"A bike video in Macedonia? You’re out of your mind!"
"What do you want to do in a country like that? It’s way too dangerous and there is nothing to see."
A resumé usually belongs to the end of a text. But as we don't tend to do things the normal way, we bring it to the beginning of our story and say: Macedonia, with a population of just about two million, is breath-taking and different in a very positive way. We all want to come back to see more of this beautiful country, that’s for sure.
The team: Chris, Andi & Dany
But for now, let’s start from the beginning. Three of us—that is the MTB trials pro Andi Schuster
from Germany, who is shooting a promo video for his sponsor Fuji Bikes, his camera man Chris Medina
from New York, who specializes in outdoor sports, and myself
, the girl friday who motivated the guys when something was not going as planned, took pictures and made notes for this article.
Good times at Kokino
We started our trip in the country’s capital, Skopje at the end of March, having had a lot of phone calls and discussions beforehand about whether this is the right place for an MTB video shoot. Not having quite arrived yet, we already got acquainted with the local mentality, when Andi’s huge luggage, containing a bike, was spotted by one of the customs officers at the airport. We were asked to follow him into his office, to which officer Boris was called. That guy eyed us for a brief moment and then asked: "What's in there?" Our response "just a bike" seemed to satisfy him and he started to laugh. Apparently, even he couldn't think of a reason as to what we could do with an MTB there. We smiled back and murmured the only Macedonian word we’d learnt so far, "fala" (thank you).
Skopje, Macedonias Capital
As we left the airport in our rental car, which was packed to the brim with three people, a bike, and heaps of camera equipment, it was already dark and we couldn't really see anything except for the astonishingly huge cross on top of the mountain range surrounding Skopje. As Germans, one would think we’re used to the sight of crosses and especially summit crosses. This one, however, left us speechless. Mount Vodno, on which the so-called Millenium Cross is located, was going to play a huge role in our video work for the next few days. With 1,050 Meters altitude and a gondola especially for hikers and bikers, the mountain is the perfect location for up- and of course downhill biking. Seemingly endless, small, as well as quick, singletrack trails lead down into the valley.
Trail check at mount Vodno
"Can you do that again, Andi?"
So after two days of location scouting, it was up here that we started to shoot our first scenes. Despite a slight, but relentless drizzle for two days, we decided to drive out of Skopje to shoot in the surrounding remote villages. Finding fun trails isn’t really a challenge. The fact that 80 percent of Macedonia consists of mountains and hills, is visible in every glimpse you take. By the way, it isn’t unusual that on the way up the summit you’re surrounded by the mystic sounding chants of the minaret, with which you are introduced to the culture of the country’s religious minority, the Muslims. The only interruption is the rhythmic sound of cowbells accompanied by the sight of those friendly creatures, which slowly cross streets and front yards. For a slight moment we almost thought we were at Lake Garda in Italy. Until a man approached us with his three goats and watched us shooting the video. It was neither the first, nor the last time that people there were absolutely amazed by Andi’s skills. They simply stopped doing whatever they were doing to watch him ride. Macedonia left us speechless once again when even the police drove by grinning and waved, while Andi was dropping a wall in the city.
Gap jump at Kokino
Lake Matka—so beautiful
At this point, I would like to thank and compliment the citizens of Macedonia for their sheer unbelievable friendliness, with which they treated us during our trip. Our earlier fear of getting kicked out of awesome spots or locations had been for nothing. There was never a moment of unease and we felt welcome every second of our stay. Macedonia not only has a fantastic landscape, but also a warmhearted population as well as a delicious and very affordable cuisine.
Such friendly people.
Manual into town
Talking about food, all three of us probably gained some weight. That's because of the very rich and yummy Macedonian cooking. We usually started our days with plenty of warm bread specialities for about €2.70 for all three of us, had great meat dishes for lunch and lovely cakes and fresh fruits for later. We absolutely loved it!
Our cosy apartment
Things got a bit tricky, or at least we thought so, when we wanted to shoot our castle-line. Spotted one day before, Andi really fancied doing this line—riding on the top edge of the castle wall. As we had noticed that the only security guy was spending most of his time in a little checkpoint on the other side of our riding spot, we were pretty confident that this shouldn't be a problem. Rain on the actual shooting day, however, was a problem as the paving slabs are only two feet wide and covered with some moss. On top of that, the wall is 30 meters high and it's therefore not advisable to loose your balance! However, while getting the wide angle lens in position half a kilometer away from the caste, it was getting increasingly drier… Seeing Andi and Chris preparing from the distance and lifting the bike up onto the edge made me pretty nervous. But after I got the "OK" from Chris through the walky talky, there was no more time for sweaty hands—I pushed the "movie-on" button and off Andi went—or rolled more like. As they repeated the stunt another two times, I heard applause of some guys through the walky talky and knew everything was alright. When Chris finally called me and to say "we've got it" I definitely became more relaxed again and was happy everything went well.
That line was scary!
Backward nose manual into Skopje
After a few days of riding and shooting another couple of beautiful clips at Lake Matka and Kukina, one of the oldest observatories in the world, we got back into the city centre to film Andi doing the street trial parts in the old town to show what’s possible with the Fuji Auric Bike. After the last sequence was done, and every one of us was satisfied, we went for drinks in town to celebrate the fact that our trip went so smoothly without any major crashes on Andi's part, but with so many incredibly good takes in the bag.
Last line filmed!Rider Andi Schuster: www.andischuster.deWords & Photography – Daniela Tettamanti: www.danielatettamanti.deVideo & Photography – Chris Medina: www.chrismedinaphotography.com