Check out the July issue of BIKE magazine to see a 9-page feature story on Alabama singletrack by Southern-born, Colorado-based writer Kristin Butcher and Canadian outdoor photographer Reuben Krabbe. They stayed at Casa Cross-Freyer during their reporting/shooting trip to ‘Bama. We plied them with every authentic Southern food and fat-tire experience we could think of, from mud-bugs to freeze-dried okra to hula-hooping, trails-riding, gourd-banjo-making friends. They loved all of it. (Or at least convincingly pretended to.)
In planning the shoot, they asked for local “bomber-style riders” to be in the pics. I scratched my head, because I knew only two—trials-talented Chuck Lewis, and huckster Karl Peters. Which made me realize how very cross-country we are here (but that may be changing…) I asked if I could come along for the ride and do my best to stay out of the shot and not get in the way. It was one of the few times I’ve been on my bike these past 6 months, because I’ve been training exclusively through Iron Tribe.
In my nine years of travel writing/editing, I’ve learned how to be a good assistant on shoots, which can entail everything from holding reflectors to microwaving a water-soaked tampon to create a steamy mug for a cozy winter shot (a food stylist taught me this). On this BIKE shoot, it meant holding branches out of the way and pinning down young saplings with stones…then releasing them after Reuben nailed the shot. Sometimes, from the top of a tree…
Reuben is a young phenom who shoots skiing all winter and cycling all summer and loves to go for really challenging shots, like a back-country night skiing shot lit by Aurora Borealis. He shoots bad-ass bomber riders, a category to which I can only aspire. But he’s also such a nice guy that he humored me by letting me ride in a few shots, even though my meager air-catching skills leave much to be desired.
I have to confess, I am jonesing to add the word “huck” to my riding vocabulary. I want to learn to catch air. Do a tail whip. I think full-face helmets are hot, and I covet one the way most women covet a pair of Manolo Blahniks. I started putting air between my tires and the trail, but it’s not “sick” air. Even though water-ski jumping was my weakest event—my longest jump was 113 feet at a time when the top girls were jumping 130 or more—there’s something about that feeling of flying that makes my heart race with joy.
As we rode the new trails at Anniston’s Coldwater Mountain, I studied Karl’s feet. I am used to being clipped to my pedals, attached to the bike, and the art of sticking to pedals without a clip is surprisingly elusive. And painful. Because the spiked pedal that’s not stuck to the bottom of one’s foot is a nano-second from raking the thin, tender flesh of one’s naked shin. Besides being eye-wateringly painful, the wounds look really crappy with heels and a skirt.
As we climbed a series of tight switchbacks, someone got stalled around a hairpin turn. Behind them, Karl put a foot down. And as I rode up, attempting to track-stand and sneak around him, I lost momentum and started one of those slow-mo tim-berrrrrr falls when you don’t unclip in time and topple over to the side. Which meant into Karl. As I reached out to arrest my fall, I planted my hand on the first thing in the way: his butt. It wasn’t a brief swat, either. It was a long, awkward cheek-plant which, if we had been in a cartoon with sound effects, might have sounded like a fog-horn.
Being more or less the first time I had met Karl, this was awkward. What does one say? After getting back on the bike and enduring a few painful minutes of awkward silence, I decided that an embarrassed apology or more awkward silence was worse than making light of it.
“Sorry, dude,” I said, “I’ve been staring at your ass all day, and I just couldn’t help myself.”
I think he blushed.
Here’s the really funny thing: After that, I started jumping the whoop-de-dos on that roller coastery Anniston downhill. Like, really jumping (okay, still not in the “huck” category, but both tires left the ground with a little style). I think I even did my first tail-whip. It was as if I had rubbed the Buddha’s belly for enlightenment. Karl’s jumping mojo had rubbed off.
At some point after the Magic Ass Grab, I was riding in front of Karl, and I hit a few jumps.
“You’re killing it, Cross!” he yelled.
I think I blushed.
Luckily, this did not make it into the story, which Kristin Butcher knocked out of the park with snappy writing, an eye for detail, and an ear for culture. But Karl made it in (pages 80 and 86). And Chuck Lewis. And my teammate Grace Ragland, a Leadville veteran. And Michael Balliet’s “southern drawl made out of velvet and shortcake,” that made the author “want to curl up in front of a fireplace and listen to him read the phone book.” (I love that line.) Even yours truly made a Where’s Waldo appearance on the opening spread, which is magnificent not for its riding but for Reuben’s stunning scenic shot of a dramatic S-curve on our flow trail, Lightning. (Squint really hard at the red dot, top right.)
Every issue of every magazine in existence has insanely awesome photos that, for whatever reason, don’t make it into the story. Because they’re horizontals when the designer needs a vertical. Or the colors don’t jibe with the other shot on the page. Or simply because there aren’t enough pages to show everything worth showing. There are locals who you don’t see in the pages, but served as stunning model material nonetheless. Omar Fraser rode a particularly technical section with aplomb. Jay Bradford went out in the sheeting rain. And the whole bike community came out for a brews cruise between three Birmingham microbreweries, a nighttime urban joy ride. (If I missed someone, apologies; it’s 5 a.m. as I write this.) (Check out a few additional photos from the shoot on his blog.)
My favorite part of this story? Besides the awesome words and images, it was meeting writer Kristin Butcher, who tried to teach me a nose wheelie in Chuck’s basement (check out her website, and look for her monthly column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE) and photog Reuben Krabbe, who thinks of shots that stretch the imagination. (Coming in a future issue: Karl Peters’ buck off the mandatory-air drop on lightning, which involved me throwing leaves at his torso just before takeoff.) They were fun and up for trying anything and able to describe and shoot a man playing a homemade gourd-banjo without once making a joke about Deliverance.
Download the digital edition of BIKE here or find the print mag at big bookstores in town.