Motivated By The Unknown: A Chat With Adventurer Mike Curiak

Mike Curiak in Alaska.
“Experience is largely undervalued relative to ability. As my ability fades or gets rustier, I’m happy to be traveling with experienced people!” –Mike Curiak

Ambassador Mike Curiak is an avid multi-sport adventurer. He just embarked on a packraft adventure with Roman Dial and Brad Meiklejohn, which you can read about here

“Almost everything cool I did was in some past life,” says itinerant adventurer Mike Curiak. While it may be true Curiak no longer competes (and regularly wins) super crazy 100-, 200- and even 350-mile bike races, as he did in the 90s, he is no slacker. In fact, he just returned from hiking and packrafting a completely remote river basin in Alaska with expert packrafters Roman Dial and Brad Meiklejohn. Read Dial’s report of the trip.

“The satellite imagery of this place was so pixelated that we couldn’t really see much,” he says of the info he found while researching the area. “On a topo I could see there were mountains and a river that we planned to float out on; but all maps were useless.” Curiak and the team knew roughly what the elevation was going to be, where they’d hit the river, and where it finished at sea level, and so they were able to gauge the gradient; the river dropped substantially. They also knew the river was glacier fed, and that when temps warmed up in the afternoon it would likely be raging. But would it be raging like the Grand Canyon or something else?

“When you come up against this sort of big blank spot, it tests you as a person and as a traveler to improvise,” he says. “Where I go it’s not about what you bring, but about what your experience is and how you deal with what you come across.”

Mike Curiak, Roman Dial & Brad Micheljohn hiked 20 miles across Alaska.
Mike Curiak, Roman Dial & Brad Meiklejohn hiked 20 miles across Alaska.

Curiak loves the element of surprise that comes with big adventures. “If it’s been done before and especially if it’s been done often, I don’t have much interest in it,” he explains. “I really want to go see stuff that I haven’t seen before and that others haven’t seen before. I am after immersive learning, the kind of thing I can’t get until I’m out there where it’s too late to learn anything else other than what’s happening at the moment.”

“In the age we live in there’s so much information available,” he says. “Spend an hour on the Internet, and you can learn so much about where you’re going. In a way, you can spoil your adventure.” With his recent trip, no matter how hard he looked he couldn’t find the info he wanted. But, he says, “I took some food, some clothes and said, ‘let’s go!’ My gear list probably looks shocking to most people. ‘Where’s your stuff,’ they ask. But that’s the way it has to be; otherwise I’d be too saddled with gear to keep with the pace.”

So what inspires Curiak when he’s not on wild adventures? He makes sure to spend plenty of time riding bikes in the backcountry with his girlfriend, Jeny. “She’s mountain biked all her life,” he says. “She’s usually up ahead, waiting for me.”

As well, he owns and operates LaceMine29, a company that has specialized in 29” wheels since 1999. He builds them one at a time, by hand, out of his shop in Western Colorado. He’s been building wheels for more than 15 years. He also recently built a brand new bike that he designed, of carbon fiber parts fabricated by a friend of his.

“Right now I’m motivated to ride bikes because I have this thing that no one else has,”Curiak says. “No one else can tell me how it works. Likewise, the last couple years I’ve been involved with developing these white water-specific pack rafts. No one knows how they work, how they should work or why they work how they do. Every day I have this clean slate where I get to go out and find answer that no one else has.”

Photo by Steve "Doom" Fassbinder.
Photo by Steve “Doom” Fassbinder.