Sky Islands Odyssey (Film)

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This spring, freelance videographer Ralph Samson travelled from Quebec to Arizona to ride the Sky Islands Odyssey route. Ralph created a short film about his experience, and we’ve put together an exclusive first look. Watch the film, see some photos from the trip, and read a Q&A with Ralph here…

The Sky Islands Odyssey route in southern Arizona consists of two loops: The West Loop and The East Loop. The loops can be linked together for a fantastic 230-mile route, following dirt roads and sandy doubletrack through grasslands, cacti, and a rich array of biodiversity. Ralph Samson and William Boucher travelled from Quebec to Tucson to ride the entire route, and put together a great short film about their experience. Watch it below, then scroll down for an interview with Ralph to learn about their experience in the Sky Islands alongside photos from both Ralph and Will (@wilhelmboucher).

  • Sky Islands Odyssey Film Ralph Samson
  • Sky Islands Odyssey Film Ralph Samson
  • Sky Islands Odyssey Film Ralph Samson

Tell us about yourself. You’re a freelance videographer, right?

Hi! I’m Ralph. Yeah, I learned filmmaking while creating snowboard videos with my friends in high school. My passion for videography has given me the chance to work in the cycling industry for the last seven years. I’m now a freelance video creator based in Quebec City, Canada, and a passionate cyclist.

Can you tell us about some of your past projects?

For sure. The last short film I made is called Modder and it was about the culture of cyclocross in Flanders. I also recently worked on a fly fishing TV show called Hooké. Check out RalphSamson.com to see more.

  • Sky Islands Odyssey Film Ralph Samson
  • Sky Islands Odyssey Film Ralph Samson

How’d you decide to ride the Sky Islands Odyssey route?

My friend Will and I had a snowboard trip planned, but then the weather changed suddenly so we decided to go south. We had Southern Arizona on our minds and found some amazing rides here on BIKEPACKING.com. We wanted to ride The Fool’s Loop, but then we heard about Sarah Swallow’s Sky Island Odyssey route and it was a no brainer. We packed the bikes, flew to Tucson, and made it happen!

Can we get a quick breakdown of your bike and gear list?

My longtime friend Will had a pretty exhaustive gear list for the trip, but let’s break it down by bags. Our priority was water since we knew we were going to run out at some point. Handlebar bags: Sleeping bag, clothing, first aid kit, and tools. Fork Bags: Extra water, water filtration system (Sawyer Micro Squeeze), cooking gear, food, and extra tubes. Saddle bag: Tent and camping supplies. Will had some pretty amazing custom Atwater Atelier bags on his Garneau Garibaldi Prohibition bike and I had a mix of Blackburn and Apidura bags on my Ridley Kanzo.

  • Sky Islands Odyssey Film Ralph Samson
  • Sky Islands Odyssey Film Ralph Samson
  • Sky Islands Odyssey Film Ralph Samson
Sky Islands Odyssey Film Ralph Samson

How about video equipment? What’d you use to make the film?

That’s the thing. My main bag, a frame bag, had 50% camera gear and 50% food and coffee supplies. Priorities, I guess! I brought a Sony Alpha 6300, a DJI Mavic Air, and a GoPro to keep things light and compact.

What was your experience like on the route? Anything unexpected?

It was amazing. There are so many good camping spots. Nothing unexpected, but it was pretty exotic scenery for two Québecois in January. It was a bit cold for southern Arizona so we didn’t see a single snake or jefe, the last North American Jaguar, unfortunately. But I would go back and do it again anytime. Thanks a lot to Sarah Swallow for creating this route and you guys for sharing it with the world on your site. Check out Sarah’s event if you’re interested in riding it.

  • Sky Islands Odyssey Film Ralph Samson
  • Sky Islands Odyssey Film Ralph Samson
  • Sky Islands Odyssey Ralph Samson
  • Sky Islands Odyssey Ralph Samson
  • Sky Islands Odyssey Ralph Samson

Is there anything you’d change gear-wise, now that you’ve ridden the route?

Both of us rode this route with tube tires at pretty low pressure. My bud Will had WTB Sendero 650b X 47mm tires, while I had Gravelking SK 700 x 35mm tires. Will had extra grippy tires and managed to ride up a super steep portion that I ended up walking. Most people recommended going tubeless, but neither of us have ever ridden tubeless before, so we went with what we knew: tubes. Neither of us had any flats or gear issues, thankfully.

A lighter tent and a warmer sleeping bag would have been nice. The nights were awfully cold, surprisingly. Will would have wanted a half-frame bag for quick access items. Other than that we both loved our setups.

Can we expect more bikepacking films from you?

Yes, for sure! I love filmmaking and cycling so much, so it’s a natural combination for me.

Ralph Samson

About Ralph Samson

Ralph was introduced to filmmaking while creating snowboard videos with his friends in high school. He is now a freelance video creator based in Quebec City, Canada, and a passionate cyclist. Give him a follow on Instagram (@ralph_raft) and see more of his work at RalphSamson.com.

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