So the film making for the D TOUR Youtube show has come to an end: I made it to China. I have extensively written about how the collaboration with Discovery came about just before my departure. And since the D TOUR filming has pretty much taken all my 'spare time' attention on the trip I have ignored this website for a while now. It is therefore time for some thoughts on how I experienced the project and to see whether I would like to keep this tiny online island afloat.
Yesterday the last D TOUR episode was posted. It is briljant to be reminded of a share of the memorable experiences this trip has brought me. Thanks @discovery_nl for the help in making this trip possible. And thanks @bruutamsterdam for the enjoyable weekly flashbacks. I'm appreciating my trip in a more private manner now which is absolutely recommendable if you have the means. Online sharing is a great way of letting people know what you're up to but since external appreciation is proven to be a driver of people's happiness, it could also turn into a dangerous unhealthy mind trap. So hell no, I'll not continue vlogging upon getting back home but hell yeah, I'll continue shooting scenic drone footage and capturing stories of locals.. and share them ;) Took this pic while riding and making up this post which by the looks of it make me regret spending time on my phone over the past minutes. Anyway, my road continues. *Shuts off internet connection and puts away phone rather quickly*
In short: it has been good. Let me sum up why.
This project has extended my financial means: not only directly through the contract I signed with Discovery but also by making in-kind sponsor deals relatively easy. With thanks to Santos Bikes, Ortlieb & Agu. It has allowed me to go on this trip with high quality gear. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to get this far without the financial and non-financial support.
the fun of filming while filming
Secondly, I've enjoyed the creative process of film making. I've learned that I enjoy looking at my environment with an eye for the right angle for a good shot. And by bringing the drone there have been no limits to the amount of angles on a situation. A continuous creative juice eruption. Surely it has taken a lot of mindspace, but travelling slowly on the bike I feel I've had the time to both capture and enjoy a scene. More on that later. Only in capturing interactions I've experienced the difficulty of keeping it authentic vs. capturing it on video (which requires you asking the subject for permission which in turn could ruin a potential genuine meet up). I've picked my moments carefully of when to film and when to keep the interaction for myself.
the fun of filming after filming
No need to create a photo album back home. A paradox hides in the capturing of a moment on a picture or video: it distracts you from truly experiencing the moment while it allows for easy reliving of the moment afterwards. I've valued the weekly reliving of my experiences during the trip. The episode made me go from "ohyeah, that was great fun!" to "wow, did I actually film that?" to "man, this guy was the best cycling buddy yet". It was nice to be able to share the footage with the people that were actually featured in there. And I think I'll appreciate being able to relive this trip in so much detail for the rest of my life. BUT I still feel that all that does not weigh up to the distraction of the moment that a camera brings. A vivid memory is worth a thousand times more than an amazing photograph. Sounds like regret? Well, yes and no. I think there might be moments I missed because my eyes were following the action on a camera screen. But to share a vivid memory with impact requires face-to-face interaction, which is in sharp contrast to the easiness with which video's with impact can be shared online. This is where my last argument comes in.
This project has had some impact. No matter how much I might have disagreed with the vibe and style of the episodes, after the uploading of the last one I was overwhelmed with public and private reactions of viewers (read Instagram post below). They ranged from school kids telling me that they didn't mind cycling to school anymore to people that shared their grand ambitions to also go on world cycling trips. Precisely this impact made it worth to have spend a lot of time filming. Before I left I told myself that it would be fine if my mom would be the only viewer of the show. I am grateful for the fact I've been able to inspire some more people :)
1,5 week without a wash or bed, severe stomach aches (must have been that funny tasting canned fish of last night), fever, crazy headwinds and a stream of horn-sounding traffic passing by on a never ending uphill: yesterday wasn't my best day physically. However, I had just had some time to read through some responses and pm's on the last D TOUR episode. What a feelgood frenzy that was (and is). It gave me chills. During my physical low I was on a mental high. So what to do as a tough cycling tourer? Ofcourse: I got on my bike, started pedalling, and cried. For a couple of minutes. And then some more. They were tears filled with humble pain. It helped. Thanks for everyone that made that funky moment possible ❤️ So is this post all soaked in vulnerability? No. The second picture is me climbing a 2800m Chinese mountain pass. Woa. So cool. and irrelevant. Oh and: I made it to the city of eternal spring today!
Yes, there have been three real downsides to the Discovery collaboration on D TOUR. Firstly, although I was looking forward to travelling through Iran, I decided not to upon approaching. I estimated the risk of being considered a spy or journalist too high: 'working' for an American firm, carrying a drone and having to send GB's of data back to Holland wouldn't really debunk that upon first inspection by Iranian officials. A shame, since I'm highly interested in the country.
In general I think I would have had some more time to cycle weren't it for the hundreds of GB's I had to upload or send home via micro SD's. I stayed at hostels some days longer because my uploads were running and I searched for post offices and postcards in the most impossible areas. I think I wouldn't have had to take the trains I took in Uzbekistan and China if I had spared this time for example. But these ofcourse are very foreseeable consequences that I considered before agreeing to a collaboration.
The third downside has been some struggles that carrying a drone bring. I've spent time researching legislations in different countries, mostly to find out there is just no or limited info available. In Baku, Azerbaijan, I've spent 2 days looking for a shipping company that would ship it forward on my route, only to find out none of them are willing to ship drones. Why? Because I had learned at that moment on my trip that it was illegal to bring it into Uzbekistan. They would make you destroy it with a rock at the border. So, there I was, stuck with this awesome device that was turning more and more into a liability. To conclude that story: I decided to just take the risk of taking it with me in the hope they wouldn't find it. Took some breathing exercises and a massive amount of luck, but got the drone in and out of the country. What precisely happened at the borders is a story apart. Oh, and all this excludes the stress that flying that device actually creates sometimes. Like crashing it in Georgia, landing it in Chinese ricefields or blocking a tiny Bulgarian mountain village's electricity supply by flying it into, and actually snapping, an electrical cable.
So would I do it again? I don't think so. Besides a fit with my intentions and personality (more on that in this post by Tomsbiketrip.com that gave me a lot of energy before I left), I was able bring up the enormous amount of energy needed to ride a bike to China and film the whole thing simply because it was an deeply held dream of mine. It was because of this honest motive that I was able to convince Discovery to step into my dream, instead of the other way around (we had a very interesting period of contract negotiations :)). So in other words, would I cycle the pan-American trail and film it for Discovery to make another series out of it? No. Because that would not be a dream I hold.. yet.
Would I cycle the pan-American trail, film it and make it into a self-directed documentary wherein the locals I meet speak about their dreams? Much more likely.
I am currently thinking about what to do with all the raw footage I've gathered on this trip when I get back. Ranging from nothing to a series of short films. I'm open for suggestions :)