What is it like to live every day on a bicycle for 16,000 miles?
"Spinning Southward" is a documentary film following three bicyclists who traveled from the far northern shores of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska through 13 countries to Ushuaia, Argentina in support of the National Brain Tumor Society.
The riders, brothers John and Mike Logsdon and filmmaker, Nateon Ajello, were inspired by the memory of their mothers, Jean Logsdon and Fran Ajello, who both were affected by brain tumors. By the end of their journey in September 2006, the cyclists had raised more than $75,000 for the National Brain Tumor Society
and had reached out to thousands of families both personally and through media along the way.
The film documents the hardship, wonder, challenge, people, and all elements that come with living every day on a bicycle. It also incorporates mapping, animation and original music that bring the story to life.
The last post was about the expedition camera + laptop technology of 2006, how I struggled with its limitations, and what I learned about preventing it from breaking on a 10,000 mile bike tour from Mexico to Argentina. Looking back, its really quite incredible how much evolution we have seen in phone and camera tech.
The camera that on the 2006 trip was a Panasonic PV-GS110, one of the smallest mini DV cameras at the time. It had 3 CCD image sensors, as opposed to one sensor which is what most small cameras had. After seeing the webisodes, or Spinning Southward, many people have asked if I had a big pro camera, because the 3 sensors made the images looks so good. This camera is great, and still works to this day, but the improvements and price drops that have come for this market are pretty unbelievable. This is apparent in the main video camera I use today, which is the Canon Vixia HF S10, kind of a modern day equivelant to the Panasonic PV GS110.
The first major evolution has been from mini DV (Digital Video) casette tapes to SD (Secure Digital) Cards. For expedition documentaries this is a HUGE improvement. Now SD cards have been around since 1999, even the camera I brought on the trip had one that it saved low resolution pictures to. But it also had a lot of moving parts to record to the tape, eject the tape, rewind the tape….basically anything you did with the camera needed a bunch of tiny little gears to do. All those tiny little gears can, and will, eventually break. With SD cards, there are no moving parts, they never need to be rewound, and you can pull them from the camera and pop them into the computer and start editing immediately (With tapes you have to capture each tape, which takes an hour or more before you can edit). The tremendous time savings and reliability is especially important when you are on the road.
The second is the onset of the DSLR photo camera starting to record digital video in high definition. In 2008, 2 years after I finished the year-long bike trip, the first DSLR cameras started recording high definition video. This allowed film makers to have a very high quality image in a small and light package, with very few moving parts, and removable lenses to get some really beautiful shots – Like this film, shot completely with a DSLR. This was the camera I dreamed of when I was on tour–and a bonus is these all record to SD cards.
The third improvement is…. basically these new HD cameras being tiny, cheap, and everywhere. Two great examples are the new GoPro Cameras (which use SD cards as well), and any new smart phone on the market (which mainly use miniSD, unless its an iPhone). The GoPro is a small, simple, and reliable. People put these cameras through hell and they still come out shining with great video. Now you probably don’t want to shoot an entire film on these with a fixed fisheye lens, but for action shots and as a back up they are great, and shoot in high definition. Most phones these days shoot in high definition as well, adding yet another cheap, high quality backup option.
Any way you slice it, if you were to go out and shoot an expedition documentary today, the tools you have at your disposal are fantastic, far better than what I had in 2006 when I shot Spinning Southward. Just remember, the tools don’t make the film, in the end its all about the story.
If you have any other questions please ask, I would love to hear other opinions on this.
When I joined Spinning Southward and started the 10,000 mile ride south with my camera and laptop, I thought my problems would be finding clean water and fighting off banditos, not trying to figure out where to fix technology in Latin America. Yet that was pretty much what characterized a major part of the trip for me.
This short film – “Los Technicos” – profiles the struggles as I rode through Latin America fixing my computer and camera equipment along the way.
The next post will be “Part 2,” and go into detail about all of the awesome new technology that has come out since, and how I would do it if I had to do it all over.
The Idea In 2002, John and Mike Logsdon began to talk about an epic, tip to tail, bicycle trip spanning the length of the Americas. At the time, however, their geographic separation and respective professional endeavors would force them to shelve their dream ride and hope for more accommodating circumstances. Two years later, that opportunity presented itself in the fall of 2004 when John and Mike's lives converged in the mountains of Colorado. Over the course of their stay, the brothers began laying the groundwork for a bicycle trip that would take them from the far northern shores of Prudhoe Bay at the top of Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southern most city in the world. On July 26, 2005, having cleared all financial and logistical hurdles, they started pedaling on the long road south.
The motivation for the trip was a reflection of their life-long ambitions to explore new places, to make meaningful connections with other people and cultures, and to test the boundaries of their physical endurance and mental resolve. These ambitions were inspired by the enduring spirit of their late mother, Jean, herself an accomplished world traveler who always supported and encouraged their explorations of the world. This trip is dedicated to her memory.
The Documentary After 4000 miles of pedaling, Mike and John met a kindred spirit by the name of Nateon Ajello. Living in Los Angeles, California, Nateon was working as a film maker and animator, and had lost his mother to a brain tumor as well. Enamored with the idea, Nateon joined the ride 3 weeks after meeting the brothers and documented the next 10,000 miles. The Spinning Southward documentary tells what they experienced traveling through 11 countries in Latin America: The hardships, the wonders, the challenges, the people, and everything else that comes with living every day on a bicycle. The film is dedicated to the memory of his mother, Fran Rudolph Ajello.