Professional Photographer Dan Milner's Decade of Adventure in Pictures

Jan 20, 2020 at 13:55
by Dan Milner  

Let’s get this straight: adventure shoots are not the same as photoshoots. In one you can ask the rider to ride it again and then again, and ‘oh, just once more’. You have the luxury of planning timings and playing with the light, to recon’ the locations, deliver gold and send an invoice in afterwards. In the other, you have little idea what is ahead or how much time you can afford to spend on one shot, no idea even if you’re going to reach camp before nightfall —or sometimes even if you’ll reach camp. There are no luxuries in adventure photography. You get one chance to make it work, whatever the sun or rain or snow is doing, however the rider feels, however your guts feel. There's no going back, just instant decisions to tell the story of how, what and why the heck you are there, trying to ride a trail through the back end of nowhere, and whether you can make a living from the outcome.

So, I'm sure you agree, they are not the same. But they are both equal parts of the photography career I’m lucky enough to have carved out for myself, and each hail different glories, bless ‘em.

Looking back over the last decade —about a third of the years I’ve spent ‘adventuring’ in different corners of the world— it’s a hard ask to pull out the key images that, in just 1/1000th of a second, will define those adventures and so define my most recent decade of mountain biking. I’m driven by the idea that travel broadens the mind and that the stories I return with have the potential to do good, whether that’s by challenging popular misconceptions of a country or its people, or by just encouraging others to go learn about themselves through embracing their own adventure. Certainly looking back, a decade can seem a long time, especially in politics, geography, and technology: cameras evolve, handlebars widen, politicians come and go, previously safe destinations become no-go zones... and sometimes previously no-go zones return to being safe destinations.

Matt Hunter dwarfed by the mighty Lanin Volcano on the Argentina-Chile border. This began a 3-day 100 Km long trail ride to Pucon Chile in February 2017.
Matt Hunter, Lanin Volcano, Chile, during our 3-day Villarrica Traverse in 2017

Of course, it’d be a lot easier to simply post ten years of my most head-turning nugs, but many would come from commercial shoots or backyard rides —and while they would make fine eye-candy, they just don’t have the same depth of story. Unless you want to hear how rider X was late, or how we stopped for a cappuccino again, or that time the product samples were three sizes too small. Okay, so maybe I’m making that 'other' part of my work sound a lot easier than it is and doing an injustice to photographers out there, who know how equally demanding any photoshoot can be, especially with the commercial hand that feeds you hovering overhead and the pressure to deliver bang for the client’s buck.

But it’s adventure that defines me — it always will. I return to it every year, drawn by its unknowns, its challenges and the opportunities it brings to learn about myself in situations that have drifted way beyond control.

So I've dipped into past adventures to share a snapshot of a decade of riding, pushing and carrying bikes into wild (and often previously un-ridden) corners of a world that is constantly changing. Of course, sentimental attachment to an image can get in the way of objective editing, but I hope the following pictures tell a little more about the real, honest, beautiful world that’s out there if you throw a little caution to the wind and have a taste for an adventurous ride. Here’s to the next decade.

Shuttle ride in Ethiopia
Ethiopia, 2015

2010: Nepal, Instagram and an Icelandic volcano
Camera: Leica M8. Bike: Yeti 575. Gears: 3x9. Handlebars: 670mm

When Apple launched the iPad and new 4G networks meant we could use them anywhere, I took a trip to Nepal’s Upper Mustang Kingdom, one place where both iPads and 4G would still be inconsequential.

Rob and Seb during a 10-day traverse of the Upper Mustang.
Rob Story and Seb Liljeberg, Upper Mustang
Rob and Seb during a 10-day traverse of the Upper Mustang.

A year earlier I’d been in the Annapurna region and looked north from Kagbeni into the restricted access zone of Upper Mustang. Learning that a road was planned through the region and the likely loss of much of the one trail to Upper Mustang’s ancient walled capital Lo Manthang (population 300), I returned in 2010 to shoot a story on riding that trail before it disappeared. The 10-day ride took us to Lo Manthang and on the Tibet border and back. Shooting these kind of rides at 4000 metres altitude meant being drawn towards the smallest, lightest camera set up I could find —a quest that is ongoing.

2011: England, Arab Spring and Snapchat
Camera: Leica M8. Bike: Yeti 575. Gears: 3x10. Handlebars: 700mm

Exotic travel and alien culture underpins many ideas of adventure, but the reality is you can find adventure’s buzz close to home too.

Day 1 of a 4 day ride from the Lakes to Bradford.
James Richards and James Brickell embracing a very British challenge

Pressing pause on the final episode of Game of Thrones, we embraced an ambitious plan, spearheaded by Tracy Moseley’s bloke, James Richards, to ride a 4-day traverse of the north of England. Starting in the Lakes and crossing the Yorkshire moors to Bradford would be no walk in the park, and it wasn’t. We battled the British weather most of the way. This ride shot was from a very windy first day; we were blown off our bikes several times.

Lunch stop. Wet. England.
Street food, UK style

2012: Morocco, Italy and Tinder
Camera: Leica M8. Bike: Yeti 575. Gears: 2x10. Handlebars: 720mm

While the world was getting jiggy with Gangnam style, Facebook bought Instagram and boffins found the Higgs boson particle, I returned to both Morocco and Finale Ligure in 2012, with the idea that you don’t have to venture too far off the tourist circuit to find genuine adventure.

Holger rolls an exposed part of the Alt Via trail.
Holger Meyer gets to grip with a little exposure on the Alta Via

A 4-day hut-to-hut ride along the Alta Via dei Monti trail from the hills above Finale to Ventimiglia gave us a taste of another, empty side of Liguria, a world away from the beaches and bike shuttles.

Exploring new trails off the beaten track in Morocco.
Mike Foster and Greg Watts, out there, Morocco
Rolling through real Morocco.

Meanwhile, in Morocco I found that merely venturing a single valley over from the tourist gites of the Ourika valley led us through villages that oozed authentic Morocco where traditional mud houses sport satellite dishes, and handicrafts are noticeably absent.

2013: Afghanistan, Gran Canaria and BlackLivesMatter
Camera: Leica M9 & Nikon D600. Bike: Yeti 575. Gears: 2x10. Handlebars: 700mm

While the final episode of Breaking Bad was screening and Snowden was leaking, I embraced two of the most spectrally diverse trips I’ve ever done.

Crossing the border from Tajikistan into Afghanistan.
Crossing a line, into Afghanistan
Karabel camp 4200m Wakhan Corridor Afghanistan.
Mid summer, Wakhan Corridor

In June, Matt Hunter joined me on a pioneering 12-day bike traverse of Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor — a remote and peaceful panhandle of Afghan soil that is as wild and unspoiled a place I’ve ever been. Scaling altitudes up to 5000 metres, and dealing with blizzards, 30C+ heat and raging rivers to ford, the Secret Compass organised expedition was tougher than any of us had expected. It took me a month post-trip to really start appreciating what we had done, and what we had accomplished.

James Brickell riding from the Cruz de Tejeda during a 4 day traverse of Gran Canaria.
James Brickell and James Riichards, Gran Canaria

Meanwhile in the other corner of 2013 was a 4-day traverse of the Spanish island of Gran Canaria. It was the yin to the yang of Afghanistan, delivering amazing trails that were 95% ride-able and comfortable beds overnight. Of course, the two trips had overlap, notably amazing scenery and a deep sense of fulfillment. I based this trip on trying to ride the route of the Gran Canaria Ultra Trail race.

2014: Argentina and Selfie Sticks
Camera: Nikon D650. Bike: Yeti 575. Gears: 2x10. Handlebars: 720mm

I’m a sucker for South America, a place with such diversity of landscapes and culture it has lured me to return 6 times since 1989. Each time it has delivered completely fresh adventures.

playtime for Hans among Tilcara s amazing mountains.
Hans Rey near the start of the mountain-to-jungle ride

At about the same time that online streaming dispatched the last Blockbuster video rental store and an ISIS blot appeared on the Middle Eastern radar, I headed back to Argentina with Hans Rey and Tibor Simai to shoot a couple of stories. We rode a disused 100-year old railway line for 3 days, entertaining a whimsical notion I had had the this would make a great adventure (it did), and then spent another 3 days descending a single 85-kilometre long trail from the high desert mountains to lush, green jungle.

Hans Rey Tibor Simai on day 3 of a three-day traverse Tilcara to Calilegua Argentina.
Hans Rey and Tibor Simai in jaguar country

2015: Ethiopia, Menorca and Star Wars VII
Cameras: Nikon D600 and D750. Bike: Yeti SB5c. Gears: 2x11. Handlebars: 720mm

2015 was another year of contrasting adventures, each equally as rewarding in their own rights and both a lot better than The Force Awakens.

Dain Zaffke during an 8 day ride through the Simien National Park.
Dain Zaffke, Ethiopian magic, pre crash

Dain receiving hospital treatment in Ethiopia after a trail crash.
Dain Zaffke, Ethiopian hospital, post crash

Many people of my maturity will picture Ethiopia as the famine-ravaged subject of Geldof’s Feed The World anthem. Luckily, today it’s a different place. In the year the USA embraced same-sex marriages and liquid water was found on Mars, I headed to Ethiopia to ride a 9-day loop through its visually gob-smacking Simien Mountains National Park. Our route, leading us to the top of its highest peak, Ras Deshan, produced photo-gold at every turn, but the many rubble-littered trails and bruising altitude meant it was all hard-earned.

Karen and Julia riding the north east section fo the 4 day circumnavigation of the island of Menorca.
Karen Eller and Julia Roberts, Menorca

In contrast to Ethiopia’s exoticism, a 4-day circumnavigation of the Mediterranean island of Menorca produced the kind of ‘achievable-not-aspirational’ closer to home story many editors look for. The Cami de Cavalls trail way exceeded expectations, becoming one the best all-mountain rides I’ve done. The trail packs in over 4500 metres of climbs and descents along its 186 km length of singletrack — no mean feat for a ‘flat’ island.

2016: Lebanon, Italy and Brexit
Camera: Nikon D750. Bike: Yeti SB5. Gears: 1x11. Handlebars: 750mm

A day is a long time in politics and equally long if you have a bike on your back. But the art of adventure is the art of embracing unknown’s or at least knowing that however hard the going gets, there will be an end to it. 2016 was the year of the endgame.

Urban playtime and spectators in Lebanon at one of the villages on the Lebanon Mountain Trail.
Kamil Tatarkovic and audience appreciation, Lebanon

After a year of planning, I made it to Lebanon, a country that had emerged into peaceful co-existence after three decades of layered conflict and war. My idea was to ride select sections of its long-distance Lebanon Mountain Trail, a trekking path constructed to unite villages once divided by religions and politics. While the UK realised its partisan Brexit decision, we rode and carried our bikes for 6 days through a beautiful Middle Eastern country that offered only warm, friendly welcomes.

james and Massimo head for an overnight in the Gratton bivouac at 3198m.
Massimo Ferro, James Brickell and our very cosy tin bivouac

Meanwhile, in a stunning corner of Europe near Aosta, Italy, the art of bike carrying took a new turn to reach a 3127m high alpine bivouac. A tiny tin hut reached by 1600 metres of steep ascent and suspended above a sea of ice, became our home for a night and the focus for the story about cost and reward.

2017: Lesotho, Chile and Trump
Cameras: Nikon D750, Fuji X-Pro2. Bike: Yeti SB5. Gears: 1x11. Handlebars: 760mm.

The idea of exploring new places drives adventure, but for me, this privilege is often a chance to tell a deeper story too.

Watched by a local lad Kevin rolls the descent above Roma.
Kevin Landry and onlooker, Lesotho

In the same year that turned the tide on ISIS and the MeToo movement turned the tide on silence, I shot a story in Lesotho that looked at what mountain bike tourism can do to help turn the tide on rural poverty in one of the poorest countries in Africa. Our 6-day traverse of Lesotho’s southern mountains, led by the young traditional horseman Lephuthing Isaac Molapo, threw us amazing trail riding as well as a glimpse of the positives of sharing our wealth. Meanwhile one of the richest men in America took the Presidential office.

Rene Wildhaber riding in Torres del Paine
Rene Wildhaber, Torres del Paine

A gaucho near Torres del Paine
A gaucho near Torres del Paine

On another continent, I returned to Chile’s Torres del Paine National park to explore if and how this busy Patagonian hotspot could meet the expectations of us mountain bikers. Since 1996, when I cycle toured and camped freely through Torres del Paine, I’ve watched tourism and regulations here grow. But we found empty, permitted trails to ride on the fringes of the park, and a couple of nugs right in the heart of the action too.

Descending a trail in the western Ghat mountains
Ricky Westphal, Kerala

And finally back in Asia, I veered away from the usual Himalayan focus of Indian mountain biking to see what the tea plantations and steep Ghat mountains around the southern state of Kerala have to offer instead. It’s possibly the greenest place I’ve ever been to. And the best food I’ve ever eaten.

2018: North Korea, Sub Polar islands and Greta Thunberg
Camera: Lumix G9. Bike: Yeti SB5. Gears: 1x11. Handlebars: 760mm.

‘Hot’ is always subjective, and that can apply to travel advice too I've learned.

Max descending a trail on Mount Myohyang.
Max Schumann, Mt Myohyang

Following Trump’s historic meet with Kim Jong-Un, we pioneered our own trip to North Korea, using bikes as our excuse to see inside this little-known country. Some people would argue that we didn’t see the “real” NK, and that’s an understandable opinion. But the logistical challenges for our guides of having bikes at the heart of our trip, and the reach a bike has, both in terms of going farther and connecting with strangers, opened up dozens of unexpected moments and unplanned encounters. The result is that we got a glimpse of a system few outsiders can comprehend or understand, and delivered perhaps the most uniquely rewarding bike trip I have done in three decades. The riding was more challenging.

Meanwhile as Space X began its dash to escape our planet and Greta Thunberg reminded everyone else of the importance of our planet, I decided to try to ride the most southern trail in the world.

Dennis Beare and Daniel Franco shoulder their bikes while exploring the southern most trail in the world on Navarino Island Chile. The two were part of a pioneering mountain bike expedition to the trail in January 2018.
Dennis Beare and Daniel Franco earning it on the most southern trail in the world

Perched on Navarino Island, off the tip of South America, this trail is one of the wildest and most rudimentary trails I’ve ever explored. Bathed in unspoiled beauty, shrouded in schizophrenic sub-polar weather and devoid of people, the trail struck a real contrast to the almost sacrificial anode of tourism that is Torres del Paine a few hundred Kilometres to the North. The riding on Navarino is challenging for sure, but it is impossible to leave here without a very real appreciation of how very beautiful our planet is.

2019: Iraq, Russia and an impeached President
Camera: Lumix G9. Bikes: Yeti SB5 & SB140. Gears: 1x12. Handlebars: 760mm.

'Ramping up' is perhaps a good way to describe the end of the twenty-tens, a decade that seems to be running towards, who knows what?

Fred and Dennis scale a pass on the west side of Mt Elbrus.
Fred Horny and Dennis Beare, Mount Elbrus

Despite the advent of 5G networks, fortunately, there are still plenty of places left that don’t even have a cell-signal, and that added isolation just adds to the adventure. One of them is the wild, rugged and empty sprawl of mountains that surround Mount Elbrus in Russia. This 6-day circumnavigation of Europe’s highest peak threw myriad challenges at our team left to conquer 4200 metre high passes. Of course that lack of cell-signal meant wondering how we could liaise with our support team who would meet us each night. Sputnik phones, as our fixer calls satellite phones, “not work here”.

Eric Porter rolls into the descent back to the valley floor on the side of Safin Mountain.
Eric Porter, Iraqi Kurdistan

Amidst mention of a president’s impeachment we ventured to northern Iraq to explore the peaceful trails of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Having shared a student house with an Iraqi Kurd in 1986, listened to his stories and learned from him how to cook rice properly, I have always been keen to see Kurdistan for myself. While trusted logistics on such trips means it’s rare to feel unsafe on such trips to seemingly ‘risky’ places, rising frictions between Iran and the USA did raise anxieties in the group during this trip. The reality though, is that the Kurdish welcome we experienced was as warm as you’d find amidst your own family. The fact that we found and rode a few choice trails was, as always a bonus.

Adventure, after all, is always unpredictable, but it is always rewarding.

Thanks to Yeti Cycles, Shimano, Fox, Mavic, Crank Brothers, WTB, SilverFish UK, Giro, Alpkit and Lumix for their support.

Author Info:
DanMilner avatar

Member since Feb 11, 2011
55 articles

  • 23 0
 Awesome photos.

One of the best things about taking photos is being able to look back on them - that moment preserved forever in an image. I enjoyed the shit out of these.

It's cool looking back on the old tech too - 3x9 and 670mm handlebars.

I wonder if in another 10 years we'll look back on 1x12 and 800mm handlebars the same way? Probably.
  • 14 0
 Great photos it self and for sure amazing adventures!!! But idea to make associated photos and trips with most know world events and changes in your bike, drivetrain and handlebar width is amazing!!!
  • 12 1
 Glad you liked the angle - I thought that might make interesting context.
  • 7 0
 Dan is the man! I remember when I was first getting into biking I watched all your Trail Ninja series. You’re pretty much the reason I got into photography and doing big rides. Keep it up!
  • 9 0
 Is there such a thing as AOY?
  • 7 0
 Whenever I see a Dan Milner name on a story I view it on a full screen and am inevitably inspired; never leaving disappointed.
  • 4 0
 Coming from the guy that smashed his face into the rocks in rural Ethiopia... That was the adventure of a lifetime for me (and seemed like just another mini-adventure for Milner). One big lesson that we learned: Dan Milner is a professional comedian who happens to be good at taking photos. He had us laughing from the time we rolled out of our sleeping bags in the morning until we fell asleep at night. Thanks for sharing some of your favorite trips here @DanMilner, super cool read and these images will stand the test of time for another few decades at least!
  • 5 0
 Love seeing some Micro 4/3 work. That format always made sense to me for biking due to quality and form factor/ sizing.

Great stuff!
  • 4 0
 Yeah the Lumix 4/3 set up became the solution to getting my kit pared down to the lightest and really compact set up without compromising quality for those 'out there' trips.
  • 4 0
 @DanMilner: Thanks for the reply. I was an Olympus shooter for some time and then went to Nikon and now going back to Olympus. The size and weight combined with capabilities is pretty phenomenal.

Great shots. Drool worthy stuff.
  • 3 0
 @jmhills: Love my Oly. I see very little disadvantage in the MFT format 99.9% of the time. Lowlight and DOF are supposed to be a weakness but my Mitakon Speedmaster handles that easily.
  • 4 0
 Most Pinkbike articles are so easy to skim through. This article deserves to have every word read and picture studied. Nice work Dan.
  • 6 0
 Wow, epic!
  • 5 0
 Street food, UK style, unfortunately he's not joking.
  • 3 0
 Pop down to Tesco and grab a packet of crisps and a sandwich.
  • 3 0
 @jmhills: ha ha, I remember taking that shot - grabbing whatever was available from a little village post office and being so knackered we just slumped down on the pavement and ate it right there and then. That traverse was brutal.
  • 3 0
 I enjoyed the written reflections and observations just as much as the accompanying images. You belong in The Explorers Club.
  • 2 0
 Excelent! I rode the trail from Tilcara to San Francisco, it´s really amazing. Your expierence riding trail in so many countries is great. Thanks for your work.
  • 1 0
 Tnx DM for sharing your views on the last decade, very nice to look back with the titles/subtitles. Looking forward to new places.
  • 2 0
 I was hoping you'd do something like this! I've always been a fan of your adventures
  • 2 0
 There is no such thing as a D650. Apart from that, the stories are breathtaking!
  • 2 0
 Or is there (insert conspiracy theory here)? Yes you are right, I'll blame my confusion through all the camera changes over a decade always seeking the lightest but uncompromising tool for he job. It was a D600 at that time.
  • 3 0
 Awesome post, great photos.
  • 3 0
 Navarino was savage! What a great adventure.
  • 2 0
 Dan these are incredible images! Please tell me you still have the M8 & M9...I need some drool-worthy Leica in my life!
  • 3 0
 Still have the M9. Lovely but it doesnt get out much nowadays.
  • 2 0
 What a badass! Thank Dan for taking us along for all of these adventures!!!
  • 2 1
 I have watched a total of 1 episodes of Game of thrones....and yes there was titties Wink But did it really END in 2011??
Oh yea....great photos Big Grin
  • 1 0
 Brilliant article. Could easily have read through another 5 pages of this. Love the concept of the year, location, camera, significant events as well!
  • 2 0
 Awesome. Always look forward to reading your adventures and the cool photos.
  • 3 0
  • 3 0
 so many POY
  • 2 0
 Thanks, maybe they should do a Photo of the decade, just for us old photographers! I entered another different shot last week for POY....
  • 1 0
 @DanMilner What publication/website did the NK trip get published on - interested to read that.
  • 2 0
 Great.. What language do you want it in? It ran in MBUK issue 364 and gallery on OutsideOnline (and also in Bike magazin Germany November 2018, Italy online over at MTB-mag, in Velo in Czech, in Spain in SoloBici... and others...). Enjoy!
  • 2 0
 Amazing photo journalism... but wait dude, Julia Roberts?!?
  • 2 0
 Ah, I'd be lying if I said yes, I often hang out with Julia Roberts and she often comes on my trips, but I'll have to confess to that caption was meant to say Julia Hofmann. I'd rather have the Hofmann on my trips, she can absolutely rip on a bike.
  • 2 0
 My life and job suck...
  • 6 0
 don't complain abt it on pinkbike go do something abt it
  • 2 0
 Always an inspiration!
  • 1 0
 When PERU? So much to offer here! we invite you!
  • 1 0
 i would buy this in book format, awesome collection of stories

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