Sami Sauri has spent the past 18 months freelancing; most notably riding and producing the Outskirts film series alongside her partner Angus [Gus] Morton. Now based in Girona, we first meet on an uncharacteristically wet day; Sami’s demeanor mirroring the falling rain as she’s feeling a little under the weather since returning from a testing Dirty Kanza. Fortunately the morning of our arranged coffee dawns a beautifully sunny June day and Sami walks into Federal café with a broad smile. Seating ourselves at an upstairs table and to the distant accompaniment of a street musician playing Spanish guitar, what follows is an impromptu and candid conversation that takes in everything from behind-the-camera insights into the making of the Outskirts films to a way of living a life that embraces change and new opportunities.
You look really happy.
I’ve just been offered a position working for Komoot. Super exciting because I’ve been freelancing for a year and a half which is cool but I just need some stability.
So where will you be based?
Right here in Girona [laughs]. It’s remote. Komoot works with regional managers so I’ll be looking after Spain. Building a community and taking care of events which is kind of what I do anyway. It’s cool because it’s something you can combine with other projects.
That sounds exciting?
I’ve had two weeks off after racing Dirty Kanza with my body feeling weak and I was like, oh my God the stress. But then I got the message from Komoot.
That reminds me of something Gus said in Route 66. He talked about wanting a life of chaos…
And he’s got it. Totally [laughs].
But he also looks back to a time when life was much simpler. So for you, having a regular job brings with it a similar outlook?
Maybe it’s good to have a little bit of chaos but with some structure. Is that even possible [laughs]?
Structure brings with it routine.
For me, that can be boring. But the thing with Komoot – working remotely – I can be in the south of Spain one week and then back in Girona.
So was it advertised or did Komoot approach you?
I was working for a communications company in Berlin – handling all their influencer programmes for the Netherlands, France, Italy and Spain – so I knew the role was coming up but went through the usual process just like everyone else. And it’s pretty much what I do anyway [smiles].
Is a varied work life important to you?
Since forever I grab opportunities as they come. I was head barista for Rapha in Berlin and then when Gus came into my life it totally opened up a completely new world. And having lots of different interests and projects is really cool because you keep things fresh.
So if you had one role – Monday to Friday – that maybe wouldn’t work?
I don’t know [laughs]? I worked regular hours in Berlin with Rapha but for the past 18 months I’ve been enjoying the freedom of not being stuck inside the same four walls. I see me with a job every day but just not working in the same place every day.
So how far ahead do you look? Or is it simply a matter of reacting to things as they happen?
I’d been living day to day but riding Dirty Kanza kind of changed all that. Because I went to the race totally unprepared and it was sooo tough and that taught me a very important lesson. So I’m considering maybe looking a little further ahead than the next weekend [laughs].
You mentioned that meeting Gus – having him in your life – opened up new possibilities. Is that in terms of attitudes or opportunities?
I think it’s both. With regards to work but also to life in general. Travelling to ride and shoot and then also produce on the Outskirts films; that came from him but then things start to happen organically and lead to other projects. And it’s not as if we’re always searching for these things. Sometimes they just come up and you need to be ready.
How does that way of working relate to a project such as Outskirts?
You take Route 66. I absolutely love it but that was the most unplanned film ever [laughs]. A full-on feature film made day by day; just letting things happen. All filmed hand-held without a camera crew. And we were just happy to go with it; to see where it flowed. Riding big distances on our bikes which dictated the rhythm of the way we worked. And even though my knee was hurting; to be part of that, it felt amazing.
Is that a way of travelling you enjoy?
I love it [smiles]. Whatever comes, it comes. Like when we’d finished filming Big Land we decided to keep on riding another 1500 km with Chaz and Nico; two fixed gear boys from Chicago and San Francisco.
Why the decision to continue?
Just to see if we could film totally unsupported. And at some point it will get released but we’re just taking our time. It’s one that we wanted to do for ourselves.
Were the mosquitoes as bad as they appeared in Big Land?
They were really bad. But then on the second part we didn’t have any [laughs]. It was amazing weather and insane roads but just nothing. Huge distances between towns and these were proper mining communities. For the last stretch we bought 16 sandwiches to eat on the road and slept under an abandoned mobile home.
Very much a working environment?
You would never go there as a tourist. Our final stop was Fermont; a mining city that’s contained within a single building that’s more than a kilometre long. A school, hotel, shops; all inside this one building. But I get that because when we arrived there was a 60 km/h wind blowing and it’s easy to imagine what would happen if you combine that with heavy snowfall.
How is the knee now because it seemed to be really painful?
After Route 66 the pain went away which is kind of why I came back for Big Land but about 3 days in it returned. And then there was the gravel and some problems with Gus that made me just blow-up [smiles].
I find that interesting because in Big Land your personal life crossed into the film. In the final edit you allowed some aspects of those arguments to remain.
Oh there’s some that we had to take out [laughs].
But in the film you also talk about love. So was it an easy decision to include those particular scenes?
I think it’s important to understand why I was sitting in the car. Because that day there was a big fight; the boys being boys and still trying to go fast and I was struggling but Gus thought I was doing it on purpose so I just decided to climb off the bike. As it turned out, a good decision as the gnarliest parts were the next few days.
And you were also there as the producer. What does this role actually entail?
Basically, you pre-plan everything; all the logistics. For Big Land and Shadow of the East – the ones that I really produced – I had to book all the flights and get everyone there at the same time. For Dan [Craven], that only happened two days before we started riding. We needed a fourth rider and originally Taylor Phinney was coming along but he had to race. I knew Dan through his wife and he’d just finished shooting with Rapha so it all came together at the last moment.
Does your personality lend itself to this role?
No, not really [laughs]. But I like the producer job because I get to meet loads of new people and take care of everything.
I assume if anything goes wrong, they immediately come to you?
That’s right. So I just hope there aren’t too many problems [laughs]. Like on Big Land when we arrived in that town after the night with all the mosquitoes and there was only one room for 6 people. Oh man, I was cooked; on the phone and checking the original booking until we finally managed to get another room.
And when the filming has finished?
During post-production I’m tying up any loose ends, figuring out whether we should do a screening, sending images to sponsors. Just taking care of every small detail and helping Gus with the editing to try and save some time. I mean, it’s a feature film. People take 4 years but we did 3 in one year [laughs]. It’s brutal; Gus caged up editing in that black room for such a long time.
You chose not to ride in Shadow of the East?
That was a different type of project. Beautifully shot, very filmic. And originally we didn’t want to have anybody else; not even me [laughs]. We set out to reference the first Thereabouts film when it was just Gus and Lachlan. But then the boys wanted Juan Antonio Flecha who I originally knew from surfing.
Lachlan looked so cold in Shadows. Was it a challenging shoot?
Oh man. It was totally crazy. After we’d filmed that scene we started running downhill to try and get warm.
And then Juan Antonio got sick after eating the lamb.
I’d woken up and we were speaking Spanish and he was telling me that he’d had no sleep at all and that he wasn’t feeling great. He still wanted to ride and I was trying to reassure him that he’d be fine. But it turned out that everyone who’d had the lamb – not me because I don’t eat meat – had drank a shot of this digestif which kills everything. Everyone, that is, apart from Juan Antonio. And I was like, that’s it, you got it [smiles].
It really looked like he was suffering…
Juan had to stop a number of times – more than the couple we showed in the film – but we needed to keep moving. Lachlan was using the trip as training for the Tour Down Under and we had set distances for each day. So we were trying to encourage Juan to get in the car but he didn’t want to and it was just really funny.
You must be aware that there’s a recognised Outskirts look on the bike?
A lot of the time I manage the Thereabouts Instagram account and people tag us in when they post a picture riding and wearing a t-shirt. It’s all about being comfortable. Something made from merino; it just feels so good. When you’re going bike-packing, the clothes you wear on the bike are the clothes you’re going to wear when you climb off. And this concept just came into Gus’ head that when we were riding and filming we’d look normal and just fit in with the people we’d be meeting on the trip. And that made such a difference when we were talking to them on camera.
The images you take on the road and the portraits in particular; they have a kind of gentle intensity with the subjects appearing very comfortable and open. How do you achieve that?
There’s a few that came about simply by talking; just asking – super honestly – if I can take a picture. And then when I’m shooting Lachy [Lachlan Morton]; I just love him. He just doesn’t care which is what makes him such a good subject. Gus is the same; he can be so natural in front of the camera. There’s this image from the day I jumped in the car on Big Land and he was so pissed but I had to do that portrait [smiles].
What’s going through your head when you’re taking photographs?
It’s an immediate response. I have a little eye but I’ve never studied photography. And I don’t call myself a photographer. It started with Route 66 and when you’re in America it’s really easy to get good shots. The space and the colours. And I love doing photos because it’s something you can do anywhere and at anytime but then I kind of like the process that producing a film involves.
And there’s also your riding?
In Spanish we have a saying that roughly translates as ‘non-stop ass’. And that’s me! I’ve always been a little hyper-active from when I was very small. My mother took me to every single sport that was available to tire me out [smiles]. And I still can’t sit around doing nothing.
Being based in Girona must make it easy to get out on your bike?
It’s a little of everything. In winter I spent a lot of time bouldering which is a good fit with cycling in terms of building strength. And I like riding with friends but I’m just as happy going out alone. That way I can do whatever I want because I might start on a road but I always seem to end up finishing on gravel [smiles].
What’s it like being recognised? People knowing who you are?
Living in Girona it does happen. People don’t always approach me but I can hear them whispering. And then if Gus is with me, well [laughs]…it’s just crazy.
But do they expect you to behave in a certain way? Is there a sense of ownership by the public?
I’m a very open person and I don’t really care what people think. People do mention the arguments we had in Outskirts but I’m not shy in saying that, yes, sometimes we all have a bad day. And then thinking along those same lines, it doesn’t take much to make me happy. Like when we were in Norway recently riding this beautiful, insane, next-level gravel. I just couldn’t stop myself smiling [laughs].