Terroir (film) and The Desplabado Tour
Brandon Weaver went on a spring break bikepacking trip in Big Bend Ranch State Park with college students in Texas Tech’s Adventure Media class. Along the way, the class made this beautiful short film documenting the process and their experience. Watch the film, read Brandon’s account, and see a fantastic set of photos by instructor, Jerod Foster.
It’s 2:00 a.m. and there are 21 bikes strewn across the Honey Flats Campground in Caprock Canyons State Park. March has hit the Texas Panhandle like a lion. Gusting winds sweep across the bicycles with nary a blip, but polyethylene coated nylon is another story. Bivies and tents whip and pop like anchored kites begging to fly. The 7° windchill and saturated air fill the night with iced drizzle. Trisha Nag has retreated to the warmth inside the campground’s heated bathrooms. She’s banking the heat in an effort to coax herself back to her icebox of a tent. She takes a deep breath, opens the door, and lets the frozen mist wash over her. Trisha has never camped before. Ever. She is cold, wet, and wind blasted. But miserable? Nope! Trisha is having the time of her life, and she’s getting college credit.
CMI 4313 – Adventure Media
Offers students practical, creative, and strategic insight and experience in assessing and producing media associated with outdoor adventure. – Texas Tech University Academic Catalog
Trisha Nag is a computer science major at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX. She is one of 16 students enrolled in the Creative Media Industries Adventure Media class, a college bikepacking program with a focus on electronic media: photography and video. Its instructed by Jerod Foster, associate professor of practice, bikepacker, guitarist, and the teacher you always wanted. Adventure Media is not your typical M-T-W-R-F class. The schedule breaks down like this: Two Saturday classes (riding, training, prepping); overnighter; spring break bikepacking trip; and three Saturday classes for screenings, critiques, and final project submissions.
Caprock Canyons State Park in the Texas Panhandle was the destination for the Adventure Media overnighter. Next on the syllabus is the spring break trip, a five-day, four-night tour in Big Bend Ranch State Park in West Texas. See Big Bend: The Other Side of Nowhere.
At 47, I’m spring breaking with a crew of college students. This is the El Despoblado Tour. The class objective is to document the trip through electronic media and produce content for a commercial client, Oveja Negra, a bikepacking bag company in Salida, CO. Also on the agenda for this year’s expedition are four documentaries, including Terroir, shot and produced by the instructors with students shooting B-roll for the Washington D.C. based Planet Forward Summit. Watch the film, then scroll down to read a day-by-day account of the trip, quotes from participants, and more on Adventure Media.
East Contrabando Trailhead to Crawford Smith House – 13.3 miles
“When you fall, you feel the dirt and gravel. Your blood comes out. It’s raw.” – Codi Clark, Agricultural Communications Major
Our first day on the trail starts with two big crashes and one bent wheel. Codi Clark is a rugby player, a humorist, but not a cyclist. It’s like riding a bike, was a phrase lost on Codi, until now. She learned to ride a bicycle mere months before the spring semester started. This morning she finds the ground early and aggressively, hitting a rock with her front wheel. Codi contorts into her bike’s triangle. A classmate has to unravel her. We eyeball the rim. It’s warped, but after a little terra-firma wheel slam/truing it’s deemed good enough. Codi dusts herself off, checks the trail rash on her elbow, and remounts her bike. She will fall 16 more times today. Each time, she gets up, laughs, and keeps cranking the pedals. The Chihuahuan Desert is not only in Codi’s soul, it’s literally a part of her.
Macy Tapp, a Global Studies major is the next to go down. She’s wearing a 30-pound backpack, so once its inertia heads to the earth, Macy follows. She hits her chin and to quote Codi, “…blood comes out.” The next four days are going to be very raw.
Crawford Smith House to Pila Montoya – 8.5 miles
“When you go with the media class, everything you do is documented.” – Macy Tapp
We are a rolling reality show, but there are no trumped up dramas here, just hardworking filmmakers and photographers. And we just happen to be riding bikes through a desert wilderness carrying all of the production equipment on our pedal machines.
Here is just a partial list of today’s documented content.
- Oveja Negra photo shoot.
- B-roll of hand brushing through Bluebonnets (state flower of Texas)
- Video interview at a cave with pictographs
- B-roll shot of hand touching embedded seashell fossils
- Actions sequence of bikes on flowing descent
- Thousands of photos taken: landscape, riders, bikes bags, ruins, rocks, plants…
- Video interviews at camp
- B-roll at camp: tents, bivies, sleeping bags, stoves, food, scars…
- Sweeping panoramic shot on top of mountain
- The Adventure Media class is always producing.
Here’s what I learned from the last two days riding with the Adventure Media class. The camera loves me and I love it. Transitioning back to life without countless cameras trained on me is going to be tough!
Day ride into El Soltario 25.3 miles
“I thought I was going to be stuck in a cubicle for the rest of my life.” – Trisha Nag, Computer Science Major
Trisha does not have professional photography or video aspirations. She took the class to learn to camp, mountain bike, and advance her amateur photography skills. Before Adventure Media, the longest she had ever ridden was three miles. Last week on the overnighter at Caprock Canyons State Park, she rode 62 miles and camped for the first time in freezing rain. She is hooked. Trisha had resigned herself to a life as a software developer, staring at a screen all day. Now, she’s envisioning a future developing apps to help people engage with the outdoors. Her trajectory has completely shifted. This morning we dropped into the Solitario. Often mistaken for a meteor crater or caldera, the Solitario is actually a collapsed dome that popped up from lava flowing beneath the ground 35 millions years ago. It swelled up like a blister and then slowly eroded and collapsed. It is 10 miles in diameter and infinitely fascinating. Right now our trajectory is a grinding climb out the Solitario and into a headwind. I ride up to Trisha. “How ya doing?” I ask. She smiles as her hips rock to press the pedals. “I’m awesome,” she says. Her knee is killing her. But that doesn’t matter right now. She is outside living and finding her purpose.
We have a big group camp meal this evening. Everyone is a bit haggard from the day’s perpetual headwind. Codi fell six times today. Progress, but her body hurts. “I feel like I got thrown into a cage fight with Conor McGregor,” she says.
Pila Montoya to Chorro Vista 19.3 miles
“Luis…your mind is going to blow steam out your ears!” – Jerod Foster
We ride nine miles to Sauceda the park’s interior headquarters. It is the first time in four days we have contact with the outside world. There is virtually no cell service anywhere in the 300,000 plus acres of the park. Sauceda has wifi and outlets. Loved ones are contacted and camera batteries are charged.
After our last big climb of the day, the group gathers before we ride into our camp at Chorro Vista. Jerod makes his steam proclamation to Luis Mead, a public relations and economics major. When we ride into camp, Luis’ mind is blown. My mind is blown. The classes collective mind is blown! Chorro Vista is a north/south ridge with panoramic views of the Solitario Flatirons, Fresno Canyon, Chorro Canyon , Bofecillos Mountains, and the Chisos Mountains in the National Park. The site instantly becomes a pop-up class on landscape photography. As the sun dips below the horizon, the ridge is draped in a golden hue of light. The rays from our star make its last rounds of the day. A palpable jolt of electricity flows through all hands on camera bodies. One billion pictures are taken. “Guys you just got to follow this light!” Jerod shouts. “Work it till it’s done!” When it’s over a sense of contentment falls over the ridge and steam emanates from all our ears.
Codi falls once today. Exceptional progress.
Chorro Vista to Barton Warnock Visitor Center 19 miles
“This is a class of knowers and doers. If they are not that before, they certainly are after.” – Jerod Foster
The sun has risen. Madison Walker sits on the rocks of Chorro Vista with Fresno Canyon behind her. Simon Parmley, a class alum and filmmaker, clips a microphone to her shirt, stands back and starts his camera. “What does it mean to be out here?” Jerod asks her.
She looks at the Flatirons of the Solitario as she ponders the question. “It’s more difficult to live in the city and be in tune with yourself than to be out here.”
This experience has transformed all the students. It’s taken these ambitious young adults out of their daily regimented schedules and put them in nature, where life is broken down to the basics: drink – eat – sleep – move.
Unfortunately, it’s time we move back to civilization. We ride up Madrid Falls Road and down Pila de los Muchachos to Fresno Creek. The Contrabando trail system is the beginning of the end for El Despoblado Tour. No one is quite ready for it to end but like most adventures we’re all ready for real food and a shower. About a mile before the trailhead, we stop and take bike portraits. We saddle up and Tanner Fowler, a creative media industries major, leads us in the Texas Tech Matador song.
“…Stand on heights of victory. Strive for honor evermore. Long live the Matador!” – Adventure Media Class Choir
We reach the trailhead parking lot and see an actual paved road, FM 170, for the first time in 5 days. There are hugs and high fives all around. Jerod stands on the concrete footing of the trail kiosk. “You guys…” his voice cracks. “you guys are doers.” Tears rain from faces. Even Codi, to her surprise gets caught up in the emotion. “What’s happening…” she wipes moisture from her eyes. “This is not me.” We rode. We fell. We broke bread together. We are bonded by an epic journey. That can’t end with just hugs and high fives. Tears must be shed and that’s how you know you passed Adventure Media 4313. Annnd those final project submissions too.
Codi’s fall tally for the day is 12 for a grand total of 44, which happens to be the year nearby Big Bend National Park was established. That’s got to mean something.
Epilogue: The Synergy of Adventure Media
Jerod Foster’s Adventure Media class has the gravity of Jupiter. If you’ve been a part of it you’re connected to it forever. If you get close, you are drawn to its orbit. Justin Rex, the course TA, and Simon Parmley, one of the filmmakers on Terroir, are Adventure Media alumni. Ian Smith joined the class for a second year to complete an independent study. Anna Claire Beasley was in last year’s class as well. She returned this year to help with logistics and provide medical support as a Wilderness First Responder. She also set up a scholarship to be awarded to one of the female participants (there were 8) of this year’s class. Trisha Nag was the lucky recipient of the scholarship and received skills training, $100 and a Superwedgie frame bag and Gearjammer seat bag from Oveja Negra. Patrick Farnsworth, host of the excellent bikepacking podcast Bikes or Death joined the El Despoblado Tour and recorded several interviews in the field. Check those out at the Bikes or Death podcast right now.
About Brandon Weaver
Brandon Weaver fell in love with ballistic nylon when he received his first serious piece of luggage at 15, and he’s been searching for the perfect bag ever since. During his time working at Oveja Negra Bikepacking, he was a note scribe, bag inspector, customer service specialist, and the rap artist formerly known as Inspecta Bags. He is currently a freelance writer and Black Sheep at large roaming the country in an Airstream trailer with his wife and two hound dogs. Follow Brandon on Instagram @bd_weaver.