Ruta Chingaza: Bikepacking for Conservation (Film)
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We’re thrilled to premier the latest project from Rugile Kaladyte—Ruta Chingaza: Bikepacking for Conservation. Watch this incredible film here alongside an interview with the filmmaker and some exclusive behind the scenes photos from the trip…
Last February, in collaboration with Conservation International, we set out to finalize Ruta Chingaza, a bikepacking loop in Colombia that examines the interconnectedness of Bogota and the remote, high-altitude paramos of Chingaza National Park. Filmmaker Rugile Kaladyte was part of our team and shot countless hours of footage during several scouting trips. After months of tireless editing, Rue recently finished this incredible film and today we’re excited to unveil it in its entirety. Watch it below, then scroll down to read an interview with Rue alongside a collection of behind the scenes photos.
First off, congrats on such a massive accomplishment! It turned out beautifully. How do you feel now that it’s finished?
Thank you! It means a lot to have positive feedback. I’m really excited to share this story—the film, photos, and route. There are all these different possibilities with where the story can go. I feel that it’s so cool there are all these different voices that came together and complement each other.
Leaving Colombia in February, I remember feeling total peace, like I’d done everything I could over the six weeks we were there to capture footage. I haven’t felt that way in years. I was able to breathe this huge sigh of relief.
We feel so encouraged that brands in the cycling industry care about this story and believed in us. A huge thank you to Wahoo, PEARL iZUMi, Komoot, and Wheels Manufacturing for funding the video and helping us support a lifestyle where we can pursue projects that we really believe in. Without them, we’d still be working at a pizza place in Tucson—something we enjoyed as well, but it took away from our main focus.
Thanks to you for inviting us on this project. And thank you to Adam, Eliot, Nathalia, and Arcadia from Conservation International for thinking outside of the box, connecting bikepacking and conservation, and seeing it through.
Somehow you made me not sound like too much of a babbling idiot, which is an incredible accomplishment on its own. Were there any other particular challenges you faced while making and editing this film?
I included eight interviews for this piece. I’ve never worked with so many unique voices. I worked hard to find a rhythm to incorporate all of them into a structure. It took a lot of time to wrap my head around the story. We found that transcribing every interview and seeing the words on a page helped with organization and vision. It’s so daunting at first. After dozens of passes, the ideas start clicking into place and the transitions become exciting. Of course, the technical aspect of dealing with eight different voices and mixing the audio was very time consuming.
We had a great time riding in Colombia. Another challenge was to share that excitement for the land and people—how do you get the audience to care? Everyone on the team was so passionate about their role in the project and I feel like that really came across in their interviews and the footage. That excitement is contagious.
There were a few logistical hurdles during this expedition, such as necessary reroutes, etc. But overall I feel like the trip presented an overwhelming amount of serendipity. Can you share some of your highs and lows, and surprises that came along during the filming process?
Riding in Colombia is hard. The pitches are steep and relentless. Hauling all the camera gear definitely had its lows. Lael and I both carried heavy packs with equipment. We almost never ride with backpacks, but I really wanted the tools to capture this place. I love riding, and to ride with the mission to document a place and share a story makes the whole experience more meaningful. It drives me to work and be present and make the most of every minute. I love that.
The film focuses on the city, the land, and the water source. It would be easy to feel lost in Bogotá, a city of ten million, and larger than anywhere I’ve ever visited. The local community made us feel at home. They were exceptionally warm and helpful.
The whole project felt like everyone was coming together to make it happen, in their own way. We met Juan Pablo, Julian, Gregg, and John in our first few days in Colombia to go over the route. We hadn’t ridden any of it at that point. They were so excited that we were riding in their country with the intention of sharing the route and story. They were enormously helpful in making connections. Juan Pablo organized a Wahoo event at WhereNext, so Lael could encourage locals to consider bikepacking. We met him for rides into the paramos and around the city and to collaborate on a print publication. He found routing solutions. We met his kids and interviewed him at one of his shops. He arranged for us to meet Jaime, who founded Cicloviá in 1974.
We had a long-shot dream to find a local musician to play the Rocky theme for Lael’s FKT and Juan Pablo found the son of the most famous requinto player in Colombia. We ended up recording audio in Julian and Atenea’s apartment. They hosted us on several occasions, the night before Lael started the FKT and before we flew out. Julian took us to a hummingbird conservatory and rode with Lael up El Verjon at 1:00 AM to make sure she had a safe start for FKT. Atenea translated the audio of the film into Spanish and helped us with so many other logistics. We really want everyone involved to feel proud of this project. The main idea is to encourage others to come experience this land and culture.
What was your favorite part of the route?
Our time in Chingaza was limited. We went back on three separate occasions: scouting with the CI team, a separate car trip to focus on the water route, and again during Lael’s FKT. I would’ve loved to spend a week there. It’s so different from anything else we experienced. It’s the highest elevation along the route with broad views. You feel so exposed. I remember all of us grinning from ear to ear as we leapfrogged each other while riding, all amazed by what we were seeing.
We loved our time in the small community of San Francisco. Before going there, people told us there was nothing there. We camped under the stadium. Local children came to play and wanted to check out our bikes and tents and cooking set up. They were curious and respectful. They pointed at the Nutella and I split fancy truffles eight ways. They made sure everybody got their piece. We played basketball and they asked us to pass to the littlest one. They were baffled that I didn’t speak Spanish, but they still tried to communicate in any way they could. That may have been our best interaction outside of Bogota. It felt really special, with rewarding (and hard) riding to get there. Virginia, Lael, and I went on separate missions to find beer and we found it from different sources (none of which were actual shops), and returned half the next day, so tired we maybe each had one. I woke up before sunrise to shoot roosters and cats and workers on horseback and Joe snoozing. All the kids’ names were written in chalk on the concrete wall with a quote from Ray Bradbury, translated into Spanish.
How about your favorite moment of the trip?
Lael and I walked 14 miles from the top of Patios to the Gold Museum in downtown Bogotá on a Sunday during Cicloviá. I shot video and stills along the way. It was amazing to traverse a city taken over by bikes and pedestrians. So much to see. The Gold Museum was absolutely packed because tickets were free that day. It’s wild to think about these experiences now with all the COVID-19 limitations, and it all feels pretty nostalgic.
I’m all too aware of the insane amount of camera gear you carried to make this incredible film. Can you provide a list for our readers?
Lael helped haul some of my gear during the different rides. We kept the rest of our gear minimal to prioritize media, not even bringing a stove. This is a complete list of the equipment, but what I actually brought varied depending on the trip (two scouting tours and the FKT). We had a base in Bogotá to store extra gear.
- Panasonic Lumix S1H (bought for this trip and I was reading the instruction manual in Bogotá)
- Canon 5D Mark IV
- Canon 6D converted to infrared
- 24-105mm f/4 lens
- 70-200mm f/2.8 lens
- 50mm f/1.8 lens
- Macro lens
- Shotgun microphone
- Lavier microphones
- DJI Mavic Pro Drone
- Travel Tripod (I gave this away during the first scouting trip because it lost an essential screw. We left it with a mechanic who was thrilled to have it)
- Ronin-S Gimbal Stabilizer (only used a couple of times because the climbs and descents were so steep, I couldn’t hold it while riding)
- Batteries and memory cards
- GoPro Hero 8 delivered by the CI team (they also delivered fresh HopeTech brake pads, since I had gone through a pair in one week—it’s that steep!)
- New Manfrotto Tripod to replace the one I gave away
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m really looking forward to taking a break from video editing. I specialize in backpack photojournalism and take care of every aspect of the video project: shooting video and stills, organizing, backing up footage, audio, transcriptions, story boarding, editing, audio mixing, color correcting, animation, and closed captioning.
It’s super rewarding to have creative freedom, but it’s also a lot of pressure and isn’t sustainable. In the near future, I’d love to focus more on collaborative projects. Lael and I are working on a video about her project to ride all of the roads in Alaska, her home state, and how she got into endurance riding in the first place. After this release, I’ll be taking a much-needed break from long-form video editing.
I’m really proud of the work I’m putting out. I think video is the most powerful form of storytelling. A good story takes time and patience.