From The Doorstep (film)
From The Doorstep is a poignant short film that challenges the notion that adventure has to happen on a grand scale, and highlights the power of the simple overnighter. It follows Brian Donnelly as he rides from his front door to the river, paddles to a small island, and spends the night camping out, all in the space of a single day. Watch it here, and read on for a Q&A with Brian…
Every now and then, a short film comes out that reminds us why we love getting outside to ride and camp, no matter the distance. From The Doorstep is one of those films. It gets right to the heart of the matter in just a few minutes, and speaks volumes about the possibilities for adventure that await just beyond our front doors. And it’s a great reminder of how meaningful connecting with the places around us can be, without the need to spend months planning, save for plane tickets, submit vacation requests, or even start up the car. Watch From The Doorstep below, and continue on for some thoughts from Brian Donnelly, who’s featured in the film.
How did you end up being part of this project?
I first met Steven Mortinson, of Pursuit Films, through a documentary he produced. The film followed three runners who attempted to beat my fastest known time (FKT) on the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which I set back in 2013. I was interviewed as part of the film and shared some insight about the challenges of running those 460+ miles in just over a week. Later on, after we’d become friends, Steven approached me about making a film based on my adventures. And although I’m mostly an ultrarunner and fastpacker, I enjoy other forms of human powered locomotion. The overnight urban bikerafting route I had recently plotted just happened to float to the top of our list.
The weather conditions in the movie are beautiful visually, but look less than ideal for filming. What kind of challenges did mother nature pose during shooting?
The weather was a little unexpected, but wasn’t too bad overall. Thankfully, Steven and his partner Bryson were dialed in and wasted little time capturing shots along the way. They also seemed prepared to deal with whatever came at us. Everything felt pretty smooth and quick. And the constant movement made it easy to stay warm. I will say that snow doesn’t fall in the lowest elevations of the Portland area all that often. It felt peaceful, though, especially at night out on the island, big silent snowflakes drifting through headlight beams. It was a little wet and uncomfortable at times, but we all had just enough layers. I was glad I brought my poncho to keep the weather out. Mostly I just enjoyed the uniqueness of the whole situation. And I’m pretty sure that was the first time I’ve ever kayaked in the snow, which is pretty cool.
Tell us a bit about the bike and the boat used in the film.
The bike I used in the film is a Cannondale SL2, a mid-range aluminum hardtail. A mountain bike was definitely overkill for a trip like this, but it was the best bike I owned at the time. Ride what you’ve got. The kayak is made by Alpacka Raft. They’re based out of Mancos, Colorado, and they’ve basically defined and refined the art of packrafting. All of the water I paddled on this trip was chill, but I’m pretty amazed by how capable the boat is.
As an aside, I spent a few years working as a whitewater rafting guide in California. I got into kayaking, too, and did my share of class V runs, mostly in California. I’d feel comfortable using my Alpacka to paddle difficult class IV for sure, though maybe not with a bike on the bow. I’ll add that all of the gear I used for the trip is stuff I’ve acquired on my own over the last few years. I’m also not sponsored by Alpacka and they haven’t asked me to say anything about their products.
How did you arrive at the perspective of wanting to do more with less, in terms of your travels? Have you always felt that way, or was it a more gradual realization?
I’ve always been a minimalist by nature, but my interest in simplifying ways to travel keeps evolving over time. My approach is definitely influenced by years of ultrarunning. In that context, whether you’re racing 100 miles, or attempting an FKT, or just on a long run in the mountains, you’re constantly asking yourself what’s the absolute most I can do physically and mentally with the bare minimum to be safe. Over time, that practice has a way of permeating your way of thinking.
I’ve also learned how satisfying those types of experiences can be. I think it’s because humans are hard-wired to be challenged physically. We may not enjoy it in the moment, but we generally like to suffer, at least a little. Endurance feats scratch that animal itch for many, but so does just cutting the clutter and taking a short break from the comfort and convenience of normal life. That’s the idea behind doing more with less, I guess. It’s trying to find the most satisfying experiences in the simplest way by adjusting the approach. I’m still figuring this out, but the universal formula seems to involve ditching the car altogether, sweating, sleeping outside, and (bonus) trying something slightly improbable.
In going on quick trips like this one, what are some things that have surprised you most about your own backyard?
I guess I’m surprised most just by how rewarding and satisfying local bike-based trips can be. When we think about and plan adventures, our minds like to wander far and wide. We tend to define adventure based on endless streams of exotic and shimmering social media snippets. That can lead to overlooking a lot of the goods at our fingertips.
Keeping it local can also add richness to places we think we already know. Now, every time I drive on Highway 84 to the Columbia River Gorge, I cross the bridge over the Sandy river and think about how it felt to paddle under the bridge, to watch the water dripping from its slimy underbelly, to feel the pull of the current as I passed between its columns.
I’ve also been surprised by small things, little mysteries, like finding deer tracks on the island I slept on, and the large amount of nighttime commercial boat traffic on the river. I wonder if the boats ever cross paths with the deer.
Lastly, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to anyone who’s watching this and thinking they’d like to get out on a little overnight adventure of their own?
I guess I’d echo the message of the film, which I think is really just a reminder to go big by keeping it simple. Find something local that inspires you. Don’t wait for perfect weather, gear, or timing. Just get inspired and go. The obstacles we make are mostly our own.