stories • happenings • adventures

Revelate Designs
April 3, 2015

ITI Interview with John Lackey and Kara Oney

Posted by Revelate Designs

We had a chance to catch up with Husband and wife duo of John Lackey and Kara Oney to find out a little more about their experience during the Iditarod Trail Invitational this year.

John won and obliterated the course record with a blistering pace of under 2 days, Kara placed 3rd in the womens and was the first women’s rookie to finish.

We had a uniquie chance to “spectate” the race this year, starting a tour in McGrath at the race finish and heading southbound along the trail. We got to encounter racers passing us head on (if we werent’ sleeping in the case of John!).

Plied with cookies we got a bit of depth about the race in this interview!

Eric: So how’s your recovery going?

John: I’ve done two races since [the ITI]: the Talkeetna Trio and then the Homer Epic. Did fine in both of them.

Kara: I was still exhausted in the Trio; only did one lap. It was cold and my fingers still had nerve damage and were numb, so I was concerned that I was going to get frostbike since I couldn’t feel my fingers.

John: With all the tussocks and the pounding [the ITI] just beats the crap out of you, especially when you’re trying to go fast. It was brutal. My hands are pretty good now, but I still have one finger that’s numb. It was worse for me two years ago; two fingers on each of my hands were dead for more than two weeks and it was hard to get any work done. We both got sick from being run down and pushing hard and not sleeping.

Eric: Kara, as a rookie what part of the race were you most concerned or nervous about?

Kara: I was really nervous about Rainy pass, nervous about going over by myself or with people I didn’t know, and I was afraid of getting dropped and being lost. I’d heard horror stories about the trail blowing in or nasty weather [when] you can’t even see the trail. I had a GPS but [the trail] changes year to year. I felt like if I missed something I’d be in thigh deep snow breaking trail. So that was a nerve wracking part going into it. But it turned out to be just fine!

Eric: So did you go over Rainy Pass with people?

Kara: Yeah, I ended up traveling with some folks. I made an effort to go with others during the daylight. I got to Rainy Pass Lodge at 8:30 p.m. and didn’t leave till 8:30 a.m. because I wanted to go during the daylight and when other people were around. So I took a really long break that I didn’t really need, but that’s my comfort level. It was a bummer since it was twelve hours.

Eric: There’s a flipside to that — so many people who are racing go through the pass in the dark and miss out on a scenic highlight of the course.

John: We had a beautiful sunny day, just gorgeous! There were some Buffalo hunters that had gone through [Rainy Pass] earlier and the trail had set up that night. It was a little punchy but all things considered it was awesome.

Eric: John, I read you had forged a strategy with your friend Tim Berntson: stay in the front pack going up to Rainy pass, recover downhill to Rohn, then drop the hammer on the north side of the Range. How did that plan go for you?

John: I was talking with [Tim] about his race last year and he was like, “If it’s fast, you probably don’t even need to sleep.” Tim and I rode together last year for the whole race and it was the third night where we all just fell apart, but we did it. So I realized that I can go two nights without sleep and push it and see what happens. Jeff Oatley give me some advice that the race doesn’t really start until Rohn. By then, mistakes have been made; you can easily lose the race before Rohn, but you certainly can’t win it. So I took that to heart and rode with Kevin over the pass. Then in Rohn, we were sitting there talking and Kevin was thinking of taking a rest on the trail. I still wanted to see if I could do it without stopping. I was either going to implode and see Kevin riding by me later, or if it worked then it worked!

Eric: Did you ever feel like it was going to blow up in your face?

John: I was feeling strong until I caught Andrew and then it wasn’t like I felt wasted — it was more like I lost motivation. It was two in the morning, dark, and I needed to get my head straight. It wasn’t like I was falling apart or super tired . . . just over it. I’d spent six hours chasing down someone, then I did it and passed him. Now what? [I thought:] “Oh crap, I still have eight hours of riding until I finish this thing.”

Eric: People say the conditions were as fast as they could be. But let’s face it, without the snow on the north side it was a very abusive kind of fast — bumpy as hell… How did you fare through that?

John: It was super abusive. I was standing up the whole time absorbing bumps. I felt like I was going super slow; just getting crushed and falling apart. I thought Andrew was way out in front and maybe I’d catch him out of Nikolai. Then after the race I was looking at the SPOT tracker data and I was actually killing it through the rough part. So I passed him around Sullivan Creek and was like, “Oh maybe I was doing ok.”

Kara: We actually train in that junk. We take our dogs out on the mushing trails when there is not enough snow. So we had some really rough training going into it. I bet it helped you get through that.

John: It didn’t hurt. It’s an odd skill I suppose. Like Peter [Basinger, multi-time race winner], he’s just really, really good at pushing his bike.

Eric: Kara, did you have a strategy going into the race, like trying to pace with the other women or were you out to ride your own race?

Kara: My strategy was to hit the pass during the day and to get rest earlier on the trail since that’s where the good spots are to get decent sleep. I knew once I got to the top of the pass I would just keep going and hopefully gain ground on people who had not gotten enough rest. It worked pretty good. I bivied for 3 hrs in the [Farewell Burn] from l4:40 to 7:00am, then I saw you guys.

Eric: When we saw you in the hills leaving the Burn you had just left a bivy. How was the night for you leading up to that?

Kara: It was ok, but I saw someone else bivy and it put it in my head that “Oh yeah, I could sleep” and I was ready for a break. Then just when I get everything set and into my bag, another group of guys that I’d ridden with before came by. If I hadn’t just gotten my bivy out I probably would have kept going with them. But it was 4:30 a.m. — the worst hour of the night. I got up at 7am feeling good and kept going through to the finish.

Eric: Hear the wolves howling that night?

Kara: No, I didn’t!

Eric: We heard a bunch of howling as we were going to bed on the last hill at Buffalo Camp.

John: Yeah, when I was chasing down Andrew I was on some of those rolling hills and saw these huge wolf tracks on top of his tire tracks. I was like, um, I’m not THAT far behind him and those wolves are not THAT far away. They are out there.

Eric: Kara, how was riding the [Farewell] Burn at night solo? It’s kind of an eerie place.

Kara: Actually it was fine; I guess I couldn’t see anything. Through all the frozen [Farewell] lakes and sketchy stuff, I could only see what was in front of me so I kept following the trail, oblivious.

Eric: Like, umm, is this lake frozen? It had been warm . . .

Kara: Right, well, I couldn’t tell so I just kept going and hoped for the best! I also knew that Heather Best and Tracey [Petervary] were ahead of me and they’re both veterans and really experienced and had been through it all already. I also knew it would be difficult for me to come up better than either of them. In this race, it’s invaluable to either have done it before or to travel with someone who’s done it before. As a rookie doing it on your own, it would be very very difficult to win.

Eric: How did your bike and gear work? Anything you wish you had brought or left behind?

John: No problems at all. It was amazing, super smooth

Kara: I had no problems either. I didn’t make a single adjustment, other than obviously tire pressure. Other people had problems with things breaking, frames cracking, fiddling with gear. Some people had some really bad problems.

John: One guy had broken his frame in two places. He had his seatpost pushed down really low and hose clamps holding it together as a splint. Amazing, and he still finished.

Kara: A lot of people had issues with the rough trail — of loads not being secure and things bouncing around, but I didn’t have to touch my stuff once. It’s nice to not have those issues. The bags I used were on John’s bike last year, so they’d already been to McGrath once and are solid.

Eric: Did the warm temps forecasted for the race change your gear and packing list at all?

John: Absolutely, we both left a bunch of junk behind — like the minus 20 sleeping bags. We both brought 10 degree bags, lighter clothes, lighter everything. It only knocked three pounds off the bikes, but it was worth it. We both ditched a lot of food as well, since we knew it was going to be fast. I dropped half my food at the start since I knew I could get food at the lodges and be at Winter Lake [Lodge] for my drop pretty fast.

Eric: With finishing times breaking the two-day mark, and if conditions align again, do you think we’ll see racers cut all bivy gear and go for it?

John: Dave Johnson [superhuman ITI 2015 running winner] did it with like no gear. He just napped under a tree with a puffy coat. That’s Bold. People can and will do it. I wouldn’t. It’s taking a big risk if something goes south. The limit for me with no rest is two days. After that you don’t gain any time, you just get slower. You’re going to crash. Take a four hour nap [and] you’ll be much faster.

Kara: That’s what I hate about records for snow bike races: it’s so condition dependant. The records are the records for that year. You could go out with the same effort and go 1/10 the distance.

John: Look at 2012, it took people two days just to get to Skweetna [90 miles in on the ITI]. Totally different race.

Eric: Kara, You’ve been getting more into self-supported bikepacking rides and races — Colorado Trail last year and now the ITI. Plan to do any big races this spring and summer?

Kara: I don’t know, maybe. I liked parts of the Colorado Trail. But I was not into the hike-a-bike. I was carrying my bike up to these ridges and hikers were looking at me perplexed like, “Why do you have a bike up here silly girl?” I like the riding but not necessarily the Type 2 fun — and there’s a lot of that on both the CTR and AZT.

John: On the full AZT where you have to hike [your bike] through the Grand Canyon . . .count me out!

Eric: Anything else you care to share?

Kara: I think your bags are the best out there and I’ve been using some of the same bags from when you were [sewing] in your garage. I still have all of them. We’ve both shared them in many races and it’s the one thing that we don’t have to worry or even think about. I have a friend who uses the cheapest stuff ever and it’s always on the verge of exploding and is such a pain in the ass. It’s so nice to not have to deal with any of that.

Eric: Awesome, thanks so much for doing this and for your time!

Revelate Designs
January 22, 2015

Powerline Hoodies

Posted by Revelate Designs

Living in Alaska means you deal with the cold and the weather a lot.

In the summer of 2008 I needed a good cozy fleece layer for a certain trek out in the Aleutian Islands. I had more time than money on my hands so cut apart some old clothing to make a pattern, added a hood then zig-zag stitch and hacked together the fleece hoodie I’ve basically lived in for the next 6 years. It was crude but endured the test of time and then some.

Constructed out of Polartec Windpro fleece, it was warm, comfortable enough to live in, did not absorb much water and took the bite out of the wind. It became my second skin for both summer and winter forays for the years to come.

Skiing the White Mountains 100 north of Fairbanks AK.

19 days into fat biking and packrafting from Yakatut to Cordova

For winter, the only layering change is adding a UL wind shirt over the top for when going fast, and / or a thin wool layer underneath. The Windpro fleece has amazing breathability as it’s simply a tight knit that provides wind protection, no laminates or barriers to get you sweaty.

Revelate is the kind of brand where we have ideas, make stuff because we want it, then kick around if we want to produce it for everyone else. Over the course of winter riding 6 months a year, year after year and wearing this fleece day in and day out, moving foreword was an easy decision. Problem is we’re not a clothing maker, nor do we aspire to be… different machines, different techniques, different everything. We needed a partner with the knowledge of producing technical outdoor clothing to make it happen. It took a bit, but I eventually talked Portland based NW Alpine owner Bill Amos into working with us on it.

The Powerline Hoodie was born!

The latest incarnation is simply a modern pro version of the one I scrapped together years ago. Same awesome fabric for winter aerobic pursuits and slightly loose fitting to accomidate layers under and over.

All the info on the product page here. Yes there are a ton of technical apparal options out there, but we felt strongly enough about this one to make it happen, Stay warm and get one!

Revelate Designs
December 3, 2014

A Letter from South Africa

Posted by Revelate Designs

A letter from Nicholas Carman:

We are in Nieu Bethesda, South Africa, a little town in the karoo that white people like to visit. There is said to be an house resembling an owl that attracts visitors, but I haven’t seen it. It’s a nice town, for sure, as the small grid of dirt roads sit in a valley at 4500 ft with a tall white church in the center and white houses with ancient above ground irrigation ditches which feed the streetside garden oases. The cities in this country are far apart with some farms in between, much like America, and as the country becomes dryer the farms are further apart. It is a lot like Wyoming and New Mexico; eastern Oregon, West Texas, and then coastal California near the sea. Mostly sheep and goats in these parts, and game farms. Nearby are ostriches and cattle, and nearer to the coast there are tons of fruit trees and vineyards. Nearer to the coast the cities are also bigger. Generally, the black people in this country are corralled into slums, or farm housing without water and electricity, provided by contract in trade for labor. Even so, white farmers complain that the cost of labor is too high and the black workforce is lazy. I think to myself that much of the reason they are competitive on a global scale is the result of cheap labor and a favorable climate. The stats say that the people of this country should be living like the Ukrainians, which isn’t a particularly high mark. But the whites live much like us and most blacks make up for it with widespread poverty. We meet the loveliest people in the karoo, farmers and professionals and mountain bikers, but I want to scream when they mention reverse discrimination and about how hard things are for them in this country– for the whites, that is. South Africa and its politics are a world away from home, but I have the feeling that I now know a little more about the American South in the 1870’s or the 1950’s.

And I thought I was just bikepacking across South Africa.

Lael says the towns are like scenes from a Larry McMurtry novel, only people drive on the wrong side of the street. Old gas station signs creak in the wind. Cold sodas and cheap wine are the mid-afternoon pastime of the jobless. The wind blows every afternoon. Nearer to the sea, the wind blows all the time although we’ve been lucky with weeks of tailwinds from Cape Town. Everything is fenced and gated in the country to keep livestock and game in and to keep people out. We’re warned of crime all the time– warned of “they” and “them”, the others– and I believe it exists, but it is a lot of the same misunderstanding that happens everywhere. Don’t go to Albania say the Serbians, the Slovakians warn of Ukrainians, the Americans warn of Mexicans, and Americans warn of other Americans. The dirt roads remind us of the Divide. In fact, we’ve found a fantastic new route across the country called the Spine of the Dragon, recently published in a paperback guide called Riding the Dragon’s Spine by David Bristow and Steve Thomas. It runs from Cape Town to Zimbabwe across the country, through Lesotho.

I think it will become the “Divide” route across South Africa– the accessible long-distance dirt route, the gateway, the people’s route. The spirit of the published text is inclusive and encouraging; by the people, for the people. All the GPS tracks are available for free download from the Dragon Trax website, although a donation to a charity of your choice is suggested. Great stuff. Mountain biking is thriving and self-supported riding is growing in South Africa. On the subject of mountain biking, a lot of it takes place on dirt roads. There are some trail centers near the city, which I have not seen, but mostly it is all 29ers and gravel roads. Some private farms allow limited access to more technical tracks, but singletrack in the country is limited.

We should be in Lesotho soon, and eventually Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi. I don’t actually know where we are going for sure, but this is what I tell people.

We were chasing some of the Freedom Challenge route for a bit. I’d read– researched– their extensive website and learned that the route requires some traversing permits. I contacted the organization regarding permits and GPS info while in Cape Town, but did not receive a response. So, we set off with the maps and narratives publicly available on the site. From Montagu over three fabulous days of dirt roads, 4×4 tracks and one historic donkey trail later, we had made it to Prince Albert. There, we met a guy who has some involvement in the organization who further encouraged us to explore the route. Then I got a tense note from the race organizer telling me that we were “jeopardizing the future of the route”. It seems there had been a communication failure, e-mails had sublimated into the ether and we were at risk of doing the opposite of helping the cycling community. I was hoping to do some important legwork to bring back info about the Freedom Trail, which I’ve since learned is mostly just the Freedom Challenge, which is a once a year inn-to-inn adventure race– not my bag, to say the least. Sometimes you’ve got to knock on doors to get some answers.

Imagine how pumped we were to learn about the Spine of the Dragon route. Inclusivity and self-reliance are the name of the game, and if you finish the whole route you claim the title of Dragon Master! Yes please.

The people we meet in the karoo are exceptionally hospitable. We have a habit of asking for water near the end of the day at a farmhouse. In four consecutive evenings we are invited inside, once given a private cottage for the night. Twice we enjoy a braai of lamb chops from the farm and wild kudu boerewors. We are sent away with kudu biltong and fruit in the morning. Forget what I said, these people have hearts the size of Africa. It is money and politics which lack heart, I suppose.

I think Albania comes up once a day between us. And Ukraine. We miss them both. There is magic left in these places, as some of the last countries in Europe not enveloped in the EU. I still have family living in eastern Ukraine where the conflicts are focused. I cared greatly for what was happening when I was there. But now, I hardly know the status of the conflict and efforts at resolution. It is a lot easier to ignore such things when you are across the globe. This explains my ignorance about all of Africa until now.

The bags are holding up nicely. Four months later and the colors are faded. I still can’t believe you cranked out those new designs the day before I left. There is some wear on the seatbag from abrasion with the tensioning system, and the structure could be improved near the seatpost, but when well-packed the bag behaves much like a standard seatpack despite the extra weight of the computer and the added reach over the rear wheel. I don’t worry about shock damage to the MacBook Air with this system as I did with the Carradice, or as I would with a pannier. That big buckle on the framebag is also super solid, although the system should probably operate in reverse so the extra length of webbing hangs down.

Currently I must tuck it under the flap every time I close it. The structure of the bag is fantastic, and I’ve become accustomed to packing and overpacking it (bottles of wine and apples, you know) without ever the fear of damaging a zipper in the process. The big zip on the non-drive side has been solid so far, but is starting to become more difficult to operate due to grit and wear. I’ll try to clean it soon and add a dab of lightweight lube to the slider. Lael’s zippered framebag is great, despite the daily punishment she delivers. Still, I think the zipperless design is the way to go for most of us long-term folks. I replaced a sleeping bag slider in Athens and Lael had the entire zipper on her rain jacket replaced in South Africa– each repair cost about $3. The tent zips are holding, but they are moaning in a way that is very familiar. This is my third Big Agnes Seedhouse SL 2 tent in six or seven years, and that includes repairs and replacement parts along the way. Zipper free in 2015?

My B&M USB-Werk charging unit died, likely due to wet weather in Europe. A top-shelf Schwalbe Hans Dampf tire delaminated from the inside at the same time that the knobs were also tearing away from the outside. Sealant went everywhere on the backside of Swartberg Pass, but I made it to the next town. I got a mysterious hole on the inside channel of one of my carbon rims– a cosmetic defect I am told– now repaired with some South African epoxy. A warranty replacement is lost somewhere in the South African post, the result of an ongoing postal strike. My camera lens rattles like mad, after several seasons of riding on my back. Sometimes I feel like I’m flying too close to the sun with all this shit. You know, I still own that 1985 Schwinn High Sierra, which is probably cruising the streets of Tacoma right now. That was a good bike. That was supposed to be the last bike I ever owned, but so was the Pugsley, and the Raleigh, and now the Krampus. I actually miss the Mukluk from this winter. I have been wondering if I could finally satisfy my “one bike for all seasons” obsession with a Mukluk and two pair of wheels.

We’ve been thinking about coming back to Alaska for a greatest hits fatbike tour in March, connecting a bunch of winter rides that were unattainable when working six and seven days a week. Then I’d probably work for a bit over the summer. Lael is talking about a real big ride next summer, barring any other wild ideas. Then we would be back on bikes full-time in the fall.