Behind the Scenes: Filming the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway
It is hard to believe, but it has almost been a year to the day since we rode the Old West Scenic Bikeway. For the unfamiliar, it is part of Oregon’s innovative Scenic Bikeway program, which is designed as an economic development tool for small towns to attract the growing bicycling travel market. Of all the bicycling initiatives and programs in Oregon (there are a lot!), the Scenic Bikeway program is nearest and dearest to our hearts. It captures the essence of what we experienced during our years on the road. Small towns and rural places are awesome for bicycle travel and the exchange can be mutually beneficial – small towns get tourism dollars and bike tourists get amazing riding experiences.
This summer, we get to work on an awesome project that combines both our love of bike travel and storytelling! Partnering with TravelOregon and the local communities, we’ll be riding, filming, photographing and telling the story of each of the Scenic Bikeways. It’s an amazing assignment that will put all our skills (both in bicycling and media creation) to the test! Since filming the OWSB a year ago, we’ve jumped headlong into video production, doing a handful of film projects with local organizations (Clever Cycles, Hop in The Saddle, Adventure Cycling) and honing our skills.
We just finished filming the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway this weekend and we are currently editing the video. Looking at the footage, it’s amazing what a difference a year makes! We’ve improved technically and have added a few tools to our video toolkit to increase production value. While our video kit is fairly small compared to what others use, it is bigger than when we road the OWSB.
McKenzie is a fairly short Scenic Bikeway with only one real climb. Since we didn’t need any camping gear, I decided to pull out all the stops and bring a tripod, slider and a jib! The first challenge was simply to figure out how to carry all equipment! I contemplated using our Burley Travoy, but a week before we left, I decided instead to make bike scabbards for the tripod and monopod. Setting up a tripod once or twice a day isn’t a big deal, but those minutes spent setting-up quickly become hours when you do it 100 times. I fashioned some crude missile-silo-looking scabbards out of PVC pipe, steel pannier hooks and bungees. The idea was that I could just stop the bike, pull out a monopod and grab some quick B-roll, without dismounting. Not elegant, but very functional. To make sure they wouldn’t fall apart in the middle of McKenzie Pass (and to get into shape), I rode with the rig up and down Mt. Tabor in Portland.
Of course, you can prepare all you want, but you won’t know what the actual conditions are going to be at a shoot until you show up. Driving over Mt. Hood to get to Sisters, things were not looking promising. The “dry side” of Oregon was anything but dry. In fact, it was down right raining. We contemplated what we would do the next day if it was raining, but opted to not make any hasty decisions until the morning. It was a gambit. If we canceled the shoot, all the time spent in pre-production, arranging of talent, accommodations and shuttles would all go down the drain. Fortunately, the next morning, the sky looked a little less threatening. There were still clouds, but there were also patches of blue. After a quick breakfast, we decided to go for it. We shot some footage of the talent checking out of their cabin at the beautiful Five Pine lodge, loading their bikes and pushing off. Then we all saddled up and headed toward McKenzie Pass.
The McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway is unique in that there is a brief window of time when a portion of the route is open to cyclists and closed to cars. The dates are different every year, due to snow levels. This year, it opened early to cyclists and will be closed off to cars until June 16th (which means you still have time to get out there and ride it!). This is the best time to experience the Bikeway (and was also the best time for us to film it). The ride itself is fairly mellow. Although you are constantly gaining elevation, the inclines are never very steep (at least going from East to West). Some of the highlights include the eerie lava landscape near the summit and the very surreal Dee Wright Observatory.
Through most of the day, we benefited from intermittent sun breaks, and that is when I would pull out the cameras and start shooting. Our talent for the video, Kristen and Jake, were good sports about riding back and forth in front of the camera. (These sorts of assignments are a mixed blessing: Yes, we are riding our bikes in amazing country, but it’s still work.) As we rode, I was constantly scanning for the best viewpoint and mentally ticking off the shots we would need for continuity. I was trying my best to get everything in a single take (I would shoot video and Laura shot stills), because the weather continually threatened to get worse and I knew I wanted to get to the summit before it started raining. About 3 miles from the top, we encountered some cyclists coming down, who told us they got snow and sleet after Windy Point.
When we got to Windy Point, the clouds were thick and we were buffeted by some really cold winds. We had taken a gamble in the morning and now that we were close to the top, we had to decide again what we were going to do. We had been lucky all day with a patch of blue sky that followed us up the climb, so we pushed on despite the warnings from the cyclists. Just as we were within spitting distance from Dee Wright, we had another sun break. We staged a few vignettes, and then it started raining (and even snowing a little bit). We quickly hustled into the observatory, set up a lunch sequence with the talent (getting all the shots as fast as possible because a cold wind was whipping through the windows), and then quickly inhaled a real lunch.
The descent down the west side was cold and wet, but about two-thirds of the way down the mountain, we got a few more sun breaks. We really wanted to do justice to the ride, despite the wet conditions. We were all slowly counting down the miles until the hot springs at the end. When we got to Belknap, we shot some arrival footage, a few quick details of the space, and the talent enjoying the hot pool – and then we sunk in and relaxed (and warmed up). After getting the hotspring footage and soaking for a few minutes, we took off for dinner at Takoda’s in the nearby community of Rainbow. We chatted with the friendly owner who also happened to be on Big Brother, listened to some local music, and enjoyed a hearty dinner.
The next day, we had to shoot some pickup footage in Sisters, and we had an amazing lunch at Open Door.
Jake and Kristin left that afternoon, but we were planning to stay in Bend for a few more days to do some mountain biking. Of course, two days after the talent left, the weather was absolutely stunning! We decided to ride back up to Dee Wright (and sadly forgo hitting the trails) to shoot more pickup shots of scenery and the lava landscape. (There are worst things to do for work than having to ride up a stunning mountain pass twice in a week.) We got some great beauty shots of the Cascades and also managed to capture a curious little chipmunk inspecting our bikes.
When we got back to Portland, I backed up and reviewed the footage, and then the real work began. Beautiful footage really doesn’t amount to much without a story, so we started writing the script (with the help of a few beers). The script writing is one of the toughest parts. Since each video is only 2 minutes long, each word has to be carefully selected to move the story along. After about a day and a half of script writing, Laura searched for music. We recorded her voice over, and I started assembling it all in Final Cut. For some, the editing process can be maddening, but I really enjoy it. There is something supremely satisfying when all the visual and aural media come together to make perfect little moments. I love photography, but more and more I am drawn to video. It is so challenging but fulfilling creatively!
Now, the video is in the hopper and is off for final approval. We’re hoping to release it soon to get people out to ride McKenzie Pass. It really is spectacular and we’re excited to be part of telling its story.