Alaska to Patagonia: Two guys, two bikes and Merino wool

11 December 2012

School friends Mike Carroll and Maxi Walker have completed the ride of their lives on an epic adventure which saw them cross though Arctic climates and desert terrain.

Mike Carroll and Maxi Walker riding a bike
When 26 year olds Mike Carroll and Maxi Walker headed off on an extreme adventure, they took apparel made from a true performance: Merino wool.

For 22 months the boys pushed and pedalled their bikes the 30,000 kilometres from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, to Ushuaia, Argentina – the most southern city in the world. With pannier bags full of essential items strapped to their bikes, one of the only constant factors during this adventure was each other’s company – along with their use of Merino wool.

Versatile, resilient, comfortable and warm are a few factors which now come to mind when Mike and Maxi think of Merino wool.

“Mum and Dad both grew up on farms so woolly jumpers were big fashion in our house in Cooma,” Mike said. “During university I worked in an outdoor shop so I built up a collection of woollen apparel and knowledge of the fibre.

“As soon as we started our trip I knew that the Merino wool clothes and layers were going to be very useful.”

They started their bike trip with a few layers of different weighted woollen garments and thermals. The products proved to be exceptional in all weather conditions, particularly when layering was essential in the extreme cold weather they endured in the Alaskan Tundra and down in Patagonia. In these harsh cold conditions woollen garments of different micron grades were combined with windbreakers to maintain the optimum body core temperature.

Through the deserts of America and rivers of Mexico, deep in the jungles of Central America and through tobacco plantations of Cuba, the two guys on two bikes overcame heat, humidity and perspiration thanks to Merino wool.

When actual washing machines are few and far between, and running creeks and rivers provide the ultimate laundry service, both Mike and Maxi were pleased and amazed at how Merino wool does not smell after strenuous exercise.

“On large adventures when you have days and days when you can’t wash your clothes, Merino woollen apparel holds off the stink factor for a lot longer than other fibres,” Mike said.

“We found we could go for days – even weeks – before washing them in a river; even the woollen undies were awesome.

“The biggest challenge when riding is that you sweat a lot, even if it is raining or quite cold. Finding the right combination of clothing may take some trial and error but regardless of the temperature the first layer was always something made from lightweight wool. The lightest garment we had was about 140/150gsm and these worked well even in the extreme heat.

“With all the range in weights that are available in Merino woollen apparel there is always going to be an appropriate garment to wear regardless of the activity.”

Cycling had not always been a passion for Mike; in fact, a bike was merely a means of getting from A to B.

“I used to ride my bike to primary school,” Mike said. “That little bike actually made it onto the stage of a school assembly when I was in Year 5. The local police were doing a talk on bike safety awareness and mine was there as an example of how not to maintain one’s bike!”

Fortunately, Mike said his bike maintenance skills improved during the two-year adventure, which is lucky since changing a tyre is one thing Merino wool could not do for the boys. But as they pedalled along a 30,000 kilometre track, both Mike and Maxi found comfort and security from the few clothes they were carrying – all of which were made from Merino wool.