Updated: Nov 30, 2021
Hello, I'm Lucas the Founder of WoolAid, here's what our Alaskan product testing journey looked like.
The Iditarod Trail Invitational is the world's toughest ultra-marathon. One of the most challenging experiences on the planet, participants brave extreme physical, environmental and mental challenges as they travel along the historic Iditarod Trail on bicycle, foot or skis. Requiring self-sufficiency and considerable resilience to make it through up to 30 frozen days and long lonely nights, the Iditarod Trail Invitational has built its reputation on notoriously inhospitable conditions and minimal outside support. Lucas, The founder of Wool+Aid, flew to Nikolai to ask tired athletes annoying questions regarding merino wool's performance. They were happy to talk as I was chief burger chef of the Three Hundred Mile Inn...
One question needed to be answered: would merino wool keep racers focused and free from blisters & wounds in extreme situations in the face of life changing decisions?
Growing up, my concept of tough country was the rough peaks of the Southern Alps. I had a vague sense of what survival might look like in the heart of The Great White Arctic Silence. In 2018, through a series of fortunate events, I discovered a human powered race along Alaska’s Iditarod Trail. 1,000 miles on either a set of skis, a bicycle or, two feet and a can-do attitude. It was a dream come true, I was able to live in The Alaskan bush for three weeks with two perfect focus groups – the world’s top endurance athletes and Alaskan Bushman living from the land. I took a bush plane from Anchorage, out over The Great Alaskan Range and out to a subsistence village three hundred miles out into the tundra. Back in Anchorage, the endurance racers had been given our array of Hyperfine merino wool bandage prototypes. This provided me with essential, unadulterated information on how the merino wool fiber performs in serious arctic conditions & what education was needed to make merino the ultimate healing fiber. The racers would stagger into my kiwi cook shack from many miles trudged through the frozen night sky lit up by the Aurora Borealis. The conversation topics were usually what predators and prey they’d seen on the trail, how hard and cold it was and, what they’d used to stop the skin of their feet from freezing. People lost fingers. Hallucinations were common from exhaustion. I spent many hours sitting with these apex human athletes by candle light writing down how they best protected their skin from the northern wilds with our merino wool prototypes.
The breathable adhesive, double layer merino wool pad and custom woven Hyperfine merino fabric structure all came from experiences shared while taking shelter from the storms of the last frontier. The easy to open wrapper tabs were designed to be opened while wearing a pair of base layer gloves. Exposed skin in -30 can rapidly result in severe frostbite so it was essential we took notes.
There would be three to four hourly gaps between racers entering the checkpoint. I would go and hang out with the Runkle Family. Original Alaskan Homesteaders’, the Runkle’s ran the only trading post in town providing bushman with frontier essentials like Axes, Camel Cigarettes, lighters and, furs. The family housed had been built by hand with local lumber hauled in by teams of sled dogs. The teams of dogs are essential to an acoustic life in the wilds. Summer is spent collecting salmon, bison and moose meat for the family food stores and to stock the trading freezer for the long winter months. Winter is spend shopping wood, feeding dogs, putting up with annoying New Zealanders all while trying to keep it all together through the white silence of the great alone.