We spoke with Revo Ambassadors Erik Douds and Annalisa van den Bergh about their 1000 mile bike ride through Alaska in which they documented via film their interactions with strangers as well as what it's like to live with type 1 diabetes.
Annalisa and I biked the 4,000 mile TransAmerica Trail the previous summer and knew we wanted to go on another trip. Believe it or not, her journey crossing America with me was the second time completing this feat. One of the most special parts about bicycle touring is that people come up to you all the time and ask questions. Annalisa began flipping the questions around on these curious strangers and turned the journey into a photo series called Miles of Portraits.
Alaska is the second installation in Miles of Portraits made happen by a successful Kickstarter campaign. Our goal is to have this project take us around the world. For this trip, I added the component of film. After Miles of Portraits: America, everyone kept asking us “How do you choose these people you photograph?” Annalisa kept explaining that they choose us, not the other way around. My object is to create a film that shows how we encounter these people along with capturing footage of our day-to-day life on the bike.
How did you prepare?
Everyone assumes I am a biker. This is false. For the TransAmerica Trail, I tried to put the bike I was using together about a week before the trip and managed to put the handlebars on upside down. Dark Roast, the nickname for the Novara Randonee touring bike I borrowed, was dropped off at the local bike shop: “When do you need this by?” The response, tomorrow.
In all honesty, I had 4,000 miles to learn how to ride a touring bike. I always say that the first two weeks will be the hardest and then your body will adjust.
Crossing the country by bicycle gave me so much joy in life that I kept going. It had been a full year of traveling before Annalisa and I left for Alaska.
How did you pack?
Everything you need in life can fit on the frame of a bicycle. Some argue that the bike is even excessive. We all pack way too much stuff and end up shipping a lot of it home. On the road, you must follow the golden rule, “If you haven’t used it in two weeks then you don’t need it.”
There are four bags called panniers that hold your gear. The reason touring bikes are made from steel and not carbon is to hold this weight. As an athlete who manages type 1 diabetes, I have an extra amount of medical supplies that need to make it on a bike. There is some extra tech and cameras to film the journey along the way.
What tech/gear do you use to produce the Miles of Portraits film?
The reason you see me wearing a Camelbak backpack in Alaska and not in any TransAmerica photos is that extra gear was brought along for the YouTube series I am creating. Thanks to the generous support of our Kickstarter backers, we purchased a Mavic Air drone that transformed the shots I was able to capture. The main footage is shot on a NikonD5300 with a kit lens and a wide angle lens. Honestly, I wish someone would give me a Cannon because Nikon does not auto-focus well. Audio is captured using a Rhode Videomic Pro (an upgrade from last summer) along with a lavalier mic that can plug into my iPhone for interviews.
Tell us about the route you took? Where did you stop? How long was each leg?
Annalisa designed the 1,000 mile loop we did in Alaska in response to a women’s scholarship application. Lael Wilcox is an endurance athlete who is notable for winning the self-supported TransAmerica Race; what we completed in three months took Lael 18 days and ten minutes. She is from Alaska and put out a challenge to women cyclists to make a route and come bike in her home state. Annalisa pledged that no matter what she would go on this trip (our friends ended up winning it).
We flew into Anchorage, Alaska and took the train north to Denali National Park to begin the trip. We biked to the “end of the road” past the highest point in North America. From there, our route went east towards Cantwell and Paxton eventually stopping in Valdez – known as Little Switzerland. After missing a ferry, which cost us two days, we explored the Kenai peninsula where we got caught up in a 100-mile mountain biking race (taking photos, not racing) and finished in Seward.
What was the most challenging part of the trip? What was the most difficult leg?
In Denali National Park there are no established campgrounds. Cyclists receive backcountry permits. Every night after biking you must set up camp half a mile off the main road and out of sight from any potential tour buses that come barreling through the park the next morning. This challenge turned out to give us our favorite night on the trail. We camped at the base of Denali mountain and saw the sunset around midnight turning the white slopes a shade of rose.
Tell us about one of the main highlights, any super special moments in particular?
“Why?” That is what people love to ask us. If we are all on the pursuit of happiness then I recommend grabbing a bike. Every day is an adventure when you are not quite sure where you are going, when you will stop, who you will encounter, and what is your next meal. Every day on the bike I have a smile on my face and miss that feeling.
What were some key takeaways?
Alaska is a different state then the “lower 48.” One aspect I took away from the trip is the way people interact with the land. Alaskans have a right to harvest salmon, hunt elk, collect barriers, and forage in way you do not see elsewhere. From my observations, this develops a sense of community where everyone is looking out for each other in a type of unspoken family bond.
Living with a chronic illness like type 1 diabetes also puts you in a world of “cannot.” The extra obstacle that Annalisa and I must overcome is that fear of passing out, or worse, from our blood sugar levels while out in the wilderness. I find that if you are trying to accomplish something outside your comfort zone that it is helpful to bring a friend along. We are each other’s safety net and that has pushed us further than either of us could imagine.
When are the magazine and film coming out and how can people keep your journey going?
Annalisa showed me a proof from the printer for Miles of Portraits: Alaska. The magazine is officially going to be released on World Diabetes Day (Nov. 14th). Anyone reading can pre-order here.
I released the Miles of Portraits: Alaska trailer on YouTube (@erikdouds). This is a sixty-second teaser to the five-week trip.
Follow Erik on Instagram: @erikdouds
Follow Annalisa on Instagram: @annalisavdbergh
Follow Miles of Portraits: @milesofportraits
Pre-order the magazine: www.milesofportraits.com/pre