The End of Bike

The iconic magazine that inspired me to live a more adventurous life goes to the great bathroom magazine rack in the sky.

A few months ago, I received a plain, white postcard in the mail informing me that “as of October 1, 2020, Bike Magazine had ceased publication.” The card went on to tell me that they were “pleased” to inform me that the remainder of my subscription would be filled with Men’s Journal. Not Powder* or any of the other adventure sports rags that American Media LLC owns. Men’s Journal.

Ignoring their assumption that I’m a cis-male for a moment, (the number of women and gender-non-conforming people hitting the trails has exploded in the last few years), losing Bike felt like losing a friend.

I’d read and enjoyed a lot of mountain biking magazines early in my cycling life. But, I became a life-long Bike subscriber after I picked up the September 2001 issue from the bike shop I was working at. What sold me was a fiery column by Mike Ferrentino about America’s culture of consumption-at-all-costs and the destruction of what’s actually important, whether it’s our outdoor spaces, or our health (mental and physical). 

I still have that issue. 

The column was surprisingly political for a mountain bike magazine. I’m sure they got angry letters asking them to get back to mountain biking and leave politics alone. What made Bike Magazine shine was its willingness to take chances on articles that cut to the heart of our sport. Sometimes it got political. Mountain biking in the U.S., a sport largely done on public lands, is inherently a political act. Bike wasn’t afraid to wade into the controversies that threatened our favorite places and show us what we could do to save them. Like other magazines, Bike did gear reviews, but the stories never lost focus of what made mountain biking great: having a shitload of fun with your friends in the great outdoors in a more or less ecologically friendly way. Bike showed the simple joys of riding in new places, exploring, learning, and meeting new people. Above all, Bike stories reminded us that living an adventurous life was more important than all the shiny new gear we could fit in our garages.

According to the postcard, I’d be getting a few issues of Men’s Journal until I let my subscription peter out. I can’t imagine that it will fill the hole that Bike has left in its passing, not least of which because it divides the sexes. Back when women made up a tiny fraction of mountain bikers, Bike published “women-specific” issues** featuring badass female riders showing the boys how it’s done. The magazine highlighted both the gear that made riding bikes more comfortable for women and the female voices who made our male-dominated sport feel more inclusive. I’m not interested in being immersed in 94 pages of man stuff at a time when toxic masculinity needs to be examined more than ever.

It goes deeper than just the tone-deafness of that move. I feel like I’ve lost an old riding buddy. Bike has pedaled along-side me for much of my adult life. Each month, writers like Kristin Butcher, and Mike Ferrentino showed me that being fit isn’t as important as being present and having fun. Aaron Teasdale’s words took me on adventures into the most remote places, facing down toothy predators, often with his family in tow. Ryan Palmer reminded me that there’s still a place for angry bike mechanics with more knowledge than customer service skills. Greg “Chopper” Randolph gave me all the bike advice I never needed with a dose of snort-milk-out-your-nose humor. Over the years, these and so many other writers and photographers have pushed me to stay healthy, challenged me to explore further, and inspired me to live a life motivated by experiences rather than things. 

Hopefully, the writers and photographers who brought the sport of mountain biking to life in Bike will grace the pages of other publications. But it won’t be the same. Bike Magazine was greater than the sum of its words and pictures and paper. It was a living, breathing part of my life for almost 20 years. It can’t be replaced. 

**This was a play on the term “women-specific” used by many bike companies to market bikes with geometries that fit “typical” female bodies with longer legs, shorter torsos, and shorter finger reach.

*After publishing this piece I found out that Powder, Surfer, and Snowboarder will be joining Bike in the great bathroom magazine rack in the sky. Read Steve Casimiro’s take on the shuttering of these publications in Adventure Journal.

Writing About my Hometown

Image courtesy of USDA NRCS.

About a decade ago, I moved from Maine to Montana. Not one of those famous towns like Bozeman and Missoula which have been featured in big-budget movies or the glossy pages of adventure magazines. No, I moved back to my industrial hometown of Billings. The thing most people seem to remember after they’ve driven past at seventy-plus miles-per-hour (usually toward one of those picture-perfect towns) is the smoke-belching, fire-breathing refineries. There are three of them right along the interstate. To be honest, that’s mostly what I remembered, too.

Billings had changed a lot—mostly, for the better—since I’d left. So much so that when it came time for me to start a new novel project, I didn’t know how to write about it. I felt like a stranger in the Magic City.

Continue reading “Writing About my Hometown”

Exploring Small-Scale Multi-Generational Farming for Homegrown Stories

My interview with the Nash family took me out on the farm and into one of my favorite fields: independent agriculture.

Building a Farm for the Next Generation

Rusty, but functioning, antique tractors and a modern solar array frame Tom Tschida as he describes the unlikely way he became a rancher. “I’d been away working for a long time when [my parents] bought this place and started building it up. A few years ago I decided to quit my job and move back home,” Tom says of moving back to Montana to help his parents, Jerry and Carol Nash, run Nash Farms. After years of building a career as a photographer in Southern California, Tom found himself missing Montana. “I wanted to be around family. I wanted to be working with animals. I wanted to be playing in the dirt. So I came back to do all of that. It’s been great.” Continue reading…

7 incredible winter experiences in Montana’s Yellowstone Country

My latest article out from Matador Network: 7 incredible experiences in Montana’s Yellowstone Country.

There are so many winter experiences you can have in Yellowstone country, it was hard to narrow it down to just seven. I had a great time writing about the places I enjoy in this area. And researching this piece reminded me how many places I still have to hit.

I’m getting the feeling that this winter is going to be epic. Enjoy!

Lonely Montana Backroad

This road leading from the tiny town of Molt to the even tinier town of Rapelje offers views of five of Montana’s most spectacular mountain ranges. In addition to the Crazy Mountains, shown here, one can see the Pryor, Beartooth, Snowy, and Little Belt Ranges.

rural montana road, mountains, eastern montana
The wide open country of eastern Montana reveals miles of rolling, grassy hills, and snow-capped mountains in the distance.

This road is just one of hundreds of Montana backroads. At first glance, these dirt roads look incredibly boring. Long, straight stretches between dilapidated towns with nothing but dirt for miles. As you begin to notice the details, however, you can start to piece together what life is like way out in the frontier. You may see a pickup truck spreading a giant bale of hay out for a hundred or so cattle. You’ll almost certainly see a weathered barn falling apart. And if you pull your car over to the side of the road to get some pictures, you’re likely to see a rancher pull up just to make sure you’re ok.

montana fence, ranch,
Every turn on an eastern Montana dirt road offers surprises to the traveler. Sometimes, the reveal is a forty-mile vista across prairie to the slopes of mountains. Sometimes it’s just the little details like the grain of a weathered fence post.

Bonus points to anyone who can tell me why there are boots on those fence posts (a common sight in Eastern Montana ranch country).

Clouds Settling on Beartooth Pass

The Beartooth Mountains have always been inspiring, whether as a call to adventure, or the spark to create. This trip was both.

bear tooth pass, highway 212, red lodge montana
From the top of the pass, the fog I had been driving through morphed into clouds in the valley. The clouds moved in and out of the valley like ocean waves, covering the tower below and then exposing it again.

beartooth pass, highway 212, red lodge, montana, landscape, travel
The clouds gave the landscape a feeling of constant motion. Each moment, the scene would change revealing some new surprise.

 

Finding Inspiration on the Road to (and from) the Wild and Scenic Film Fest

I TRY TO SPEND as much time on the road as possible, whether it’s going across the state to see family, or crossing state lines on an epic trek. There are a lot of reasons I’m attracted to long-distance travel. One of the best is that no matter what I might be worrying about, there’s nothing I can do about it while driving. This allows me to let go of a lot of stresses that I carry with me. It’s the letting go of the everyday that allows stories to come to me.

I’ve been toying with the idea of posting ideas that hit me on the road on my twitter feed with some kind of an #dailyidea hashtag. That didn’t happen when I went to the Wild and Scenic Film Festival last week, but I did want to share some of the places that served as inspiration while I was off gallivanting.

1. Nevada

On the road through Nevada. This is the first time I've been on this road. Who knew Nevada was so beautiful?
On the road through Nevada. This is the first time I’ve been on this road. Who knew Nevada was so beautiful?

I’d never been on this highway before. Long and wide-open, Nevada has a sense of the Old West that competes with Montana’s. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was held in Elko a few days after I passed through. I’m already working on a screenplay set in the old west (kind of a departure for me), but I found myself thinking about famous cowboys and outlaws while driving through this wild landscape. As the dry landscape rolled by, my brain began constructing a bio-pic about Doc Holiday, the sickly dentist who fought along-side the Earp brothers at the OK Corral.

2. South Yuba River, Nevada City, California

I did get out to explore the South Yuba River on a trail that reminds me of an enchanted fantasy tale.
I did get out to explore the South Yuba River on a trail that reminds me of an enchanted fantasy tale.

I’m not sure who could walk this trail along the South Yuba River, and not be transported to another world. Soft ground beneath the feet muffle footfalls into silence. Trees seem to bend in overhead making a magical corridor. Then the trees part to reveal an almost other-worldly green river. This “enchanted” place inspired the film festival that I’m here to be a part of. Almost any magical story could be set here.

And, yes, the South Yuba River really does really look like this.
And, yes, the South Yuba River really does really look like this.

3. Ocean Park Motel, San Francisco, California

San Francisco's first Motel. Imagine what kind of stories could come out of this place.
San Francisco’s first Motel. Imagine what kind of stories could come out of this place.

I hadn’t intended on continuing all the way to the coast when I started out on this trip, but that’s the great thing about travel: Sometimes you just end up places. And this Motel (San Francisco’s 1st) is a destination all its own. Ocean Park opened in 1937, and has been no stranger to drama over the years. According to the newspaper article reprinted by the motel, “In its early years the Ocean Park attracted the ‘hot sheets’ trade…” aka “trysting lovers”. I’m sure that each room could tell true stories that would make any plot I came up with seem bland. But that didn’t stop me from imagining a noir detective uncovering an insidious plot hatched in room #7 (or, perhaps, being uncovered by a gorgeous femme fatale.)

Welcome back, after all these years

Anyone following this blog will know that it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. About three years. A lot of changes have occurred in my creative life since then. By far, the biggest change, and the one that will be my focus here, has been my entry into the film industry.

It’s been a pretty natural transition throughout my different creative lives, from fiction, to travel writing, to travel video, and now back to fiction through screenplays.

Photo by: When I was a Bird via Flickr
Photo by: When I was a Bird via Flickr

Movies have always been important to me, and have served as inspiration for my writing. Back when I was writing fiction, I was constantly told that my stories read like movies, and that I should write screenplays. I always refused. What I loved about writing fiction (esp. science fiction at the time) was the world-building. I thought of screenplays as stripped-down shells for the directors to put their visions inside.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It wasn’t until I read my first screenplay, a quirky love story called One Night in Seattle, that I realized the error of my nay-saying. The world in a screenplay is just as full, it’s just far more concise. (If that’s not a skill, I don’t know what is.)

With that little slice of backstory out of the way, this post is just to say that I’m back. This site is where I’m going to talk about my adventures as a screenwriter and filmmaker. I’m still in Billings, Montana, which is a long way from LA in every way imaginable. My focus will be on building a filmmaking community wherever you are, rather than chasing your dream to Hollywood or NYC. Also, I want to show that stories can be found anywhere. Not only do you not need to be in LA to be a screenwriter, but your stories are going to be more authentic and engaging if the places and people you’re writing about are right outside your window.

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. I’m just getting started in this business. So, I’ll probably end up talking about my own attempts to “break in”. I’m sure that there will be successes and failures. Hopefully, those successes and failures will be entertaining and inspiring to people who hope, against all odds, to get their stories up on the big (or many small) screen(s).

7 Things I Learned from the Best Travel Film Ever Made [Matador Network]

7 things I learned from the best travel film ever made

WHEN I FIRST SAW “The Road from Karakol” at 5Point Film Festival, my brain had already been numbed by dozens of killer films about people radder than I could ever dream of being. A film about a superstar mountaineer who rides his bike through Kyrgyzstan to make first ascents? Sure, I’ll sit through that. I expected to see a remix of the usual, highly produced “I went there, and wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, but I did” movie that we’ve all seen so many times before. Visually stunning, but predictable.

What happened onscreen, however, was a shaky, handheld mess of footage, bad audio, and an opening scene of Kyle standing in front of the camera naked. From there, what unraveled in front of my eyes was a story that was deeper, more real, and more alive than anything I’d ever seen. [read more and see the film here]

*Update: Kyle Dempster passed away in a climbing accident in 2017. He was a nice guy and a true adventurer. I only met him once, but he welcomed me into his circle easily, as someone who grants friendship easily. I miss him, along with the rest of the adventure community.

9 Montana Backpacking Trips that Will Blow Your Mind [Matador Network]

I had a great time writing this article. Putting the words down was like reliving some of my favorite adventures all over again.

9 Montana Backpacking Trips that Will Blow Your Mind 

THERE’S SOMETHING about waking up deep in the backcountry, having carried all of your gear in to camp near a quiet lake or alpine cirque with panoramic views of the surrounding peaks.

You can find dozens of places like this in the Big Sky State. These are nine of my favorites, the ones I consider the “ultra-classic” Montana experiences.

Montana has incredibly varied terrain, so I’ve included different regions as well as different levels of difficulty and distance. [Read more here]