Rider’s Lens: Coffee, Bikes, and Travel with Leslie Kehmeier
Our newest edition of Rider’s Lens showcases the work of adventure photographer Leslie Kehmeier, who shares a selection of images and the story of how receiving a camera in elementary school kicked off a 30-year passion for taking photos that eventually turned into a career. See more here…
Words and photos by Leslie Kehmeier (@thewideeyedworld)
I’m Leslie Kehmeier and I’m an outdoor adventure and travel photographer. Traveling by or with a bicycle is common for me and is often a part of the stories I tell. If I could sum myself up in three words, they would be coffee, bikes, and travel.
My journey as a photographer started 30+ years ago in elementary school. When I was in fourth grade, my parents traveled to Hong Kong and came home with a camera for me—a Minolta. At the same time, I was invited to join some photography classes my school was offering. I can’t recall exactly why, but I was hooked immediately. Perhaps it’s my introverted nature. I’ve always felt like visuals have been my best way to communicate. Photography was a serious hobby until I went on an around-the-world bike tour in 2007. I documented the journey on a blog called Bicycle Geography and got a lot of positive feedback about my photos. It was one of the things that inspired me to dive deep into the craft and make it my profession.
The stories that I most enjoy are the challenging adventures where unexpected things happen. It usually starts with a big vision to do something I haven’t done before. For better or worse, these visions have been laughable at times. Very hopeful, but borderline impossible logistically. Oftentimes, the aspects of the unfeasibility make their way onto the trip. If I’m lucky, it creates serendipitous moments—my favorite part about my projects—when the unexpected turns into the best part of the story.
I try to create projects where I plan enough and then leave room for special things to happen. For example, early last year I was working in Northern Thailand on a book project with Shimano. The beginning and end of each day were planned but not much in between. Since my adventure partner and I weren’t camping, we had to seek out lodging each day, something we came to find out didn’t exist everywhere. On our fifth day, we ended up off-route and bushwhacking for a good chunk of the afternoon. With daylight waning, we finally reached a small village and found emergency lodging and a much-needed meal. To our amazement, we also managed to arrange a long-boat shuttle down a beautiful river the following morning to make up for lost time. One of the photos from the boat ended up being the cover of the book.
Beyond the challenging and the unexpected, I have an infatuation with the details of things. I think it’s fun to break down a composition into its smallest parts, right down to the grains of dirt flying through the air or tire tracks through the mud.
Traveling by bike is a vulnerable endeavor. And being vulnerable means letting down your guard, having fewer barriers. When I went around the world with my bike, I had never experienced vulnerability in that way and it was uncomfortable. The elements, the interactions with people. I was definitely curious, but quite honestly, I was also scared. Of course, I had some level of trepidation and insecurity. As I continued traveling by bicycle, I embraced the vulnerability and became more engaged, especially in the different cultures I was experiencing. As a result, I have developed a burning desire to tell deeper and more meaningful stories about the places I travel through. I never thought I would use my university degree in geography in a scenario that was true to my studies, but that’s ultimately what I want to do with my work. I want to connect the people from my travels with the people who see my images and read my stories and hope they learn something.
I hope to continue to travel to different places in the world, tackling big adventures. Ultimately, I know it would take several lifetimes to do everything I envision, but I never lack the motivation to keep going. There are so many places to see, people to meet, and unexpected moments to experience. I want to see as much as I can and share it in the hopes that people are inspired to do their own traveling.
I’m anxious to get vaccinated and use my passport again, but I know it will take some time to get all of that sorted out. For now, I’ve gone from living in a van to living in a barn in East Tennessee. Up until COVID, I was traveling constantly, so I’ve appreciated the downtime and a slower pace of life. I’ve been traveling around the US more, especially the Southeast. With travel abroad off the table, I’ve been seeking out international experiences wherever I am. My favorite thing has been finding Indian food restaurants at truck stops across the country. Naturally, I’m scheming future trips on different continents and I look forward to packing my bike and getting on a plane when the time is right. One long-term goal on the horizon is riding the Peru Great Divide in 2022. I’ve been to Peru on trekking and mountain biking trips, and I’m looking forward to a more in-depth adventure that’s certain to be exciting and a very challenging objective.
Leslie’s Photography Gear
At a minimum, I usually roll with a Sony a7riii and a 70-200mm f/2.8, with a wide-angle lens like a 24-70mm or 16-35mm. If I can afford the weight and have some downtime on a trip, I’ll also carry a 50mm or 35mm prime for street photography. I often use a Peak Designs clip when I ride with a pack. I also use the Evoc camera hip pack and sling the camera around my torso. I tinker a lot with my setup, always searching for the most comfortable scenario that facilitates quick shooting. Ultimately, I’ve found that having the camera easily accessible is the key to capturing unexpected moments that would be missed otherwise.
The most interesting kit I carried was on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. In addition to my standard set-up, I brought along a Polaroid Impulse with multiple boxes of film. I wanted to do a small project where I could take portraits of people along the route to leave with them. Since space was limited in my bikepacking bags, I had to forgo my heavy down coat to bring it along.
Morocco, 2018. I was in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco in October 2018 with my husband Chris and good friend Lani Bruntz. We were on a mountain bike trip guided by Pierre-Alain Renfer, who moved from Switzerland to Morocco over 20 years ago. Pierre-Alain has a knack for adventures that integrate trail riding with deep cultural experiences. On this particular morning, we were invited to have breakfast at the home of Hmida Omhand in the village of D’ouzrou.
After touring his beautiful home, my cohorts sat down on pillows around a small, low-slung table for a traditional meal of tagine-style omelet with bread. As they started to eat, Hmida sat down at the other end of the room and began to prepare tea in the traditional Amazigh way, a slight variation from typical Moroccan tea.
I asked Hmida’s permission to shoot the process and used a wide-angle lens so I could make the viewer feel like they were part of the action. Even in the moments when I was crossing into his personal space, he never flinched or looked at me. The moment captured feels wonderful because it is more than just making tea. It’s the essence of what I seek out when traveling: the removal of barriers to experiencing a different culture in a welcoming way.
About Leslie Kehmeier
Leslie was born and raised on Colorado’s front range and her childhood backyard is where she first fell in love with the outdoors. As a kid, her parents gave her three things that are integral to her life today: a camera, a bicycle, and an introduction to traveling. After quitting her job to ride around the world more than a decade ago, she now tells stories professionally. Find her on Instagram and at TheWideEyedWorld.com.
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