When you make a living shooting adventure trips, there’s no denying the fact that new, original locations always turn editor’s heads the best — the challenge is to find them. Everybody likes reading about somewhere new, and fresh adventures are the stories that sell. It sounds mercenary but while I’d love to be that guy who just goes to these places, y’know... just to ride; I actually have y’know... a mortgage and a car to fix and electricity bills to pay.
But every time I shoot a new adventure, about a year or so later, one of the riders that came with me will see a TBT Instagram post and drop a comment: ‘Hey, when are we going back?’ But going back makes no commercial sense, not if you’re a pro-photographer with an appetite for the unknowns. And anyway, nobody wants sloppy seconds, photographers and editors alike. At least that's the usual story.
But sometimes, just sometimes, going back makes sense, especially if there’s been enough of a lag since the first trip and you’re hitting it up with a new angle and a new team. My 2017 year of trips and shoots has been one of those years — a mix of fresh adventures and a couple of returns to old haunts.
Whether shooting in new places or old favourites, 2017 has been one hell of a ride. Here are some highlights.
Patagonia, January 2017.
In 1996 I cycled through Chile’s wild Torres del Paine National Park as part of a year spent mountain bike touring around Chile and Argentina. Even twenty years later, the memories of being blown off my bike or pinned under a buckling tent by Patagonia’s fierce winds have not faded. This place is one of the craziest places I've ever ridden a bike, so why go back? Because we could.
Torres del Paine is Chile’s jewel in its crown — a mass of stunningly vertical rock pinnacles jutting out from wild landscape. And since my previous visits in 1996 and 2008, local guide Javier Aguilar has negotiated trail access for bikes, meaning you can now ride some of the most spectacular singletrack on the planet. That was enough to lure Matt Hunter and Rene Wildhaber to jump on board, and Matty Miles along to video the mission.
We teamed up with Javier and H+I Adventures' Euan Wilson to ride the Paine’s trails for 5 days. It couldn’t have been more different to the pannier-lugging experience of two decades earlier, aside from the wind.
Bringing in the steeds.
The team hunker down to swap stories and smiles out of the Patagonia wind.
Chilean Volcano region, February 2017.
In 1999 I shot a snowboard trip around the Chilean lake district. From that moment on I always wanted to return and shoot mountain biking among the amazing trees that are endemic to the region. The excuse I found was a 100 Kilometre long trail that wound its way around 3 volcanoes from Lanin, on the Argentinean border, to Pucon, Chile.
Matt Hunter launches into 3-days of unknowns ahead.
Camping at the foot of Lanin volcano at the start of the 3 day traverse to Pucon.
The trail is wild and remote, with only 3 access points along its entire length for support. Getting a local support team to haul our camping gear meant we could ride without bikepacking, but meant committing to some big days out among the lava fields. With Wildhaber and Hunter along, and riding through some of the most colourful scenery I’ve had the pleasure to shoot, this story was a no-brainer. All we had to do was survive the sub-zero nights of camping, the rain, the 30 C daytime heat and whole days of riding with no water sources.
Corsica, France, February 2017.
3 out of 3: Corsica topped off the hat-trick of my ‘return’ destinations, but this time it was for a Trek Powerfly shoot, rather than another point-to-point traverse of the island
that I’ve grunted through before –let’s just say the two experiences played out very differently.
Commercial shoots like this are the yang to adventure's yin. For pro photographers, both help pay the bills but they come with different investments and rewards. This time we replaced an appetite for masochism with e-assist motors, the laughter of Italy’s Lupato brothers and the Swiss Army Knife versatility of Rene Wildhaber, that together gave riding Corsica’s endless rock gardens a different flavour.
Kerala, India, March 2017.
Being British means I was pretty much brought up on curry, and has driven me to tuck 6 previous trips to India, Nepal and Pakistan under my expanding waistline’s belt. Wash it down with a damn good cup of tea and throw in some amazing singletrack and you have perhaps the ultimate ingredients for a great bike trip. At least for me.
While the Himalayas in India’s north are seen as its most obvious MTB destination, I was blown away by what Kerala had to offer — big days of riding in some seriously steep terrain among the unglaciated peaks and plunging valleys of the Ghat mountain range.
Guided with a down-to-earth approach by Mike Mclean at MountainbikeKerala
and accompanied by Scott riders Karen Eller and Ricky Westphal, we rode trails that flowed like rich, oozing onion gravy through the tea plantations of Kerala.
Tea plantation goodness.
Lesotho, Africa, April 2017.
Most people would be hard pushed to place Lesotho on a map. I was too until this trip with Claudio Caluori and Kevin Landry
. Now the country is circled on my map in bold marker pen with the words “must go back!” scrawled alongside it. Lesotho is an adventurous mountain bikers’ paradise.
We spent 6 days traversing Lesotho’s mountains, almost all on singletrack, while being guided by a traditional horseman. We camped when there was no village to accommodate us, and stayed in old, disused trading posts in villages that had no guest lodges.
Fresh locations always deliver a buzz, but I can’t remember shooting in a place so full of energy and hope, despite Lesotho being a poor country with a serious HIV+ problem. Capturing the beauty of Lesotho and the pride of its people, was a high point of my year as a photographer and a humanist. The role tourism can play in helping its remote rural villages out of poverty should be embraced - the Lesotho people deserve it.
Kevin Landry above Roma, the end point of our 6 days of following the horsemen.
Verbier, Switzerland, June 2017.
I’ve ridden plenty of trails near Verbier, but I’ve never dipped into its bike park — until now. Shooting Trek's press camp here involved pointing 23 Kg e-bikes down the bike park’s steep, twisting red trail and late light backcountry Remedy shoots alike. Some people think commercial shoots are a heck of a lot easier than the adventure stuff, but in reality they just involve very different criteria and pressures. On both, you reap what you sow.
Val Veny, Italy, June 2017.
I’ve been riding Yeti bikes for about 8 of my 31 years of mountain biking — obviously enough time to earn the tag ‘Yeti freak’. I guess that’s why Yeti hooked up with me in June to make a short video about my photography and a life spent adventuring. For years as a photographer I’ve been calling the shots — asking riders to go back and do it ‘one more time’, like I did with Joey Schusler this week in Italy — but this time I got to taste the bitter-sweet rewards of throwing shapes on the other side of the lens. Being the rider is a tough job and I’m not sure I’m about to swap anytime soon. “Dan, just go back up and do it one more time please…’
St Moritz, Switzerland, August 2017
Throughout the summer I teamed up with trials guru Tom Oehler to shoot a series of features. Some locations I’d ridden previously, but St Moritz was a place in which I’d only ever shot snowboarding before. I now know what I have been missing. If lift-accessed, long, natural feeling backcountry-style trails are your thing, then St Moritz is the place. That was the upside. The downside was blowing my calf muscle and being forced to have 2 months off the bike.
Col d’Izoard, France October 2017
The annual Endura clothing shoot moved back to the Alps this year and despite a late autumn risk of snow smothering the mountain passes, I had a location in mind that was visually different enough to warm any art-director's heart . Deciding on shoot locations is always a challenge and sometimes a gamble, with so many factors to consider and requests to juggle, but with peak-bagger Harald Philip joining manual world record holder and all round nice bloke Chris Smith for the shoot, the trails around the Col d’Izoard were hard to beat.
Norway, October 2017.
My bike year wrapped up with an epic 4 days in Norway shooting for Sweet Protection. With Air France losing my bike until day 3 of the 4 day trip, and the wind blowing Baard Sturla’s bike from his back and off a cliff during the hike up to a ridge, the shoot had its challenges from the start. But these are the things that are sent to try us, and it's either a zen-like disposition or worldly experience that gets you through them (mine is not a zen-like anything).
Baard’s intel took us to a stunning location, among Norway’s fjords, that gave us a different trail and a different backdrop to work with each day, while all the time juggling the onset of a Norwegian winter and some fierce arctic-winds that tested the resilience of my riders, Baard and Stina Bondehagen. With no bike of my own and a scarred calf muscle to limp through, this shoot was a testing one, but it was enough of a taste of what Norway has to offer to know It will be on my "go back to" list as a photographer, or maybe even, y'know just to ride one day.
That’s the life of a photographer – it may seem like 2 steps forward, 1 step back, but at least every step is a good one.