Roll With It in the South – Brian Vernor

Roll With It in the South
Photos and words by Brian Vernor

There’s a shocking casualness to the hallucinatory contradiction of culture that is The South. I’d seen this place in great detail as a child, often visiting family throughout Tennessee and Alabama. Though I grew up in Santa Cruz, and went to college in California, I wanted to reconnect with The South in that awkward period of life right after college, before I could say “I want to do _____ with my life.” In 1998 I had finished school, got heavily into nothing, and spent seven months playing with cameras in Santa Cruz, enough time to forget what my degree was in.

NOLA industrial.

In March of 1999, I set out across the country in a Mazda B2000 pickup truck, camping, youth hosteling, couch surfing with friends and relatives, while searching for something so intangible I knew in the outset I wouldn’t find it. Grasping for some way to make the trip permanently meaningful I planned to document the journey in Super 8 film: I would shoot the whole trip, return home, edit an epic visual homage to the open American road, score the film myself with my mediocre guitar noodling, and hit the road again playing guitar with the film as a live event anywhere people would have me.

In the pines, in the pines...plenty of sunshine in the Florida pines.

Five months later the trip was a remarkable success only in that I got to see America and revisit The South on my own terms. My Super 8 film project? Crushed by a faulty camera and ruined reels. An end likely for the best as my guitar noodling hadn’t improved much in those five months on the road.

Almost twenty years later I find myself a regular contributor to the photographic world of bicycles and bike touring, often working with Robin Sansom of Blackburn Design. Robin and I have toured through California redwoods, California desert, Appalachian rail trails and Southern Chile. With our now annual Spring trip approaching Robin sprung an unsuspected idea on myself, Chris McNally, Dominic and Nadia Gill of Encompass Films – all regular contributors to Blackburn visual communications.

Possibly flood proof.

We were to make our Spring trip to The South, traveling from New Orleans to Florida, and to be part of a documentary film (directed by Encompass) on how to travel on bikes called Roll With It. Five people would feature in this film, each with a unique talent they would explore while traveling. I would be joined by Alex Thompson, Musician and Surfer (@theshapes), Mai-Yan Kwan, Outdoor Food Specialist (@dirtygourmet), Chris McNally, Illustrator (@the.scorps), and Jules NeSmith, Naturalist (@rainydaysj).

Every open road deserves an open beer.

By coincidence our 2016 route retraced much of my 1999 path, so this tour and film project gave me the chance to go back and see for myself what I’d filmed and lost back in 1999. Inevitably, during this trip I saw The South with a different set of eyes than those of my 23 year old self. I’m now much more comfortable seeing both myself and strangers alike.

Thanks for looking. Please keep an eye out for Roll With It, due out this Summer.


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  • KevinDurantSignatureSlushee

    rad rad rad rad

  • gutenbergler

    Sweet ride. Can you share your route?

  • AdamBike99

    I’ll be waiting for sure, like a kid waits for his birthday!

  • mrbiggs

    Yeah this is **all good.** The exotic kooky tour route is in our back yard(s) and we don’t even see it. Nice work, Brian.

  • Nicely written and amazingly photographed. LOVE that first image of the overpass. Wow!

  • Mario

    There is something mesmerizing about that paddling picture

  • Kyle Deven

    Jesus Christ, these photos! This write up! Brian Vernor is some sort of bike riding, photo taking, champion. A seriously exciting post. Thanks!

  • Brian Toombs

    St George Island. Never thought I’d see a photoset visiting there. I’ve always wanted to ride across that bridge. But that wind…

  • AMac

    So much awesome in this post. Nice work (as usual), Brian.

  • Very cool!

  • James Rollins

    that rear derailleur is screaming.

  • James M. Kent

    To understand the South: “Why I live at the PO,” Eudora Welty, “Wise Blood,” Flannery O’Connor and “As I Lay Dying,” Faulkner. Strap in.

  • JB

    Good stuff.

  • Mats Eriksson

    Love the lack of gear-porn-focus in this post.

  • Great photos/words Brian!

  • I’m curious to know more about the story of why you didn’t bring a bike, why you set your touring bike budget so low (i love it, don’t get me wrong), and more details about how you “built” it up, once getting it. seems like a really good story behind it. will there be an explanation included in the film?

    • Brian Vernor

      The film is in post production and I can’t say how much will be explained in the final edit, but I talked about most of your thoughts at some point as cameras were rolling. The point for me was to demystify bike stuff—The barrier to entry should not be high. Any old bike will do, just do it. The point of the film is to speak to people interested in traveling and who look for experience outside their normal lives, possibly via a bicycle. These people may not currently read this blog or others like it intended for core bike people. I like riding bikes, regardless of their newness, perceived value or quality, and I especially like traveling on a bike with people who are enthusiastic about the experience of the road, not the experience of a product—The $200 cap helped ensure the focus was on experience instead of gear. I hope the film goes even further in answering your questions. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • Thanks. That’s a great start. I am eagerly awaiting the potential to hear more in the film. I’m into the whole vibration, thus far.

      • Alan De Anda

        yes!! i definitely look at/sometimes buy pretty/pricey gear and whatnot, but the times i’ve asked other friends who do the same to go on tour, an excuse always comes up for not doing it. which totally sucks, cause if you’re gonna sink your tax refund into bike stuff you better use it. the only times i’ve bike toured/camped with other people, they did it on old-ass bikes with creaky chains, and they never complained once, it was such a nice contrast!
        also, my house hosts bicycle tourists on warmshowers, and it’s always super interesting to see what people come up with to make the bike tour happen.