America’s Old West – just the name of the place stirs thoughts of romantic expanses of un-tamed land and untapped opportunity made famous in old-timey Hollywood.
The imagery etched in our collective psyches of what the American West is – the long-forgotten towns that shriveled away after industry and fortune absconded with the American Dream - has its roots in the Mojave Desert.
This place has a weight to it. A gravity steeped in ancient indigenous cultures who lived off this land for centuries before European settlers arrived, and whose spiritual presence can still be felt to those who seek it.
There is also, even today, the feeling of undiscovered territory in the Mojave Desert – like you’re the first person to ever walk this rugged land. And then, you crest the hill in front of you and see the indelible presence of modern life – but it somehow still feels like you’re a trailblazer. Like the abandoned towns, wind farms and industrial graveyards naturally evolved in this otherworldly place – like detritus scattered about by millennia of volcanic activity and the endless flow of the Colorado River.
When this infinite landscape is right next door, and some of the most famous dedicated riding spots in the mountain biking world just a short drive away, it took Woodward West MTB Program Director Jake Kinney a long time to see the riding possibilities within a stone’s throw of his Tehachapi, CA home.
“We ride motorcycles up there a lot, and I was up there at one point and thought ‘How sick would this be on a bike?’” he said. “We’re really close to Mammoth and Big Bear, so the locals never really think about riding up there, so this is the first time mountain bikes have ever been on these trails.”
It can be hard to believe, for anyone who doesn’t live in the area, that a landscape so isolated and desolate lies just 45 minutes from his front door – and, somehow, this is the first time anyone has thought to bring a bike. There were no re-shoots, or sessioning a line to get it “just right”.
“Every part of the film is the first take. So, literally, the movie is showing the first time a trail has ever been ridden. It’s pretty cool.”
Ben Gagliardi is well-established in the world of skateboard and snowboard videos, and has worked on video shoots with Hawthorn Heights, The Offspring and Metallica. Ghost Town marks his first foray into MTB edits.
The three-day shoot took place over an early June weekend with perfect weather. The desolation and scale of the production was ideal in the reality of California’s Covid lockdown. With so much space to play with, social distance was not a problem.
Kinney, who has lived in the area for the decade he’s been with Woodward, hopes that Ghost Town does a couple of things:
• Let the burgeoning MTB scene and riders from out of town realize what amazing riding and epic landscapes are easily accessed in America’s Old West.
• Remind us all to open our eyes to the hidden gems that might be right in our own backyards.
Rider and Producer: Jake Kinney
Director: Ben Gagliardi
Photos: Seth Kaser