North Shore Betty

After nearly 30 years on the hallowed trails of southern British Columbia, Betty Birrell still thinks life is one big playground—and that you’re never too old to send.

North Shore Betty
Lean back and let ‘er rip. Betty Birrell goes full send on Floppy Bunny, her go-to warm-up lap on Mount Fromme in southern British Columbia. Don’t be fooled by the name; this black-diamond trail is packed with enough roots, rocks and wooden roller coasters to challenge even experienced riders. Photo: Travis Rummel

It’s a typical fall day in the forests above North Vancouver, British Columbia. The rain is coming down so hard you can’t see more than a few hundred feet, almost obscuring the cedar trees swaying in the surrounding murk. Wind whips between the column-like trunks, making waves through a sea of emerald sword fern. A crack! slices through the rain as a small tree snaps and falls into a nearby stand of Douglas fir.

If Betty Birrell and her son, Hayden Robbins, are fazed by the weather, they don’t show it. Their bikes seem to float down a river of contorted roots, greasy rocks and slippery wooden bridges as if it’s a mild day in June, with Betty leading through the vilest conditions. It’s amazing to watch. She is much, much more confident on these trails than I will ever be, and I’m half her age—and a former professional mountain biker, though I feel embarrassed to admit it at the moment.

At 73 years old, Betty has called these trails home for almost 30 years. In the early 1990s during her mid-40s, she bought her first mountain bike, and a good friend she refers to only as Old Rob took her down 7th Secret, a trail on Mount Fromme. Her second ride was on the aptly named Executioner, another steep, rooty, technical fall-line descent. Both trails have retained their black-diamond rating, and even on the plush full-suspension bikes of today, most riders would find Executioner terrifying.

Her face lights up at those memories. “I was hooked right away.”

North Shore Betty
Betty poses at the bottom of Empress, a treacherously steep, extremely technical double-black diamond on lower Mount Seymour. Photo: Jordan Manley

Betty’s entrance into mountain biking—as a single mother a few years short of 50, raising a 6-year-old while flying overseas each weekend as an international flight attendant—is unconventional, by most measures. But to start on Vancouver’s North Shore during the 1990s … well, that’s another level of gnarly. Clinging to the mist-shrouded slopes of Mount Fromme, Mount Seymour and Cypress Mountain above North Vancouver, “The Shore” is to mountain biking what Yosemite is to rock climbing or what O‘ahu is to surfing: Few other places have done more to influence and define the sport. And, like the Dawn Wall or Pipeline, it is not for the faint of heart.

“Some people say that California invented mountain biking,” says local trail builder Todd Fiander. “The North Shore invented mountain biking.”

The Shore’s infamous trails are a cross between a BMX track and an Ewok village, a convoluted web of wooden ladder bridges, rock drops, berms and “skinnies”—narrow, raised features intended to be ridden across. Some of this woodwork climbs into the trees, demanding riders navigate catwalk-like planks, sometimes only 6 inches wide and as high as 20 feet above the forest floor. Other features roll multiple stories down near-vertical rock faces.

North Shore Betty
Left: Ladies Only is one of Todd Fiander’s most beloved masterpieces, a seminal and lasting testament to his vision and commitment to giving people a good time. He built it in 1992 and has been personally maintaining and tinkering with it ever since. The trail redefined what was possible, with features like the first-ever teeter-totter bridge and the iconic “Monster” roller coaster, and though it’s seen some overhauls over the past 30 years, it still embodies the spirit of those early days. Photo: Jordan Manley

Right: Built by “Dangerous Dan” Cowan, the Flying Circus trail on Mount Fromme represents the absurd pinnacle of the North Shore’s renegade early years. It had the skinniest, highest and most dangerous features anyone had ever seen and could only be ridden by a handful of people. Trails like Flying Circus were decommissioned as mountain biking became more widely adopted, but the remnants speak to the enduring legacy of cedar planks, mad creativity and an unrelentingly desire to push the limits. Photo: Jordan Manley

“Shore-style” trails can now be found across the globe, but when Betty started riding in the early 1990s, locals had only been building them for a few years. Todd—or Digger as he’s known in the mountain bike world—is considered the first to incorporate ladder bridges and raised wooden structures into his trails. He’s observed nearly every notable rider on The Shore for the past three decades and captured many in his 11 North Shore Extreme films, including—to my surprise and, I must admit, chagrin—Betty.

A few years ago, I made a documentary about the history of free-ride mountain biking, much of which happened on Digger’s trails, yet I hadn’t heard of Betty until this past year. I’d seen her, however, while poring through hours of Digger’s grainy camcorder footage. I just didn’t know it was Betty.

“She was the first person to ride The Monster,” Digger says, referring to an iconic stunt commonly regarded as the first “roller coaster.” (It looks exactly as it sounds, just made with slats of split cedar.) “I had just put the last plank down and asked her to ride it for me, so I pulled out my camera and filmed her. The third time, she fell and pulled out her shoulder, and I had to pop it back in. And I think she was like 55 when she did that.”

Betty recounts those early days so casually, it takes me a few minutes to realize how insane her entry into the sport was. In the early ’90s, body armor was rare and full suspension and hydraulic disc brakes were nonexistent, making the bikes as much of a liability as a lack of skill.

“Fortunately, I didn’t really have a fear of falling,” she says. “Still, I was covered with bruises, black and blue. I couldn’t go out wearing shorts because it looked like someone took to me with a baseball bat.”

North Shore Betty
The North Shore is well-known for its wooden features and rock rolls, but what gets most people are all the roots, which become so slippery after a rainstorm that even a slightly misplaced tire can lead to disaster. For Betty, such greasy sections—like upper Floppy Bunny—just add a little spice to long-familiar trails. Photo: Travis Rummel

But full-send is how Betty operates, under the radar or not. Born in the rural town of Chemainus on Vancouver Island, Betty moved to the city of Vancouver to study geography at the University of British Columbia, where she joined a crew of fellow climbers who got after some of the biggest peaks around Vancouver.

“In the ’70s, she was part of this really hard-core group of climbers that had all sorts of first ascents in the area,” says Hayden, who is a professional ski guide and operations manager for Whitecap Alpine Adventures. “But they wouldn’t claim them because they didn’t want people to find the zones.”

Betty picked up windsurfing a few years later and by the early 1980s had become one of the top female windsurfers in the sport, flying out of huge 30-foot waves the likes of which no woman had done before. As an editor for Sail Boarder Magazine put it in 1982, “Betty Birrell is a superstar of the sport … a leader of the leading edge … ranked on par with most top men.” The German magazine Surf summed it up even more succinctly in a headline from their June 1982 issue, “Betty Birrell: The Best Female Surfer in the World.”

She stationed herself in Hawai‘i, working as an international flight attendant while surfing big waves between shifts. She married a fellow Canadian three years into her time on the island but continued to commute between Hawai‘i and British Columbia for a year so she could sail. Eventually, Betty returned to Canada and, at 39 years old, gave birth to Hayden.

“I think motherhood is the best adventure ever, really,” she says. “I was so surprised how much I loved being a mom, how much I loved being pregnant.”

Just before Hayden’s second birthday, her husband left them. She recalls an argument before the split, “He said, ‘You just think life is just one big fucking playground!’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah!’ I thought it was a compliment.”

North Shore Betty
Most moms go on walks with their kids; Betty and her son Hayden Robbins session double-black diamonds, which has become somewhat of a family tradition after two decades of riding together. Mother and son scope the final rock roll on Empress before dropping in. Photo: Jordan Manley

As a newly single mom, Betty worked overseas flights on weekends while Hayden stayed with his dad or grandmother, and she’d return for Hayden’s bedtime on Sundays. “You just kind of adapt as you go along,” she says. “I just reinvented adventure. Instead of going mountaineering or stuff like that, we’d go car camping with my parents, and it was just so fantastic.”

Betty’s face glows when we talk about anything mom-related. She asks to see photos of my kids and swoons at the sight of them. Above the stairway in her home is a huge photo of her and Hayden beaming after a day of cat skiing together.

“Mountain biking was the perfect activity for a single mom because it was right outside our door and easy for [me and] Hayden to do together,” she says. “I would pick him up after school, and we’d dash over to Fromme for a ride.”

Hayden remembers her enthusiastic coaching and patience on the trail. At an age when most kids want their parents to park around the corner to avoid being seen by their friends, Hayden welcomed his mom joining him and his friends on rides. “It’s amazing when you get on a technical trail with her,” he says. “She just zips along like you wouldn’t believe. She’d be better than my buddies, so that was a funny dynamic.”

North Shore Betty
There’s a price for riding someplace as high consequence as the North Shore, and it’s one paid in smashes, scuffs and oftentimes broken bones. On this particular afternoon, neither the weather nor a bruised jaw could wipe the smile off Betty’s face as she sessioned the black-diamond Pingu trail on Mount Seymour. Photo: Travis Rummel

Let me just say that if my mom were mountain biking alone down double-black diamonds, I would probably give her a tracking device or an emergency beacon. But Betty isn’t my mom. And I’m not Hayden. “My concern for my mom is overridden by knowing she is so experienced,” he says. “She is the consummate mountain woman.”

Some people, however, notice her age before her ability. Occasionally, she notes, when coming upon fellow riders assessing stunts on the trail, “They see I’m older, and I’m a woman, so they just stay in the way because they think I’m not going to be able to ride it. I just say, ‘Excuse me, I think I’m going to ride on through.’ I actually like that because I feel like I’m doing a service for women—older people, too, but especially for women.”

But with all sports, injuries happen. Like that time she broke her leg hard-boot snowboarding. Or when she broke both her hands riding the infamous Rippin’ Rutabaga rock drop in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park in 2003.

“I remember lying on the ground,” she says. “I was 54 then, and I knew I was hurt badly, but I didn’t want to tell the bike patroller how old I was.”

Hayden was 15 at the time and returned home to find his mother immobile from the shoulders down. “She had these crazy wrapped arms, lobster-claw things,” he says, “and she couldn’t do anything.”

At age 58, Betty took early retirement and started her own landscaping business; she still helps friends and family with their yards occasionally, though no longer as a profession. These days, she mostly rides alone: Most of her bike buddies work during the week, and Betty avoids riding on weekends (the trails are too busy, she says).

And, of course, she still rides with Hayden whenever he’s home. Hayden now lives in Revelstoke, British Columbia, and whenever he talks about his mom, he’s visibly proud. “For me, she’s laid the path that I’ve followed in my life, and it’s a different path than a lot of people,” he says. “But she’s always been the biggest supporter and inspiration.”

North Shore Betty
In a place that can receive 100 inches of precipitation each year, you get used to riding in the rain; after nearly 30 years, Betty actually enjoys it. Betty and Hayden navigate roots and the weather on lower Pingu—just another lovely day on the North Shore. Photo: Travis Rummel

Almost 30 years after her first lap down Executioner, Betty admits she’s scaled back her riding (she avoids skinnies in particular), aware that a bad crash could have larger consequences than when she was younger. But she still sends. Not because she’s fearless. She just knows better.

“It is calculated,” she says. “You know your limits. Sometimes you push a little bit too much and you get away with it. But you know your limits, and you know what you want to do.”

Back in the fall storm, we call it a day and say our goodbyes. As I pull out into the pouring rain, I’m left with an overwhelming sense of permission to try all those things I’d convinced myself I was too old for. I’m not aging out of the fun and games of my early 30s; after a day with Betty, I feel like the good times are just beginning.

“When I was 50 years old, I never thought I’d be able to ride a mountain bike fast down a trail at 73,” she says. “It’s interesting how your perception of age changes as you get older. I would love to be 65 again. Isn’t that crazy? Who would have ever thought. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to appreciate where you are.”

By Darcy Hennessey Turenne

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Living on Easy

A trip to Amami Ōshima, Japan, transports Gerry Lopez to a familiar feeling on a distant land.

Living on Easy
Gerry Lopez’s first surf in six months. Unsurprisingly, he put himself right back where he belongs: in the pocket. Amami Ōshima, Japan. Photo: Hideaki Satou

I was born in Honolulu in the late 1940s, before Hawai‘i was a state. In those early days, the living was easy. It was called “island style,” and that was the way everyone lived … well, at least everyone we knew. The beach across from the zoo was where we spent afternoons after school and on weekends. There were tourists down near the hotels and at the Sunday lū‘au at Queen’s Surf, but otherwise, the rest of Waikīkī Beach and Kapi‘olani Park was mostly locals only. My mom took my brother and me surfing one day at Baby Queen’s, and none of us, Mom included, had any idea that life going forward would inexorably shift to another path. We’d both been bitten by the surf bug that day, but it was Victor who felt it first.

Living on Easy
Gerry and Pipeline go together like peanut butter and chocolate—great on their own, but much better together. North Shore, O‘ahu. Photo: Jeff Divine

His school buddy, Stanford Chong, and his whole family surfed together, so before long, Vic had his own surfboard and was surfing with them all the time. They owned a country house on the beach on O‘ahu’s East Side between Crouching Lion and Chinaman’s Hat (Mokoli‘i), and often I’d be invited to spend the weekend there since Stanford’s sister, Marlene, and I were classmates.

They had a large house with a big yard and some sprawling hau trees around an outdoor barbecue and firepit. We would drive out from Honolulu town, over the Pali, through Kāne‘ohe town, along the windward side—the ocean on our right and majestic Ko‘olau Range on the left. The East Side gets rain almost daily, so everything is green and growing. In the morning, we’d walk the beach to find any Japanese glass floats that may have washed ashore, although the grown-ups always got the jump, waking earlier and knowing where to look. After breakfast, sometimes Mr. Chong would take the boat out with all the kids and fish a little or explore Chinaman’s Hat or spearfish the reefs in front of the house.

Somewhere along the line, and without even understanding it was happening, I developed a little boy’s affinity for this side of the island. It was like falling under a spell … there was its special feel, look, smell and idiosyncrasies. Like when the trade winds blew, I learned to be on the lookout for Portuguese man-of-war and so avoid its painful sting. Or noticing how vivid and bright the stars were on dark nights, without the town lights to spoil them.

I had no idea at the time, but later on, when older and looking back, I realized how idyllic that was—life at that young age is full of questions, uncertainty and finding oneself on shaky ground. But those times on the East Side were like putting aloe vera on a burn; there was a very distinct, soothing ahhh about it, and I looked forward to each time we got to go.

In a way, life is a little like Dad’s car … it takes us down the road, and at some point, a stop at the service station is needed to keep going. The weekends at the Chongs’ beach house were that gas-station stop. Then things changed. I began to run on another kind of fuel; surfing started to rear its head and fill my tank. I don’t think I even realized that one had replaced the other, or if replace was even what it did. Surfing, as the complete endeavor, inevitably takes not just some of one’s time—it takes it all. A deep passion develops, and while it’s all one wants to do, at the same time, it stokes a great fire down inside that drives a person to … well, to be insatiable for even more of it.

Living on Easy
The scenery that made Mr. Pipeline feel right at home, once he got back into his slippers. Amami Ōshima, Japan. Photo: Hideaki Satou

Perhaps that earliest harmony at the Chongs’ had something to do with it, but I found myself living in Kahalu‘u, way out on the East Side, and spending a lot of time in the car driving: either to town for my surf-shop business, Ala Moana for summertime surf or the long haul to the Country in the winter for the waves there. Sometimes if I was a passenger, I would look at the Chong house as we zoomed by. I never saw anyone; a couple of times I stopped, but it was empty and the sweet and tangy awareness that I used to have was no more. But surfing was keeping my gas tank full, so I guess I didn’t miss it.

Life happened and the years flew by. In 2017, the film crew at Patagonia suggested a documentary film project that must have been meant to be because it unfolded like a spinnaker sail does when a stiff wind blows—not that it was without a few wrinkles—but by spring last year we were ready to premiere it.

A tour ensued throughout the US, Europe, Australia and Japan. The director, Stacy Peralta, did most of the stops with me except for Japan. He was busy, so I went alone. In the undertaking of this assignment, we never thought that something like COVID-19 would have such an effect, but it surprised the entire world and certainly put up some hurdles for our movie tour. Japan had only just opened its doors to visitors when I got there. We had showings in Kamakura, Sendai, Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka: all cities where I had been before, with old friends in all of them, and the film showings went like clockwork.

The final stop was Amami Ōshima, one of the little islands near Okinawa that I’d heard about but never visited. The monkey wrench was that a typhoon with an unpredictable trajectory was aimed toward the same place we were bound for. For most people, a typhoon warning is usually a good reason to reschedule one’s trip. For a surfer, however, this is a sure sign of surf coming and serves as an attraction rather than a deterrent, and our entire Patagonia Japanese crew were surfers. Of course, we went.

Living on Easy
Gerry stops to smell the roses (or plumerias, in the case of Amami Ōshima). Photo: Hideaki Satou

As we flew into the airport, the ocean looked spectacular from above, deep blue with strong trade winds blowing whitecaps and swells toward the islands. Staring out the window, I was mind-surfing those waves on a downwind SUP or a wing foil.

We landed still in our city clothes, long pants, shoes. But all our friends in the terminal were waiting for us in shorts and slippers. Yeah, man, at a glance, I could tell they were all living on easy. I couldn’t wait to change clothes and join them. As soon as I walked out the plane’s door, something happened … a feeling, a smell, the green hills. I don’t know what it was, but I felt like I was back to some place I had been before. I looked more closely. The plants and trees were familiar, the ocean had a windswept look I recognized and waves were breaking in crystal-clear water over coral reefs, sandy beaches; it felt like I should know it even though I didn’t.

Living on Easy
Dreamy tropical lefthanders made Gerry’s surf career, and they never get old. Photo: Hisayuki Tsuchiya

We were greeted with leis by some old friends and many new ones who had an easy, friendly, familial excitement. Driving in the car back to our host’s home and surf shop was eerily déjà vu, too. When we stopped, I quickly changed into my shorts and slippers and just that made me feel more at home in these surroundings.

A quick walk down to the beach to connect with the sand and the water, touching them and seeing the weathered siding on the homes that comes from living on a windward shore, gave me an astonishing revelation for the strong sensations I was having. I was back at the Chongs’ house on the East Side from 65 years ago—that loving feeling had never left. It just needed the right coaxing to come rushing back like it always had before. Good feelings are strange and powerful. We usually take them for granted as we revel in them, never thinking how deep they go or how long they’ll last. The rest of our trip was totally smooth and seamless, as one would expect with family and friends. We drove to the other side of the island. For me, the whole way looked and felt like Hawai‘i. We surfed excellent waves with dear friends, ate great food, talked story—life was very good.

Living on Easy
Gerry and Patagonia Surf ambassador Hayato Maki from Okinawa, Japan, paddle back out for one more “one more.” But even that won’t be their last. Photo: Hisayuki Tsuchiya

The next day we showed the film to the local surf community. They were an awesome audience. That evening, with the hurricane hovering just over the horizon, we flew out, arriving late into Tokyo. The typhoon hit Okinawa, but maybe all the good vibes were strong enough to cause the storm to veer away from Amami Ōshima.

It was a wonderful trip, “island style” the entire way and one I won’t soon forget. I left the little island and its tight surf community with an absolutely full tank of premium-grade fuel. I’ll just bet that everyone else was topped off, too.

By Gerry Lopez

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The Adventure Film Festival is all about helping those that adventure to profit from their bliss.

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We love adventures.

We have done rock climbing, zip-lining, diving, swimming in a cage with sharks, white water rafting, skydiving and extreme roller coasters.

You name it, and either we have done it, or it is on our bucket list.


Bungee jumping had been on our list for a long time.

But in the end, it proved much harder than it seemed in photos and videos.

Bungee jumping took our adventures to another level, and we learnt a few life lessons.

While we were on our last road trip in New Zealand, we knew this was the best place to try it.


New Zealand is the birthplace of bungee jumping, which has been popularised here.

The country is also renowned for innovation, excellent facilities, many years of experience and, most importantly, an excellent safety record.

Queenstown is called the ‘Adventure Capital of the World’, so we felt that we should do our first jump there.

This post has been written from Kat’s point of view because this has been a rather personal and intense experience.

Petr’s self-preservation instinct is quite relaxed compared with most people, so his experience made for another story. You can read it here.


Both words have the same meaning.

Bungy is the spelling used mainly in New Zealand, while bungee is more common in the rest of the world.


SkyJump Las Vegas, USA

The list of adventures I have been through is long, and I’m proud of that.

There is only one exception, SkyJump Las Vegas, the world’s highest controlled descent.

The launching pad is located on the 108th floor of the Strat Hotel, Casino and SkyPod (formerly Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower), 260 metres (855 feet) above the Las Vegas Strip.

While in Las Vegas, we decided to do the night jump. What could go wrong, right?

I was confident because we had just done our first skydiving in Cuba a few months before, and I loved it.

We had jumped out of an old aeroplane 3 km (1.9 miles) above the ground, so it couldn’t be worse, right?

I was wrong. It was.

I was fine until I got to the jumping platform, where everything changed.

When I started to feel the wind on my face, I realised what height I was at.

I was supposed to jump into the dark but could not do it. My confidence was gone.

I chickened out.

What was so different between skydiving and this jump?

I was on my own. There was no experienced instructor I could hang on to.

I took the challenge too lightly.

On the other hand, Petr managed to jump. The fee we had paid was non-refundable, so he jumped twice not to waste the cost of my ticket. How cool is that?!


Beautiful location of the Kawarau Bridge Bungy

When we arrived at Queenstown in New Zealand, I knew that if I didn’t do it here, I would probably never do it.

But after I failed in Las Vegas, I was afraid I would give up again.

At first, we visited the Kawarau Bridge Bungy to see what it was like.

It’s the world’s first commercial bungee, with a height of 43 metres (141 feet).

The location was beautiful – a wooden bridge in the Kawarau gorge overlooking the river with its turquoise water.

But the scenery was the last thing on my mind!

People were queuing for the jump. There were many of them – men, women, young, middle-aged…

They all seemed to be just ‘normal’ people, no adrenaline junkies.

I thought that I could do it too if they could do it.

I had done so many potentially dangerous activities before and didn’t want to look like a coward now.

The faces of people who were just about to jump said it all.

They were afraid, really afraid.

I realised that everyone felt fear (except for those adrenaline junkies).

And that’s what it was all about – overcoming the fear and doing it despite it.

So, we decided to jump the following day.

Unfortunately, we mentioned this to the Airbnb host we stayed with that night.

Instead of a few words of encouragement that we needed, she said that bungee jumping was the worst experience of her life.

After standing on the jumping platform for ages, she only jumped (with closed eyes) because her friend threatened to push her.

It didn’t help at all. It wasn’t something I needed to hear.

As you can imagine, I didn’t get much sleep that night.

I went from “Yes, I can do it, I have done worse things.” to “What is the point of doing it if I won’t enjoy it? Let’s leave it till another time. ”

In the morning, I still didn’t know if I was going to do it or not.

We arrived at the Kawarau Bridge and watched people jumping for a while.

Petr asked if I was in so that he could buy the tickets.

I still didn’t know what to do. I hated to admit that I was so scared.

We agreed that Petr would jump first, and then I would decide if I wanted to do it or not then. He managed a beautiful dive; it looked so easy. He told me it wasn’t too bad and I should do it too.

Petr's first bungee jump

I still didn’t know what to do.

Then, we saw a couple preparing for a tandem jump (the girl was so scared that she didn’t do it in the end).

I thought it would be easier to jump together with Petr because I could hold him.

If anything went wrong, he would know what to do (he always does!).

I knew if I didn’t do it here and now, I would never do it because I would find another excuse.

A tandem jump was available, and we bought the tickets.

We got weighted, signed a waiver and put on our harnesses.

We were told which way to jump and hold each other for a smooth experience.

The preparations took longer because they had to calculate the correct length of the ropes for two people jumping together, which wasn’t that common.

Each of us was tied to a separate rope, and we held each other behind our backs.

Petr got ready first because he was taller.

Then, it was my turn.

The staff were excellent; they made fun and talked to us all the time to make us feel more relaxed.

I had a smile on my face, but when I got to the jumping platform, I felt paralysed by fear.

I could barely move.

But I didn’t question the safety of the ropes.

It was the feeling of having to jump into space from such a height.

I was trying not to look down and was looking at the surroundings.

I was forcing myself to think about something else, but it was hard.

Smiles for the camera before our tandem jump

And there we were – standing on the jumping platform, tied to each other, smiling for the cameras but freaking out inside (at least I was!).

It felt like being in a movie – and then the guy said: “You are ready to go – three, two, one, JUMP!”

We made it!

And we jumped.

I let go and DID IT.

I managed to jump at the exact second as Petr.

It was a special moment that we shared.

It was just a split second until gravity grabbed us, and we started falling.

Then I didn’t remember anything until we reached the water.

I don’t know if I passed out or if it just happened so quickly that my brain couldn’t process it.

But I was probably fully conscious because Petr told me later that I was screaming the ‘F’ word all the way down!

I don't remember anything until we reached the water

We were thrown up and down like two puppets when we got down to the river, and the ropes stretched.

The fear was gone, and we were laughing and enjoying the moment.

Jumping together was a very special experience

After we stopped moving, a boat came underneath us and picked us up.

So proud that we made it!

I was shaking but so happy that I had made it.

But deep inside, I knew I needed to do it alone.

I was a step closer to that now.

Petr hadn’t had enough and wanted to conquer the nearby Nevis Bungy too, because we were leaving Queenstown the following day.

It’s New Zealand’s highest bungee (134 metres, 440 feet). People jump from a cable car cabin hanging between two mountains.

I wasn’t ready to do that because I was still processing our tandem jump. Just standing in the unsteady cabin was scary.

Fair play to Petr that he managed to jump as effortlessly as only he can.  

Petr conquering the Nevis Bungy


The Auckland Bridge

Two weeks later, we arrived in Auckland.

I knew it was my last chance to jump on my own because we were leaving New Zealand soon.

The Auckland Bridge Bungy was perfect because the jump was above the sea, so I convinced myself that nothing could happen.

If anything went wrong, I would end up in the water, right?

Auckland Bridge Bungy

We booked our tickets online and got picked up by the minibus.

We put all the gear on, got a quick safety briefing and off we went.

We had to walk to the middle of the Auckland Bridge to get to the jump pod.

At the moment, the bridge is not accessible to pedestrians.

The only way to get stunning views of Auckland’s skyline is the Bridge Bungy or Walk.

The walk to the pod felt never-ending.

I was trying to distract myself by looking around and thinking about anything else but the jump.

Petr was the most experienced jumper in the group, so he went first.

He decided to jump backwards – how crazy is that?!

He requested the ropes to be adjusted to get as deep into the water as possible.

He dived up to his knees.

When he came back up, he was laughing as if it was all just a piece of cake.

Petr having fun

Two more people were jumping after him.

I could see that they were scared, but they made it.

Then, it was my turn.

Again, the staff were terrific.

They were making jokes, but nothing could help me at that stage.

I was trying to keep calm, but I was so frightened that I could barely move.

I felt like a robot, just doing whatever I was told.

But I had decided to do it no matter what, so I kept going.

The guys got my rope and gear set so I could touch the water as I requested.

They helped me to get to the jumping platform.

That was it.

Now or never.

I was standing on the platform, trying not to think about what I would do and admiring the bridge’s impressive construction to distract my mind.

I was freaking out.

A few smiles for the camera, and then they said: “Three, two, one, JUMP!”

I did it!


I just leaned forward, and gravity did the work for me.

The horror of the last few seconds before the jump suddenly changed into pure joy when I started falling.

Enjoying the free fall

I was enjoying the moment and smiling until I hit the water.

It didn’t hurt at all, and I got into it smoothly.

I dived up to my waist, which I didn’t expect.

I had my mouth open and tasted the salty water.

In the end, this was the best part of the experience.

Touching the water was the best part

I couldn’t believe that it was over and I MADE IT! I came back up shaking but happy.

This time I enjoyed the views on the way back to the mainland.

Stunning views of Auckland - well-deserved reward


Bunge jumping was the hardest thing I have ever done (so far).

I had never felt so much fear before.

But at that moment, when I was jumping on my own, I realised one crucial thing that has profoundly affected my life.

I realised that I could really do ANYTHING I wanted.

It might be scary, hard or seem impossible.

But if I really want it, I can find the way by taking small steps forward.

And if I can do it, you can do it too (whatever it is).

PS: When we return to Las Vegas one day, I will jump off the Stratosphere Tower…. I know I can do it now…

For more information and details :

History of Skateboarding !

Skateboarding is more than just cruising around. Skateboarding is a lifestyle. Skateboarding is love. Over the past 60 years Skateboarding went through a kind of evolution.

By the early 1950s,

surfing can be traced as the source of skateboarding. Some surfers had the idea to transfer the feeling of riding waves onto the streets to defy times of days with a gentle swell. Not without any reason these dudes were called “asphalt surfers”. At two spots in the world a kind of a skateboard was developed at the first time in the early 1950s: California and Hawaii. They used shorter surfboards and wheels made out of metal without some bearings. In the late 1950s, skateboarding had a first peak. During the post-war period, the U.S. economy boomed and this also affected the toy industry. During that time, the toy industry became aware of the board with wheels. In 1959, Roller Derby released the first official skateboard with some new technical developments. Thereby, the handling characteristics have been improved. For this reason, skateboarders were able to develop new tricks and maneuvers. 

die ersten Boards

THE 1960S

Between the years 1959 and 1965, skateboarding became more and more popular in the United States. Particularly affected were the states on the east and west coasts. Due to the industrial development, the skateboard’s status changed from toy to sports equipment. In 1962, the surf shop “Val-Surf” in Hollywood sold the first self-produced skateboards. These boards featured a typical surfboard shape and roller skate trucks and were sold as complete boards. In the same year, the company Patterson Forbes developed the first industrially produced complete boards with more developed trucks. In 1963, the publisher of the “Surf Guide Magazine” Larry Stevenson released the first advertisement for skateboards in his magazine. Also the clothing industry specialized more and more on skateboarding. One of the most famous skateboarding shoe brand named Vans was established in 1966. From this day on, Vans supported skateboarders from all over the world. Especially shoe companies like Vans, Etnies, Converse and DC Shoes developed and manufactured skateboarding related footwear and streetwear. 

Vans Old School

Another landmark event in 1963 was the first skate contest in Hermosa Beach, California. Skateboarding was not just cruising anymore. Skateboarders showed their skills in different disciplines like slalom or freestyle and companies started to assemble a team to sponsor the riders. As the popularity of skateboarding began to expand, the first skateboarding magazine “The Quarterly Skateboarder” was published in 1964.

A next big step was the further development of the shape of the boards. Larry Stevenson invented the “kicktail“, and with it came a lot more possibilities to ride a skateboard.

Old School Boards

THE 1970S

The only consistent thing is change and so it came to a point where everything changed for skateboarding. Frank Nasworthy’s invention of urethane wheels in 1972 made it possible for skateboarding to come back. Nasworthy started the company Cadillac Wheels and with the new material it was possible to ride smoother, faster and more comfortable. A variety of disciplines such as freestyle, downhill and slalom experienced a real high point. New magazines like the “Skateboarder Magazine” from 1975 were published and new events were launched. In 1976, the first artificially created skate park was inaugurated and new parks emerged with new elements such as vertical ramps and kickers. 

Gadillac Wheels

In the mid-1970s, skateboarding reached Germany. The American soldiers brought the trend with them and by 1976 Munich became the first German skateboard center. In Munich Neuperlach, the first skate park was built, first skateboard magazines followed and in 1978 the first German skateboard championships were held in Munich.

All the different riders with their individual styles enhanced lots of new tricks. Therefore, skateboarding hardware was developed further and further: Shapes changed, boards became wider, got more concave and they featured nose and tail.

Then in 1978, Alan Gelfand invented a maneuver that gave skateboarding another revolutionary jump: The “Ollie”, which counts as the greatest trick ever invented and completely revolutionized skateboarding. That was the birth of street skateboarding!


Alen Gelfand - Ollie

THE 1980S

Rodney Mullen was one of the first riders who transferred the Ollie for different maneuvers onto the streets and spread a new style of skateboarding. Next to other fun sport activities like BMX or inline skating, street skateboarding developed more and more and became very popular. 

Rodney Mullen

In 1981, the “Thrasher Magazine” was founded and since then, this magazine stands for street skateboarding, the core scene, punk rock and the lifestyle slogan “Skate And Destroy”. In 1983, another well-known magazine was founded, namely the “Transworld Skateboarding Magazine”. Next to these magazines, a few smaller ones were founded and more skate shops opened. Because of this, the popularity of skateboarding continued to grow. A global dissemination of new tricks and unseen skate maneuvers allowed the first skate videos on VHS. Videography has become increasingly important to the scene.


Titus Dittmann was instrumental in the development of skateboarding in Germany. He imported skate-related products from the US and organized contests and various skateboarding events. The “Münster Monster Mastership” became one of the biggest international skateboarding competitions in the 1980s. For that reason, skateboarding became more and more famous in Germany.

From the mid-1980s on, it was possible to earn good money as a professional skateboarder and the skateboard industry boomed in the US. In the late 1980s, companies like Powell Peralta, Santa Cruz and Vision dominated the international market of the scene. The fashion was mainly determined by shoes. Shoes by Vans, Converse or Vision became flagships for the skateboarding scene.

Powell Peralta

Skateboarding was now absolutely established the US and in Germany and vert skateboarding was replaced by street skateboarding. The number of skateboarders increased significantly and professional skateboarders became more and more famous just like baseball or football stars.


In the early 1990s, skateboarding went through a further depth phase due to the increase in various trend sports. So skateboarding went back to its roots. But because of the digitalization, skateboarding maintained its presence in public. From the mid-1990s, the modern skateboarding experienced a next high phase, which continues until today. Mega events like the “X-Games” were launched and televised. Due to numerous magazines, all the events, videos and last but not least the internet, skateboarding became common worldwide. 

Because of brands like Chocolate, Girl Skateboards or Flip Skateboards, the skateboarding hardware was developed more and more and skateboarders could buy high-quality skateboards in every bigger city.

Reynolds & Koston

More indicators are the big and worldwide known events of “Street League”. “Street League Skateboarding” is a contest series for international pro skaters. Here, you only see the best street skateboarder you can think of like Nyjah Huston, Eric Koston, Paul Rodriguez, Andrew Reynolds, Ryan Sheckler or Torey Pudwill. Due to the cash prizes of 200.000 US Dollars or more for the winner and 10.000 visitors at the “Street League” stops, skateboarding has become a professional sport.

Street League

In Germany, street skating is the most popular discipline at contests just like in the USA. The European and German skate scene is independent, has its own industry, pros and a national contest series. This is an evidence of how big the role of skateboarding is in our society.

Skateboarding has become a job for a lot of people. Because of the increasing networking inside the skate scene, skateboarding will grow and bring more innovations in the future. But for the most of us, skateboarding is and will be a hobby and an attitude to life.

For more information and details :

adventure surfing movies

The Adventure Film Festival is all about helping those that adventure to profit from their bliss.

The Adventure Film Festival is all about helping those that adventure to profit from their work.

The Adventure Film Festival is all about helping those that adventure to profit from their videos.

The Adventure Film Festival is all about helping those that adventure to profit from their expertise.

The Adventure Film Festival is a global online adventure film competition.

IF you have an adventure film worthy of global recognition = submit it.

IF you are an adventure film maker = build your story / build your brand; it is our job to help you build your business.

Adventure Film makers / our stars – we want to help you develop our global industry…

WE hope you enjoy the news / videos / ALL that we do for you…


This is your 1-stop home cinema for the best surf movies playing online

Roll up, roll up! The internet is home to all sorts of incredible surfing movies, so let us be your box office and run you through the best ones available to watch right now.
By Chris Binns


  1. 1
    The Source
  2. 2
    For The Dream
  3. 3
    The Seawolf
  4. 4
    Skimboard Nazaré
  5. 5
    à la folie
  6. 6
    Beyond the Lines
  7. 7
    Shaping Jordy
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
    The Other Side Of Fear
  11. 11
  12. 12
    And Two If By The Sea
  13. 13
    Coldwater Journal
  14. 14
  15. 15
    Under An Arctic Sky
  16. 16
    South To Sian
  17. 17
    Generations: The Movie
  18. 18
    Paradigm Lost
  19. 19
    Chasing the Shot
  20. 20
    Let’s Be Frank
  21. 21
    Strange Rumblings in Shangri La
  22. 22
    One Shot
  23. 23
    Exploring Madagascar
Allow us to curate a playlist of a few of our favourite surf movies, playing for free online. If you like what you see, you can check out the full range of Red Bull Surfing films here.

The Source

33 min

The Source

Koa Smith goes on a South African surf adventure, where waves (or lack thereof) lead to profound discoveries.


Pro-surfer Koa Smith embarks on a South African surf adventure, where waves (or lack thereof) lead to profound discoveries of connection, nature, and introspection. The Source transcends the boundaries of a conventional surf documentary, offering a transformative journey that showcases the power of simplicity.

For The Dream

1 h 35 min

For the Dream

Ex-pro surfer Ben Gravy sets out on his dream to become the first person to surf in all 50 US states.

Portuguese +2

Ben Gravy, ex-pro surfer and purveyor of stoke, sets out on his dream to be the first person to surf in all 50 US states – with the Nub Nation, his girlfriend and family supporting him along the way.

The Seawolf

43 min

The Seawolf

Award-winning filmmaker Ben Gulliver follows seven surfers on a two-year journey in remote, freezing waters.

English +1

This roving travelogue sees award-winning filmmaker Ben Gulliver following seven surfers on a two-year journey as they take on remote and freezing waters.

Skimboard Nazaré

28 min

Skimboard Nazaré

Brazilian skimboard world champion Lucas Fink faces Portugal’s iconic Nazaré wave with a skimboard shape.

English +1

First, Brazil’s Lucas Fink conquered the world and won the Skimboard World Championship. Then, he decided to challenge himself and face Portugal’s iconic wave, Nazaré, with a skimboard shape. Follow his epic challenge by watching the Skimboard Nazaré film.

à la folie

33 min

à la folie

Strap in for the ride of your life as we follow Justine Dupont through a ground-breaking big wave season.

English +2

Strap in for the ride of your life as we follow Justine Dupont through a ground-breaking big wave season. The French surfer’s 2020 season was the most dominant performance big wave riding has ever seen. Join her for the highs and lows, the life-changing wipeouts and huge barrels in à la folie.

Beyond the Lines

43 min


Travel with surf star Kanoa Igarashi for insider access to the World Championship Tour.

English +4

Providing an insider’s look at the career of one of the world’s brightest young surf stars, Beyond the Lines follows Kanoa Igarashi on his quest to win a first World Surf League Championship Tour title. Filmed by close friend, travel partner and cinematographer Tanner Carney, the hugely entertaining documentary sees Igarashi travel from Pipeline in Hawaii to Australia, Japan, Mexico and the US.

Shaping Jordy

48 min

Shaping Jordy

Ride along with Jordy Smith and Mikey February as they cruise the South African coast in search of waves.

English +6

For the first time in a decade South African surfer Jordy Smith spent the winter at home. He hit the road with free-surfing style master Mikey February, and Shaping Jordy is the result of all they found on the road in the Rainbow Nation.


1 h 17 min


Mathieu Crépel shifts his focus to the ocean and takes on one of the world’s biggest waves – Jaws.

English +3

Retired from pro snowboarding but still restless for adventure, Mathieu Crepel decides to take on one of the biggest challenges of his life: surfing Hawaii’s biggest wave, Jaws.


1 h 18 min


Three young Jamaican men share their stories: a rapper, a surfer and a resident of Tivoli Gardens.

English +3

OUTDEH is a documentary portraying the Youth of Jamaica: a new generation in transition, determined to get out of old and set structures in society and culture, and contribute with their fresh mindset and strength to a new understanding of the island. Three young Jamaican men share their stories. Rapper Bakersteez hopes for an international career, Shama aims to be Jamaica’s first pro surfer and Romar shows us life in his community.

The Other Side Of Fear

58 min

The Other Side of Fear

The inspirational tale of big wave surfer and keynote speaker Mark Mathews and his journey back from disaster.

English +6

Big wave surfer Mark Mathews has made a career out of seemingly defying fear at every opportunity, but, as his new Red Bull TV documentary The Other Side of Fear illustrates, reality isn’t quite so simple.Now a sought-after keynote speaker, Mathews has delivered fear-busting sermons to the likes of Google, Sony and MasterCard. However, with The Other Side of Fear, which injects his personal story with his fear-facing philosophies, he’s glad to finally be able to share his ideas with a much wider audience.


41 min


From director Peter Hamblin, follow surfer Carissa Moore around the 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour.


Director Peter Hamblin shadows legendary Hawaiian surfer Carissa Moore’s on the 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour season, as she faces all manner of highs and lows in her quest for an elusive fourth world title.

And Two If By The Sea

1 h 43 min

And Two If By Sea

Watch the iconic story of sibling rivalry between pro surfers and identical twins CJ and Damien Hobgood.

English +3

CJ and Damien Hobgood are identical twins whose sibling rivalry and struggle to establish their own identity fuelled their careers. After more than a decade of competing at the highest level, this documentary uncovers the real goings-on behind the scenes in the lives of two of surfing’s favourite Floridian sons.

Coldwater Journal

43 min

Coldwater Journal

Follow surfer and filmmaker Ben Weiland on his decade-long journey to explore the world’s coastlines.

Portuguese +6

Follow surfer and filmmaker Ben Weiland on his decade-long journey to explore the most desolate and beautiful coastlines on the planet. Weiland is always on the search for perfect waves and adventure no matter how frozen the landscapes he finds himself.


1 h 22 min


Discover the origins of fish surfboards and meet some of the pioneers who changed surfing culture forever.

English +7

The fish surfboard has had a huge impact on surf culture. Learn about the origins of the surfboard’s innovative speed and style-focused design, and hear from pioneers like Steve Lis and Skip Frye, who transformed the sport of surfing with their enormously popular designs.

Under An Arctic Sky

40 min

Under an Arctic Sky

A group of surfers, along with photographer Chris Burkard, journey to Iceland in search of perfect waves.

English +2

Legendary photographer Chris Burkard journeys to Iceland’s north coast with a pack of incredible surfers in search of perfect waves, during the country’s largest storm in 25 years. Results, as you’d imagine, are spectacular.

South To Sian

2 min

South to Sian

What began as a three-month surf trip off the beaten track turned into a two-year odyssey of exploration.

On boards and motorbikes, by boat and four-wheel drive, Harrison Roach and Zye Norris’s journey is to discover if, in these days of GPS and WiFi, the dream of a pioneering surf adventure is still possible. On their 4,000km trek across the Indonesian archipelago, the lads got as close to achieving their goals as possible in this day and age, and South To Sian is the must-see result of their endeavours.

Generations: The Movie

38 min

Generations: The Movie

Join generations of pro surfers as they give an ode to the old days while looking to the future.

English +2

Join generations of pro surfers on a journey around the world. The latest instalment in Quiksilver’s surf movie series has a simple but powerful effect that’ll make you want to drop everything and go for a surf.

Paradigm Lost

1 h

Paradigm Lost

Featuring Waterman Kai Lenny

Portuguese +3

Step into the life of the world’s most complete waterman, Kai Lenny. From kiteboarding, windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, big wave surfing, if it involves being on saltwater, Kai does it and he does it well.

Chasing the Shot

23 min

Chasing The Shot – Leroy Bellet

Come join Leroy Bellet on the hunt for the photo of a lifetime, from his home waters on Australia’s South Coast to the notorious Teahupo’o in Tahiti

English +1

Follow photographer Leroy Bellet as he lays his body on the line trying to film the world’s best tube riders taming some of the world’s most dangerous waves. Starring some of the most epic surf footage ever captured, this Chasing The Shot special is the epitome of risk versus reward.

Let’s Be Frank

50 min

Let’s Be Frank

Who is Frank Solomon? A man? A myth? The two might just be inseparable.

Who is the enigmatic Frank Solomon? Is he a humble, kind-hearted and thoughtful big wave surfer? Or is he something much more, a hard-living bad boy? The man and the myth might just be inseparable. Hit play now on one of the quirkiest and coolest surf movies you’ll see in a long, long time.

Strange Rumblings in Shangri La

52 min

Strange Rumblings in Shangri La

A Worldwide Surf Expedition


Joe G is surfing’s Wes Anderson and Strange Rumblings is the best of his sublime body of work. From the frigid shores of Iceland to the sultry coastline of Mozambique; well-known spots in Europe to exotic islands in Brazil; and from the depths of Indonesia and beyond, this film documents an unforgettable worldwide surfari.

One Shot

Swim out at some of surfing’s heaviest waves with Russell Ord – a world-renowned surf photographer who’s as crazy as the surfers he shoots – as he embarks on a mission to capture the shot he hopes will define his life’s work.

Exploring Madagascar

26 min

Exploring Madagascar

Slade Prestwich, Frank Solomon and Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker embark on an epic surf adventure to Madagascar.

Trails for Everybody

An interview with Gabo Benoit, trail advocate and mountain-bike mayor of Coyhaique, Chile.

Despite the pandemic, Gabo Benoit hasn’t stopped advocating for trails around his home in Coyhaique, Chile. Writer Teal Stetson-Lee caught up with Gabo via Zoom, to hear more about his recreation-based conservation efforts and the evolution of mountain biking in the Aysén region.

My name is Teal Stetson-Lee, and I’m joined by Gabo Benoit, in Coyhaique, Chile. Originally from Santiago, Gabo runs a mountain-bike and fly-fish guiding business, guest lodge and bike shop in the Aysén region of southern Chile alongside his wife, Carmen, their two young daughters and son, his sister, Cami, and two other mountain-bike guides, Juan Eduardo Zamorano Vera and Edecio Vasquez. He has also created a strong relationship with the local trail-building crew called Huemules Trails as well as a kids’ mountain-biking school.

I first met Gabo in February of 2019 at his home in Coyhaique, where he was cheering on his daughters, 7-year-old Amalia and 5-year-old Maite, as they fearlessly rode their bikes off tiny wooden jumps in the backyard. It was a fitting intro, and the whole family immediately welcomed us.

As it turns out, Gabo also has a history in professional mountain biking as a national champion downhill racer and Enduro World Series competitor. His racing experiences reflected his unconventional approach to life and served as a catalyst into his current roles as a mountain-bike guide and Patagonia brand ambassador in Latin America. Gabo’s dreams and goals have always been bigger than bike racing, having dedicated himself to strengthening his community and homeland against economic hardship and environmental destruction.

Gabo and I share a deep interest in the convergence of outdoor recreation, conservation and community, and we’re glad you’re all joining us as we continue that conversation. Welcome.

Teal Stetson-Lee: Hello, Gabo! It’s great to see you. Where are you right now? And what are you up to?

Gabo Benoit: Well, well. Hello, Teal. Nice to see you too. I’m here in the store. The store is now closed for two hours. I’m in Coyhaique. It’s a beautiful day outside. I’m great.

TSL: Wonderful! So, give me a little bit of background on yourself in a few sentences.

GB: A little bit background, like little words for me? Adventure! I don’t know what else. My life is an adventure. My whole life has been like that, taking things in one minute and trying to make it out and always focusing on what I love in my life: wheels, nature and conservation. I think they’re so important, those things for me.

I started coming down here to Coyhaique and Patagonia [the region] when I was really little. I was like 8 years old, and I was involved in fly fishing. An uncle of mine told me how to fly fish, and that was a real connection with nature and everything. I think my uncle was not so happy because this little kid was here every summer, trying to go fishing.

From 4 years old, I was involved with two wheels. I started racing dirt bikes, motocross. My father is a fanatic about rally cars and everything with wheels. Bikes and mountain bikes were in me since I was 4, but the connection with nature and trying to see how important it was to save our environment and our animals, that happened around fly fishing for sure. When I made my first catch and release, I understood we must have respect.

Trails for Everybody
When mapping new trail networks, it always helps to have a view. Gabo and Sam Appelbaum survey some possible routes before starting another long, long descent. Photo: Max Wittenberg

TSL: Wow, that’s amazing, to be introduced to that at a young age. Well, speaking of a young age, how are your daughters now? Are they still riding off mountain-bike jumps, and how big are those jumps now?

GB: No, now we have a big pump track here in the lodge, and we have a course with little stairs and jumps and everything. They train like two days a week here with the teachers that we have in the school. They’re growing a lot, a lot. They are still good riders. They’re awesome. And we have Gabito, who’s one year and a half.

TSL: He is your new son?

GB: Yeah! He’s using the push bike now.

TSL: I guess they’re taking after their Papa.

GB: Yeah, yeah. I guess so!

TSL: And you had a successful career as a professional mountain biker. How did you get into mountain biking?

GB: Well, I got into mountain biking when I was little, but not racing too much. I used to race a lot of dirt bikes, and I was pretty good. I got in an accident when I was 16 and broke two vertebrate, so I stopped racing dirt bikes, and I say to my mom, “OK, Mom. I’m gonna sell my motorcycles and buy a downhill bike.”

I didn’t race for too many years; I think five years in total between junior category and elite. I like to push a lot. When I do something, I want to do it good. That’s the way for me. I want to be professional in what I do.

It was hard because in Chile, families tend to be super traditional. So, this 18-year-old guy who want to be a professional mountain biker and fly-fishing guide—this was rare. But my mother always supported me. I told her, “Mom, I don’t wanna study. I wanna be a professional.”

“You want to be a professional?” she said. “OK, I’m going to support you. I will not give you money to race, but you must be the best. If you want to go training, I will take you there, but you must be the best.”

I was racing half the year, and the other half I was fly-fish guiding down here in Patagonia.

A big part of my family did not agree with this. But of course, sports give me a lot of things, taught me that nothing was impossible. Sport showed me how to set steps and go over those steps. That was something very important in my life.

Trails for Everybody
The Lago Largo trail is remote and sees almost no traffic besides wildlife and the occasional equestrian. Gabo descends toward the lake—likely the first time this trail has ever seen mountain-bike tires. Photo: Max Wittenberg

TSL: That drive from your sports culture and mountain biking has translated into where you are now with all your ambitions?

GB: Yes. I retired in 2002, as the number one in Chile, but maybe if I hadn’t, I could be in the World Cup. But I was very realistic about that; it was super hard to live on mountain biking in Chile. There was no support, there was nothing.

But I have other things here like guiding, fly fishing, that gave me that connection with nature and that I could live on. And after I retired from mountain biking, I didn’t ride for maybe 10 years.

Then one day, after I was married to Carmen, I said, “OK, I want to stop fly-fish guiding a little bit, and I want to start mountain biking again.” And I saw that where I live in Coyhaique, there was a lot of opportunities to create something with mountain bikes. I had all this experience taking care of the fly-fishing clients, so I used that experience and started to make mountain-bike groups and develop some trails. And that started working. When I first started, everybody looked at me and said, “What are you doing? You have been guiding for 15 years, and now you’re gonna guide mountain biking? There’s nothing here. Are you crazy?”

“Yeah, I’m crazy, but I believe in this.” And now our business is 100 percent about mountain biking. The lodge is focused on mountain biking. We have the bike shop. We have the mountain-bike school. We support the trail-building crews. I realized one thing that I really, really love is mountain biking. And now, I have more support than when I was racing. It’s my passion. Now, I live for mountain biking.

TSL: That’s neat to hear about that evolution in your career and part of that support has been the Patagonia brand. How did that relationship come about?

GB: That relationship started about eight years ago when I was fly fishing. We made a video down south here, with my dog and a really crazy crew of friends. We went exploring where nobody goes, and a big relationship started. Patagonia is a great brand, and it’s so cool that they are not interested in the World Championship but rather people who take care of what we have around us. For me, Patagonia [the brand] has been crucial. It’s awesome. I’m not in the good shape, but I love mountain biking, so they support me. That’s where you understand that they’re thinking about other things. We want to save our planet.

Where I live, I see that there are not too many opportunities for a lot of kids to go and study outside, but I saw the opportunities I have here without being a local. There’s a whole new crew of kids that are mountain biking now. Of course, they wanna be racers, but I tell them, “Hey, man, you could live for this, but it’s not all racing, so racing is not everything. This is a lifestyle, and if you love mountain biking, there’s a lot of ways to live on it. There are so many things beyond racing. It’s awesome, but there’s a lot of sacrifice behind that—a lot.”

TSL: I love that, Gabo. I can relate to that, that dream of being a professional athlete that kids have. And you’re sharing with them new ideas about what you could do with mountain biking and how you could diversify and still hold that as the passion that is your compass for what you’re doing with your life.

That actually gets me into the next question I have for you, about mountain biking in Chile. How would you describe the culture of mountain biking in Chile right now?

GB: I think it’s expanding a lot. It’s becoming a lifestyle. Of course, there’s a lot of racing, but if you go to a mountain-bike race, when it’s over, everybody is with their families, everybody is enjoying together. I think it’s a different way of racing, a mix of racing and lifestyle.

I can see in our business that mountain biking is becoming a lifestyle. A lot of groups, they don’t race, but they have all the same T-shirts, their groups have a name, and they go out together every weekend or three times a week. That’s culture.

We have an amazing, amazing country. We have a lot of mountains, a lot of mountains, and where I live, in Aysén, mountain-bike culture is new. Not more than 10 years.

Trails for Everybody
Despite being one of the youngest towns in the Aysén region of southern Chile, Coyhaique pretty much has it all: beaches to the west, high desert to the east, huge forests in the foothills and many, many mountains in between. Photo: Martin Garcia de la Huerta

TSL: Tell me more about where you live, for those who are listening. Tell us about the Aysén region. What is it like?

GB: First, the Aysén region is one of the largest regions in Chile. We have everything. We have from the sea to the border with Argentina, where it’s super dry. We have rain forest. We have ice fields. We have a lot, a lot, a lot of lakes. We have everything in one region. It’s awesome. It’s beautiful.

We are a ways from Santiago—about 1,000 miles [1,600 kilometers] south of Santiago. You could get here on a straight flight that is about two-and-a-half hours. As a region, it’s super new. The city of Coyhaique is maybe 100 years old. It’s hard here, very windy and cold. Living here was not easy in those early years. But Coyhaique has everything. You go east and you have the flat land, which is drier. You go west and you’ve got the rain forest. Mountains are great. We have big forest. The dirt is awesome. We have grip all year.

TSL: I have been fortunate enough to see a little bit of your amazing region, and I love hearing you describe it. I am curious about a lot of the trails you’re building and riding. They’re old resource-extraction roads, maybe even generational Indigenous pathways, and I want to know, how do trails fit into the culture and history of the Aysén region?

GB: Well first, the main activity in the Aysén region for a lot of years, and one of the main activities now, are cows or other farm animals. So, there are a lot of trails. And the locals, when they raise cattle and have to move them to Coyhaique, sometimes it’d take three months getting all those animals to the place where they sell them. All those trails are there in the mountains. Today, they bring a truck and put all the cows in the truck.

We have been making the long process of scouting all—not all, but part—of those trails and trying to clean them up and use them. They have a big history.

Another thing that we have been doing. There was a lot of wood extraction in the mountains, so a lot of places have lots and lots of fire roads, and we have been working on making trails over those fire roads. We have a long ways to go; we’re just starting. I know that we have maybe 10, 20 years more, right? The next generation is going to have a lot of trail, but they’ll still have to work for them. But there are endless possibilities here to make good trail systems—not easily, but they might not have to build from zero.

There are a lot of people that live in the mountains now that take out firewood. In La Gloria (a large, privately owned forested area outside of Coyhaique historically used for firewood cutting), there is one guy who bought a little mountain bike because he sees us every day riding our bikes. So, he decides to buy a bike to carry his chainsaw for cutting. But that’s the first step. Now, he’s riding a mountain bike to go make firewood; maybe in two years, he’ll have more attention for the trails.

Trails for Everybody
One “burl-y” tree line. Gabo hammers a corner under some arboreal oddities in the forests around his home. Photo: Martin Garcia de la Huerta

TSL: You’re inspiring locals to think about their own lifestyle and incorporate mountain bikes into what they’re doing.

GB: Yes, firewood here is important for a lot of people because they have made their living about that. But those people … they love the mountains. They live in the mountains, so if you could give them another way to conserve and to live in the mountains, I think that’s the key. That’s what I want to work for, how to give value to that. How to show them that maybe instead of cutting the trees, let’s take care the trees. That’s our vision.

TSL: I know one of your passions is growing outdoor recreation as an economic force in your area, maybe into something people will want to do more than collecting firewood or some of the other extractive industries in your area. Tell me, what has motivated that push from you to try to increase outdoor recreation?

GB: Well, first, I want to say we always use our mountain-bike tours to open these places. A lot of the local people may not agree with us because we’re paying the owners of these farms for access. Most of these places, they aren’t open to everybody. The local people don’t understand that my vision is like, OK, let’s go in with the tours first. Let’s show them the mountain bikers can conserve, that they can live with mountain biking and mountain bikers are not so bad. Then the owners agree with us and say, “OK, let’s open it now. Let’s be part of the trail system for the community.”

We are always thinking about opening these places in the future to everyone, but you have to understand that you’re going on a mountain bike into a place where people have never see a mountain bike. So, we don’t want to go in as an invasion; we want to go little by little, and then that man you saw cutting firewood is now riding a mountain bike, and the owner of that big farm now wants to build more trails. Then we’re ready to open it. Because we know that we could handle that.

Sometimes what happens here in Coyhaique is that owners of farm give a space to make some trails, but nobody take cares of them. Most of the places we use, I pay for the access and build the trails—so, I was pretty much paying to use my own trails. And people ask me, “Hey, but how is that your business?”

Well, I know that this is not a business, of course. But I have to do it. This is the way to show the owners that we can make something, because we have to start conservation in all these big private farms that are getting exploited. We have to change those owners, show them how to do conservation. Sometimes to a farmer, conservation sounds like, “Whoa, no, no, no, no. I don’t want that for my farm.” But we can make conservation about sports. We can use other kinds of conservation.

I agree that there are some places where, if there hasn’t been a trail, there doesn’t need to be. I’m not gonna go build a trail in the national park, of course. No, we need those spaces for animals and everything. But we do have a lot of private lands, and those private owners want to make trails. We have to show them that we can be respectful, that we are not going to light their farms on fire, that we respect the other things that they are making inside those farms.

For me, that can be really hard. Sometimes, we build a trail and by afternoon there are 10 cows walking up our trails, so all the work of the day is gone. It’s like, “OK, tomorrow I’m gonna make it again, but please, could you take care about the cows, man?” But that’s part of making this grow.

Trails for Everybody
Located in the heights of the Andes near the city of Cusco, the Sacred Valley is full of Incan archeological sites, beautiful lakes and rivers, and some stunning (albeit chunky) trails. Photo: Diego del Rio

TSL: What motivates you to do that, Gabo? That sounds like a lot of work to convince farmers and ranchers and private landholders to get on board with your vision. How are you motivated to do that?

GB: One thing that was really cool, in La Gloria, most of the people that live there didn’t know about the highest part of the farm—it’s like the top of the mountain. When they saw us riding bikes up there, I say, “Yeah, I build a trail to the top.” “What?!” “Yes! I’m going to show you the top of your mountain. You have never been there?!”

When we open these kinds of spaces, the owners are happy. They know their place now, what they have and what they could do. When they’re walking a beautiful trail on their land, they are like, “Wow, this is beautiful.” “Yeah, this didn’t exist. We made it.” They start to see the potential that they have, and they can imagine the future with this.

We got one project I have been pushing for like five, six years, that is La Gloria. The owner is a great, great, great man called the “Capitán.” Of course, Capitán works his farm with all this crew that cuts the woods, but he gave us the opportunity to make these trails and to start developing this farm. It’s super big, and it’s close to a little town called Villa Ortega, a super little town. Now, we’re figuring out how we connect this town with all these places we want to protect. But we don’t want to go there and say, “We’re gonna do all this conservation and you can’t cut any more firewood here.” No, no, no, no. Let’s see how we could all share together because I know that in another 10 years, we’re gonna have more people maintaining trails than taking out woods.

If you don’t try it, you never know. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t.

TSL: Spoken like a true visionary. In parts of the US—including where I live right now in Rico, Colorado—outdoor recreation has become so popular that it’s become its own sort of extractive industry, where crowds damaging sensitive habitats and overwhelming local communities is a common trend we’re seeing. Do you fear outdoor recreation could become something similar for communities and environments in the Aysén region, and if so, in what ways do you think it could be managed?

GB: One hundred percent. I think outdoor recreation could be a big thing, big, big because we have everything. And I think the way to do that is working in these little towns and with kids. We’re losing localism. Kids, when they turn 15, 18-years-old, most don’t have the opportunity to go study. But nobody has shown them all the other things they have around. They have the mountains. I didn’t study anything. I live on this, and I am not a local. I don’t have a history here. They have everything, but we need to figure out how we give them the tools to realize that there is an opportunity because I know that not every one of those kids want to work on the farm.

And I’m not saying about that they’re going to lose their gaucho [South American term for “cowboy”] culture. No. They’re still gonna be gauchos, but in a different way. They’re never going to lose that culture. But if they don’t want to build fences, maybe they could hop over a mountain bike and guide or over a horse or walking or hiking or fly fishing. Why not? Why not? We need that. Give them the opportunity to know the sport, maybe know another language. But they have everything else. They have history. They are gauchos, and they’re gonna be gauchos over a mountain bike or over a snowboard.

I think that’s how we make that localism stay here and not go outside the region. Because it’s super easy for them go work on a fish farm or going to the mines. That’s the easier way. Or they come down to the city and we’ve lost them. We’ve lost a lot. It’s hard, but we need the spaces for them to do that.

I know that a trail system is more than having fun over the bike. That’s my view. I love to ride good trails, but I know that a trail is more than fun.

Trails for Everybody
Gabo is well-versed in the Coyhaique region’s unique landscape; he not only lives in and runs multiple businesses in the area but also builds many of the area’s most popular trails. The alpine classic Chicken Line is one gem among many. Photo: Max Wittenberg

TSL: So, you are saying that the generations to come could manage these trails? And that staying there and having the passion for building those trails, or being guides in the area, and loving their place and the lands that they come from is going to help create education for everybody? And right now, you’re just trying to get your feet underneath you with trail networks in general, because there’s not much. Is that right?

GB: Yes, and that’s it. I think that’s what we need. I started realizing that, when I was a fishing guide, I looked around and thought, “There isn’t a new generation of guides. What are we doing wrong?”

We start doing this with all our businesses, in the tour company, then the store, then little things that help us bring all these together and try to support the trail builders. Now, we are trying to build a foundation working with these local communities. And more than focusing on Coyhaique city, I want to focus in little communities. That is where we have to go. I don’t want to say that in Coyhaique there’s no culture. Yeah, there’s a lot of culture. But it’s a big city. You have more opportunities.

In those little towns … that’s where you live in the real Patagonia.

TSL: That’s a lot of hard work, Gabo. I’m sure this past year has been a little bit crazy for you, as it has been for most of us. COVID-19 has disrupted life around the world, and we even had a delay in this interview because of the COVID-19 surge in Coyhaique. Can you tell me how the Aysén region is doing now?

GB: Well, this region receives a lot of tourists. So, all this season has been really, really hard. We didn’t receive any bike trips since March of last year. We’ve been through one year without working. But I’m happy that we just have the store, the bike shop. When we started the bike shop, we had nothing. I said, “OK, how are we gonna make it?”

The bike shop is doing really well now. We don’t have too many bikes, but we’re selling bikes, and it gives us a little bit to continue supporting all our team and that was super important for us.

We know that this is gonna end. I don’t know when, but I hope the next season is gonna be more like normal. A lot of people want to come, that’s true, and you could see that. We have to wait, be patient. There’s no option, just be patient.

Sometimes, I said, “OK, maybe I should stop.” No, I could not stop, I could not stop. This is for new generations, and one day all my trails are gonna be open for everyone. But somebody has to do it, and you cannot go to a place that’s not yours and open a trail for everyone and then make a mess. That doesn’t work. And this is so new here, that’s why. So, we have to take care about that.

I can see that because like 20 years ago, when we were starting into fly-fishing guiding, you could go everywhere. But then some guys start jumping inside the gates without permission, and some places were closed. Then that great lake when you go fishing, now you cannot get in. So, we have to make things right.

I know that all the trails I have been working on and paying for, I will never get that money back. I know that. But I’m so happy when I see that they can make a living doing that, and if we could give that little piece of help—that’s for all of us.

Trails for Everybody
The terrain around Coyhaique is vast, and route-finding is its own challenge that usually involves traversing over multiple peaks and through multiple valleys in a single day’s ride. Photo: Max Wittenberg

TSL: I admire that so much about you, Gabo. In seeing the potential for being able to create more sustainable jobs in trail building. And having trail building be valued because it’s ultimately a way for people to get into the outdoors and learn about nature and learn about the places that they live. And I hear you say how challenging it is and luckily you have that professional mountain biker in you, that won’t give up. And this has been a wonderful conversation. Is there anything more that you’d like to add?

GB: I just do this because I love it. It’s not for ego. It’s not because I wanna be recognized. No, this is for everybody. I want to make something for the region. It doesn’t matter if my name is there or not. I love this. It’s my passion, it’s my life, it’s my lifestyle. And I hope I can push for that a lot of years more and try to change people minds to see that there are other opportunities. We live in an awesome place, and all Chile—it’s great.

It’s great to see how you motivate some people. For me, it’s so important to have Edecio and and Juan and the other trail builders. And maybe we are a little community here now, but we are real community. We are living doing what we really love, and that is mountain biking.

And this is for everybody. Trails for everyone, that’s it.

By Teal Stetson-Lee,

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Extreme adventure at the edge of the word: sail and ski in Norway

There are few more thrilling places to ski tour than the Lyngen Alps, a 55-mile chain of peaks that punctuates Norway’s fragmented northerly fringes. ​

“Sometimes you have to do things you’ve never done to get to places you’ve never been.” These are the words of wisdom offered by our mountain guide, Espen Minde, as we take a break from climbing 1,000 metres on skis up an unnamed peak in Norway’s Lyngen Alps. Something, indeed, I’d never done before. We’re also climbing straight into a blizzard. Normally, in conditions like these, I’d have turned back or maybe not even set off in the first place. But Espen, being a Norwegian mountain guide, isn’t put off by driving snow, howling winds and zero visibility. And as our group — comprising six other skiers — has every confidence in Espen’s years of experience touring these wild, often unnamed mountains, we plough on.

Ski touring in the Lyngen Alps isn’t always like this, of course. Aboard the Arctic Eagle catamaran, the comfy floating accommodation for our ski and sail trip around Norway’s northeastern shores, we’ve seen all weathers. On the first day, having sailed for three hours from its base in Tromsø, Arctic Eagle anchored off the coast of Vanna island, afternoon sunlight glinting on the waters of the fjord as our captain, Håkon, ferried us to the rocky shoreline.

Once on dry land, we start our 1,031-metre ascent of Mount Vanntinden. The snowbound peaks of the Lyngen Alps bear down on us from all quarters, rising majestically up into a baby-blue sky. There’s not a soul to be seen and not a sound to be heard other than the gentle lapping of sea against shore.

boat on waters with mountain in the backgorund

The Arctic Eagle, which offers ski and sail trips around Norway’s northeastern shores, uses a mooring on Vanna island as its gateway to the Lyngen Alps.

Espen leads us at a gentle pace, with breaks to take in the view. It’s late April and we’re well north of the Arctic Circle so we have plenty of daylight. The views as we ascend become more spellbinding, the slowly sinking sun casting an increasingly golden glow across mountains and sea. By the time we reach the summit, the sun is just above the horizon and we’re on top of the world in every sense. It’s high fives all round, a fast round of photos, then we need to get moving to get back to the boat before dark.

We remove the climbing skins from the base of our skis (the sheathes that allow you to ascend without constantly slipping backwards), flip our ski touring bindings to ‘descend’ mode, don a couple of warm layers, tighten up rucksack straps, clip into our skis again and set off downhill.

skiers touring amongst the peaks

Adventurous skiers can climb the peaks of the Lyngen Alps before they begin their descent to the Lyngen fjord.

We’re able to spread out and enjoy big, swooping turns across huge snowfields almost all the way back down to the fjord, skiing into the setting sun, a glorious landscape of deserted mountains and dark-blue sea spread before us. Whoops and hollers of excitement are inevitable and why not? There’s no one else around.

Back aboard Arctic Eagle, everyone is ready for a beer, but not before one unavoidable Arctic ritual: a quick dip in the icy Norwegian Sea. With the water temperature at around 5C, no one stays in for long. Warm and buzzing after a hot shower, we gather in the catamaran’s galley around the large table to enjoy freshly caught cod and cold beers, before Captain Håkon, who’s sailing us east to anchor off the coast of Arnøya island for the night, shouts: “Quick! Come up on deck!”

The Northern Lights are doing their thing in the starlit skies above. A relatively muted display of pale-green swirling waves passing over us, but it’s a winning finale to the perfect day. Not every day is so blessed, of course. This is Arctic Norway and the only predictable thing about the weather is its unpredictability, but over the course of the trip we get to ski amid the most incredible scenery, in everything from sunshine to mist, sleet and snow. Eventually, six days after setting sail from Tromsø, Arctic Eagle returns us to its home port. Exhausted, sunburnt, weather battered and happy, we step ashore and say a sad farewell to Captain Håkon and Espen, safe in the knowledge that it’s absolutely worth doing things you’ve never done to get to places you’ve never been.

By Alf Anderson, National Geographic

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My First Time Riding Enduro, How Hard Could It Be?

What it’s like riding enduro bikes for the first time as an ADV rider.

Nestled between the Sierra Nevada and Inyo Mountains of California lies a land of towering summits flanked by glaciers, the bases of which are contrasted by sweltering deserts that harbor less life than the bottom of the ocean. Massive boulders look as though they were cast down by some ancient, monolithic beast, while countless springs spew mineral-rich water from the earth. This really is a land of geologic extremes. One might question the logic of introducing a first-timer to the world of enduro riding in this inhospitable place, but that’s exactly what happened.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Over the past four and a half years, I’ve been able to ride adventure motorcycles through untold regions and environmental conditions. I’ve pushed myself well beyond my physical limitations numerous times, witnessed countless awe-inspiring scenes, and overcome things both mental and material that I would have considered taboo if not outright impossible before I began riding. The experience I’ve amassed over nearly half a decade of muscling mid-sized ADV bikes around has put me in an ideal spot to leap into the world of enduro riding. The confidence and skill I’ve gained in that same time should have prepared me for anything, but oh man, was I wrong.

In October, I was offered the incredible opportunity to try out KTM’s 2024 500 EXC-F in a theatrically stunning region in California’s Owens Valley, a place where the Southern end of the Great Basin Desert slams face-first into the nose-bleed-inducing peaks of the Eastern Sierra. This land is home to everything from glaciers, hot springs, numerous 14,000-foot peaks, ruins from ancient natives, high deserts, and more trails than you can shake a stick at. I didn’t think much about the offer before unequivocally agreeing to go on this trip because, honestly, who would say no to such a thing?

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
We outfitted our 2024 KTM 500 EXC-F with Dunlop EN91 knobby tires, a Black Dog Ultimate Skidplate, Acerbis Endurance X handguards, and a set of Wolfman Threadworks E-12 saddlebags.

With a plan set for us to meet in late November, we would have three days to ride all manner of trails in an area between the White Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. Ultimately, I was told, our goal was to get my feet wet into a bit of everything to gain a well-rounded feel of what it takes to ride enduro. We all ended up in the town of Bishop by about mid-afternoon. This town makes a fantastic place to stage because of its many accommodating hotels, restaurants, auto parts stores, and anything else you may need for bashing on bikes for a long weekend. Once settled, I prepared myself for the completely unknown.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

A sub-40-degree morning greeted us, and a sense of nervousness set in as we geared up. We fueled the bikes up and immediately sped South toward the White Mountains. Right off the bat, the 500 EXC-F impressed me with how easily it made power throughout the rev range (especially down low) and how nimble it felt. Our first task of the day put us into some sandy tracks, and this is where it became immediately apparent that Enduro Bikes simply do loose tracks a hell of a lot better than any ADV Bike ever will. Those gains are not without some drawbacks though, as I felt the lack of weight and shorter wheelbase resulted in some loss of the stability I’m used to having on an ADV Bike. I also felt a notable increase in how much the bike throws you around. But with its clear weight advantage and a set of aggressive Dunlop EN91 DOT knobby tires, this bike clawed through sand effortlessly. This is a greatly unfamiliar thing to me, as I’m far more accustomed to exerting much more energy to propel 400+ pound bikes through similar conditions.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

By this point, I had already begun to experience some discomfort riding though, mostly due to my complete inexperience on such a machine. Still, I’d also later discover that the unadjusted ergonomics on the KTM had a role to play. We’d later correct this, but that would not happen until the next day. For now, I was saddled upon one of the most powerful machines money can buy in the Enduro segment, navigating loose, rock-infused tracks and washes, unable to stand for more than a few short sections before my core simply couldn’t keep up. Amazingly, though, I still managed.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

The shale-coated track steepened considerably as the trail rose above the wash below. With my rear tire fighting for grip, I made it part of the way up the steepest climb I’ve ever been on before losing momentum. ADV Pulse contributor Mike Massucco made it a short distance further while Senior Editor Rob Dabney came up from behind and effortlessly sped to the top. Mike followed shortly after restarting from a stall, leaving me with the task of figuring out how to continue up this seemingly insurmountable climb by myself.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

I’ll admit I was struggling. GPS would later reveal we were on a section that rises nearly 1,000 feet in about two-thirds of a mile. A 30%+ gradient is difficult enough without inexperience and unstable ground fighting you, so my struggle continued. Eventually, Rob picked his way back down the hill to give some pointers, and this is where the importance of body position on this lightweight machine became abundantly clear. While I struggled for 5-7 minutes, making very little progress, Rob simply suggested I shift back on the saddle a couple of inches. At the time, the cynic in me thought, “What the hell is that going to do?” Lo and behold, the Dunlop tires suddenly began clawing away at the terrain and pushing the useless sack of meat atop this otherwise flawless machine toward the top of the hill. Exasperated and devoid of energy, at the top, I was surprised at how easy the hill became simply by shifting my weight no more than an inch or two. However, this brief elation was spoiled when Mike pointed out the next section, which appeared twice as long and even steeper than what we had just overcome. With some experience in my utility belt, we pressed on.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

I’d be lying if I said anything other than the next climb was a complete blur; by this point, I was already fighting a combination of bad habits, poor body position, and just general inexperience, but soon I was looking at the top where my companions were waiting for my arrival. There, we broke for a moment, and I was given an opportunity to discuss the ride so far. It was clear at this point that I was way outside of my element. Although the bikes are vastly more capable, the riding discipline is an entirely different animal when compared to swinging a leg over an adventure bike. Needless to say, I was a fish out of water.

Rob assured me that the hills we had just tackled were among the most demanding obstacles we’d do the entire trip, which was somewhat reassuring. Still, my energy reserves were tapped by this point, and my confidence waned as I frequently began questioning myself, seeking the answer to how I got myself into this mess. The experience gained over those miles of grueling ascent soon proved valuable when the tracks ahead mellowed slightly.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Ahead, we found ourselves ascending into a forest of ancient Bristlecone Pines, and for the first time, I started to feel a bit “at home” on this otherwise magnificent machine. It’s a challenge to compare riding an adventure bike to this KTM 500 – things that are normally “things” on a larger, heavier machine simply cease to exist. The challenges people have riding overtly loose terrain, such as deep sandy washes, just disappear when you subtract a couple hundred pounds of weight and toss on sticky, knobby tires. Sure, anything can become a challenge with a bit of speed, but I couldn’t help but marvel at how easily the bike tackled anything we threw at it, even if I wasn’t nearly as capable.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

With the forest of ancient trees behind us, the terrain opened up to Papoose Flat. Without GAIA GPS running on the bars, it would have been easy to forget that we were just below 9,000 feet as the surrounding area could just as easily be mistaken for a desert landscape or perhaps a portion of the Alabama Hills rather than a high plain nestled between numerous mountain summits. Here, we stopped to recharge and take in some of the incredible scenery, where the only reminder that we were at cloud level was the blistering cold that set in once we became stationary. As we enjoyed the scenery between handfuls of trail mix and meat sticks, it became apparent that staying much longer would result in frost-bitten fingertips. I thought, perhaps naively, that at least this would mark the part of the day where we’d begin making our way back.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

East of Papoose Flat, the track slaloms through a sand wash, and despite the frigid temperatures, my lightweight Alpinestars Venture R enduro gear was shockingly effective at keeping the cold out. Perhaps it was my accelerated heart rate on account of my being a crap rider or just the overall construction of the kit, but the jacket and pants really impressed me with how it was handling a late November trip above 8,000 feet. Equally surprising was how it managed to keep me cool when tackling the earlier hill climbs by simply cracking a few vents open. We continued, and the sand wash turned into a rock-laden stream bed. While I’m usually keen on riding embedded rock slabs and the like, the fatigue was setting in by this point of the day. To my surprise, we arrived on a highway a short while later.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

At this point, it was already 3 in the afternoon with sunset coming around 4:45 pm over the high mountains, and mentally, I had already accepted we would be taking this stretch of pavement straight down the mountain West toward Big Pine, but oh boy, was I wrong. With a few infamously uttered words, we pointed our bars East and set off deeper into the wilderness. I’d be lying if I remembered much of this section, but I can’t conjure up much from memory. Chalk it up to me blocking out trauma or just being a general wuss, but I was far beyond exertion, something only exacerbated when the track suddenly became more akin to a narrow hiking trail clinging onto a cliff edge, than one suitable for motorcycles.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

We’ve all seen photos of narrow single-track zig-zagging its way down the side of a mountain through several 180-degree switchbacks, but few get to ride such tracks, and fewer still do it on their first day on an enduro. In hindsight, I’m a bit proud that I pushed through, but this was, without a doubt, type 2 fun. At the first switchback, Rob stood by to assist, and though I was absolutely gassed, I insisted on navigating this first particularly nasty switchback on my own. Still, his support and a helping hand on the bars to ensure I didn’t go over the edge was almost certainly requisite to my making it off the mountain in one piece.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

I was beginning to get the hang of a few of these switchbacks later, though I’m not entirely sure if any skills were gained. My body and mind were in survival mode, but thankfully, I managed to do just that. In front of me, Mike reached the next switchback and got it wrong. It became one of those moments in slow motion — the front tire of Mike’s bike barely going over the edge, and he and his machine sliding off the scarcely 12″ wide track down the steeply sloping embankment. The only thing between him and total disaster was the remnants of a long-deceased Bristlecone that had likely sprouted before Europeans made it to the Americas. As though I had been hit with a shot of adrenaline, I flipped my 500 around, got it set safely against the mountainside of the track, and scrambled down to give Mike an assist.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Initially, we tried to maneuver the bike so that it was pointed back toward the track, though this quickly proved futile. Incredibly, Mike decided he’d just ride down the side of the mountain. This seemed to be a fool’s errand to the uninitiated, but he and his Beta picked their way down the side of the mountain with low effort to reach a point further ahead on the trail below us.

Back above, I tossed a leg back over the KTM and made my way down the remainder of this harrowing single track. Rob would later refer to the track as a “5 out of 10” on his scale of difficulty, which sounds mundane on the surface, but then I recall that this man has raced Baja, among other things. Suddenly, 5 of 10 sounded like a hell of an achievement for a first-timer.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Some more two-track and docile single-track later, and we were again at the edge of a paved road, only now it was dark. Just when I was prepared to breathe a sigh of relief, my 500 began to sputter and as we passed a slow moving big-rig, then she died completely. Inevitably, my ability to leverage gravity faded as the descent leveled out, and there I sat on the side of the road at the crux of the single most exhausting day I’ve ever experienced on 2 wheels, all alone in the  in the dark, cold, vastness of Inyo National Forest out of fuel just a two miles from the gas station.

Eventually, my companions would realize I was missing and circled back to find me. A quick splash of fuel would get us back to home base. Relieved to be done with what I can only describe as having your shoelaces tied to one another and then being asked to run a marathon, we began rolling down Highway 163 toward Big Pine. I would later remark that it was obvious which days I had the most fun by the number of photos I took on a given day. On day 1, I took only 5, almost all in the first 30 minutes of our day.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Determined to start earlier than the prior day, we began our second riding day at dawn’s break. This proved a wasted effort when Rob’s battery gave out, and he realized the thing we saw sparking down Highway 395 the night prior was actually his kickstart lever. We attempted to borrow the lever from Mike’s Beta, which worked until Mike’s battery gave out too at the filling station. It would end up being 10 in the morning before we could begin the day once we found that the local AutoZone in Bishop stocked the correct battery for Rob’s 2012 KTM 500 EXC. Trying hard to forget the aches and pains I developed the day before, we finally set off into the Sierra Nevada mountains.

We ascended quickly, stopping only to observe our surroundings and make a small adjustment to the bars on my KTM 500 — rotating them forward just enough to get my body over the bars and allowing my legs to straighten. This in turn put less strain on my back and allowed me to find that blissful neutral riding position. As it turned out, this would be the catalyst needed to finish the day in less pain.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

We continued up the track toward Coyote Flats, reminded by the dusting of powder on the surrounding hills that we’d likely see quite a bit of moisture along the way. A deeper-than-expected creek crossing and some slightly muddy tracks later, the road turned icy. Rather graciously, the waterproof Tech 7 Enduro Drystars kept my lower extremities dry through the 21″ tire swallowing crossing, which was a relief because wet toes in this extreme climate would have been nothing short of miserable. As winds howled and swirled, the powder drifted in any cavity the surrounding terrain revealed. It was here that I began having uninterrupted fun for the first time on this trip.

The altimeter didn’t take long to read above 10,000` as the track quickly climbed through snow drifts. The Dunlops clawed their way through flats of powder more than a foot deep and drifts more than twice that. We pushed beyond the point where most would have turned back long before. A few strategic line choices later, we were perched more than a mile above Bishop at 11,400 feet.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Our reward was a stunning view of the surrounding terrain, albeit one cloaked in an incoming Winter storm. We elected not to waste much time to avoid getting stuck on the mountain and began going back down, though a clearer day would have revealed that we were gazing down at Inyo National Forest’s South Lake. We picked our way down the trail with one more stop on the agenda. With my newfound confidence, I sped ahead into the white abyss.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Man’s hubris is often our downfall, as it was mine on our return. As I confidently blasted through the snow, my luck eventually ran out when things went crossways, and I managed a low side at speed on the track. Luckily, the ice kept things frictionless, and I managed to slide to a stop before quickly propping my legs up on the bike as if to play off the fact that I had just eaten it hard.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

The steed and I both survived without a scratch, though my ego was slightly tattered, given this marked my first drop of the trip. We continued down, more cautiously than before, until a crossroads turned us back North. What lay in front of us was the leading edge of a large, late fall storm, pummeling the higher altitudes of the Sierra Nevada. If not for the storm, Rob insisted we’d have a glimpse of Palisade Glacier. We took a moment to grab a snack and admire nature, but within a few minutes, the sun that had previously warmed our backs had been pushed out by the darkening skies.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra
Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Wind and cold temperatures quickly reminded us how fierce the mountain can be, so we plunged into the snow-laden tracks, this time with our bikes aimed back toward Owens Valley. We would again climb to nearly 10,500` to get there, where the day’s challenge began. The ascent to this final pass wasn’t all that bad, though some deep snow on a steep slope makes for a lot of high revving and practice of ideal body position; no, the real issue was the more-than-a-mile of altitude we’d need to lose over 6 miles of track.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

This began innocently through a mucky meadow as snow flurries chased us away from the mountain slopes. The further we got from the meadow, the drier and rockier the track became until we soon descended through a series of boulders. Ahead of me, Mike managed to lose balance and go down. I, with my vast inability to do anything other than a white knuckle, soon found myself struggling to stop in time and, too, went down like a sack of rocks. With the bike uprighted and undamaged, I continued, albeit more slowly, to avoid repeating my prior fault.

This continued for what seemed like an age, steep descent after steep descent, with just enough level ground in between to regain control; all the while, Rob and Mike made it look easy. Ironically, the steepest stretch of track was the very last section, which dropped at near enough to a 45-degree angle. This is where years of riding ADV bikes paid off, as I’m somewhat accustomed to simply letting the bike do the work, and if there’s one thing a lightweight enduro is damn good at, it’s doing the work.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

On the way back, something piqued our interest from just off the side of the highway. It’s not entirely uncommon in the Eastern Sierra to see puffs of steam coming up from the ground, often from hot springs littering the area. As it turns out, we stumbled upon one, and what better way to relax and have an introspective moment after a weary day than to do so in mineral-rich, hot spring water fed fresh from the very mountains that, a short time before, we were trying to freeze us out.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

It was here that I really began to appreciate the capability of these enduro machines. Riding them, especially as a first-timer, is a trade-off. You forgo the comforts of an ADV machine for a tool that can take you places that aren’t possible on a larger bike. Simply swinging my leg over a different, more purpose-built machine had suddenly allowed me to reach heights both literal and figurative that I could have previously only dreamed of. Sure, my ass, bones, muscles, and head were all beaten to a pulp, but I had just finished riding with friends to the edge of a Glacier in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in late November. Who else can claim such a thing? And the truth is, I have this buzzing, masterpiece of an enduro machine to thank for that, and with one more day of riding ahead, I’d have more time to enjoy it.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

The sun’s warm glow brought uninterrupted views of the freshly snow-coated Sierra Nevada to the West. Expecting this and paired with the fact that we’d all need to drive a few hours each to get home later that same day, we opted to remain in the valley for a softer final day of my intro to enduro. The morning saw us riding North towards Crowley Lake, a place impossible for me to pass on Highway 395 without singing a classic Ozzy tune.

The tracks promised to be timid, and they started that way; first drifting us towards a wetland in the center of this otherwise barren landscape to a place that serves as the only home on the planet to a specific species of fish, and then by following these stunning sandy tracks to the relatively unknown Fish Slough Petroglyphs. The day began as promised – gentle and otherwise un-intimidating – until we left the petroglyphs.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

The road turned North, and quickly, something about the substrate changed. We began riding over what I can only describe as embedded volcanic rock – massive slabs of it, separated by stretches of sand. At first, it wasn’t a problem, but the further into the expanse we rode, the rougher the track became. Imagine the worst washboard gravel road you’ve ever ridden and amplify it considerably.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

We finally slowed to take in the majesty of the slowly eroding volcanic ruins that swarmed around the track when Rob noticed that his GoPro was missing. A frantic search for a camera followed, which is easier said than done when you’ve ridden 4 miles into an unfamiliar desert. I rode ahead, backtracking towards Fish Slough, with Rob sweeping for a second scan of the Martian surface. I took no particular pleasure in this as it meant riding back over the tracks that had already beaten me to a pulp. Still, the camera’s contents were too valuable to accept that it had become one with the surrounding terrain.

I had ridden nearly back to Fish Slough when something caught my eye in the distance and soon it was clear I’d found the GoPro!. I quickly scooped it up, tossed it in a bag. As Rob approached, I dejectedly asked, “Do we really need to keep looking?” Rob began trying to explain the importance of the camera, to which I responded that it seemed like a long distance to go. Our back and forth went on for about 30 seconds until I finally said, “I still don’t understand why you need to keep looking for a camera I already found.” He paused momentarily as the realization set in and called me a few names before we both began laughing. A small prank was the least I could do after the hell I had been put through over the past few days.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

As we continued further exploring the valley, the path slowly climbed until we reached an intersection. With sleeves rolled up, the mighty KTM and I tackled one last daunting challenge after reeling from days of riding well above my skill level. This final test was one I took with little chagrin, however. In three short days, I had been through so much on this bike that this last rock and ledge-strewn climb over a 7500 ft peak seemed almost mundane. Sure, I was exhausted beyond belief, but by then, you stopped focusing on the pain and exertion and kept chugging through. Yes, I would have probably preferred at the moment to ride the Pole Road back to Bishop, but instead, this final ascent rewarded us with the best views of the Eastern Sierra we’d manage to witness for the entire trip.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

Over the next few miles, we’d take smooth gravel roads toward Crowley Lake, inevitably emptying back onto 395 to make our final return to Bishop. The 30-minute ride back left me plenty of time to ponder the weekend’s events in between bouts of warming my gloves next to the bike’s radiator, though my conclusion nearly brings as many questions as it does answers.

An enduro bike is undeniably the most effective way to explore impassable terrain on two wheels. There’s no arguing the merit and capability a machine like KTM’s impeccable 500 EXC-F has on offer. The ability as a rider to approach something that would otherwise make you turn tail and flee home and instead ride over it with little effort is mind-boggling, and the confidence it, in turn, gives you to tackle new types of terrain on a larger bike, knowing it can be done, is simply invaluable.

Enduro Riding KTM 500 EXC-F Eastern Sierra

There were times I was ready to throw in the towel on this trip — the visceral nature of it all, the lack of comfort, and my being about as effective as a lead weight atop a class-leading enduro machine. Still, there were many more moments where, when tested physically and emotionally, this machine gave me the courage and confidence to continue plowing ahead. Looking back, the pain and mentally trying moments were all more than worth it. The experience and skills gained are all things I can return to my adventure bike with and will make me an objectively safer and more capable rider.
Does this mean I will sell my adventure bikes and switch to team enduro? Perhaps I can find room to add one more bike to the stable. That said, if you find yourself in a position of wanting to improve as an adventure rider and feel as though your talents and ceiling have topped off, a bike with half the weight, 50% more suspension travel, and a great deal more ground clearance might just be what the doctor ordered.