The Kowen ride is an un-timed / non-competitive trail bike ride which is based on narrow, tight trails through pine forest. The terrain is hilly with some small water crossings, and there are numerous technical sections involving steep terrain or traversing boulders.
Day two dawns, after overnight rain and more to come. The tracks start out sticky – that mud that sticks to tyres and boots where your feet and bike end up weighing a tonne. Then it starts to rain lightly but steadily and the tracks become slicker and slicker and tyres start to dig in and suddenly easy tracks become bog-holes a truck would struggle through.
We (Flying Finish Productions & friend) head out to find another place to shoot film and stills. Guided by one of the friendly volunteers, we are taken to a spot close to camp. We wish we had found the site earlier as it is very cool – two small crossings each with steep descent and ascents and a larger crossing followed by a log hop.
The spot is 100 m or so in from the road and, for a change, easy to access (rather than the steep rocky descents of the day before). Shortly after we arrive to rece it, so do our first customers. There is a mad flurry of activity to string the cable cam across the gully, grab cameras from the Van and get things moving.
Things are happening everywhere and I don’t know where to look (and I’m in trouble with the spouse for not looking in the right direction), downed bikes, stuck bikes, riders doing courteous and helpful things and all I have my baby EOS M3!
So some stills and a little bit of shaky hand held video gets taken. Sorry for all the moments we missed.
Finally we have the big cameras in hand – and the bikes just keep coming. The video is great , showing just how difficult seemingly simple things can be! The overhead cable-cam gets shots you just cannot get with any other medium. With drone, video and cable-cam footage from day 1 and cable-cam and video from day 2, plus a friend’s Go-Pro, the plan is to cut the footage into a short video, coming to facebook/YouTube and DSMRA soon).
We are impressed by how many people stop to help others (including the poor guy who falls off the bridge) and the camaraderie. You can tell this is early in the day – as there is more wry laughter than cursing.
The rain sets in – while my Cannon is rain proof, the cable-cam and other gear is not, so its time to pack up and head home. How to dry things out is the next challenge, so one of bedrooms becomes a drying room with all of the gear on the bed and the aircon on full bore to dry it all out.
Click on the image below to make bigger. Happy for these to be used – so long as they are attributed to kellywannop.com.au.
The Kowen ride is an un-timed / non-competitive trail bike ride which is based on narrow, tight trails through pine forest.
The terrain is hilly with some small water crossings, and there are numerous technical sections involving steep terrain or traversing boulders.
The brightly coloured bikes, gear and helmets against the deep green of the forest make for wonderfully vibrant photos.
Events like this run on the enthusiasm of volunteers and sponsors, and take months of effort and planning.
Event getting the start right is key to a good day.
We (Flying Finish Productions and friend) have staked out two gullies on day one, either side of a main track and the menfolk had set up for cable-cam in each gully the day before.
The aim, with drone footage of the start, video from a terrestrial camera, cable-cam and a friends Go-Pro footage is to do a short video for YouTube and Facebook – to show just how much fun (???) a ride can be.
The weather is perfect – clear, sunny but cool. The forest is looking great. Perfect for stills and video.
The first gully has a sizeable water crossing, that makes for amazing water effects. Click on the photos to make them bigger.
The second gully has a much smaller creek – but it still makes for interesting photography. As usual, I’ve gone overboard – there are 100 photos in this second lot – with more I’ve not shown.
Early morning in Kowen Forest near Canberra – its cool, sunny and dusty, the light perfect for photos of brightly coloured motor bikes.
The Kowen ride is not a race, it’s a challenge, where riders pitch themselves against technically difficult terrain, including, as you will see on the day 1 post and the day 2 gully post, weaving their way through deep gullys.
Motor sport, like any sport, runs on volunteers. People who stand for hours being marshals, sweeps who ride the roads endlessly, making sure there are no hazards, rounding up the stragglers and making sure everyone is safe.
The beauty of digital is that one can take many many pictures and vary the approach, this next photo surprised me – background perfectly blurry, wheels showing motion – but if you zoom in on the rider, they are in focus.
Out of the gloom of the forest and into the light.
Ok, so I’m not a naturalist (closest I get to an “ist” is generalist), but watching and photographing the bears at Seal River Heritage Lodge I’m struck by how different their behaviour is to that portrayed in the wildlife documentaries I’ve seen on TV.
One of my colleagues recently responded to my polar bear photos (below), proudly displayed on my office wall, of a beautiful young female and two male buddies along the lines of “such vicious animals, I wouldn’t want to be outside with them!”.
(click on the photos if you want to make them full screen)
I protested that “vicious” is not my experience of polar bears, and I had been within metres of polar bears, on foot. To me “vicious” is a value ladened term, that suggest evil or ill intent. “But” she said “you wouldn’t go up and pat one” – well, no I wouldn’t, I agreed, but that does not make them “vicious”, it just makes them a wild animal – a very big carnivore that from time to time will consider us food.
For those who haven’t read my blogs, in early August 2014 my husband and I visited the Churchill Wild run remote Seal River Heritage Lodge on Hudson Bay, near Churchill, Manitoba.
What we experienced at Seal River Heritage Lodge was a long way from TV shows with skinny male bears hunting bear cubs and mothers having to defend them, desperate starving mothers with cubs, males fighting over females or bears trying to eat the presenter in a perspex cage.
Even our mothers with cubs were pretty laid back.
The exception to the “polar bear as predator” shows are the videos of the Churchill bears and sled dogs playing together. Bears playing together serves at least the purpose of practicing skills they will need in winter – but what purpose does cross-species play serve?
Polar bears at play reminded me very much of our Alaskan Malamutes (a registered breed in Australia, not just a wolf like sled dog). Over the course of 20 years I’ve watched a lot of malamute wrestling and there are many similarities. I’ve also watched our cat (6kg) and the youngest of our dogs (40kg) , who grew up together, wrestle, with usually the cat winning.
That is not to say that what we see on the TV is incorrect, but it does illustrate the danger of stereotyping any complex animal.
We were told at the Lodge that the bears go into “walking hibernation” when there is no ice, slowing down the metabolism and eating very little. “Hibernation” suggests inactivity and not eating, but as you will see below, the bears may sleep a lot but they also play, swim and sight-see (by visiting the reverse zoo that is the Lodge compound) – they also eat, whether its berries or Beluga.
Being where the bears are fat, happy, social and hanging out waiting for the ice to form on Hudson Bay is a world away from the images and video on TV of the Svalbards and the high Arctic.
Before someone suggests my glasses may be rose (fireweed?) coloured – I do accept that bears are dangerous, and unlike many species they are not particularly overawed by humans, so its hard to deter them.
I am grateful to the knowledge of our guides that helped manage the relationship between us and the bears, so we could have the privilege of walking with polar bears.
So what did I observe? Firstly, if the conditions are right – polar bears seem to be genuinely curious about us, new things in their environment and each other. Curiosity can be a good trait for a hunter and I guess hanging out on the tundra must be a bit tedious without some entertainment?
A bear came a calling (photo taken by my husband)
The degree to which a bear was curious about us varied – only one of the two buddies in the photo below was as interested in us as we were in him.
Secondly, while some of the bears we saw were solitary, many of the males were quite social. This, we were told, changes when the ice arrives and there is competition for females.
Thirdly, not only are they social, they actively seek out companionship. One early morning at the Lodge we watched as a a male searched for and found his friend.
They then headed back over the rocks of the intertidal and into the grass.
Satisfied they have reached a comfortable place the wrestle, the play begins.
They wrestled for some time, until too hot to play, the pair headed for a drink, still together.
All that fur and blubber, its amazing that the bears are motivated to play, even if it helps them practice for the real deal, judge each others capabilities and keeps them fit.
Initially we only saw two or three males together.
I began to wonder if some of the pairings might be siblings, but at Hubbard Point we counted 13 very large male bears sleeping and socialising (see the Hubbard Point blog for more pictures).
Even in the large group pair bonding seemed to be common (see greeting behaviour top right in the picture above, similar to that in some of the photos above) and when the group got up and moved over the hill – away from us pesky tourists, one bear stayed and went over to his sleeping comrade , and lay down with him while the alert bear kept one careful eye on the zodiac.
So, in conclusion, polar bears are complex, intelligent animals that are curious, social and playful as well as all those other things we see on TV. Let us hope they never organise, like us apes and the wolves, otherwise the bears will inherit the earth.