride in the Chugach mountains right outside of Anchorage. With bikes it cuts off a 10 miles on your feet, and makes doing the Suicide peaks do-able with an evening start.

At the lake we transitioned to running shoes and ditched our bikes. We all forgot any kind of bike lock so we took all our QR skewers with us. Good luck carrying a bike out like that!

Around the lake, up steep tundra ramps to gain the “rather” knife edge north ridge, super fun scrambling!

The clouds were just playing with us, blowing all around…

Dusty offering some summit stoke!

So it’s starting to feel like fall, temps with the wind a bit brisk, fading light at 9:00 remind us that it’s not solstice anymore. Down we go back to the bikes.

Scree sliding and choss bring us back to our bikes. Skewers back in and head back to civizilation.

Super fun evening, fall feels like it’s here in Alaska…

Revelate Designs
August 16, 2015

Lael is on the Divide… Again!

Posted by Revelate Designs

Right now, somewhere along a lonely stretch of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, Lael Wilcox is back at it – quietly pedaling to find the best version of herself. If her blisteringly fast progress continues, this may just be the best there is.

Calling Anchorage, Alaska home, Lael already holds the fastest women’s time on the GDMBR. She set a record of 17 days, 1 hour, and 51 minutes during the Tour Divide in June. While racing, she struggled with bronchitis that set her back during the first week, and it was astonishing that she still broke the women’s record by more than two days. She was fiercely driven, stopping only long enough to re-supply, sleep for short periods of time in her bivy sack, and move on. Still, her illness had been frustrating. She knew she could ride faster. When an opportunity opened up in August, she set out to try again.

Lael is currently challenging the route in an August individual time trial. Her mileage during the first five days put her on track with the men who eventually filled the podium during this year’s Tour Divide. She arrived in Butte, Montana, more than a day faster than she had in June, and only six hours slower than Jay Petervary, who placed second in the race. She was four hours faster than Josh Kato, who eventually won and set a new course record, at 14 days, 11 hours, and 34 minutes. Is an overall record still a possibility for Lael? It’s certainly not out of the question.

To learn a little more about this ITT attempt, we contacted Lael’s partner in Anchorage, Nicholas Carman, who is posting updates about her ride at https://gypsybytrade.wordpress.com. He provided a little more insight into her goals and strategy:

Q. What is Lael aiming for in this ITT? To simply best her own record? To see what she can do without the setback of her illness? Or is she quietly going for the overall record?

Nicholas: She is aiming to ride her best ride on the Divide. Beating Eszter Horayni’s record wasn’t the point during the Tour Divide, even though it took some work and she did accomplish that. The point was to kick ass and do her best. There’e no reason to race and not give it your best. She told me yesterday on the phone, “What I am doing is really hard. I’m doing my best.” So that’s what she is doing.

The illness was a bummer and is the single greatest reason she’s back at it. Had she not gotten sick and recorded a 15- or 16- day finish in the Tour Divide, I don’t think she’d feel like she needed to go back. This spring, after the Holy Land Challenge (a bikepacking race in Israel), Lael grew confident that she could do better than 19 days on the Tour Divide. By the time she arrived in Banff the first time, she was feeling confident enough to tell me that she could do better than the (then) current male record of 15:16:14 from Jay Petervary’s 2012 ITT. Calculate 2,745 miles divided by 15 days and see what you get. She rode 183 miles on the first day of the Tour Divide.

Q. What challenges has Lael confided this time around? What’s different? What’s still the same? It’s pretty amazing to think of going for two long, hard, and fast efforts like this in a single summer — not to mention Israel in the spring. Jay Petervary may be the only other bikepacker who’s openly attempted such an ambitious schedule.

Nicholas: Also, we rode through Slovakia to Poland and Ukraine and then down to Greece; over 3,000 miles across South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland; Cairo to Israel and Jordan and about a dozen laps around Israel. It has been a good year.

Right now is as soon as she could get back on the route, but also about as late in the season as you would want to do this. Considering the logistics of preparing her bike and equipment again, traveling to the start, and timing her physical recovery, this is as soon as it could have happened. However, she only decided to do it in mid-July, and she left about a week later. She’d been home for two weeks, but didn’t feel like she wanted to settle in Anchorage for the rest of the summer and fall. She contacted a friend who is opening a restaurant in Austin and got a job there. So she’s really riding to Austin, via Bellingham and Banff. She took the ferry from Whittier to Bellingham which cut her ride to Banff down under 1,000 miles.

The nights are longer, so we bolstered her light system with a Fenix LD22, a powerful light for the slow climbs and technical sections when the dynamo isn’t enough. I think it gives her more confidence to ride into the night, which can be kind of a lonely venture, especially when you’re in a virtual race. So far she reports the Fenix light is awesome, and they sell a solid handlebar mount for it. It takes 2 AA batteries, which is the key. There are lots of good rechargeable lights these days, but very few good ones that still take old fashioned batteries. We tried charging a helmet mounted light from the dynamo during the HLC in Israel and it was a real challenge. This system is simple: wired headlight and tail light, battery headlight as backup and extra light on slow climbs and technical sections.

She struggles a little with motivating herself all the time. It is easy to think, “this doesn’t matter.” The days are long and you have to be focused and pushing all the time, even as you wake in the morning, in the dark. Even when you eat. She eats mostly while riding. Her Revelate Designs Gas Tank is a literal gas tank which she restocks regularly from the frame bag. I think she is eating a lot of sliced cheese and Fritos out of it. When she called from Butte she told me she was sick of eating, but she’s doing it like it is her job.

I’d estimate that by the time she reaches Antelope Wells this time, she will have ridden close to 20,000 miles in 20 countries this year, and a lot of that is off-pavement. We left Alaska at the end of last summer and toured for ten months in Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the Middle East, then she rode from Alaska to New Mexico, now she’s doing it again.

Q. Is her strategy similar this time around — i.e. sandwiches, no indoor stays, only minimal stops?

Nicholas: Yes. Not always sandwiches, but she prefers shopping at gas stations for convenience. If there were 24-hour health food stores at ever major junction she’d be eating seaweed and kombucha and apples. But that’s not the reality, so it’s Fritos and V8 and fried burritos all the way to Mexico. She plans to ride as much as possible every day, and will sleep when she needs it and not when she doesn’t. Sleeping indoors doesn’t usually fit that kind of goal, unless you’re dealing with weather, injury or illness. Plus, we don’t have a lot of money, and sleeping outside is free. We both sleep better outdoors.

Q. Is there anything about her strategy that she’s changed?

She’d riding a lot faster. I mean, she is pedaling faster — recording faster speeds on the bike, climbing faster, and she is still riding as long or longer than she did last time per day.

She left the maps home this time and brought a spare GPS. The eTrex 20 without batteries is much smaller and lighter than the maps. As of this year — considering the route changes which are exclusively available digitally — it no longer makes sense to carry the maps for navigation, except for broad-scale planning. To ride and race the Tour Divide, you must follow the digital line in front of you, which had better be the same digital line you and I and Matthew Lee are watching on Trackleaders. For most riders, it should be possible to study the maps before the Tour Divide, make some notes about distances and resupply services and leave that stack of paper behind. Lael has a clear understanding of the distances between places on the Divide, and she is well aware of all the 24-hour services like gas stations. She doesn’t crave a burger and shake in town, but she does rely on being able to get what she needs at 11 p.m. That’s the difference between a tour and a race. We tour most of the rest of the year. This is different.

Thanks to Jill Homer for putting this article together and Nicholas for chiming in! Go Lael!

Revelate Designs
July 17, 2015

Tour Divide Winner – Josh Kato Interview

Posted by Revelate Designs

Interview by Jill Homer, Photos by Josh Kato

Josh Kato, a 40-year-old nurse from Washington, won the 2015 Tour Divide in record time — after 2,745 miles of racing across the Rocky Mountains, he finished just minutes in front of his closest competitors in 14 days, 11 hours, and 37 minutes. It was an incredible ride, and Kato approached it with a humility and gratitude, determined to savor the experience rather than fixate on competitive aspects of the race.

Kato has already answered many questions about his gear and race strategy. In this interview, he gives more insight into his mindset on the trail: Overcoming physical setbacks, marveling in the landscape, and battling a mental low that nearly convinced him to end his race 400 miles from Antelope Wells.

In 2014, you had a number of unfortunate mishaps early in the race, that eventually forced you to withdraw with multiple injuries. Did you experience any major setbacks this year? How did you overcome them?

Last year’s Tour Divide seems like a totally different race to me. I did have a few physical challenges this year, but nothing like last year. I truly believe that most ailments will go away with a bit of time and maybe some small changes to your daily habits on the bike. Listening to your body is important. For example, pushing into severe sleep deprivation may not be the best answer for everyone to go fast.

On days two to for this year, my knees were killing me. I really had to ease up on the pedals for a while. I think that most knee pains that arise on the bike will likely go away with time and will rarely result in long-term injury. Of course everyone’s bodies are a bit different. I found that wearing my leg warmers more helped the pain go away. I wore them until it became too hot to handle in the day. The pain subsided by day six and never became an issue again.

I also notice that many of us on the Divide get a horrid cough at least for some time. I didn’t ever mention in my blog from last year but I had a pretty ugly cough from day two onward. It prevented me (and those around me) from sleeping well a few nights. It just seemed like the least of my worries. I ran into this cough again this year but not quite so badly. I know that a few of the guys around me also had this cough. It sure feels like a combination of mild pulmonary edema mixed with over-exertion and breathing in all sorts of dust and allergens. I couldn’t sleep well on nights three to five this year because of the coughing. It worsened when stopped and persistently nagged when on the bike. Whatever it was, it eased by day six and went away fully by Colorado. We are putting our bodies through some pretty extraordinary stress out there, and something’s gonna give eventually.

Then there was my stomach. Ugh! Having to stop every hour or so to heed the call of nature during a race this long is no fun. There was probably a day and half that my progress was quite slow due to these repeated stops. It was probably around day five or six that my stomach revolted and it still isn’t quite right. Of course, drinking unfiltered water from a culvert along the road in New Mexico probably isn’t helping my continued stomach ills at all. I only sat down for four meals during the race. I couldn’t eat large quantities all at once after day five so I just nibbled while on the bike. Donuts and ice cream seem to have helped the most.

What would you say is your favorite or most memorable moment from the 2015 Tour Divide? Besides rolling into Antelope Wells?

Wow, that’s a hard question. I have so many beautiful memories from the race. So many.

One that really stands out in my mind right now was the night that I rolled over the Medicine Lodge-Sheep Creek Divide in Montana. The sunset was absolutely gorgeous. As I descended, night arrived and brought a lovely crescent moon with amazing starlight. I turned off all my lights and rode slowly down the rough, dirt road guided only by that sliver of moonlight. I started to hear sounds all around me so I stopped and paused. I could hear breathing that was not my own. I turned on my helmet light and found that I had ridden into a huge herd of elk surrounding the road. Their bugling chorus resonated in my soul. I turned off my light and remained motionless. It felt like someone was pounding on a huge hide-covered cedar drum as the herd scattered. I left my light off and continued to ride for several miles. It was beautiful.

What would you say was your most difficult moment during the 2015 Tour Divide?

Waking up! I like my sleep. I had a total of four items with alarm clocks. I set all four most nights.

In all honesty, there was a point that I thought I might not continue racing. It was the evening before I got to Grants, New Mexico. I’d caught Jay P and Neil in Cuba earlier in the day, and then passed them that evening on the road leading to Grants. For that small amount of time (it must have been less than five miles), I was in first place. I began to have all these “racer” thoughts. I was calculating distances, average speeds, plotting stopping points, pre-meditating what items I could get at resupply points the fastest, figuring caloric intakes, expenditures. I was so caught up in “racing” at that moment that I don’t remember any part of the night sky or the dimly illuminated horizon.

For that moment I forgot my personal reasons for being out there. I was no longer challenging the course and myself, but was making it all about racing. My inner dialogue disappeared. For a while, I thought that Jay and Neil were stalking me with their lights off and I began to have these negative thoughts towards them and the race in general. I was in first place and had this weird reaction of not wanting to do it anymore. I stopped, and a few moments later Jay and Neil passed. I rode on for a bit longer, stopped again, found a comfy spot in the ditch, turned on my phone and texted my wife with a single word — “done.”

Wow, what an interesting reaction to have at that point in the race, and even more impressive that you moved past it. Joy is no doubt a strong precursor to success. What are your personal strategies to remain positive even when you’re hurting or things aren’t going your way?

I really was happy. You gotta stay in a positive place out there — I don’t know how a person would finish otherwise. I rode from Wamsutter, Wyoming, to Silver City, New Mexico, pretty much alone. That’s a lot of time for your demons to haunt you, and a lot of time for negativity to seep through the cracks of happiness.

Luckily I find a lot of joy in just being outside. If you are racing the Divide, that means you’ve been able to somehow sneak away from societal obligations for about three weeks. What’s not fun about playing hooky from life? It’s like being a kid on a really sweet set of wheels with a credit card and carte blanche in the junk food aisle. Yeah, it hurts a lot, but you’re out there doing something awesome, and you get to eat a lot of donuts while doing it. When I was hurting, I would try to tell myself that no matter how bad you feel now, you will feel better eventually. Nurses always say “all bleeding stops… eventually” Tour Divide pain is the same.

There are many people that can’t get out and do something like the Divide. They can’t for any number of reasons. Physical, financial, time or whatever. We need to realize how truly lucky we are just to have the chance to be out there. Wind in our faces, sunsets, sunrises, mountains all around, a chance encounter with a herd of elk. It’s all so beautifully simple. If I wasn’t having fun out there, it was my own fault.

Do you think you’ll come back?

For most Divide racers this is a one-and done- affair. Getting time off of work more than one year running to complete the Divide is a monumental challenge. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’m done chasing all of my Divide dreams. I’m not sure that will mean coming back to challenge the Grand Depart. For me, it was always about the personal journey out there. However, I suppose coming back on a tandem could be more of a shared journey.

Thanks Josh! We’ll have a brief part 2 with some final notes on Josh’s gear.