For the last two years we’ve been following the fascinating story of TREO Ranches, a bird hunting lodge owned by Phil Carlson and his wife Cathy. They had been looking for a way to create a second income during the hunting off-season to keep their staff employed and through a serious of fortuitous encounters, decided to cater to cyclists. A few months ago, we finally got the chance to make a visit and interview him about his TREO Bike Tours.
Phil is not your typical bicycle business entrepreneur (he freely admits to not riding a bicycle), but his ranch is situated in a veritable bicyclists playground in Eastern Oregon with hundreds of miles of empty paved and gravel roads. While he doesn’t ride a bike himself, he sees the potential value in bicycle tourism. Phil is not the sort of person to take half measures. He has invested heavily into making the bicycling portion of his ranch a success, both with time and money. He took the week long bicycle mechanic course at UBI, he was a common site at Sunday Parkways in Portland this year and he has purchased and outfitted a full service bus and trailer to run his bicycle tours.
Phil is also important in that he provides a rural voice that is supportive of bicycling. He can speak about the positives and potential problems with bicycle tourism. He talked at length (though not included in the final edit) about how being bike-friendly is a two way street and that bicyclists have to be farm-friendly as well. There are signs in his lodge instructing bicyclists to share the road and respect the property rights of the local farmers.
We are pretty excited to share this video since we feel it provides a great rural perspective on bicycling that is lost in our current dialog. Bicycling on the national level focuses primarily on the urban story, often forgetting that a lot of the country is rural. The problem with that is that if we can’t make the case for bicycling in rural America, we are disregarding and ignoring a lot of potential supporters. Sit back and enjoy!
A few months ago we took a little sojourn out to Eastern Oregon to capture some interesting bicycle tourism stories out there. We visited with Kim and his wife Anita, who use to own Mountain Works bike shop in La Grande, Oregon (their daughter and son-in-law run it now) and are now embarking on a new venture during their “retirement.” They are running one of the few pedal rail cars in the US!
What started out as a whim has become a pretty serious business for them and came about through some rather fortuitous circumstances. Unlike most rail in the US that is owned by a railroad company, the stretch of unused rail they are operating on is owned by the county. Through lots of meetings, conversations and perseverance they were able to get their pedal powered excursion machines up and running. One of the toughest obstacles was finding insurance, since there are virtually no other operations like it in the US. The insurance had lots of safety stipulations, so riders are required to wear a helmet and a seat belt.
Safety accoutrements aside, the rail riders are a blast! The current route goes from Joseph to Enterprise and back and takes about two hours depending on your pedaling speed. There are plans to offer a longer day route in the future. We crashed a large party that rented nearly all the cars for a family event. Everyone we spoke to were extremely excited about it and were all having a great time. The Joseph Branch Rail Riders is seasonal and doesn’t operate during the winter, but start planning your Spring and Summer trips now!
Bicycle tours, bike touring, bicycle tourism….the terms all sound similar but they mean different things. To clear up some terminology, we made a little video that gives a definition of bicycle tourism and what sort of behaviors it captures. Sit back and enjoy!
We’ve only just begun to catch up on rest from our shoot in El Paso, TX and Las Cruces and we’re already planning the next month of travel! In a few weeks we are going on a speaking tour of sorts, presenting about bike tourism at various conferences. We’ll be in Iowa, Ontario and San Diego spreading what we’ve learned about bicycles as economic development. Bicycle tourism manifests itself in many forms and one of the most visible ways is the multi day supported bike tour. Perhaps the mother of all event rides is RAGBRAI which is the country’s largest multi day event ride. Bicycling tourism is a big deal in Iowa and generates $365 million dollars a year in economic impact anually.
A few years ago we had the opportunity to film Cycle Oregon, a RAGBRAI inspired tour in Oregon. Cycle Oregon from its very beginning was conceived as a way to bring people from urban areas to ride in the rural areas that were getting hit hard by the decline of the timber industry. The first Cycle Oregon is riddled with stories of riders going hungry from not enough food and small towns overwhelmed and surprised by a thousand lycra clad visitors. 25 years later, Cycle Oregon has matured into a well oiled machine both logistically and philanthropically. Not only does Cycle Oregon create a huge economic impact during the event, but it also offers grants to host communities. Perhaps more interestingly, many riders that have a good experience in a town during Cycle Oregon will often return to visit again.
We made a half hour documentary on Cycle Oregon’s 25th anniversary ride a few years ago. Here is an edit that gets to the spirit of the ride and the possibilities of bikes as economic development.
Back in 2008, when we were first getting into bike touring, I ordered Laura a pair of Ortlieb Bike-packers for her birthday. They were going to take a few days to arrive and, not wanting to be empty-handed on the special day, I printed out a photo of two small panniers and put them in an envelope. The Ortliebs eventually showed up and we did several short tours around California. Little did we know that the next year we would end up selling or giving away most of what we owned to travel by bike for three years. We’ve used Ortliebs for a long time and, while we’ve also used bags from different makers and manufacturers, they will always have a special place in our heart.
When we got an email from a long time acquaintance at OrtliebUSA about the possibility to shoot images for their next catalog, we leaped at the chance. This was a brand that we had used and loved for many years and now we had the chance to help with their new marketing. Heck yeah! The funny thing is that, when we were on the road traveling, I had mused about how it would be a “dream gig” to shoot for Ortlieb.
Sometimes you get what you ask for, it just takes a couple of years. And in hindsight, I’m glad it did take a couple of years to come together. It took the knowledge of shooting and logistics that we’ve learned over the last few years to pull it all together. If it weren’t for our experience with filming the Oregon Scenic Bikeways and learning how to scout locations, plan shoot days, work with talent, and make the impromptu creative decisions that brings some magic to an image, we probably never would have been able to pull it off.
The weeks leading up to the shoot, we rode bikes all over Portland looking for places we could stage vignettes; we spent three days on the coast looking for JUST the right spot where we could shoot, capture the rocky coast AND be away from traffic; and I did test after test of different angles to figure out how best to shoot the bags. In all the pre-production, we even dug out Laura’s blue panniers to better visualize. Of course, they’ve seen better days. The color has faded, a few of the buckles have snapped, but to their credit, they are still waterproof and work just fine.
When the first of seven days of shooting came around, I was nervous. Two people from Germany had flown into town to art direct and guide the shoot. We had discussed the new look they were trying to achieve, looked at samples their graphic designer sent, and talked about what they liked and what they didn’t like. When the talent and U-Haul full of product and bikes showed up the first morning, it was more or less full-tilt from the second we opened the cargo door to when we shut it at 8pm that evening.
The amount of product we had to shoot (from bike bags to hiking backpacks to kayak gear) was overwhelming to think about all at once. The most I could do was concentrate on the products at the moment. We did shots with motion blur, shots that were perfectly crisp, that showed details, that told a story, etc. I shot wide, then medium, then close-up. I was juggling two Nikons and four lenses, carefully pacing the amount of memory cards we had. There were some shots that we tried over and over to get and some that we got on the first try. Some vignettes were pre-planned, some we discovered along the course of the day. The whole week, there was a constant tension of following the schedule but also being able to try something on a whim. It was chaotic, stressful, challenging, and fun, all at once.
Throughout the whirlwind, we found a renewed respect and appreciation for Ortlieb as a company. Living in the Pacific Northwest, it’s easy to think of them as an enormous corporation, since their products are simply everywhere. But we learned that they are actually a relatively small company, all based in one location, where they design, build, and distribute their products. When they first started, no one was making waterproof panniers like they wanted, so they made their own machines! We learned that it wasn’t uncommon for people to work 15 or 20 years (or more) with the company. We also learned why their products can cost so much – they want to keep everything German-made and pay their employees a living wage. And we learned that, every year at Christmas, they buy cookies from a bakery in the town where they’re based, and ship them to their distributors as a sign of thanks.
By the end of the shoot, we had photographed in Portland, in the Columbia River Gorge, along the Deschutes River, and on the Oregon Coast. It was a whirlwind shoot and, when it was over, we were all pretty spent. We saw Rolf and Kristin off at the airport, on their way back to Germany (where they had to quickly prepare for Eurobike), and there were hugs all around. The shoot was hard, no doubt, but we were happy with the images we captured and are looking forward to seeing them in their marketing materials in the next year. For me, it was a “dream gig” that eventually came true. But perhaps more interesting was meeting the people behind the company and learning the human side of those little paper panniers I had cut out years ago.