This Isn't a Bike Movie, It's an Article About Making a Bike Movie
Well, actually it's more of an article about a bike trip that resulted in a bike movie- or... I dunno, who cares?
Words, Stills, Video by Liam Mullany
It's a familiar story this time of year isn't it? A couple Canadians, a little bit of snow, a burning desire to abandon citizenship for a few weeks and buy cheap beer, shoot guns, eat Mexican food and ride some bikes.
It's a tried, tested and true formula. Plaid-wearing, beard-having, NHL playoff eliminating Canucks crowd your bike-related internet news feeds with smug Whistler videos and Kamloops sunset booter photo epics for 6-8 months of the year, building ourselves an arrogant monument to our own outdoorsy national ego, so when the icy veil of northern winter inevitably creeps it's way across our beaver-infested nation, we become insecure in our identity and flee south.
It was around mid-January, the tipping point for Canadian Winter depression there, when that cold darkness of the season had finally settled across our poutine eating populous. In Vancouver, BC it was raining. In Nelson, BC there was snow. I imagine in Winnipeg, Manitoba they couldn't even safely urinate without consuming a small amount of anti-freeze first- but to even acknowledge any of Eastern Canada's seasonal hardships would dwarf the inflated tale of misery I have by now surely gained your sympathy with.
Anyways, during this climatic downturn, world-renowned Canadian tattoo collector Geoff Gulevich had been spending the majority of his days inside his obligatory Canadian log cabin in North Vancouver, imprisoned by the barrage of sleet which had been water-boarding the Pacific Northwest. He had been desperately trying to fill the seasonal void by experimenting with a few quick tropical vacations, but reality was setting in and his Instagram content was wearing thin. Living relatively close to each other, Geoff and I tried to fit a few dismal bike rides in between momentary downpours and blizzards- but we weren't kidding ourselves, and more importantly we weren't kidding Geoff's Instagram followers- we needed out.
The situation was so dire that it echoed across the Atlantic Ocean, western Europe and into Austria, where the empathetic souls at Adidas Eyewear had experienced similar conditions, and were fully committed to sending a small crew of Canadian refugees due south, through America's Golden State with the sole purpose of "Chasing Summer."
Gully's F150 seen here with some glorious funk in the trunk. This scenic view was quickly eclipsed by flashing blue and red lights
We hurriedly chugged the remainder of our maple syrup flavoured Tim Hortons coffee just in time to cross the border into Washington State. A month and a half had somehow elapsed since the previous paragraph and next to me in the truck suddenly sat Nelson, BC local and budding philosopher Garett Buehler. We had bikes, bags of fresh eyewear and a complete lack of concern for neglecting to bring any fake ID's, because not only did we sport very impressive beards and were quite convincing with our words, we were all in our mid-twenties with REAL ID's and not teenagers trying to hustle a six-pack of beer for our school dance.
We were in. Perfectly logical and internationally accepted kilometres were now archaic miles. Easily understandable Celsius degrees were now Fahrenheit. Extra-large fountain drinks were now kids-sized. Surely this was God's country.
We don't really have sunny beaches up in Canada so we got a little confused when we took this photo in front of what we thought was Long Beach. Oops...
Yes, this trip was definitely underway, I had witnessed the start, I was sure of that much. But what now?
Coastal USA in it's entirety seemed to be in the middle of some kind of cruel stand-up impression of their northern neighbour and an onslaught of torrential rain beat the coast harder than a bongo player at a Beach Boys concert. A brief layover in Portland Oregon provided some momentary relief with an indoor park and some sassy characters, but we were feeling antsy. As Canadians, we are all born without a concept of irony, and Portland just seemed overwhelming to us; we had to push on, but where to?
The storm raged on. We were in dire straits without many options, and subsequently we turned to Mark Knopfler's soothing guitar riffs which would become the soundtrack to our group decision to avoid the storm and head inland, towards Reno and Lake Tahoe.
We had heard through Luke Hontz, Five Ten's team manager that if nothing else, we had a place to stay out east and a few dirt jumps to ride. I had heard the the name Lake Tahoe thrown around among skiier circles and I was always impressed with how it phonetically sounded; it's like something Brad Pitt's character in Inglorious Basterds would say in an incredibly stereotypical "American" way, yet somehow simultaneously encompassing connotations of youthful California adventure sports culture from the mid-80's.
Upon arrival, my impressions melded with my preconceptions and I stood in front of what could only be described as a "big ass lake." Winter had not quite relinquished it's hold over Lake Tahoe, but the water looked deceptively similar to someone's desktop image of a clear, green beach in Fiji, but I couldn't convince Geoff or Garett that it was surely a similar temperature. The community surrounding the lake was a full-fledged ski town, and we couldn't have felt more at home as tourists.
We spent two days in Lake Tahoe and Reno weathering the storm out west, riding some of Reno's flowy jump trails and learning what exactly a chicken-fried steak was (a delicious way to induce heart failure, evidently), but the weather was looking calmer and we set sail on our truck-shaped canoe towards the coastal South Californian city of Laguna.
Laguna Beach is a beautiful place immortalized in youthful spirit by a near year-round Summer, and maybe a little bit of botox. The mist blows inland off the ocean waves and hangs in the air, adding a touch of moisture to the warm SoCal air. Freeride mountain bike legend Richie Schley has adopted the small coastal city as his own, and fully embodies the youthful energy of the people, without needing to resort to any cosmetic facial injections (although he does look way too young to be 44... hmm...).
When we first walked into his house, we were immediately swept into a story of the previous night. Women, cocktails and flirtatious conversation seemed to be at the heart of every experience, and I soon realized that this was essentially the kinetic energy of Schley's life; he never seemed stagnant. At any given point in time, he was either touching down from the whirlwind of the previous night, or preparing himself for the night ahead. Unlike us twenty-somethings, however, Richie seemed to be able to manage this perpetual motion with the confidence and grace of a seasoned veteran, and not the clunky fumblings of us youngsters still wet behind the ears. It was with shame that more than one occasion we had to turn down a Thursday night venture to the Sandpiper Lounge on the strip, or a party in a mansion on the hill out of sheer exhaustion. We were clearly outmatched.
This is Richie Schley. That whole... doing tricks on mountain bikes and taking them off jumps and drops thing... he started that
The hills which climb inland from Laguna beach are threaded together by trails brimming with life. Laguna culture bleeds sunshine and outdoor activity, and mountain bikers and boot-wearing pedestrians alike scatter the golden slopes of the coastal city. Richie led the way as Garett and Gully put their all-mountain steeds into fresh dirt for the first time in months. At times it seemed like some of the trail users of Laguna were at odds with each other, a seemingly willed segregation out of some confusion in fabricated ownership, but with a few smiles and a little bit of charm, the harmonious energy of rubber on dirt was hardly interrupted, except maybe for some more of Richie's stories.
There were a few small features to hit, but it was clear the allure was simply the ride- to navigate a thin ribbon of trail into the setting California sun. As Geoff, Garett and myself closed out a night of riding, we knew that the crashing waves and vibrant nightlife could pull us in for longer than we had intended, but we had to shake this siren's song and refocus. Buehler and Gully needed some airtime.
We left Laguna as Richie was somewhere in the eye of his own masterfully controlled storm, thanked him for the hospitality and rad times, and made our way inland to Riverside, California to meet up with Geoff's friend and BMX veteran Heath Pinter.
Heath Pinter and Andrew Lazaruk never have arguments about wheel size
Having spent years deep within the BMX industry as a rider and now team manager for Rockstar Energy's athletes, Heath has seen a lot of progression and growth within all things action sports. As soon as we met Heath, the pinball bouncing energy of the trip so far was immediately smoothed over by his calm, chilled out demeanour. Along with fellow Canadian refugee BMX'er Andrew Lazaruk, we all went out for Mexican and sat around the table- a big mountain rider, a freeride mountain biker, a filmmaker and two BMXers- all discussing the differences and similarities between our industries, and the directions that for better or worse, we saw things heading. We casually spoke of our admiration for film, riding and contest aspects of each other's sports while simultaneously inhaling obscene proportions of enchiladas. It was a testament to how completely stupid arguments about wheel size, video formulas, and pigeonholing riding disciplines really are, and reaffirming the notion that we're just out there riding bikes and to stop making a ridiculous scene about it.
The next day we loaded up into Heath's Rockstar Energy shuttle van and began a tour of SoCal's legendary dirt jump spots. I didn't get a chance to check real estate listings, but it seemed almost certain that every house in Riverside and the surrounding communities possessed both terracotta style shingles and a choice of either a moto track or BMX jump trail in lieu of a backyard. Evidently this was a mecca for the country's top freestyle motocross riders and BMXers alike. Over the course of the day, we moved with the wind, checking out as many spots as we could while trying to manage the strong gusts that had been moving in from the West. Gully found himself in full childish form amongst the smorgasbord of perfectly manicured dirt jump trails, and Buehler was starting to get his dirt jump legs back after years of inactivity on a bike without ample suspension. We spent the entire day hopping zones and riding jumps with some talented SoCal riders, and by the time the Sun finally dropped out of the sky, it was time to pass out hard into a large plate of tacos and refried beans.
It's been a long day...
By now, our once translucent anglo-saxon skin had gone through it's first few rounds of redness and peeling, and we were starting to splash a little bit of colour across the white canvas which stretched across our Canadian skulls. We had found a riding scene and and purpose for each of one of our multitude of bikes, except for the big one. We had Garett Buehler onboard this trip, and we would be damned to the fires of mountain biking hell if we couldn't find some massive piles of dirt to throw him and the rest of ourselves off of.
This potentially cataclysmic scenario was thankfully diverted with a simple message to Sean "Griz" McClendon down near the very bottom of California in Alpine, an area below San Diego near the Mexican border. Griz has been the headlining visionary for a massive set of booters and hips near his place in Alpine for several years, and he swiftly commiserated with our situation, and lead an emergency convoy out to Pine Valley.
The sun had nearly set by the time we first arrived, but this place had it all- and by all we of course meant big ass super-senders. Garett, Gully and Griz immediately got to work throwing themselves into the air for extended periods of time to get a feel for the place. I knew any riding footage at this point would be a lost cause due to the imminent eclipsing of the sun behind the mountains, so I pointed my lens at a few rocks and hoped maybe they would explode.
They didn't. The next morning we got up early and had our usual burrito breakfast bonanza, and made our way back to Pine Valley with shovels, beef jerky and metric litres upon metric litres of water. The sun was hot, but these jumps were going to be even hotter. Geoff and Garett both donned full Rampage swag as they got to work filling in the rain ruts from the earlier monsoons that had passed through a week previous, and got the big lines in gloriously running order, just as the late afternoon sun began to transition into it's golden glory.
I've never found reading mountain bike stunts described on a page to be very engaging, and I won't pretend to have the poetic depth of a... poet type guy? ...necessary to make the action come alive, but I did have a camera and we managed to grab a few moving images from the afternoon and we'll get to those later. It was a fun time to say the least.
It was also inspiring to see Griz drop in and pull a massive whip off the largest jump in the valley. According to him, this was the first time he had hit the biggest line of his own jumps in almost 4 years, since a completely devastating and debilitating crash which shattered his pelvis during a race run in during the US National Champs in 2010. The road to recovery now included massive style over 45 foot doubles. We celebrated with beer and sushi (with a side of salsa). Keep on keepin' on Griz!
Garett Buehler seen here pushing his product all over Pine Valley
It had been two weeks now since we had first left our moose-loving nation, and we were beginning to feel comfortably assimilated into this strange culture. No longer did it feel out of place to order a platter of tacos at 10am in the morning, and our quick mental conversions on the truck's speedometer had greatly improved, reducing our susceptibility to speeding tickets greatly. Our skin now glowed a healthy shade of red from the near-Mexican sun, our blood now contained almost 3% salsa, and Garett and Geoff had developed worrying dependencies on chewing tobacco.
Yet, something inside us was restless. No, it wasn't that round of strangely coloured chicken burritos from that gas station outside of San Diego (although that may have been the catalyst), it was something else. It was that Canadian environmental ego rearing it's smug head from somewhere in our upbringing. We needed to see green, hear the sound of running water and breathe crisp, mountain air once more. We needed to head north.
15 hours later of mind-numbing interstate and one of the most award-winning Burger King stops we will never be able to re-locate, we were pulling into the parking lot of Camp Tapawingo, the Christian summer camp which serves as the heavenly gates into the famous Black Rock trail network in Oregon. Gully, being a seasoned vet and overall bubbly socialite had ridden here many times before, and simultaneously befriended some of the key trailbuilders, Dan, Pat and Brock. One of the key components of this friendship, besides an inside track on the trails and some solid company, was that they literally possessed the key to the gated service road. As a filmmaker who runs about 50 pounds of camera gear on his back, while simultaneously carrying a "portable" crane, I was more excited about this information than anybody else.
The mid-day Black Rock sun brings with it promise of warmth, and light, and photosynthesis, and ultraviolet rays, and a 0.00003475% chance of deadly solar flares!!!
As far as aesthetic trail networks go, Black Rock is one of the better spots out there. The ferns are green and vibrant, the soil is a rich gold, and the trees are beautifully spaced columns without any distracting underbrush. The lips are wide and squared off, any wooden features look like they've been milled by carpenters and even in unclouded conditions, the sun creates some incredible pockets of light to have fun with both behind and in front of the lens.
But I was the only person present who cared about that, and while off running around in the woods banking glorious nature footage of trees shivering in their own innocence and slow-motion time-lapses, Gully and Garett were off pounding out laps in the mid-day sun.
Black Rock's trails are fairly straight-forward, mainly due to the quality of the building, and it's quite easy to find your flow and simply rip around all day playfully having an incredible time without feeling the need to try and get too #extreme. Geoff however, has never felt comfort in complacency, and had been eying up "ET," a fairly sizeable long and low stepdown in the middle of one of the trails. The jump was fun to flow over, but fairly mellow in the lip department if you were considering anything other than some sort of straight-air variation. Gully really wanted to flip it, so we set up camp and let the guy do a few practice laps in order to calculate just how hard he would need to yank on the bars to bring himself around without awarding his face front row tickets to the rock solid run-out.
After a few stylish and pensive dead sailors, Gully dropped in and did what he does best: throwing his head back over his left shoulder he snapped the bike around and pulled it underneath him just in time for both his tires to land perfectly even on the ground. He then casually ripped the 180 berm at the bottom of the landing and proceeded to do it two or three more times.
Isaac Newton dropped an apple, Galileo dropped a ball and Gulevich dropped himself in order to find gravity. Gully may have more style on a bike, but not sure he could fill out those pantaloons the way Galileo could.
The evening in Black Rock ended with all of us boys around a campfire with our wieners on the flames, and although we still had a few more days of travel up the Interstate to once again join our zamboni-driving brethren, it felt like a ceremonious finale to what had been two and a half weeks of sunburns, guacamole and unfailingly friendly Americans. We had successfully slipped out of the winter that hung over Canada and chased summer nearly to the Mexican border.
We had traveled over 5,000 kilometres (or 3100 miles as our southern counterparts might measure) and consumed enough shredded pork to warrant a scientific inquiry into the integrity of our digestive systems. The bikes were now coated in dirt spanning a continent and our beards held flavours from North to South and once back again.
There was a twinge of pain as the first rain drops hit our windshield as we neared the border, but it was short-lived, because even though we had to leave summer behind now, we knew she would be stumbling her way onto the patio of Whistler's GLC in only a couple months time.
Team U.S. 'EH!
We're now back on the Canadian "wet coast" in the pouring rain, getting full potential out of our rain jackets and Adidas hydrophobic lens technology, but Summer is approaching fast!
You've now read the connective tissues of our riding trip, here's a quick look into the trip's heart: