the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

July 16, 2017

On the trail of the horsemen of Lesotho

“Because it’s there.” Few people haven’t heard Mallory’s Everest climbing quote used to justify… well, pretty much anything nowadays. It seems to fit with today’s lazy, WTF approach to most things, including adventure, especially when it’s just too much effort to really think about the real, honest reason for doing something. And, hey it sounds cool.

Most adventures though, have a back story. And the trip I shot in April in Lesotho, Africa was one.

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Isaac and Kevin. Trip preparation. Nikon D750, 35/2 @ f2.5, 1/2000th.

 

Few people know where Lesotho is (myself included until I got the invite). The landlocked country is overlooked by tourism in favour of its safari-rich neighbours. But despite being encircled by South Africa Lesotho is proudly independent.

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Claudio and Kevin in big terrain. Nikon D750, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ f6.3, 1/1000th.

 

I was invited to ride and shoot a pioneering 6-day mountain bike trip across the country’s rugged southern mountains, from Semonkong to Roma, led and guided by an iconic, blanket-wearing Lesotho horseman, Isaac. The trip was the brainchild of Christian and Darol, a duo of Lesotho-based mountain bikers who already organise an annual mountain bike race, the Lesotho Sky, and can see the potential of putting the country on the adventure tourists’ map. And justifiably so.

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Thumelo and Thabu — 2 locals with their fingers on the emerging pulse of adventure tourism. Together they have set up a company to provide logistic support to adventure tours. Nikon D750, 35/2 @ f2.5, 1/500th.

Our ride took us though gob-smacking, wild terrain riding between remote villages only accessed by horse trails. We rode amazing singletrack and stayed in old, disused trading posts and comfortable modern lodges alike. And we found friendship and warm welcomes everywhere, imbued with a strong sense of pride and hope.

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Isaac and Stan. Nikon D750, 35/2 @ f2.8, 1/400th.

 

We didnt ride across Lesotho because it’s there. There’s a bigger — an more important— story to tell here than just adventure for adventure’s sake. Lesotho is poor. 40% live below the poverty line. It has its problems, but tourism is one thing that can help change and relieve poverty on a local level. And adventure tourism, including mountain biking, can play a big part.

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Mathibeli Khotola, a herder we met on the trail. Nikon D750, 35/2 @ f2.5, 1/1000th

I was accompanied by Scott riders Claudio Caluori and Kevin Landry, and the expedition was spectacularly captured by the Max and Tobias from German film production team, Have A Good One (watch the film below or best in full HD here).

 

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Chief Michael Ramashamole watches the film footage. Nikon D750, 35/2 @ f2, 1/40th

The first glimpse of the trip is online on Outside. The full story of our adventure will be out in Cranked (UK), Bike (Germany), Solo Bici (Spain) and Spoke (NZ) mags and more in the next few months. Watch this space or follow the news on my Instagram @danmilnerphoto


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/216472359″>FOLLOWING THE HORSEMEN</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/haveagoodone”>HAVE A GOOD ONE</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

 

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January 10, 2017

Turning heads 50 miles from Syria

My job as a story telling photographer is often about turning heads. Okay, it’s always about turning heads. Coming up with an original story, or a feature’s USP, is key to earning a living as a professional travel photographer. So last month I took my bike to ‘war-torn’ Lebanon and rode it 50 miles from the Syrian border.

Head turning enough for you?

It’s easy to be glib, to play to the lowest common denominator, especially in these bewildering political times. It would be easy to pretend that our trip was one of extreme danger in order to earn some perverted pub-chat credibility. But in reality visiting Lebanon is really not as scary as you might think. And we knew that before we went. Hey, I’m an adventure, not a war, photographer.

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Kamil entertains the locals – Nikon D750, 70-200/4.

Like most of my editorials, this one took a fair bit of research and planning. You can’t just reach for the ‘Guide to Mountain Biking Lebanon’ in the bookshop (mountain biking is still small in Lebanon, although on our last day we did hook up with, and get schooled by, a couple of local riders). In fact my trip was 2 years in the making, from initial idea (after seeing an alluring photo of a mountain and a cedar tree on a wall in a Lebanese restaurant) to booking a flight. And all the time I kept it under wraps in case another bike photographer caught wind and got a jump on us. As if they would. (Paranoia is part of this job I guess).

Accompanied by Tibor Simai and Kamil Tatarkovic, (who came on my recent Argentina and Ethiopia trips respectively) and supported by a Beirut local, Ziad, we followed sections of the Lebanon Mountain Trail (LMT) a 440 Km long hiking trail that runs the length of the country. We rode past Syrian refugee camps. We ate houmous with ISIS-fighting Lebanese military. We met only friendly people. We saw incredible scenery. We railed amazing trails. We rode with local mountain bikers who are better than me on a bike. We got lost. And we carried our bikes. A lot.

So the first of my features is now out, online here on Bikemag.com and a different story is starting to flush through the print magazines, already out in Spoke (New Zealand) and Velo (Czech republic). So if ‘print’s-not-dead’ is your thing, then look out for it in MBUK, Bike Germany, Solo Bici, Sidetracked and other titles around the globe. I hope it sheds some light on a country that deserves to have a light shone on it. And I hope it challenges our perception of former war-torn places. Only by challenging perceptions will change happen.

Thanks to Yeti Cycles, Shimano and Mavic for helping keep my adventure wheels rolling. Again.

July 29, 2016

Putting mouth where the money is – 100 pages & counting

Filed under: bike, outdoors, story telling — Tags: , , , , , — danmilner @ 9:10 am

The story I shot last year riding a nine day traverse of Ethiopia’s  Simien Mountains has now topped 100 pages in print (+ running on a dozen websites), which is handy because trip sponsors —in this case Giro— like to see some bang for their buck. It’s what helps keep the sponsorship wheel turning for future trips.

Sugar daddies aren’t always easy to find, and most of the trips I shoot are self-funded, based on the calculations that I have enough editorials lined up to make these kind of adventure stories pay the mortgage. But with our Ethiopia trip costing about $5000 per person it seemed like a good idea to take this to someone who might have the budget and vision to make this work. Knowing that ‘adventure” was something that Giro was keen to align themselves with, and that this trip would present some amazing opportunities to do so, I took the pitch to them and they bought it. The conversation went something like this: (me) “Hi Dain, I have this story in Ethiopia’s mountains..” (Dain, Giro Marketing Manager) “I’m coming.”  They sent six people including myself to join guiding company Secret Compass for a ride through the incredible Simien Mountains, camping en route and hauling our bikes to the top of their highest mountain, the 4552m Ras Deshan.

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This shot of Sarah Leishman and Kamil Tatarkovic sums up the riding in the Simians of me: tricky, tough and unforgiving but immensely rewarding I had no idea that Kamil would throw in the jump when we set this shot up. Nikon D600, 50mm/1.4 @ 1/1000, f71.

As the photographer on a trip like this it’s hard to shake off the feeling of responsibility, the sense that the whole budget sits on your shoulders. After all the images are what will drive the press coverage from the trip – the same coverage that convinces the sponsor that their money was well spent. I’ve had it before both for clients and editorial shoots — a $100k budget advertorial trip to Greenland, the expensive Svalbard Further trip for Transworld Snowboarding, and more. It’s the kind of pressure that only experience teaches you to deal with.

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You’re rarely alone in Ethiopia so it was no surprise to see this shepherd sitting at the last pass we reached before climbing to the summit off the country’s highest peak. The SD card loaded radio around his neck blasted out traditional music. The people here are some of the most welcoming I have ever met. Leica M9, Zeiss 50/1.5 @ 1/1000, f4.

 

So what of the trip? Ethiopia is hands down the most spectacular place I have shot. Its also one of the most friendly and welcoming places I have been. None of our team returned anything less than blown away by the experience, no matter how many previous adventures we’d done. And from the photo side, the trip presented a thousand and one unique opportunities to press the shutter. Here I’m sharing just three, as a snapshot of an epic experience.

You can see/read my feature from this trip in English on Mpora here, and in French here,French here, and Italian here.

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Our expedition’s success usually relies on the abilities of our support crew. Our chef nicknamed ‘Ramsey’ could turn any basic barn or corner of a mountainside into a kitchen, fuelling us to push our bikes to the 4500m high point of our ride. Nikon D600, Zeiss 18mm/3.5 @ 1/125, f3.5.

 

 

June 29, 2016

Tales from the dark side -Bristol Bike Night

Head to Bristol (UK) this Friday to hear me question whether the bike is the ultimate tool for adventure, or just a passport to pain.

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This Friday’s event is the inaugural stop for the ‘on-tour’ version of Kendal Mountain Film Festival’s massively popular Bike Night — an evening of films, talks and banter. My show is a look at some of the incredible places, from my year long pedal around Argentina and Chile in ’96 to the last year’s Ethiopia expedition that the bike has taken me, and the painful episodes that sometimes go hand in hand with such adventures.

But don’t let that put you off. See you there.

Info and tickets: www.kendalmountaintour.com

 

December 8, 2013

Putting Something Back. Again.

Filed under: bike, photography, story telling — Tags: , , , — danmilner @ 11:51 am

Last night I spent a generous hour spewing forth anecdotes and showing images from our June MTB trip to Afghanistan at one of my public slideshows, this one in Chamonix, France. This morning, nursing a booze-induced heavy head, I donated $175 to the charity Central Asia Institute.

A local boy experiences the gyroscopic affect of a spinning wheel and not a Professor Brian Cox in sight. Chitattack village, Big Pamir, Wakhan. Nikon D600, 50/1.4, 1/1000th, f4.5

A local boy experiences the gyroscopic affect of a spinning wheel and not a Professor Brian Cox in sight. Chitattack village, Big Pamir, Wakhan. Nikon D600, 50/1.4, 1/1000th, f4.5

Our pioneering mountain bike trip has, in some corners, been labelled ‘eg0-tourism’, due mostly to the idea of us riding (expensive) mountain bikes through a poor area. I’ve had these kind of debates before. Of course essentially the trip we undertook was an adventure editorial and the reasons I and the other 5 westerners signed up for the expedition are multifold. There is the lure of remote, untamed challenges, the desire to pitch your own personal ability against harsh environments. There is the beauty of meeting, and sharing cultural exchanges with, people who otherwise don’t get to see far outside their immediate surroundings. And there is the concept that for everyone on the trip -myself as photographer, the filmers, the pro rider , the guide, the magazine editor- this kind of stuff is work. Yes, we’re privileged in so many ways. But egos don’t come into it.

What we, and I’m certain most of the locals we shared time with, emerge with is a better understanding of the world, of people. And that’s why I love to do such slideshows -to try to share this kind of experience, to allow a glimpse through my lens of a world westerners rarely see or understand. They give a taste of what being a pro photographer is all about too. And lastly, they give me an opportunity to raise some cash for a charity.

During our 2-day drive through the north of Afghanistan en route to our trailhead, we passed numerous schools built by the charity Central Asia Institute. The charity launched by Greg Mortensen (author of Three Cups of Tea) has had its ups and downs over the last few years, but the schools they build in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with a view on Peace through Education, are there to see. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen kids stream from the doors to get a glimpse at a half dozen foreigners hauling strange mountain bikes along a tortuous mountain road. And that’s why last night’s slideshow’s collection was for the CAI.

No ego. No guilt. Just plain giving something back.

December 5, 2013

Story behind – Afghanistan #4

Filed under: bike, photography, story telling — Tags: , , , , — danmilner @ 7:15 am
Nikon D600, 50mm 1.4, 1/800, f5.6

Nikon D600, 50mm 1.4, 1/800, f5.6

 

Altitude sickness, fatigue, cold and sunburn are the kind of things we calculated for on our recent pioneering Wakhan mountain bike expedition. But the many river crossings passed us by. Not for a minute did we think these would be so formidable. It’s arid Afghanistan after all right?However, the thundering torrents of brown meltwater became the great leveler among our group, with their distant sound causing the hairs to stand up on the backs of all our necks as we rode our trail towards another inevitable shoe-dunking. June is full meltwater season, and the many glaciers and snow-covered peaks around us teamed up with the steep, ravine-streaked terrain to remind us of this this at every opportunity.

Dark, churning icy waters gave no indication of depth and the roar of meltwater was kept in rhythm by a metronome clatter of rocks being rolled along the riverbed. Wading became a game of human 10-pin bowling, carrying our bikes across a very real game of chance. Some were steep and narrow, others a good 50m wide, but all were swift and cold. One slip from numb feet and a bike could be lost, or worse. Add the shouts and wild gesturing of our anxious Afghan support team to which we tried to pass bikes and you have a recipe for chaos. The above shot was our third river crossing on day one. We would have more than a dozen more during our 12 day expedition. Only two of them would have bridges.

Catch my full feature in MBUK, Bike Germany, Revolution Australia, Friflyt Scandinavia and online on Italy’s MTB-forum.com later this month.

 

November 28, 2013

Afghanistan by bike – from the horses mouth

Filed under: bike, photography, story telling — Tags: , — danmilner @ 6:30 pm

If you’re anywhere near Chamonix on Sat 7th December and want to appreciate the pain of our June Afghanistan bike trip first hand, then drop by the Vert Hotel bar at 8.30 pm for the next of the now-legendary (and free) Milner slide/film shows. Expect the usual abuse and heckling (from me) while being bombarded with plenty of pics that will instigate “ooohs” (from you) and a couple of pics that will make you glad you weren’t on the trip.

afghan poster

February 29, 2012

Second chance: Patagonia revisited.

Filed under: bike, story telling — Tags: — danmilner @ 2:28 pm

No, I haven’t forgotten, despite the recent avalanche of snow-related posts on Svalbard. I still love bikes. So here’s a link to the feature of mine that the very nice people over at Pinkbike have just posted. This one is a tale of us heading to Patagonia, full sus’ bikes in tow to discover what this spectacular region has to offer when you start looking for trails to ride and grabbing shuttles to the trailheads.

The revisit came a decade after expedition-style MTB touring there for a year on rigid Kona Cinder Cones with panniers a swaying in the breeze. (“Breeze” is an optimistic term for the Patagonia gales that will happily part you from your bike, depositing your machine in a nearby lake, I add). Read the feature here. And here’s the bike that made that original trip: 1996 Kona Cindercone. A lot changes in a decade.

Ahh one look and I can feel the memories (and pain) come flooding back. When it came to choosing a bike for a year around South America back in the mid '90s, there was little discussion. The Kona Cindercone was THE machine back then for these kind of expedition romps. Butted Cro-Mo frame that could be welded anywhere if needed, and light, strong triple butted Project II forks, Canti brakes, front and rear unbreakable Blackburn racks (my rear one broke, halfway down the Carretera Austral in remote southern Chile and I made it out with it held together by zip ties), bar ends, flat pedals with toeclips and 1.25" Conti Top Touring tyres.... but boy look at the length of that stem. Makes my neck hurt just looking at it.

July 20, 2011

Second chance no. 4: Passport to Solitude.

Filed under: bike, story telling — Tags: , — danmilner @ 6:12 pm

Righto, thanks to the very nice folk at Pinkbike.com, you get chance to read my tale of woe, suffering and night time hourly bell tolls endured while trying to ride the Passeport du Soleil route a week or so after the lifts closed a little while back. No uplift makes for a challenge. Lashing rain, mud and slippery roots merely add to it. You can read the feature in all its technicolour glory here.

May 20, 2011

Second chance no.3: Argentina’s desert North

Filed under: bike, story telling — Tags: , — danmilner @ 8:03 pm

Righto, if you missed my in-print story on trail questing in northern Argentina a while back, you get chance to read it again, thanks to the wonderful people at Pinkbike.com. Bless ’em.

Inappropriate rental cars for 2 bikes and riders for a road trip are all part of the experience. Where there's a will, there is a way, at least in Northern Argentina. Leica M8. Zeiss 28 2.8

Amidst one of the most beautiful high altitude desert landscapes through which I have ever tried to ride a bike, this is a tale of torment, frustration, cacti and dry river beds, with a bit of singletrack merrily thrown in for good measure. Read it here.

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