stories • happenings • adventures

July 20, 2017

Something Old & Something New

Posted by Holly

Today’s blog post starts with a history lesson and ends with an innovation. If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ve probably heard about the Lost Coast trip before, but it is the inspiration for the “something new” so bare with me…

Nearly a decade ago Eric and Dylan Kentch set out on a trip along the Gulf Cost of Alaska. To call it a “bikepacking” would be a generous compliment to what is more accurately described as bikeabusing. In their video account of the trip, Dylan & Eric, in their straightest faces, after listening to glacier cannons all night, comically refer to what’s ahead of them as “a walk in the park.” Moments later Dylan goes on an epic rant rooted in packrafting safety after Eric’s suggestion to “give it a whirl” as they’re trying to negotiate Hubbard Gap as the swift current pushes icebergs by at an alarming pace. And that is only day 4. If you haven’t watched the video Eric put together entitled Chronic Wetness, you should probably do that now.
As Revelate Designs (Epic Designs at the time), was just getting started, Eric was sewing gear out of the garage. Accessibility to the technology need make waterproof bags was far out, but the seed for a waterproof, submersible pocket that could carry valuable camera gear on a multi-sport adventure had been planted. Two years ago we redesigned the Sweetroll, our waterproof handlebar bag, to feature radio-frequency welded seams. The durability of this new (at least to us) technology has proved steadfast. Roman boat 1
Last summer Roman Dial, Doom (Steve Fassbinder), MC (Mike Curiak), young Jebs (Jon Bailey) and Brat (Brett Davis) gave the Lost coast another go. Armed with bikes and packrafts, the crew tackled 200 miles of coast in a 60/30/10 pedal/paddle/push. This was a perfect opportunity to send the unnamed prototype out to the land (or sea) of it’s origin. The bags went, and survived, and we gained valuable design feedback. Roman ridingAfter several more prototypes and more abuse, we are finally releasing the Yakataga Dry Pocket. Named after Cape Yakataga, a midpoint to Cordova and Yakutat, it is home to a Cold War communications site, stormy weather, and one of the only possible resupply points for many miles.

The new Yakataga Dry Pocket features a #8 TIZIP masterseal closure, it is airtight, waterproof and designed withstand full submersion. Thoughtfully placed pull tabs help with the opening and closing of the TIZIP closure. The large tooth molded zipper easily sheds sand, dirt and grime. On side zipper openTaking notes from our recently released Egress Pocket, it can be used in a variety of ways including as a stand alone, in conjunction with your Sweetroll or Harness, as a waist pack, or with the included shoulder strap for a day pack. Featuring 4 separate D-rings, you can also rig it up in a wide array of off-bike uses (to your packraft!).Back side 1 1200x800The Yakataga also features a removable padded liner to keep important items, like your camera, well protected. Top view open 1200x800Weighing in at just 9 oz complete with padded liner, the Yakataga is the first weatherproof, submersible bag, for multi-sport bikepacking (bikerafting!) adventures.


Photo credit: Huw Oliver (instagram @topofests)

June 2, 2017

The Harness – Updates On A Classic

Posted by Holly

The handlebar Harness system may be the last to graduate this year, with it’s updates coming after that of the Sweetroll, add-on pockets, and cockpit items, but it’s not one to be overlooked. The harness has a special place for adventures that require thinking ‘outside the drybag’. The soft-rack carrying system features updates in construction of the harness pad, now a compression molded composite material that features a textured outer surface to keep your gear firmly in place.

harness only with boat and tent

The notoriously challenging to attach mounting blocks feature a slight, but invaluable redesign. Instead of hooking the blocks into sewn webbing on the harness pad, you now slip a pre-loaded velcro attachment through the block. harness blocks close up arrow

Ideal for carrying bulky loads like your winter sleeping system, we beefed up the buckles so you don’t have to remove your gloves to access your gear in the blistering cold.

Buckle detail

While the harness by itself is the most versatile of the handlebar systems, it has to be said that the optional Egress or Periphery pockets really puts the package together. Optional straps attach to the back side of the harness allowing it to integrate with a front pocket for additional quick access storage. You can find further instruction on how to attach the pocket straps here: Harness Strap Instructions.

pocket straps installed

Accessory pocket straps installed. The harness works with the Egress, Periphery and the zippered front pockets.

harness with egress and boat side

Loaded up with my MSR Hubba Hubba 2-person tent, a Klymit light weight dingy, paddle. Pack towel and snacks in the Egress pocket and I’m almost ready to head to the lake.

The Saltyroll is an optional double ended drybag that is made to carry the perfect load. To test out this tubular load, I packed up my 20 degree bag, not the most lightweight/packable bag you’ve ever seen, along with my sleeping pad in the Salty roll.

Saltyroll with sleeping system

harness with salty roll

Slipping the harness straps through the daisy chain on the front of the Saltyroll secures your load.

pocket buckles

The straps on the pocket wrap around the harness and clip into the accessory pocket straps.

Once the Saltyroll was packed with my sleeping bag and pad, I slipped it into the Harness. It was clear I wasn’t close to maxing out the capacity, by weight or width (Please do note there is a 15 lb weight limit on the harness). I threw in my two person tent and attached the Egress pocket to the front. My friend Sarah and I sat and marveled at my ride. My whole sleeping system was loaded on my bike, not even noticeable while riding. The thrill of loading your life up on your bike doesn’t seem to dissipate with time. Luckily the summer is still young and we have a lot of adventures to go on before the snow flies again in Alaska. Now go get after it!

harness action shot sarah sheila

My friend Sarah taking it for a test ride. Dog sold separately. Shoes are for wimps.

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In 2010, I set out with my dearest expedition pals, Kate Harris and Rebecca Haspel, to become the first all-female team to summit Lingsarmo/Pinnacle Peak – a 6955m peak in the heart of the Indian Himalaya. By the time we were descending from the precipitous summit, we were already brewing up our next expedition. A few years later, we headed to Tajikistan to ski its unruly border with Afghanistan, China and Kyrgyzstan in the cold of the Pamir winter. Again, as our adventure neared its end, seeds germinated for what would come next for our trio. Kate and Rebecca are Canadian. I on the other hand was just a hopeful one, but am now a permanent resident. Though Kate knew that Rebecca and I might be useless without skis on our feet or axes in our hands, the idea was born to explore by bike the frozen world in our own backyard. As Canada would be celebrating its 150th birthday, it would be a momentous year in the history of these northern communities. Knowing at the time that this would also be the last year of the Inuvik-Tuk ice road, we became fixated on biking, skittering, on the Arctic Ocean the last year it would be possible. Our idea was to start on the spring equinox, at the tail end of the Arctic winter, and hope to finish just before spring break-up. We would begin in Dawson, and bike north (because why not add the challenge of a constant headwind?) to Inuvik. After biking the length of the Dempster in winter, we would ride on the frozen Mackenzie River until we hit its mouth, bearing down across the Arctic Ocean until reaching the northern edge of the continent: Tuktoyaktuk. And if we timed it just right, we could coincide with spring jamborees in the communities along the way. And if we got really lucky, we would also catch the reindeer crossing, as they made their way to spring calving grounds.

The rub: two of the three of us hadn’t even done a single summer overnight bikepack before, let alone a multi-week 1050-km Arctic winter bike expedition. Rebecca and I – alpine climbers, skiers, but by no means bikepackers – would learn by fire (ice?) how to travel on wheels and not skis in winter. Luckily, a big piece of this was known to us – the winter camping part. The part where you know how to live and function and laugh at -30 for weeks. But when Rebecca and I looked at our pile of stuff in Whitehorse that was going to have to fit on our bikes, we were unconvinced it would even be possible. Kate, with an impressive resume of bikepacking expeditions and off-road racing, laughed herself to tears as she watched the two of us be pushed into this new and uncomfortable world; studded tires on a shifting icy groundscape, heavily weighted bikes threatening to throw us off.

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“Holy demoralizing headwind,” I wrote after the first day. How on earth were we going to bike with that weight and those temps into a headwind, 50-80km per day, until hitting the Arctic Ocean? After a couple days, we started to learn the new systems, and get more comfortable with this mode of winter travel.
The lunar landscape of the Tombstones lay deep in winter. As we made our way out of that first mountain range, our world studded with sharp white peaks, one of our coldest mornings had me worried about frostbite on my feet.

In that very moment of deepening worry, we spotted a paper plate on the side of the road with something written on it: “Hi girls (bikers), u r welcome to stay in small brown cabin km131, gone snowmobiling.” Bacon, brownies, and the kindness of strangers saved my feet and fueled our fannies over Windy Pass, along the Blackstone River, and into the Ogilvies.

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The next night, we climbed out of the Ogilvies and into the Richardson Mountains.
Eventually, we climbed onto the high exposed Eagle Plains. Kate and Rebecca built a bonfire outside the tent, and we dried our frosty wet socks while roasting sausages and cakes that a passerby had given us, celebrating everything good and simple in that moment.

The next couple days were long, cold, mentally trying strings of minutes. We made it to Eagle Plains on March 27 where, lucky for us, we had our only forced rest days. The road closed for two days due to extreme high winds – ample time for drying gear, fixing bikes, and making up for lost drinks in the amazing Eagle Plains bar.


Two days later, they opened the road and gave us a head start on the trucks backed up in Eagle Plains. 
We crushed some Dempster miles, crossing the Arctic Circle and winding northwest toward the Northwest Territories. After a bitterly cold night, we spent the next day battling fierce winds through Hurricane Alley and over Wright Pass, into the NWT.

3 (6)Kate and Rebecca somehow managed to stay pedaling on their bikes over the pass. The side winds swept my bike out from under me, and I walked stretches of the pass, unable to stay on the bike. We pushed hard that day, and made it out of the danger zone to Rock River. It was protected, out of the wind, and worth the push.

On the last day of March, we cycled through the coldest section yet, over the frozen Peel River and into McPherson.

We were just in time for the Peel Jamboree. We scooted down to the Peel to watch some snowmobile races, and then our pedal-pushin’ legs learned to jig. The next morning, we set out across the frozen Mackenzie and Arctic Red River. Have you ever wondered if it was possible to have so many epic adventures by bike that your rim could explode into pieces? Wonder no more. About 20 km short of Tsiigehtchic, Kate’s rim split in two. It had begun to split five days prior, but (with no rear brake, and one hell of a constitution) Kate bravely rode it to its oblivion. She hitched a ride to Tsiigehtchic, and Rebecca and I rode into town later that day where we reunited for the evening.

Rebecca, who had canoed the Mackenzie 16 years prior – a formative experience – took her time retracing old steps through the town. In the morning, Kate hitched a ride to Inuvik, where a new wheel awaited.

For the next two days, Rebecca and I pedaled in whiteout conditions and a cruel, unrelenting headwind. Late on our second afternoon sans Kate, we started seeing signs for Inuvik. We pedaled into town, overjoyed to make it to the end of the Dempster and reunite with our fanny. We also were met by a friend who had flown in from Whitehorse, who would join us for the final ice road leg from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk.

When we left Inuvik, the start of the ice road seemed promising. Would this be our fastest three days yet? We were too smug, too soon. After ten minutes, the fast hard-packed snow and still air turned to glare ice and the worst side winds we had encountered yet. We only made it 50 km that day, with some hard falls on the glare ice, and sought refuge within a building at Reindeer Station. The following day we stayed hunkered down in the high winds. They let up the next morning just enough to make some headway. Slowly, painfully, we spun north on the ice to Swimming Point. We searched the ice road for anything to grip on – small snow patches, areas where the graders cut teeth into the ice, small cracks. Anything. I tried not to focus on the ice, on the fact that we were biking on a river. 6 (5)

We made it to Swimming Point and set up our tent behind the shelter of a defunct building. I sunk into my sleeping bag, knowing tomorrow would be our final, and most trying, day. We were too far north to stop before our trip’s destination. The -40 temperatures, the winds, the 80% humidity (!?), meant pedaling without much stopping until we hit Tuk. With heads down all day into a steady Arctic headwind, we inched our way toward the edge of the continent. We relied on one another. The Mackenzie River was beneath us no more. We had met the expansive Arctic Ocean; the frozen sea heaved beneath us, kelp and seaweed frozen in time, the signs of ocean life paused. The DEW Line and pingos of Tuk appeared on the horizon. We biked toward them for hours, seemingly no closer than when they first appeared. At 10pm, as the golden Arctic sun began setting on the infinite skyline, we shed our bikes, down suits, face masks, and stepped into the warmth of a building. Looking in unified disbelief at the sun out the window, falling off the curved edge of the continent, we had made it.

On our travels back south, we kept with our tumbleweed philosophy. This rewarded us with perfect timing for celebrating at Inuvik’s Muskrat Jamboree, and witnessing the reindeer migrating for the last time across that inconceivable ice road.3 (8)

Words and photos by Alison Criscitiello. Read more about the Arctic Biking Fannies & Team Borderski at their website.