Sami Sauri / Finding Myself

With worldwide concerns over mental health never more prevalent, producer and storyteller Sami Sauri’s first independent film production is a clarion call for the benefits of spending time outdoors. Catching up with Sami from her home in Girona, and with a conversation punctuated with bursts of laughter, we discuss the personal nature of this poignant and beautifully realised project, her own lessons from lockdown and how it feels to see yourself on screen. So sit back and enjoy a thrills (and some spills) tour through Sami’s past year.

cyclespeak
The last time we spoke over a call was way back in March when Spain was in full lockdown. And I was wondering, looking back over all this time, how was it for you?

Sami
Fucked [laughing]

cyclespeak
That bad?

Sami
I think maybe it’s been tough for most people? And in some aspects, I’ve been fortunate. Lockdown didn’t make that much of a difference because I was already working from home in my role with Komoot. I’ve since changed to having a co-working space so I can separate the professional and personal aspects to my life. But back when we were in the strict lockdown, I basically had to solve all my problems and I had the time to think. To think about a lot of things [laughing].

cyclespeak
Possibly too much time?

Sami
That, for me, can be very difficult. Because if I have things on my mind, normally I would just throw myself into activities. But we couldn’t even go riding and I’d been training really well. I tried to keep the intensity going but I don’t really like to ride inside on a trainer. It’s not really my thing. So riding-wise I was a little bit down, but I still wanted to move my body, so a lot of yoga. And I suppose the biggest outcome of all of this is that I really know how to be alone. Before, it was a hassle, but I’ve learnt how to be by myself, in my own space. And as I’ve been injured for the past four weeks, it’s fine. I can deal with it. Before, I would have freaked out by now [laughs].

cyclespeak
Over the past year, I’ve listened to a few podcasts featuring professional cyclists who tried to keep to their training blocks but on the smart trainer. And then two weeks became two months and they needed to alter their mindset when it came to their levels of fitness. They found they couldn’t maintain such a rigorous training regime without some defined goals.

Sami
Totally. There were some strong people that could do it, but not me [smiles].

cyclespeak
Was your role with Komoot as the Spanish community manager affected by the various restrictions?

Sami
Where it was safe to do so, some events did happen, but we also tried to do alternative things that people could still join. Online rides and webinars.

cyclespeak
Even though the impact of the pandemic has been quite unprecedented, it did encourage people to be very creative in the way they approached cycling—ideas such as Dirty Kanzelled which had a massive impact. An event that you’d actually raced the previous year.

Sami
That was Laurens ten Dam. The cleverest outcome from a cancelled race you could imagine. It was insane how much reach he got. Super, super smart and maybe an approach we’ll need to take this year if things turn out the same?

cyclespeak
I was fortunate that, even during lockdown, I was allowed to do a solo ride once a day. But you couldn’t exercise outside at all. That must have been difficult?

Sami
52 days in total without outdoor sports. And then, when we could go outside, we had to stay within our own municipality.

cyclespeak
And I’ve seen your recent posts with you on crutches and wearing a big plastic boot. What’s been going on there?

Sami
As I said before, 2020 wasn’t exactly my best year [laughing]. Back in October, I was going out horse-riding and it was a young horse and he just took off with me on top of him. We were in a parking lot so he could get used to the noise of traffic, and something must have spooked him. His ears were back, which is never a good sign, and he was running towards the road so I tried to turn him and lost my balance and fell. But rather than just falling off, my foot was caught in the stirrup and it was just like a Western movie with me being dragged along [laughs].

cyclespeak
I guess it wasn’t so funny at the time?

Sami
It took a big hole out of my knee and the first time in my life that I’ve needed stitches. I had to wait 10 days to have them removed before I could ride again. But a few days later I was out on my bike and I was stupidly looking at my phone – swapping it between hands – and I crashed.

cyclespeak
So that’s injury number two.

Sami
I was booked on a flight to the Canaries a couple of days later but had to postpone the trip. When I did finally make it out there, I had 20 amazing days working on a new video project before flying home. But then my foot slipped when I was out trail-running and I broke some ligaments.

cyclespeak
Horse, bike, running. You’re kind of covering all bases?

Sami
That was my 2020. And it’s funny because I’ve just signed with Merrell as a partner for their running shoes. Super cool and we were working towards the release of the collaboration and the irony is that I’m on crutches [laughs].

cyclespeak
You mentioned a new video project. That sounds exciting.

Sami
Well, I’ve kind of got this history of working with video. Both in front and behind the camera. And somebody just suggested that I do something for myself. My first reaction was, naahh, there’s no way. But I kept coming back to the idea for six months until I thought that maybe I should. You always hate your look or your voice when you see yourself on a video but I decided to go for it.

cyclespeak
So what was the first step?

Sami
I contacted a photographer called Sergio Villalba in the Canaries. He does amazing surf shots, and I knew he was starting to do videos of cycling. So we got in touch and I explained that I wanted to do this inspirational film to empower people to engage in outdoor sports. He was immediately onboard with the idea and we decided to shoot the footage on Lanzarote. It took three days, and we’re now ready to release the film.

cyclespeak
You must feel so proud?

Sami
It’s really hard when the project is about you [laughs]. And to be honest, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. David Millar helped me by looking over the text but even as recently as yesterday I had a complete freak-out. Asking whether he thought it was correct? If the video even makes sense? Does my accent work, speaking in English?

cyclespeak
So you produced and directed the film. Did you script it too?

Sami
I wrote a long text with notes about my feelings. It was originally twice as long as the final version. But I decided it needed some gaps otherwise it’s basically just me chatting. And even though it’s still quite personal, there was a lot of insight into my life and it was like, oh shit, maybe that doesn’t need to be included [laughs].

cyclespeak
But you still took the decision to refer to your childhood in the narrative?

Sami
I feel like a lot of people can relate to this. And one of the most difficult things is not having regrets, right? So this all leads into the message of the project. That no matter what, the outdoors is a healthy way of recovering and filling you up with good energy.

cyclespeak
Did you write the script and then fit the shots? What was the process?

Sami
The basic idea of encouraging people to enjoy being outside came first. Then I wrote the script before sharing it with Sergio. From there, we worked on a list of shots, and he knew so many amazing locations as he’s from the Canaries. All these different aspects were then tied up to match the mood of the moment.

cyclespeak
The result is really beautiful.

Sami
We used an actual 8mm camera – that’s not a filtered effect – which looks really cool.

cyclespeak
How does it compare producing someone else’s film to your own?

Sami
Good question [laughs]. If it’s not your project, you’re not necessarily working with a style you want. On this project, I had the freedom to experiment and try out different approaches knowing that it was my own time.

cyclespeak
It’s quite a journey from first featuring in films to now working on your own projects. Does that feel satisfying?

Sami
Totally. I would love to give my one hundred percent to this. But right now, with the world as it is, I’m not quite ready to take the plunge. Hopefully one day. For now, the idea is that this project will lead to more adventures for me this year. So this film is the first but definitely not the last one [smiles].

Sami Sauri

Photography by Sergio Villalba and Rubén Plasencia (gallery)

A version of this interview is also published on the Far Ride Magazine web journal

Sami Sauri / Bali and beyond

As Komoot’s community manager for Spain, Sami Sauri has recently settled down to a comparatively 9-5 routine (if you count Sufferfest collaborations with Wahoo and making plans to ride with Specialized as everyday life). And finding she had some vacation time over winter but wanting a holiday rather than a new project, Indonesia was decided on as the destination. With no filming schedule or post-production commitments – Sami just taking a camera to capture her days on the road – this was to be a biking holiday with her friend Jack and an opportunity to soak up and experience an unfamiliar culture.

Now back in Girona but housebound due to the Coronavirus lockdown, Sami took time to reflect on her trip and chat candidly about the intense heat, her interactions with the local population and why it’s perhaps inadvisable to eat in low lit restaurants.


So, Indonesia?

Oh, man. I enjoyed every single moment of this trip. Well, nearly every minute [laughs]. It was my first time in the Far East and my first time riding in such a humid environment. And they drive on the other side of the road which also took a little getting used to. So everything was very different but also incredibly photogenic. I just wanted to stop everywhere to take a picture. Which can sometimes get a little tricky if you actually want to complete your journey [laughs].

But if you see something amazing, you kind of want to document it?

It’s a balance because we did have a plan. An A to B route with a flight to catch when we got to our final stop. So we couldn’t not get there.

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How did the idea for the trip come about?

I’d talked to Jack [Thompson] about going somewhere over winter. He rides as a living so is fairly flexible and I was owed some vacation time so we just decided to go for it [laughs].

And why this particular destination?

Jack had a good contact in the Bali tourism office and we thought it would be fun to spend Christmas somewhere sunny. Not something I’ve ever done before. And because I had a few spare days we also planned to have time on the beach so that I could surf. So we had 10 days for riding and another 5 for Christmas and just chilling out.

You mentioned that Jack rides bikes for a living?

On Instagram he’s @jackultracyclist. He thinks up these crazy challenges like doing three Everestings over three days in three different countries. Or riding 1,200 km from Girona to Portugal in 56 hours non-stop.

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With Route 66 you’ve done some pretty big rides yourself, so riding together on this trip, how did your personalities bounce off each other?

To be really honest it was interesting because all my other long trips have been with Gus [Morton] and we’d be filming and working on a project. Indonesia still had the element of photography but it was like starting from zero and learning about each other. And we did have one little meltdown.

Of course [smiles].

Yeah, of course [laughs]. It happened before when [Gus and I] were filming Thereabouts and I think it would still happen if it was just two friends. You’re a little tired and irritable and you need some space but that’s hard to do if you’re travelling together. So we had this one night and then in the morning it was fine again. And Jack’s a very easygoing person in general and he speaks Balinese – is that a language [smiles] – or is it Indonesian?

That must have come in handy.

He was speaking with the locals along the route which was really cool.

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Your photographs show a variety of very different landscapes. Farmland and rainforest but also arid and rocky highlands.

Jack had this route figured out that linked together all these volcanoes. The first one we rode up is the most active volcano in Indonesia. Impressive because people are just living right below its ridge. All these little houses and places to eat jumbled together and the most recent eruption was only in 2011.

That’s quite recent?

Yeah, right [laughs]. And we rode right up to the top.

So you had this route planned out but what were your first impressions when you flew in?

It was 9:00pm at night, I wasn’t even moving and I’d started sweating. So I was, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die.’ So hot that I was really concerned whether I’d be able to ride. But then we took a taxi and as we drove away from the airport you could see the people in the street and all this life going on outside. So energetic and vibrant that this sense of excitement took away any worries.

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It’s very noticeable that many of your photographs feature the people you saw on the road or talked with in the towns and villages.

Thanks to Jack it was a little easier to communicate. And the first three days we were still in modern Indonesia. There’s a lot of tourism on Bali island so you get the recognisable restaurants and supermarkets. But then we took the boat across to Java. And suddenly, no tourists.

That must have been quite a contrast?

Indonesia has lots of different cultures and religions and in the fishing town where we were dropped off you could see evidence of this in the sights and sounds of everyday life. And then we pitched up and I’m wearing a t-shirt and shorts – it’s super hot – and girls would stop and ask to have their photograph taken with me as this was the first time they’d seen a woman with tattoos.

The centre of attention?

Absolutely. We’d be riding and people would pull over their car to take a photo. Some of them could speak a little English and everyone says hello. Wherever you ride in Bali and Java; hello, hello, hello [laughs].

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The colours in your images are also incredibly vivid.

The landscape was super varied as we rode. A lush green that gradually changed to the oranges and browns of rock and sand the higher we climbed. A very sensory environment with woodsmoke and the smells of cooking from early in the morning.

Is travelling by bike a common sight?

There’s an established community of cyclists in the big cities. But in the more remote areas, sometimes they’d spot you and shout the whole family to come out and see.

And you were stopping off and eating on the road?

I’ll be honest. It was hard. For me, it was the first time I’d ever travelled to this part of the world. So I didn’t really know what to eat. Jack had more of an idea and he’d recommend this or that. And we ate a lot of ice cream to cool us down [laughs]. One evening we were in a restaurant on the beach and it was pretty dark. We’d ordered this plate of rice mixed with different types of vegetables. Everything is usually covered in chillies and I’d asked if they could keep them separate. But then what I mistook for a carrot…

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I can see this coming.

…was this huge chilli. And I hate spicy things. I just can’t deal with it. And this blew my mouth wide open and next morning I woke up with a massive allergic reaction. My face was blown up like a balloon. And this was also the same day I had the meltdown with Jack [laughs]. But we had a flight booked so I had to keep riding and then we had this torrential rain so it really couldn’t get any worse. Rivers of water flowing down the streets; it was impossible to ride. So we just took a taxi and headed back to Bali where I enjoyed a few days of surfing. A nice way to end our holiday.

Looking back at the whole trip, what were the most memorable moments?

The friendliness of the people definitely stood out. As for the riding, we had some steep-ass climbs but then you’d get an awesome downhill section. An unbelievably beautiful landscape where we’d turn to look back and see a volcano rising up out of the rainforest below. The spicy food I’m not going to include in this list [laughs] but everything else was pretty amazing.

 

Images with kind permission of Sami Sauri

Photographs of Sami by Jack Thompson

This interview was first published on the Far Ride journal