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Special thanks to Dave and Kevin of Hellgate Cyclery in Missoula, Montana for making this happen!
I had the good fortune to go out on a photo shoot with Mountain Cycle pro rider Olivia Harkness on the trails of eastern Massachusetts. It was a test in the theory that good photos are possible in any weather.
The shoot was aimed at creating promo photos for Olivia and for Mountain Cycle showing her riding and having a good time. As we unloaded our bikes, a misty drizzle began to fall from the flat, gray sky. A good time can be had mountain biking in any weather, but making the images look fun, rather than a cold, wet and dreary were going to be a challenge. We spent some time playing on the natural features, trying to get images with the ocean in the background. Within an hour, my lens cloth was soaked from wiping rain off the lens and my fingers had lost their sensitivity. The images, however, were working, due, in no small part, to Olivia’s riding. Her smooth confidence made the shots come alive. The muted light also brought out the vibrant greens of new spring leaves and the rain-darkened trail added contrast.
After enjoying the rock slabs and wet rock staircases of the oceanside, we hit the trails. For the record, trails in Massachusetts are excellent. She led me along trails that alternated between rocky/rooty technical sections and smooth, swoopy singletrack. We had so much fun railing bermed corners that I almost forgot to stop and shoot.
Here are some of my favorites from the shoot.
For more images from the shoot click HERE.
The dim heart of the Regency Theater swirls with energy as over one hundred mountain bikers greet each other in anticipation. The food and beer lines stretch along the back wall. Mountain bikers oogle raffle prizes including day-passes from Highland Mountain Bike Park, bike care-kits from Pedros, Two Fox suspension forks, CrossMax wheel-sets from Mavic and Back Bay Bicycles, and the Grand Prize, a Kona Tanuki mountain bike.
This is the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) Mountain Bike Film Festival and the anticipation isn’t just for the Red Bones BBQ or the beer donated by Harpoon Brewery–or even the prizes–it’s for the films. While screenings of big name films happen all over the country, this is one of the few that celebrate the making of mountain bike films at the amateur level. These are videos made by mountain bikers about their own rides and adventures.
Soon, the lights go dark and the films begin to tick off one by one. They are all short (rules require under 5 minutes, but most are under 3.) They all have limited production quality. They each shake, wobble and tilt in vertiginous ways. But what these films lack in production, they more than make up for in passion. As I watch beginner XC riders skitter through singletrack turns and freeriders send-it off dirt kickers, I realize that picking one to be the “People’s Choice” was going to be a contentious event.
Mike Feeney produced a couple of hard-charging freeride videos that not only included hucking decent-sized jumps and ripping scary ladder bridges at Highland MBP, but also rednecks jumping ATVs and starting a snowmobile on fire. “Badassalon 2008″ and “I Didn’t Pump My Tire” head up the humorous entries with pellet rifles and a remake of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Marsha MacEachern’s “A Biker’s Playground” is a surprisingly emotional romp through the woods (and a lake.) I am surprised to see an animated feature, but Bryan McFarland put one together with some chill music. There is also an iPhone entry that has some of the best composed visuals in the festival. Two high school kids put together a strong contender for the People’s Choice award filming their mountain biking class riding homemade stunts. It is “One Speed Jasper” that barely edges out the other films for People’s Choice, however. This film used the GoPro HD camera famous for helmet-cam shots in so many adventure movies. Of course, the camera ended up attached to the usual places on the bike: helmet, rider’s chest and seatpost. What really made this film shine was that the subject wasn’t just the ride, but also the faithful mountain bike companion: the “trail dog.” In the true GoPro fashion of showing things from “your point of view,” the camera was attached to Jasper the Dog for a trail-dog’s-eye-view of a run through the woods chasing a bike. THIS is what makes amateur film shine. The footage shook like “Blair Witch Project” but it focused on a valuable part of mountain biking that often gets overlooked by the large production films.
After watching Highland Mountain Bike Park’s GnarEast film winner, a good film that centered around the central “story” of the park and ride bus that shuttles riders in to Highland from surrounding towns, they announced the raffle winners. Not everyone left with a Kona mountain bike or set of Mavics, but, I think it’s fair to say, we all left with a greater appreciation for mountain biking, whether it’s the camaraderie of riders gathering in the dead of winter, the glimpse into where video will be taking us in the future or the passion for riding that made these films happen.
Crisp black and white images line the white walls, while people, glasses of wine in hand, cluster and talk. At first glance, the scene at Asymmetrick Arts in Rockland, Maine looks like any other art gallery opening. What gives away that this is something different, besides the myriad regional dialects speaking about their personal thoughts on the environment emanating from the overhead speakers, is the two well-worn bicycles displayed in the gallery’s front windows. This is not just an art show, but also a talk given by Morrigan McCarthy and Alan Winslow of Project Tandem about the year they spent on bicycles, touring the country and gathering these sounds and images.
11,000 miles. 24,200 pictures. Dozens of hours of audio. What we see on the walls and during the slide show is the barest sliver of an adventure that took a year to complete. Alan and Morrigan, both pro photographers, started Project Tandem as a way to open up the discourse on the environment in the US by letting the voices of rural Americans be heard. The project ended up being much larger than that.
Originally, the bicycling aspect was more about fuel-free travel and a way to see rural America from the “ground-level” rather than speeding by at seventy-miles-per-hour. They also hoped that riding up on loaded touring bikes would get people to open up in ways they might not if they stepped out of a car hauling cameras and recorders. It worked. “We never once had someone refuse to let us take their picture,” Alan says. “Everyone just opened up their homes and their lives to us.”
The bikes ended up being the central feature of the project in unexpected ways, however. “People kept warning us, ‘be very careful. There are dangerous people out there,’” Morrigan adds. “That’s not what we saw. Everyone we met went out of their way to be helpful and friendly.”
From there, the presentation about cycling 11,000 miles is quickly overshadowed by the stories of the kindness of strangers. They regale stories about running out of food with the next services fifty miles away, only to have a family stop and give them their last granola bar and mini-bag of chips. They speak of being stuck in a lightening storm and having a single mother and two kids run out into the downpour to bring them into their home where fresh towels and food awaited. A couple living in a dilapidated trailer, living so far from the mainstream they’d never seen a digital camera, cook them breakfast with the last of their eggs. A wealthy ranch owner took them in and fed them beef raised in one of his fields. Alan says, “We got to see the very best of what America has to offer.”
Looking at the map with all of its pins marking their adventure reminds me how far they went, and my relationship to the Project’s beginning. I helped these proto-cycle-tourers find the bicycles that carried them around the US for a year: two Giant FCR-3′s. In a special way, I got to tour with them. Not just following their daily blog, but also, occasionally, giving technical advice over the phone and mailing tools to them in remote locations. For my small part of such an incredible endeavor, I got a special thanks during the presentation. I certainly appreciate it, but no thanks is necessary. It’s been my pleasure to be one of the countless acts of kindness Project Tandem met along their journey.
Here is the film from the footage I shot during the Winnick Woods trail day.
If you look at the dates of the trail day, you’ll see that it’s been a while since the work got done. I got the final shots of the completed work being ridden just a couple of days ago. Enjoy!
My first finished video. Feel free to laugh out loud. Enjoy!
I shot this video as a response to being a bicycle commuter and everyone asking me whether I was going to drive my car for “Commute Another Way” week. I considered it, sure, but in the end, it didn’t seem interesting enough. Instead, I took “Commute Another Way” in a whole new direction.
Mountain biking, for me, is a solo event. So I feel some apprehension when I ride into the parking lot to see a dozen cars parked with bikes on top. Normally I blame my work schedule for my lack of riding partners, but that’s only partly true. My thirst for alone-time derails any real attempt at finding people to ride with.
Tonight, however, I’m heading out with the Rage on Portland group, a loose organization of riders who consistently meet up to ride. I do these rides once or twice a year. As I begin talking to the Ragers getting their bikes ready for the trail, I remember why. There is a subdued energy surrounding these people. They love trails. They love riding them. And they love riding them together.
We set out and I drop in mid pack. I represent the center-point in this group of twenty-five–somewhere between the hammers and the cruisers, somewhere between the twenty-ish woman on her ninth ride ever and a sixty-five-year-old man who’d been riding since before I was born.
There is a lot of chatting on the road. Then, we drop into the dense Maine woods. Sound disappears. Our tires roll over dry dirt and pine needles. The occasional rustle of dry leaves breaks the silence. The line of riders weaves like a multi-colored serpent through the forest. It’s like a dance where my personal experience gets swallowed up in the greater experience of the group. The line bunches up as we slow to say hi to a hiker with a border collie and thank her for letting us pass. once past, the line stretches until I can’t see either end.
The banter picks up when we stop at trail junctions to wait for the rest of the group. While I’ve met most of these guys before, I don’t know any of them well enough to engage in the ribbing that goes on. Instead, I take it all in, learning about the people I’m with. Brian spends a lot of time crashing. Mike is riding strong after fracturing his hip in a crash the summer before and Katrina could kick all of our asses on a bike or climbing a rock face. There are riders who just got back from Moab and riders dreaming of making the trip to Kingdom Trails a couple of hours away. Even though I know nothing of their off-the-bike lives, I feel like I know them all. And they seem to know me–the important parts, at least.
Maybe the bike is the only thing that unites us. I doubt it, but it doesn’t seem to matter. We set off again, pedaling into the woods. The only real competition amongst us is with the sun racing toward sunset. I follow the leaders, trying to memorize where the new trails are so when I come out here again, by myself, I can find them. The task is impossible in the labyrinth of trees. It doesn’t matter, I tell myself. I promise myself this is the year I put away my loner tendencies and begin riding with the group.