Ride for mud & glory

I love shooting cyclocross. Especially if the weather is bleak. That just makes the muck much more epic.

Leaden skies and rain might mean the end of summer. But for cyclocross racers, the fun is just beginning.
The Vancouver Cyclocross coalition kicked off its season of nine races in the Lower Mainland Saturday with the annual Donkey Cross at Castle Park in Port Coquitlam.
Cyclocross is where road riders go to wallow in the mud.
It was started in the early 1900s in northern Europe as a way for road racers to stay fit as their summer season wound down. The cyclists would challenge each other to race to the next town or village in Belgium, France or the Netherlands and they were allowed any route to achieve their destination. That often meant traversing muddy farmer’s fields, skittering along narrow dirt trails, hopping fences.
By 1924, cyclocross had become a recognized cycling discipline when the sport’s first international competition, Le Criterium International de Cross-Country Cyclo-Pédestre, was held in Paris. But the sport wasn’t officially sanctioned by cycling’s governing authority, the Union Cycliste Internationale until the 1940s and the first world championship was staged in Paris in 1950.
A cyclocross race is usually contested on a tight, twisty route that includes several obstacles and challenges that forces participants to carry their bikes, over a barrier or up a steep, slippery hill. Saturday’s event included races for kids, youth, novices, masters and elite men and women.

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How cycling makes me a better journalist

I’ve been a journalist for more than 34 years, a cyclist a little longer.
At some level, the two pursuits have always intertwined.
It was during summer break after my first year of journalism school I bought my first real road bike, a Raleigh.
After graduating and landing a job, I upgraded to a beautiful Italian roadster with Campagnolo components.
When I headed west and got another gig, I rewarded myself with another road bike customized with components I selected myself.
Over the years, I’ve done many cycling stories, from ride-alongs with the bike squads of various police departments and an outreach worker for a homeless shelter, to training with a peloton of first responders preparing for a week-long fundraising ride. I rode the track at the Burnaby Velodrome after doing a story about its fight for survival.
I’ve written and photographed stories about cyclists using their passion to try to change the world, cyclists who commute, cyclists who pedal to seemingly impossible destinations like the far North in the middle of winter.
I’ve covered stories about local pros and some who want to get there. I’ve covered bike races and trike races and even — for a time — a local bike festival that’s since morphed to a community street party.

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I’d like to say i completely planned this photo from the PoCo Grand Prix, but the truth is it was a lucky frame I had no idea I had until I downloaded the memory card.

I’ve helped countless cyclists get the word out about their charitable efforts, riding to raise money for cancer research, Parkinson’s, a friend or group in need.

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A local group of volunteers getting used sports equipment, including bikes, ready to sell to raise money for KidSport.

One afternoon, I got a call about an elderly gentleman whose bike was stolen from his garage, a bike he’d possessed for years and had actually ridden across the country to visit his daughter. Of course I’ll tell his story and maybe help get his bike back. He did.
Even when I’m not telling stories about cyclists, I like to think my own passion for cycling has aided and abetted my storytelling.
Knowing local roads as a cyclist has gotten me closer to newsworthy scenes than some of my media colleagues.

Mario Bartel photojournalist storyteller
Knowing the local roads I’d ridden my bike on got me a parking spot closer to the scene of an anti-pipeline protest on Burnaby Mountain than most of my media colleagues.

And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen something on a ride, like a new store, an unusual sign, or even a notice taped to light standard, that later became fodder for a story or a photo op, either by myself or passed on to a colleague.

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When I needed to get a shot to illustrate the poor quality of air, I immediately thought of this spot along a popular riverfront bike trail that usually offers an expansive view of a nearby mountain range now obscured by smoke and haze. I’ve ridden this very trail many times.

Cycling forces you to look at the world at a slower pace. Riding with your head up allows you to notice things you might not otherwise see speeding past in a car or loping nearby with your head down looking at your feet.
Cycling enables your curiosity, allows you the luxury of thought. Many a lede — and sometimes the arc of whole stories — have been written in my head while on a bike.
But there is one thing cycling has not facilitated in my career as a journalist; lugging camera gear and the need to get to breaking news scenes quickly, or assignments on the far side of town efficiently, means I need a car for work.

Night racers

BC Superweek is Canada’s largest, most prestigious series of pro bike races. Over the course of a week, riders from as far away as Germany and New Zealand converge in Metro Vancouver for nine races, most of them criteriums around tight, fast city courses.

This year’s PoCo Grand Prix was the first time the racers did their thing in the fading light of twilight and, for the men’s race, darkness.

The Friday-night party vibe around the course and the city’s central square was unrivaled, and the racers put on a great show, even if it was hard to see in the growing gloom.

Mudflats a deceptive danger

Apparently some people like wandering onto mudflats when the tide is out. It’s not a good idea. Here’s the story and photos I filed for The Tri-City News of rescue training on the mudflats of Port Moody Inlet by the Port Moody Fire Department.

It took just three steps for Rob Suzukovich to become hopelessly, and helplessly, stuck in the mudflats at the eastern end of Port Moody Inlet.
Fortunately, he’s a Port Moody fire captain who was taking part in a training exercise Thursday to give the city’s firefighters some practice extricating people who’ve wandered off the shoreline and into the heavy muck at low tide.
Port Moody fire chief Ron Coulson said that happens about twice a year.
He said the easy access to the flats from nearby trails, and the proximity of lots of residents and visitors to the city who may not be aware of the dangers of the mudflats make it imperative his crews keep their skills fresh.
He said the mudflats can be deceiving because when the tide is low they look no different than a soggy beach. But the mud is heavy with organic material and so saturated with water it creates an instant vacuum when unwary visitors step into it. That’s when the trouble starts.
“The harder you work to get out, you just sink deeper,” said Coulson of the process called liquefaction.
He said anyone who gets stuck in the ooze should stay calm until help arrives.
That help includes firefighters equipped with special plastic overshoes they strap onto their boots that allows them to walk on top of the muddy surface. They’ll also carry a spare pair of the overshoes for their victim, as well as a spinal board to provide a solid surface once that victim is extricated.
A high-power water pressure gun attached to 1.25-inch hoseline allows the firefighters to blast muck away from the victims legs, replacing it with water so they can be pulled out easier.
Suzokovich said the suction was immediate and overpowering.
“It’s very deceiving,” he said.
Coulson said visitors need to respect the signs warning them to stay off the mudflats at low tide.
“They don’t realize the danger,” he said. “And if the tide comes in, it can quickly turn tragic.”

The thrill of victory

Photographing a championship game at any level is like covering a 90-minute trailer leading up to the fleeting feature. It’s all about the “jubo.”
With so much at stake in a winner-take-all finale, the action is bound to be intense. So is the emotion.
Capturing the former is a given. Shooting the latter is usually the product of intuition, positioning and having the players turn your way.
At the BC High School AAA senior girls soccer championship on Friday, the local team I was there to cover dominated the run of player over a younger, upstart underdog. But they couldn’t score.
The match went into overtime, scoreless.
I knew I had some good action in the camera, so with a few minutes left before the match would go to penalty kicks, I moved from my usual position behind the end touch line to a spot along the sideline near midfield.
One goal by either team would be decisive, releasing a season’s worth of emotion, on the pitch as well as the bench, and being on the sideline near the team benches put me in a better position to capture that. (Plus I wouldn’t have to walk as far if the match went to a penalty kick shootout, which usually happens at one end of the field or the other.)
And sure enough, when a player from the team I was covering squeaked a shot through the legs of the opposing goalkeeper in the last two minutes of the second overtime half, she turned back towards her teammates running towards her, all their faces alight with joy, excitement and exultation. The despairing opponent in the background was just a lucky coincidence.

Reflecting on 25 years (actually 33)

It was a bit of a bittersweet experience attending my first BCYNA Awards banquet in years on Saturday. I used to eschew these kinds of events because, well, they’re mostly about management patting itself on the back and handing a few tchotchkes to the peons.

But having returned to the biz almost exactly a year ago, I thought it might be fun to throw a little shade at some of those managers who’d tried to excise me a few years back and here I was, getting a Silver Quill certificate for having survived 25 years in community newspapers (actually, I started full time in 1985, but they haven’t figured out a precious metal for 33 years yet). Plus I was also nominated for a couple of awards for photos I’d shot in my resurrection year.

Alas, most of the cohort of reporters and photographers I’d worked alongside and against for so many years have moved on, mostly not by their choice. Familiar faces are becoming fewer and fewer and suddenly I felt like the outlier. There was nobody to share war stories with or mutually rail against the injustices of an industry that’s lost its way.

So as I sat chewing my giant piece of goulash that was presented as our $150 per plate meal, I reflected on being back in the biz, how I got here, and some of the people who helped me get to that table on Saturday night. Like:

Ron Kuzyk, a former steelworker in Hamilton and the one-time weekend photographer at the Burlington Post, who showed me what it takes to get a good sports photo, where to find the human element in a story, how to get across town in five minutes.

Walter Passarella, the chief photographer at Oshawa This Week, who took a chance on a skinny kid just a year out of journalism school with an even skinnier portfolio.

Craig Hodge, who dangled the prospect of work in the lively and competitive community newspaper scene of Metro Vancouver when the economy tanked in Southern Ontario and took a lot of newspaper jobs with it.

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Celebrating my Silver Quill award with another 25-year survivor, and newsroom colleague, Diane Strandberg at Saturday’s BCYNA Awards gala. The photo was taken by my former boss who brought me out to BC in the first place. Shame about the focus 😉

The publisher of the Cape Breton Post, whose boastful story during my job interview with him of how he saved money by acceding an important local story to the wire service sent up a red flag and sent me about as far away from his paper I could get .

All the photographers I worked alongside and against when I got here — Simone Ponne, Doug Shanks, Brian Giebelhaus, Evan Seal, Arlen Redekop, Paul VanPeenan, Greg Kinch, Ward Perin, Marcus Oleniuk, Dave Buzzard, Chung Chow, Chuck Russell, Craig Sleik, Rick Collins, John Gordon, Brian Langdeau, John Van Putten, Steve Ray, Steve Kidd, Rebecca Blissett, Dan Toulgoet, Larry Wright, Colleen Flanagan, Jennifer Gauthier, Mark Patrick. Whenever our assignments crossed we kibbitzed and kvetched, but more importantly we pushed each other to make our papers look great, to create images and tell stories that invited readers to pick our papers up with the assurance their time was being spent with a quality product that could delight, enthrall or challenge them with every turn of the page.

I can’t not mention Richard Dal Monte, my current editor at the Tri-City News, who a year ago figured I’d done enough damage producing digital content for a realtor and brought me back into the newspaper world, for however much longer it lasts. Plus, I could be his instrument of subterfuge to fulfill his evil scheme to bring more cycling stories to the masses (so far so good; am fulfilling my monthly quota).

And, of course, my wife, Katie, a former partner in storytelling who’s had the good sense to get out of this racket because goodness knows, a bank is going to look sideways at a mortgage application when both paycheques are coming from the newspaper industry. For nearly 13 years now, she’s been my sounding board, allowing me to vent my many frustrations, sharing my occasional triumphs and pushing me to stay true to my talents, however difficult it can sometimes be to convince others of their value.

 

Pistol and Joker

Sometimes I can’t help myself. Here’s a poetic twist on my weekly report of our road hockey activities.

Two players, both alike in their enmity,
On cold, blustery concrete, where we lay our scene,
From feeble defence to a new cast sniper,
Where big rebounds and bad bounces make the score uneven.
From forth the rivalry of these two foes
A pair of players take divergent paths
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their departures bury their teams’ strife
The fearful path of their one-day rivalry,
And the continuous scoring of more goals than one would care for,
Nor the other deserved,
Which, but for Joker’s rage, could not prevent,
Is now the one hour’s battle of our court
To which if teammates with resolve attend
What here shall miss, their toil strives to amend,
In time for the Stanley Stick
Just four weeks hence.
A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The score, for sorrow, will not show its digits:
Go hence, to regroup and resolve to better defend;
Some shall backcheck, and some will float
For never was a story of more goals
Than this of Joker, and his nemesis, Pistol.

A unique collaboration

I recently spent an hour or so hanging out at one of our local craft breweries. But I didn’t get drunk. Didn’t even sip a sample. Instead, I photographed their all-hands effort to can two new beers they developed collaboratively with the company doing the canning.

Collaborative creations between competing brewers are nothing new in Metro Vancouver burgeoning craft beer industry. But a joint effort between a brewery and a canner that packages their beer is something special.

So much so, Adam Crandall of Moody Ales in Port Moody and Matt Leslie of West Coast Canning, decided to team up for two beers, with partial proceeds from sales of four-packs of their collaboration going to KidSport Tri-Cities.

Crandall and Leslie decided the onset of the sometimes unpredictable spring weather needed its own beverages that would appeal when the sun is out and when the clouds roll in and rain starts to fall — both of which can happen within the hour.

“We see it all the time,” Moody Ales co-founder Dan Helmer said. “It’s a beautiful day and our patio is packed, it starts raining and no one moves. They just put their jackets on and keep drinking.”

Shorts Weather is a hoppy India session ale with a citrusy punch for when it’s warm, while Still Raining is a dark lager with aromas of chocolate and coffee for when the gloom descends.

On Monday, West Coast Canning brought two of its portable canning lines to the Murray Street brewery to package the new beers.

“We’ve never done something like this before,” Leslie said.

The Mixed Weather four-packs — with two cans of each beer — ship to private liquor stores around the province on March 26.

New West typographer’s press still printing

It’s not often you get to revisit a story you first encountered 14 years prior. Especially if that story re-emerges in a different community where you just so happen to now be plying your craft. I did two takes for this piece; one for my current paper, and a more personal version for the paper that used to be my competition. This is the latter.

The late Jim Rimmer may have been one of New Westminster’s most famous residents. But he didn’t hit a baseball or win the Stanley Cup.

Rimmer was renowned for his typography.

From his stained-glass lit studio behind his home on Ninth Street, Rimmer created fonts that set a standard for typographers around the world. He then cast each letter and character into lead blocks that he could use in his collection of ancient typesetting machines and letter presses to print one-sheets, posters and books that were coveted by collectors.

Rimmer also designed logos that became part of our everyday visual landscape: the flowing script for the band, Heart; Simon Fraser University; a linocut of a cabin in the woods on tins of Murchie’s tea.

When Rimmer passed away on Jan. 8, 2010, he was mourned in the graphic arts and typography world as “a jazz musician with inky fingers.”

I met Rimmer in 2004.

He’d just won some sort of international award which seemed worthy of recognition in the local paper, so I was dispatched with a reporter for an interview and photo shoot.

Walking into his orderly studio was like entering Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but for typography. The walls were adorned with framed examples of his work, posters he’d designed, broadsides of poems, pages from books. Neatly arranged cabinets contained drawers of the various fonts he’d cast to assemble in the heavy, old typesetter that sat at an angle by a massive, arched stained glass window that bathed the room in a warm, orange glow.

His basement workshop that adjoined the studio was cluttered with all manner of ancient, heavy iron linotype and monotype machines, and letterpresses he’d acquired from print shops that had moved on in technology.

This was the roots of the very pages you’re reading now, the technology to commit those words to ink and paper pretty much unchanged since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century. It was like spending an afternoon when newspapering was a noble and honourable profession, and assembling the day’s newspaper was the toil of craftsmen in dark, noisy press rooms stationed at heavy, clattering cast iron machines.

When I learned Rimmer’s 1914 Colt Armoury (yes, the same company that manufactures guns) letterpress had found a new home and purpose with a graphic artist in Port Moody, I had to reconnect.

Markus Fahrner said he couldn’t believe the good fortune of his find.

While much of Rimmer’s printed works, printers’ dummies, manuscripts and type design work was acquired by the Simon Fraser University library after his passing, the fate of his collection of heavy machinery was less certain.

Fahrner said it’s important to keep the old machines running rather than have them end up as decorative curios in restaurants or antique shops.

“I really admire the craft,” Fahrner said. “I love the way it forces you to slow down.”

In fact, a poster that might take Fahrner a couple of hours to design on a computer can take days to assemble and print on the letterpress.

“It’s slow and precise,” he said.”You suddenly have so much to know about the process, like the way the ambient temperature of the room affects the ink, the type of paper you’re using, how heavy an impression you want to make on the paper.”

The end product, Fahrner said, has a depth and life that can’t be produced digitally.
“There’s an intrinsic love and energy in the things you produce,” he said.

Looking back

When the NewsLeader closed two years ago, I thought I was done. Over the course of 31 years in community journalism, I’d told some good stories, met countless interesting people, had opportunities to document some pretty cool events and moments.
After six months of decompressing and riding my bike, I stepped to the “other side,” creating digital content for a local realtor. It was a chance to use my skills in a different venue, bringing value to a new audience.
The gig lasted 11 months.
No sooner had it ended when an opportunity to return to community journalism presented itself. It took all of one day to realize I still had stories to tell, I thrive in the buzz of a newsroom, I crave the variety and the challenge of weaving something from nothing, putting it out to the world and then doing it all over again.
I went in with no illusions about the precariousness of our industry and the security of my gig. Every time we hear of a paper closing or another cutting further, my blood runs a little cold. A phone call from head office and a closed door meeting could send me back to my Plan B in a heartbeat.
But for as long as it lasts, I’m glad to be back doing what I do best, telling stories with my camera and with words, digging out little nuggets from around town that might surprise or delight our readers, driving from assignment to assignment with one eye out for that elusive wild art that might give the editor another option for front page or plug a hole on page 15.
It’s where I belong. It’s what I love.

Of course, my return to newspapers means another chance to mine my year’s work for some of my favourite photos. In days of yore, I filled an entire edition of the Burnaby and New West NewsLeaders, along with commentary about how a particular photo came to pass, or what I liked about it. I spend more time in the office these days, working the phones, writing stories; the body of work isn’t as deep as I’d like it, but it’s getting there.