stories • happenings • adventures

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.

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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!

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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.

May 5, 2017

Road to Mulege – Guest Post by Lavanya Pant

Posted by Holly

I wake up holding my cramping stomach, I could just lie here but after four days in the backcountry we all want to get to Mulege for food and comfort. As we start riding I feel sorry for myself then I feel better and a great idea knocks me over, that I won’t stop again. If I don’t stop I’ll be in Mulege in a few hours drinking Coca-Colas, Tecates and other civilized medicines and sleeping for as long as I want.

Three days ago we rode for a few hours with Lael during her Baja Divide FKT attempt. I watched her skillfully eat an assortment of intricately packaged snacks on her bike. Maybe I could try that, start with the easy ones that I can tear with my teeth like Snickers and gradually move up to taped up, tri-colour Mexican flag coconut fudge. I give it a go, it works well.

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With no stops I get ahead of Al and Derryn, Al catches up to me. This happens on several climbs before he says we should wait for Derryn who is having minor bike issues. I tell him no because I must get to Mulege quick. Why? I want to and they will no doubt catch up to me.

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So I keep pedaling till I hit a fork in the road. I am not the navigator on this team. I turn my phone on to look at the map and the route sends me to the left. A ranchero approaches in his truck with a bull tied to the back.

“Estas sola?” he looks momentarily puzzled
“No my friends are coming”
“Que le vaya bien” we smile and he speeds off leaving me in a small cloud of dust.

I hook into a goat’s milk caramel lollipop. This is apparently dangerous in the unlikely event of a crash but the only people that can and would stop me are not here. I keep rolling.

There must be at least 20 river crossings – wet and dry. After each, the route travels along the river on sandy tree-lined roads. Shade is precious and even the smallest trees are generous in contrast with the Cardon cactus and Ocotillos of the last few weeks. Then I’m riding into the mouth of a big canyon, which I now know is the Sierra de La Gigantica. In the early morning, sunshine is bouncing off the water and the rich desert greenery, which is abundant from recent drought breaking rains. This is so great!

I pass several quiet family ranches and their goats, cows and donkeys. The donkeys, usually tied to a tree, jump in and out of my path testing the safety of both options in relation to my approaching bike. I think of those Year 7 math problems that go like – If you are travelling at x speed and a donkey is erratically jumping towards and away from you in how many seconds will you collide with donkey? I’m not sure, but I manage to avoid a collision so I guess I can confirm math isn’t so important.

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Some rancheros wave, I see a sign for goat’s cheese. Two days earlier a woman in El Datil told us we could go to any ranch along the way and ask to buy queso fresco. I think about it. Oh wait! Al has all the money and I haven’t seen them for a few hours. The first holes begin to appear in my cool plan to descend into Mulege and sip on miscellaneous beverages while waiting for my amigos to roll into town.

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Further along, my path is blocked by a big herd of goats and unlike the other goats on the route they don’t budge. I look around and it becomes clear they belong to the family of seven who all have eyes on me. A little black ferocious Chihuahua runs out and is about to grab my ankle so I roll forward. All seven people yell at the Chihuahua while I cut circles to keep my ankles canine free. An eighth appears to join in the yelling and the dog relents.

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They tell me to come inside into the shade.

“Mucho calor”

The grandmother points to a seat, the mother brings me a glass of water and goes back to hand washing a family load of laundry.
I wasn’t going to stop but I am unable to resist their friendliness.
We exchange names and situations. The grandparents have a ranch up the road but they spend most days here.
The mother asks if I am hungry, before I can answer she disappears into the house. A few minutes later she brings out three warm burritos filled with frijoles and queso fresco. Yum! I ask if they make the cheese themselves. “De chivas” she nods and points to the goats.

The four children and husbands are also very busy saddling, feeding dry alfalfa to the horses and herding the goats. I chat to the women about everything; they tell me about the government choppers that do food drops when they get flooded in during wet season.

Some time later Al, then Derryn, arrive. The mother is again in and out with fresh burritos. While eating, we watch the rancheros don chaps, boots, jackets and transform into storybook charros. Three of them head out into the heat of the day.

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This is our cue to leave but I have become so comfortable here I had forgotten about my fantastic idea. We say our goodbyes; they tell us to stay cool. We push on and it is mucho calor. Immediately we are on an absurdly steep climb, I get off to push my bike. Al rides past on his heavily loaded bike with ease. This is mildly irritating. What’s the big rush anyway?
I lose sight of Al and Derryn on the descent, then an identical climb. There are no more trees. The heat is stifling. I work myself up into a frenzy thinking I won’t catch the others on this terrain, which means I can’t stop and wait it out.

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I get up and over the next climb at the bottom of which my friends are soaking in a sweet water (agua dulce) oasis. I frantically demand we take a break.
“Sure” they agree to what they are already doing.
I join them in the pool. Red, blue and purple dragonflies spin around us. Tiny fish try to nibble at our feet. We are not going anywhere, I become calm.

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When we resume with brighter moods the terrain is still rough and now with even sharper grades as we sink deeper into the canyon. The roads are storm damaged. The loose cobble descents scary.
On one long slippery descent, I pump mindlessly at my brakes and come to a dead sideways halt. How did this happen? I shrug and awkwardly realign myself with the road to keep going.

As we inch closer to town the road is flatter and graded. We wind past several ranches then big agricultural properties. Three teenage cowboys ride next to us, but they are fresh and fast like the wind. When I spot the first date palms I become excited again and start rushing to where all the cars are coming from. We hit the pavement and roll into Mulege as a team and head for the first mini market. The fridge is chock-full of Coca-colas and Tecates.

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Lavanya Pant is the recipient of the 2017 Lael Wilcox’s Globe of Adventure Women’s Scholarship. Through an application process focused on she was selected as an outstanding individual to receive an Advocate Cycles bicycle, Revelate Designs bikepacking gear and a community supported travel stipend. To see more photos from her adventures find her on Instagram @lavlavish.