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Pedalling across the Mongolian steppes
A trip to Mongolia last year married Pelle Gustavs’ love for cycling with his passion for film making. Gustavs spent two weeks in the land of Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan filming 108 cyclists taking part in the Genco Mongolia Bike Challenge (MBC). The riders pedaled over 1,000 kilometres in the race that stretched out across the Mongolian steppes, and Gustavs was there to film it.
His Mongolian adventure started in 2011 in Langford when a flat tire on his bike led him to Oak Bay Bikes and Chris Dickinson and Dan Scott. They soon had Gustavs riding cross on Tuesday nights, a type of riding which is different than mountain biking.
“It started in Belgium,” said Gustavs explaining what ‘”cross” is. “They would race as a thing to do to stay active and took shortcuts through fields.”
Gustavs was soon racing and filming the short cross races in Victoria.
“Cross is really popular even if you work full time, an hour effort can be a competition,” he said.
So cross it was for Gustavs and that led to him meeting Carter Hovey in late 2011, who was sponsored to race the Genco Mongolian Bike Challenge. He filmed Hovey riding on Vancouver Island and the resulting video was seen by the marketing director for the MBC. Mongolia then became a reality for the 23-year-old from East Sooke.
After three days in Ulaan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia, it was off to the wind swept plains which dominate most of the country. Mongolia is one of the most sparsely populated independent countries in the world, with a population of 2.9 million. It is land-locked with little arable land with mountains to the north and west and the Gobi Desert to the south. Its people are nomadic but urbanization is leading the younger generation into the cities. The contrast of country and city is extreme and a way of life is fading, said Gustavs.
If a nomad gives up his livestock then he is no longer allowed the freedom of the open plains.
“You go into town and all you own is four walls,” said Gustavs of the urbanized Mongolian. “They have a lot of pride,” referring to the nomads who make up 30 per cent of the population.
It was an eye-opener for him, an adventure where he was exposed to chaotic traffic, gers (yurts), camels, yaks, and the sturdy Mongolian horses.
His seat for the next two weeks was not on a bicycle but in a media 4X4. It was a race for him, in a way, as he had to keep ahead of the riders to capture the shots.
“It was go, go, go… the drivers were fearless. The shocker for me was that there were no roads just one track for the racers,” said Gustavs. “A couple of times the media vehicle was not the most reliable, it would break down in the middle of no where. The driver stops, ushers us out and pulls out a tool box and starts changing stuff. They would always fix it.”
Gustavs spent the last year filming rather than riding. He suffered a knee injury and has been giving it time to heal. He said this was the first time he hasn’t ridden since he was 13-years-old.
“It’s a nice away to realize I miss it, it’s where I feel at home. The big thing from biking is discipline and balance. All of my filming stuff is thanks to the mountain biking community.”
Working for himself, he said, is a luxury. Filming offers him new opportunities and situations and when he isn’t filming he is planning. He wants to make something different and new, try to make it interesting for himself and the viewer.
“On location filming is appealing as a perfectionist,” he said. “The whole filming thing is really exciting, day to day you don’t know what is going to happen.”
He has some projects in the works and hopes for work in new places and travel destinations. Directing appeals as does making commercials in Hollywood.
So, where to next? Gustavs loves British Columbia and happily states that it is “mountain biking bliss.” South America has awesome riding as does Morocco and Europe he said. Gustavs isn’t limiting himself to anywhere or anything. He’s open.
“We definitely have the trails, the terrain, even on Vancouver Island specifically.”
He wants to get back on his bike and train, because one day he wants to attempt the Mongolian Bike Challenge as a rider.
“I’d like to race the Mongolian one year. I realize how hard it is just filming. It would be good to go a couple more times.”
Pelle Gustavs’ work can be found at: www.pellegustavs.com, his videos at: vimeo.com/pellegustavs.