He obviously had the gist of it, otherwise he wouldn’t have agreed to fly halfway to South America with two guys he barely knew. But then again all it took was, “Hey Martin, you want to go film a mountain bike video on one of the most remote islands on earth?”. Who wouldn’t jump at an opportunity like that. After Martin had asked his question, Darren and I looked at each other. We had a script and a clear picture of what we wanted to capture but when you’re attempting to do something that has never been done before, on one of the most remote island on earth there is only so much you can plan for. We started unpacking the storyline in more detail to Martin and by the end he was smiling from ear to ear and frothing for our journey to the volcanic tropical island called St Helena.
So where is this place? Imagine for a second you’re on an island 16km (10mi) wide and 8km (5mi) across. Then imagine that the closest land mass to you is another island which is 1300km (800mi) away and which subsequently was used as a designated emergency landing site for the Nasa Space Shuttle program. Now look to the west - 4000km (2480mi) away is South America and 2000km (1240mi) to the east is the African content. This pretty much sums up the feeling when you set foot on St Helena - you feel like you’re on the edge of the world. A little speck of land in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean which happens to be the 2nd most remote inhabited island on earth and our home for the next 7 days.
But the whole project almost didn’t happen. I won’t bore you with the details. The truth is just that a lot had to happen in a very short span of time. After Darren and myself put the pitch together we approached people that we thought might be interested. This would be Darren’s second trip to St Helena and he knew who to get hold of. A guy called Matt Joshua. Matt is a Saint (born and bred on the island) and is very involved with the tourism on the island and was at that time actually on a ship headed to St Helena. He had limited wifi but his reply came through clearly. He loved the idea and would put us in touch with the right people to take it further. First on the list was Airlink. They are the only commercial airline that flies to St Helena. Also a resounding “YES” from them. Awesome, this is going well so far. Now we needed a rider. An essential part of the video. After all this will be a mountain bike film. We contacted as many people and brands in the industry, but because of the short notice it was tough getting anyone on board. In the end Martin Zietsman was the rider we chose for the trip. His experience in racing the EWS would be vital to riding the terrain on St Helena which is raw and unridden. Also, over the years he’s built good relationships with his sponsors which meant there was a chance we could get a cycle brand on board - something we’d really been hoping for.
With only a week to go we had already made peace with the fact that we’d be self funding the trip and living off peanut butter sandwiches and two-minute noodles. Then a very welcome email popped up in our inboxes, “We love the idea and we’re in”. This was the message we received from Industry Nine, a cycle company that needs no introduction. They have been sponsoring Martin with wheelsets for the last 2 years and they were keen to come on board. We were over the moon to have such an awesome company backing us on this.
St Helena is a place of contrasts. From mars like surfaces to lush green forests and even when it comes to its elevation there is no flats, it’s either up or down. Obviously a good thing when you’re mountain biking and the prospects of building some serious mountain biking trails there are endless. Local Saints, Craig Yon and Alonzo Henry, are two of only a handful of mountain bikers on the island. They were keen to meet up. After spending almost 30mins drooling over Martin’s spec’d out enduro rig we got down to discussing places we could go do some filming. And there was a lot to choose from. So we didn’t waste any time.
There were many highlights from our time on the island, from the crystal clear waters to the friendliness of the Saints. But if I had to pick two landscapes that blew my mind it would have to be Blue Point and the forests in Scotland. Ridiculously beautiful scenery that left you standing in awe when you saw it for the first time. Even looking at the images now leaves us in awe.
Tourism on the island is growing especially since the completion of the St Helena’s International Airport in early 2018. Before that you had to visit by ship or yacht. Airlink’s weekly flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town makes it possible for even more people to visit and we’re excited about the possibility of seeing purpose built mountain biking trails being built. You never know, maybe an EWS event in the future. Now that would be out of this world!
Special thanks to our partners that made the project possible - Airlink, Industry Nine, Mantis and St Helena Tourism.