13 Sep 2017

Contributors: Zach Faulkner

WORDS & PHOTOS x Zach Faulkner

Welcome to our new series of Shorts honoring our contributors. Without each and every one of them Eskapee would be a pretty boring blank canvas and it’s important for  us to recognise the people who have created all our content. Over the coming months and years we will be showcasing every one of our contributors and through 15 fun and at times deep questions, and 10 of their favourite photos (each with their own story), we hope you’ll be able to find out a little more about the people behind the stories.

First up, we’d like to introduce Zach Faulkner, who lives just outside Keene, New Hampshire, in the USA. Zach’s stories on Eskapee are The Happiest, Grease Stains, Lads On Tour, and Funsuck and has been contributing to Eskapee since the very early days. His passion and enthusiasm (as well as promptness) makes our job a whole lot easier and he’s definitely someone we have come to rely on to deliver the goods – thanks Zach.

Zach’s photos and words below share a little bit of his private life and the people and places that are important to him, and while Eskapee isn’t a platform for racing the majority of Zach’s photographic life is around the world of downhill racing and it’s that world that provides the current path and creativity for Zach’s life as a professional photographer.

Who is Zach Faulkner?
Zach Faulkner is a late-twenties bike nerd who enjoys telling stories through photos and words.

What makes you happy?
Being on a bike is my true happy place, but I’m also a big fan of hot wings and waffles.

What is your greatest fear?
I don’t find fear productive, but I’m weary of people who are complacent and uninterested in learning.

I wanted to find a photo from the first-ever World Cup I shot, which was Windham in 2014. I raced at the same venue in 2008 as a Junior and won. It was after that race that a bunch of us (Neko Mulally being one of the voices) were talking and caught the ear of someone important. We all thought the mountain held immense potential and further suggested it was world-class. That day started the process to getting a World Cup round to the sleepy little town in New York. I still marvel at the fact that it just took a couple fired up kids making some noise to get that ball rolling. This was the year that Bryceland (Rat Boy) won the overall and nearly won World Champs. In this shot he is sporting a black eye and chipped tooth from the mosh pit/Sam Dale at the Mont Sainte Anne after party. Rat became a buddy in the following years and it still one of the coolest dudes around. To me, this photo of him interviewing with Rob Parkin is a perfect summation of why he is so likeable and revered in the sport.
I’m from a cool place. The seasons are drastic, there is great riding, and it’s quiet with a slower pace. The autumn is what the region is best known for, producing mind-boggling swaths of color on the hillsides that ebb and flow with hues of yellow, orange, and red. I always wanted to escape and flee where I grew up, but I now take solace in my time back home during the in between weeks and off-season months. It took me seeing the world to appreciate my own backyard, a lame cliché, but the truth nonetheless. I took this photo one afternoon last year on my way to see Allison my girlfriend. It made me a little late on arrival, but she liked this scene and having this shot as a reminder of home is pretty cool.

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows (yet).

Fun Fact: My first year shooting World Cups, I didn’t understand how to use the AutoServo setting on my camera, so I basically shot it like an old analog SLR, setting my point of focus and timing the shutter to catch the rider in the framing I wanted – no spray-and-pray for me in 2015!

How do you escape?
I ride into the woods and hit my favorite loop or I hit the gym with my headphones on and chalk at the ready.

What must you carry with you at all times?
My phone and my wallet. Everything is inside those two pocket buddies. Honorable mention: my water bottle.

The Dream Team came up to Mont Sainte Anne in 2017. My mom had come along in ’16 as well and was fired up to return. My dad hadn’t been to a World Cup since Windham last ran and was pumped to be out in the thick of it. Allison is my wonderful girlfriend and joined in the fun to see what it is I actually do while I’m away. They are three hearty people who enjoy being outside in the elements, but even this was a test of their spirits. I was a little worried throwing Al into the deep end with this event – but she was a trooper. As the crowd dissipated and started to walk towards the podium, I looked across the finish corral and saw the three of them standing there all smiling (Al is smiling, she’s just a bit camera shy), I was relieved that they were all in high spirits and it was also really special to have them there with me joining in the revelry.
The ‘15/’16 summer season in Queenstown, NZ was one of those special social epochs were it all comes together in a spectacularly fun and exciting fashion. The social group was deep and everyone was riding high on the long days of riding and fun in the sun. No matter what day of the week, there was always something going on and someone was heading out to shred, so the potential for getting rad with buds was never-ending. From park laps and trail rides to Atlas nights and post-work BBQs, it was a sublime mixture of time spent with friends in all capacities. I’ll treasure those four months, as they were a paradigm shift for me personally, where I realized what I wanted in life and how I was going to try to grab hold of that vision. Queenstown is where a lot of people find an escape from reality; it’s where I found my stride as an adult and my non-nuclear family.

How did you get to this point in your life and what/who influenced those choices?
It’s been a long strange trip to this point: A lifetime of battling academia, followed by stints in labor jobs (farming, construction, land management), and then finally realizing the average life wasn’t what I wanted. So, I spent a summer in Queenstown, NZ, met the right people by happenstance, and now I do this for work. It’s still a bit of a whirlwind.

What would you tell the 10yr old version of yourself?
Your gut is right, trust your instincts, and don’t keep company with people who don’t see your value.

How do you describe your work?
Purposeful and precise, mixed with a tinge of chaos and ADHD.

It is really amazing to watch a rider find that magic pace. Tahneé Seagrave was always going to be one of the greats, it was just a matter of when. She’d been close in ’16, showing intense promise, so it was just going to take that little bit extra to make it click. This season, she ticked off her first win in Leogang with her closest competition Rachel Atherton absent from the event and you could tell she wasn’t satisfied – she wanted to win when all the best were present. At Mont Sainte Anne she took the win, convincingly, and that was when it all came together; she’d figured it out. At the last race of the year, likely the hardest track of the year, she once again showed that her time is now, and stormed to her third win of the season. This photo is from the podium at the finish, just minutes after officially winning the event. You can see the relief, the full gamut of emotions taking place, and I think this is one of those little glimpses behind the curtain where you can see what it means to want to be the best.
Australia has all the creepy-crawlies. I’d never been Down Under until April 2016. With the World Cup taking us there in early Autumn, we were told all the critters that might be our undoing were off hibernating (snakes, mainly). As it turns out, northern Australia has the killer snakes, and southern Australia has the killer spiders – that’s a broad stroke, not a hard fact, but it helped ease a lot of concern. With that said, the Golden Orb spider is quite the sight to behold. They are the size of a 203mm brake rotor and definitely stop most people in their tracks. Their webs are the size of a house window and sometimes they are 4 meters up in a tree, other times they are two meters to the side of the track at head-height. Thankfully, they are harmless and just look a bit scary – or really rad if you’re a fan of arachnids.

What does your crystal ball show you about the future of MTB media?
It will all become much, much more immediate and harder to make stick. The flash-in-a-pan effect is already strong, so the grind to produce standout work will intensify, likely to a point where a return to slow-made content will be necessary/needed and appreciated – like Eskapee [Ed: Ah, shucks :)]

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
New Zealand. Good people, proper life out-look, and plenty of adventure to be had.

What do you do to make flying and travel more comfortable?
A good set of Bluetooth headphones goes a long way. Wool shirt and undies are a must. Bring power cables, power packs, and a change of clothes. A smile and friendly attitude will make your day go a lot more smoothly too. Don’t forget snacks.

Lindsay and I go way back. We’ve known each other since college and remain close friends. By happenstance, I’ve ended up dating her [now former] roommate, which meant we ended up getting to hang out a lot in the past year. It was really enjoyable getting to rekindle our friendship, plus she didn’t mind me pointing my camera at her. This photo from October ’16 on a Saturday was taken in their kitchen as she made a batch of cookies for a coworker. We’d all been downtown earlier, so the atmosphere was rife with shenanigans and shit talking. It was evenings like this spent with friends that helped me find a sense of normalcy after a summer of being away on the road.
The enigma that is Aaron Gwin continues to confound and astound. His abilities on a bike are second to none and he is quickly rising up the list of All Time Greats in the echelons of downhill racing. In 2015 he went 5/7 for wins in during the World Cup season, which was a feat that hadn’t been seen in the modern era of racing. At Val di Sole, Italy he capped the season with his 5th win, beating a podium of names who have since added their names to the win list (Bruni and Brosnan, with MacDonald in 4th and Bryceland in 5th). It was all the faces we’d hope to see at the pointy end of the stick since they moved up from Juniors, and it was the “new” kid on the block who was again victorious and redefining what it meant to be fast and consistent. During Aaron’s Finals run, I decided to sprint up into the media center, which was on the second story of a building adjacent to the finish line. Being the panshot fanatic I am, I rolled the dice hoping to capture something special in a unique way…and imagine my surprise when they lit off the confetti canon. I wanted a clear frame across the line – I didn’t even think about this particular frame until much later when scrolling through and Sven Martin saw the shimmer and said, “WAIT. GO BACK…what the f-“…needless to say, this shot was a happy accident, which is sometimes what photography is all about.

What’s the most expensive mistake you’ve made?
I totaled my car in Canada coming back from World Champs at MSA in 2010. A car pulled out in front of me, cutting me off, and just didn’t accelerate – while I was driving at 90kph. I was on my way back to the town I was attending Uni in, to go to my first night of work bussing tables. Got a lift to the border from the towing company and walked across the border, twice (I had a lot of stuff in my car I needed to bring back). It was expensive because I had to get a new car, but I got over book-value for the car from the insurance company, so that was a silver lining.

What is your greatest memory from working in the world of mountain biking?
There are a couple…but one I think is of note considering World Champs just happened and is from World Champs in 2015 in Andorra. Loic Bruni had just crossed the line into 1st place and a few of us were standing around the finish corral shooting. I went to give him a high-five, but he was just out of reach…not a big deal. About 45 minutes later after being crowed World Champion, Loic comes out of anti-doping and I run into him again. The first thing he says, before I can even get out a “congrats” is, “Bro, sorry I didn’t give you a high five!” What? Wow…how was that even on his mind? He is a truly kind person and someone who will be remembered not only as an incredible rider, but as a man of great warmth and kindness.

Why is telling stories and/or taking photos important to you?
Story-telling is a familial tradition, so it’s in my nature. Specifically, though, I think photos can elevate the written word, and vice versa. The two mediums complement each other as one shows and the other tells. The intricacies of a photo matter, as words just sometimes can’t capture a moment; often words are needed to further explain or give context to a photo. To me, creating historical content gives people a current and future look back on what was and how it affected the present. Life is rich, so it is easy to forget the special moments that precede the ones happening live, right now. To preserve memory, both personal and that of others, it is a privilege because to be true to the moment, honest in retelling it, and steadfast against embellishment is integral to keeping the past accurate and exciting.

A young talent on the rise, 19-year-old Bruce Klein is now a household name after 2017. In his first year as a factory rider he won several national-level events to put himself on the map, while steadily working his way up the results sheets at World Cups. He had a huge schedule, racing all of the World Cups, American Pro GRT national rounds, The US Open, Crankworx (where he got 3rd in the Canadian Open), and then made selection for World Champs. In Val di Sole, he was on fire, riding like a man possessed, determined to prove that he was going to be a contender on an international level. Unfortunately, he had an off mid-run, ending his chances of a good finish – but he didn’t quit, later saying to me that he at least wanted to show he had good split times. So, flying into the finish, way out of contention, with course tape trailing him like a banner of mockery, he came into the penultimate corner sideways, going hell for leather. His tenacity and drive is impressive and people have taken notice.
Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is one of the most majestic backdrops I’ve ever seen. The fact that Queenstown, NZ sits right on the shores of this beautiful scene is one of the many charms of the place. This body of water commands the eye, it’s the epicenter of the natural landscape, only out-shined perhaps by Cecil Peak or The Remarkables, which both set a striking backdrop to the massive body of blue. Waking up to this sight every morning and having the sun set on it each night is something truly special. There is a magic to this place and pictures struggle to do it justice. The scale of its enormity it hard to compare until you watch the 51m Earnslaw chug down the lake, coal smoke lazily drifting in its wake. Only then, as it becomes a small spec down the lake, does the sheer size of the lake and adjacent peaks become relatable.