The hum of SUV tires on pavement sparks something deep inside me, long-since lost. the thrill of a road trip. For once, however, I’m not pushing the pedal down and moving the steering wheel. This time, I’m stuffed in the back seat, wedged in with the dusty riding gear of two free-ride mountain bikers. Their full-face helmets lie beside me like the heads of slain heroes upon piles of body armor, gloves, and spare inner-tubes. My backpack filled with lenses crowds my feet, and I carry my camera in my lap. The truck sways as we pass cars and the heavy bikes stacked on the most jury-rigged bike rack I’ve ever seen sway with it.
Road-tripping with freeriders involves risk to life and limb, even before getting to the destination. Check out this rigged rack set up. Are you sure the bikes are going to make it?
I’ve spent a lot of time on the open road. In Montana, where it’s two hours at eighty mph to the next sizable town, time in the car is measured in CDs listened to, tanks of gas or mountain ranges crossed. Here, it’s just two hours of trees, back-road corners and pockets of open farm land to Highland Mountain Bike Park in Northfield, New Hampshire. We are traveling to see the Claymore Challenge Slopestyle Competition and the atmosphere in the truck is shivering with energy. Will and Zander will ride between rounds of competition. I am here to shoot photos.
Traveling with these guys takes me out of my element. The element of the solitary traveler. We stop at a country store for some snacks, and before I know it, Will is talking to an older gentleman about the color of the buildings in town and our business being there. I never would have attracted that kind of attention. Will relishes it. Though pleasant enough, the old man is dealing with some sort of dementia and Will keeps the conversation going until Zander comes out of the store with a foot-long breakfast super-sandwich. I make a mental note not to be so stand-off-ish in my future travels.
Traveling with more outgoing people often results in getting to know the locals. Unlike me, Will Carrol will talk to anybody. We had a lively conversation with this guy in front of our breakfast stop.
We meet up with a few of Will’s other friends at Highland. The park, built out of an old ski mountain, is in full swing. The lift whisks riders up to the top so they can charge back down. Riders pump the dirt jumps. The pro riders practice throwing huge tricks on building-sized jumps. Spectators already line the fence. Will and Zander disappear for their first runs and don’t reappear until after the competition has begun. In fact, they see only a few minutes of the competition all day, coming in for an update, then zipping off again. It’s hard to underestimate the call of the trails.
Riders putting on armor and getting ready to rip up the slopes.
Highland Lodge, Highland Mountain Bike Park, New Hampshire.
Will and Zander admiring the artwork and filling out ride forms in the Lodge.
Lift Service, Highland MtB Park
During a break in the competition, I head over to Sherwood Forest, where a stash of immaculate dirt-jumps are hidden, and shoot a few lines. Perfect light emerges from behind the trees. I hit the shutter. It’s been a long time since I’ve used my camera without expectation and it feels good. Really good. I continue firing, following dirt-jumpers as they bob up and down between the trees. I don’t worry about anything but exposure, composition and focus. I forget about the requirements of stock agencies. Snap, snap, snap in quick succession. Each frame is allowed to come out badly. Each frame is art.
- Sherwood Forest Dirt Jumps, Highland MtB Park
- Sending it over the gap!
Wall Ride, Sherwood Forest, Highland MtB Park.
Shredding Sherwood Forest, Highland Mtn. Bike Park.