Thursday, September 1, 2016

Mountain Bike Photo Tour at Cape Flattery, Furthest Northwest Tip of the U.S.

Picture of Strait of Juan de Fuca from Cape Flattery, Washington while mountain biking
Strait of Juan de Fuca from Cape Flattery with Canada in the distance, circa 1990 with Nikon FM2n and Fuji 50 Slide Film.
I found all these old photos from my days of mountain biking and camping around the furthest reaches of the Pacific Northwest's Olympic Peninsula.  It was during the late eighties before the internet, cell phones and of course digital photography so all the images were originally photographed on Fuji 50 slide film.  I was so pleasantly surprised to find that I had at some point scanned these old photos and tucked them away in a folder that I just had to give it a "blog about".

With my trusty old Nikon FM2N, old Bogen Tripod and a few versatile lenses crammed into a Domke F3 camera bag I was experiencing what is now popularly referred to as "bikepacking".  Mountain biking was all the rave with many cycling enthusiasts and I considered my Specialized Hard Rock to be the perfect vehicle for exploring the unmarked dirt gravel roads and trails around Cape Flattery, Washington.

Picture of trailside Bearberry at Cape Flattery in early spring
Bearberry with grass blade
While looking over the images names of places, rivers, wilderness beaches all came back to me.  Although it has been more than twenty years i can even remember how I felt or what I was wearing while I created some of these images and it was back then that I first realized that I wasn't "taking pictures" but rather "creating photos".  Alone in the woods on a remote dirt road or trail with my own individual perspective being expressed by creating a photo of the world around me, so serene.

These days I often observe a rather "purist" attitude with lots of bike folks, whether it's about components, steel frames, bicycle type, what clothes should or shouldn't be worn, to ride clipless or flats, etc.  Ironically, I wouldn't have considered placing my bike I was riding at the time in any of my photos as it would have felt as though my nature photography was intruded upon or somehow contaminated.  I get a chuckle out of this now and consider how I rebelled against the advent of digitized and computer manipulated images for awhile as I didn't really consider it to be photography without film, processing and getting a good quality print.

Anyhow, it's for this reason when I hear bike folks get their panties in a wad over some silly loyalty to what is often nothing more than an opinionated hyped up trend that I refer to my own old stubborn misconceptions of being unduly biased.  And besides, I like riding flat pedals with hiking boots as much as anyone but my clipless pedals and sandals are such a smooth and groovy method of efficiency.  Incidentally so is digital photography.  With a new found appreciation of smaller, lighter weight quality cameras that don't require polluting with toxic chemicals for film processing or print making (always bothered me) which had me feeling like a bit of a hypocrite as a devoted nature photographer.  "Hey, let's celebrate Earth Day by going out and creating some nature photography and then ship it for processing to the number one industrial polluter on the planet".  There was a time when Kodak held that infamous title.  Feels silly to recognize that fact.  Fortunately while creating Cibachrome prints in my home darkroom there was a method of sequentially mixing the chemicals for disposal that was supposed to neutralize any and all toxicity.  Not exactly sure of the facts about that I'm not a chemist but it smelled much less foul.

Picture of Sooes River at Cape Flattery, Washington
Sooes or "Naked" River, Makah Reservation 
One of the towns of Cape Flattery is Neah Bay and the Makah Indian Reservation.  Every year they celebrate "Makah Days" and the fruits of my photography labor were the local tribal members asking me at my little booth I had set up if the photos were "really from their reservation?"  I only sold a single print all weekend but the enthusiastic questions and comments were enough for me to feel good about my hard work helping folks to see their land with a bit more appreciation.  That's all it was about and at the time it was surprisingly more than good enough.
It wasn't at all easy being accepted by locals over the few years I lived at Cape Flattery as most folks at the time held a particular disdain for outsiders and some potential conflicts were flat out scary.  But this post is about my photography, not the drama.  However, as the years past and I minded my own business I was told it was ok for me to photograph out at "Sacred Land" as and I quote "everyone here knows you now and won't bother you".  Photo at left of the Sooes River was one of those photos after being given "permission" to photograph the area.

It's an appropriate acknowledgment to end this post as it sums up most of what I experienced while vulnerably riding my mountain bike around Cape Flattery feeling very guarded and often times camping on the most remote of wilderness beaches in order to hide.  I returned to the area a few years later during the mid to late nineties and camped on the beach with a friend who had never visited that part of Washington state.  After a day of hiking and photographing I met her back at our campsite very upset that she had seen the "scariest men she had seen in her life".  All I could hope was that I knew them and walked out to the road where she had parked her truck and sure enough two very large tribal members stopped their truck prepared to tell me to get the hell out of there.  When I giggled and referred to them by their locally known affectionate names they laughed and jeered me so happy and sappy to see me.  All the gal I was camping with could say was "I can hardly believe you knew those guys".  What a beautiful way to remember that area.

Picture of steep rock cliffs and lagoon of Cape Flattery, Washington
An easily accessible mountain bike trail off of a dirt road to the furthest Northwest point of the Continental U.S., Cape Flattery, Washington

Picture of trailside Banana Slug and rain drops at Cape Flattery, Washington
Receiving more than a hundred inches of annual rainfall the dark overcast days required the use of a tripod for most any picture.  

Due to the fact that it's a rain forest, so much interesting stuff grows there including this detailed photo of what brush pickers of the region refer to as "Bear's Bread" or bear bread fungus. I was lucky enough to find this while it was all orange rather than turning a dark brown with orange edges. 

Picture of large moon over water with birds drying wings amidst fog and mist at Cape Flattery, Washington
Typical foggy, misty afternoon and Cormorants drying their wings.  Photo is while camping at "Warm House Beach" at Cape Flattery.  Not photoshopped, old school method of double exposure by creating two photos on one frame by advancing the shutter but not the film.  A feature of the Nikon FM2n.  Benefit of slow speed film is that it wasn't grossly over exposed with this technique.

Picture of cloud eclipse of sun at Hobuck Beach, Cape Flattery, Washington
That's just what it looked like a "cloud created eclipse" at Hobuck Beach with Sigma 400mm and Nikon FM2n on Fuji 50

Picture of spider on ox eye daisy with leaves, Cape Flattery, Washington
A personal favorite when it was so dark, dreary and overcast it was nice to see this ox eye daisy's cheery bright yellow.
Times change and perhaps the area is much more receptive to tourists and outsiders visiting for outdoor activities other than recreational fishing.
Fortunately, those old days of carrying 35mm DSLR lenses, camera, tripod, bulk loading rolls of film to save a few bucks, storing film in refrigerator or cooler and hefting a substantially heavier tripod are not necessary to get quality digital images and excellent print results.  This makes it so much easier for carrying photography equipment on a bike for bicycle touring or bike packing that my enthusiasm for the potential is unsatiated. : )