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Friday, January 29, 2010

the pleasures of a quick fix

It's cold out again with a sky the colour of wet aluminum.  I slip out under the guise of an errand.   In less than half an hour I've left the overly heated house with its layers of guests and descended into the gorge, tires crunching gravel as I make my way.

I park next to the familiar fire road sign and pull on waders.  Old, neoprene jobs that carry the scent of rivers and car trunks both western and eastern.  The trees are bent with a glaze of ice and a tunnel forms around me as I walk down and towards the mineral smell of water.  Quiet out save for the crunching of boots and the odd bird call.  As I approach, the creek becomes a rivulet of mercury tumbling through the greyness of the woods.

After an hour my hands are numb and the sky is growing darker still.  Throwing a rod mid winter seems a lonely pastime.  I've changed flies three times and never seem satisfied.  Having less than low expectations I absentmindedly fish the stream.  What have I missed? The narrow, but deep pool next to the dead chestnut seemed barren.  The eddy below the gravel bar- deserted.   Upstream is a mess of fallen timber and the water deepens.  In my mind I'm already back in the car-rubbing hands against the heater vents and running through scenarios that best account for my absence.

The stream chokes down where it nears New Years creek and the wind dies..  I tie on a brown midge and fish downstream a bit- Close to where the trail crosses.  In minutes the leader is frozen again and the miniscule fly seems ridiculous at the business end of the line.  I half notice as something quick and small darts from beneath an outcropping and suddenly there is that ephemeral tug.  There is no heroic struggle, no spool being stripped .

  I quietly land the brookie and lift him from the water.  He is tiny, as all the native ones are here, yet exquisite.  In the summer this fish would be an afterthought, or a source of ridicule.  Today he is everything.  A jewel box of colour in a landscape defined by its very absence. 

Tried and true JLH next to our signature cuff.  Colour is Tangier

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

m1 jean now available


Slim cut with a bit of stretch.  Slightly articulated knee borrowed from our favorite moto pants.  These are a Q car in jean form.  Unassuming with no affectations.  Pair them with a coat for dinner at St. John or throw a leather on for a quick blast through town.  Equally at home in seat 1A of the Lufthansa flight to Munich or the Boiling Pot in Rock Port.  $148.00 seems a small price to pay for such diversity.  Buy the ticket, take the ride. 30- 36" waist, asphalt colour.   Available at local stockists and directly from us- 2 week lead time.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Until next year then.......

January 16 - Santa Rosa - St Carlos de Bolivar - Buenos Aires

I have no words today, just tears and photos. Two men, one bike, five cameras. Against all odds, WE DID IT.

More coming in the next few days when I recover some composure.

Friday, January 15, 2010

just great words from Simon

Thursday, 14 Jan 2010

January 14 – San Juan - San Rafael

I am writing this under siege, in a service station, about 100km from San Rafael, Argentina. Although we are clearly not driving in the race – merely reporting on it, we were mobbed as we pulled up. I signed autograph after autograph before finally stumbling into this air-conditioned haven. Right now we are holed up with two confused looking American drivers from the Monster Hummer team. The crowd are banging on the windows, staring in, trying to attract the attention of the yanks (my ego would like to think that it’s all about me, but it’s definitely not).One of the many fine things about Argentine servos is the fact that they sell beer, long necks of beer. So as I write, I am supping cold Heineken and watching the mayhem unfold outside.

Last night I felt like I was filming something of a last supper, this morning as I pointed the camera at Christophe over the bivouac table, I was unable to shake the fear that by the end of today, it could all be over. Everything I shot was coloured with “last?”.
We hit the road at around 7.00am, heading to the end of today’s special. This latter part of the rally is attracting spectators in their tens/hundreds of thousands and we had to weave a torrid path through their cars to find a space to leave the car close to the village of San Martin.

It was hot as we walked towards the arrival checkpoint – very hot, definitely up in the high 30s with very little shade. The prospect of a long, hot, nervous wait for Christophe was not one that I relished. I have taken to carrying the hard drive that holds all the footage I have taken with me at all times. I was worried that the intense heat would somehow damage it, so I practically crawled under a thorn bush which offered some shade and prepared to wait.
I soon tired of this uncomfortable predicament and longingly eyed the shady awning under which the official Dakar TV crew were waiting. Earlier in the day, I had sent an SMS to one of the TV guys at the race organisers to have him tell people to expect me at the finish. I had little hope of this leading to anything, but it is at this point that the day started to become officially good. As I wandered over to the awning, a rough looking, Gauloises smoking TV guy was on the phone. I heard my name. “Am I hallucinating? Is it the heat? The exhaustion?” No. before I knew it, I had escaped the sweaty solipsism of the independent film maker and was sat in a camp chair, enjoying banter with the French guys.

The crowd at the finish were frenzied. In amongst the dust being kicked up by a hot wind, they mobbed every bike or car that arrived, chanting, shouting, touting T-shirts, flags, bags, stickers, underwear? To be signed. The French TV producer seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown, chain smoking like a madman as he attempted to “shoo” them away from the TV area. It made for great viewing from the luxury of my chair.
It was at least an hour and a half before I even thought about filming – expecting Christophe to come in 2 ½ hours or so behind the leaders. Eventually, I got up and captured some of the madness – a long lens bringing the action close up to me, quite literally in my face. Fifty or so bikes had come through. Rob Pollard among them. Another great performance, finishing in the thirties despite a broken elbow that is causing him serious discomfort.

The Volkswagen cars that are leading the race arrived in, and the crowd broke ranks and went wild. Monsieur Gauloises lit a whole pack at once and ran into the fray, looking ready to cause serious harm to anyone who’d interfere with his broadcast. An immaculately dusty long-haired French TV presenter complete with neck scarf flowing in the wind attempted to look composed as he reported from the heart of the madness.

I stood back, well away from the chaos – letting my long lens bring it all to me. It was out of the corner of this lens that I spied an orange helmet, forging a path through the throngs of passionate fans. I blinked, pulled my face away from the eye-piece, wanting to check this apparition for myself. The French TV presenter laughed a perfectly manicured laugh at a comment from one of the VW drivers. The TV crew’s camera captured the whole manufactured scene, and right out of their shot and into mine came Christophe.

There is, so I’m told a position you can find on a motorbike where riding becomes effortless. In the face of an injured back, a torn triceps and 13 days of hard riding, it is this Zen riding state that Christophe found today. He rode better, faster, more efficiently than he has on any day since the race began. How, I do not know, but somewhere amidst the sun scorched rocks and parched sierra earth between San Juan and San Raphael, Christophe found the something that maybe, just maybe could take him through to Buenos Aires.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Christophe's Struggles

January 13 – Santiago – San Juan

The conventions that govern movies in the western world are so entrenched in our consciousness that we can almost sense when a crux event is about to take place.
Not so real life.
The day began early. Guido, the Argentine photographer now joining us in the Fiat awoke me at 2.30 am. We were in the car, winding our way up through the Andes by 3.00am. by 5.00, we had stopped and I was hiking up an empty trail to get a dawn view of Mount Aconcuagua – the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas. The air was freezing, as one would expect at an altitude of 3000m. Despite two fleeces and a jacket I was shivering, and, as I tried to shoot images of the majestic peak, I genuinely worried about frostbite to my fingers. But what a sight – over 6900m of pure beauty in the perfect dawn light. To complete the dawn tableau, I watched a mule train weave its way up towards base camp, carrying supplies for the climbers no doubt preparing for an attempt on the summit.

I had few thoughts of the race as we started off once more, heading down through the mountains, enjoying the views, contemplating climbing or hiking trips in the area with my wife and daughters.
I look back now, barely 10 hours or so later and realise I had started to see us making it to Buenos Aires as a given. Since the dramas of 3 or 4 days ago, everything had gone smoothly, stage after stage taking us closer to a happy ending. Yes we were tired, dirty, hot, ready to go home, but we’d be heading home victorious. Now we are tired beyond anything I’ve ever known, dirty, hot and ready to go home, but an agonising question mark hangs over whether Christophe can finish this merciless race. The Dakar has pulled yet another card from the banker’s deck – remains to be seen whether we can trump it.
We stopped at a point not far from Checkpoint 1 to shoot some images of the special. It was spectacular stuff, in a spectacular setting. The cars, bikes and trucks drawing long plumes of dust through the scrubland as they raced up a valley that creates an impression on the spectator of a natural fish – eye (or have I been spending too much time staring through a camera lens?). I fired off a minute or so of footage of Christophe as he passed – comfortable, in control, every kilometre taking him closer to Buenos Aires.

It can’t have been very long after this that it happened.
The bike fought out of Christophe’s control. He hung on with such fierce desire, reasserting his command with such an adamant refusal to give in to the bike’s dark intent that he tore the triceps of his left arm.
It was about 5.30 pm as we pulled into the bivouac – about 15 hours since we set out. We headed straight for Christophe’s camp. “Just three to go”, I said, slapping him on the back. In my mind I was contemplating a potential white water rafting trip tomorrow after shooting the start of the special. That was before I saw the bandage, heard the story of 150 agonising kilometres over harsh rocky ground and felt the lash of a new twist in the tale.
I filmed Christophe over dinner; unable to keep the lens off the mask of grim determination that has overtaken him. He couldn’t get much down, despite having been extremely hungry. I couldn’t pull the lens away. We sat opposite each other, silent, knowing what we have shared, are sharing, what we have set out to do. The camera somehow the bond that joins us in this insane adventure. Scenes like these can’t be scripted; they have to be lived.

On the falsely cheerful walk over to dinner, Christophe told me the story of a one armed guy on the Ivory Coast who used to compete in motocross. “If he can do, so can I” is what he said. Perhaps he can. But what had appeared to me as three formalities are now three long, painful stages – tomorrow over rocks, the next day over sand dunes and if, against what any sane human being would rate at the very least as long odds, he gets through those – a final leg into Buenos Aires.
I believe. We believe. We didn’t come this far to go out before the end. The Dream is still alive

Friday, January 8, 2010


Jan 7 - Antofagasta - Iquique - the day the dream almost died

I awoke late. About 7.00am. As I sat and stared at my bivouac breakfast, styrofoam coffee in hand, I was thinking about the film. One of the difficulties of making a documentary like this is that you really don’t know what will happen. I am very much aware of the elements required to build a compelling story, but this story is very much in the hands of the gods. So my concern this morning was around whether there is currently enough drama in the movie so far. Is there enough going on to keep an audience engaged?
I needn’t have worried. After a 370km drive to Iquique, we parked at the base of a mountain of sand 1000m high. Crowds of people were assembled at the bottom, staring up, as spectators at a ski race would do, gazing at the distant shimmering sandy summit.

As I set up my camera, a plume of dust way way above me marked the speeding descent of a motorbike. Straight down - a ski racer line, tearing across the sand, tracking across the mountainside, then down into a dip before roaring into the view of the crowd, hammering past us towards the end of the stage, just a kilometer or so away.
Confident that I had found a great viewpoint from which to capture Christophe’s descent, I readied myself for a wait that I imagined would be 30 to 40 minutes. Bikes came and went. Cars began to make their sense defying way down the dune. Then trucks. Spectators started to pack up and leave and still Christophe had not arrived. I shuffled uncomfortably, needing to pee but not wanting to miss the glory shot. Two and a half hours at least had past. In my mind, dark scenarios began to play out. Could this be where the dream ends? Here at the bottom of this infernal mountain of sand? Surely nothing bad could happen on such a beautiful day? I’ve spent too much time in the mountains to know that bad things do happen on beautiful days and that the world, beautiful in her insouciance just carries on.
A Chilean stood beside me handed me a beer. Jacob asked me whether I’d head home if Christophe was out. A helicopter past overhead, and there, right up there, from over the ridge came a motorbike. The first motorbike we had seen for 20 minutes. I tracked it with the long lens, hoping, hoping, unable at this stage to make out a number or color that would identify it. My bladder throbbed, my brain played through hospital bedside scenarios and flight re-arrangements to get home to Mel and the girls. And then I knew. Out of the dip, into the shot I’d been setting up all afternoon, hunched over the handle bars, heading home, it was him. “Es mi amigo” I shouted to the beer donor. “It’s Christophe, he’s in, the dream is still alive!”
But the dream was so very nearly not still alive. With no more than a third of the special still to go, Christophe had hit a hole, a big hole and taken a serious fall. In his words: “I’m lucky to still be walking, even luckier that the bike is still ok”. I’ve watched footage of the fall on the POV footage and believe you me, it hurt.

Christophe lives to ride another day. He has some bruising and a stiff back, but at 5am or so tomorrow, he’ll head out for the longest special of the rally - over 600km over the same terrain that nearly had the better of him today. 28 Luca Manca from Italy will not be so lucky. After crashing his motorbike on the stage, he was airlifted directly to a hospital in Santiago where he underwent brain surgery. At the time of writing, he is fighting for his life.
After something like this happens, how can you, more aware than ever of the risks involved in this endeavour, just get up tomorrow and keep going? When I asked him, Christophe didn’t really reply - I guess his answer is simply that he can, and he will.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Simon checks in- Atacama & Bienvenido en Chile


Jan 5 – Fiambala – Copiapo – Bienvenido en Chile

505 km driven today; up over the Andes and down into the Atacama desert on the Chilean side. Landscape ranged from surreal to stunningly beautiful to downright unsettling as we rolled into the stark aridity of the Atacama. Dubbed the driest place on earth, it hasn’t rained in this place for 300 years; and it shows. Huge gritty sand dunes the size of mountains dwarf anything before them. I was desperate for water – to drink, to bathe in, to break the visual drought.
But the day began with a climb up to a crazy 4760m pass. I stopped to shoot a heap of footage on the way up and by the time we hit the summit was definitely feeling the altitude.

Jacob, the SBS journo I’m travelling with was suffering more than me, suggesting we stop for a sleep at around 4500m! I figured we needed to get down and drove the next 150km or so until the air was somewhat thicker. The switch from mountains to dunes was seamless. So odd to see dunes of this height, at 3000 metres. I found the landscape decidedly unsettling – beautiful maybe but totally alien.
Enough about me. Christophe had a great day today, dubbing it the “first real Dakar stage of this Dakar”. He was at the bivouac when we arrived, hanging out in the shade waiting for his assistance truck to arrive.

The terrain was much more suited both to his riding style and bike. The organizers had shortened the special after a large number of riders and drivers didn’t make it home until late into last night or early this morning. After the horrors of yesterday’s stage, I’d say today was a welcome respite. The bike is fine. Just the air filter to be changed before tomorrow. So Christophe gets a well earned early night before a very long special tomorrow. He’s now ranked 64th overall. Not bad for a bloke who by his own admission didn’t get to train half as much as he would have liked. Was talking to Christophe before coming out to blog and he thinks he’s actually placed second among the riders with no mechanic or assistance. We may have an interesting new subplot on our hands…
You may be wondering how the Fiat is going. Well folks, he’s a little dusty but going good.

We had to dig him out of the sand at 4.30 this morning and ultimately needed a tow from a guy called Sebastien. Thanks Seb. All in a day’s work at the world’s biggest mobile music festival without music – The Dakar Rally.

Yours from the desert. Simon

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

La Rioja-Fiambola. Dust Storm Rising

Incredible day on the Dakar today. Christophe described it as the hardest Dakar stage he has ever ridden. Another ozzie rider, Rob Pollard echoed Christophe’s sentiments, saying “at times I wondered why the xxxx I was out there”.

The special took place in the midst of a sandstorm in the foothills to the Andes. Big dunes made it extremely hard for the riders.
I was moved almost to tears by today’s footage from the POV 1.5 that sportscamera.com gave us. You get an unbelievable sense of the effort the riders put in. We see christophe fall, pull himself back up, drag himself up another dune then have to stop to rest and on and on, in a cauldron of heat and dust, with cars, buggies, other bikes and quads rushing through past him. I’ll upload some stills in the coming days.

I’m set in a pretty well oiled routine now, shooting most of the day then transferring and backing footage up in the makeshift media tent, from late afternoon onward. It’s 8.13 in the evening and I’ve been on the go since 4.30 am. Been shooting a heap of time lapse footage too. Set up a Go Pro camera to capture the sunset this evening. Should look amazing.
Loving the JVCHM100E. Great crisp images and it records directly as MPEGS which makes workflow a heck of a lot easier. Definitely the right choice for this project.

The landscapes we’re driving through are pretty mind-blowing, from long open plains to mountains to this crazy desert-scape I’m sitting typing this in. A little bit worried about all the dust everywhere, but there’s not a whole lot I can do about that.
Tomorrow, desert changes to snow capped peaks. Recharging all my batteries now in expectation.

Monday, January 4, 2010

prep work



Christophe's prep work

Stage 3- Cordoba-La Rioja

An update from Simon & Christophe in Cordoba via Team Rally Australia

Que puta calor! Left Cordoba at 11.00pm last night in an attempt to get to the end of today’s special. Got most of the way before tiredness stopped us. Pitched my tent in a dusty abandoned childrens playground and slept the sleep of the very fricken tired.
Our cunning plan paid off and we found our way down a long dusty track to the end of the special. I suspect you’re asking what the hell the special is. Basically every race day is made up of a liason on road and untimed and a special which is the full on off-road bit.
I fended off a French attempt to get me out of the area and got down to business. Christophe came in mid way through the field.

Dusty and tired but good. He took a tumble somewhere along the way and damaged a fork that he has since replaced. Had big trouble with the helmet cams today. I think it’s the insane heat that is messing with the lithium batteries. It’s ok, I’ll just send a production assistant to get some more. Oh! Forgot, I don’t have one.
Spectacular scenery as we drove across the plain towards the Andes. This is the stuff I live for. Looking forward to crossing into Chile in two days time. We’ll be crossing a mountain pass at over 4000m.

So so far all good. Christophe still in the race, getting good footage and boiling our arses off in Argentina.
Tomorrow, the mechanical freak show that is the Dakar moves to Fiambala. Hasta Pronto