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Please email frances.buerkens@gmail.com or use the form to reach me. I check email daily. I would love to hear from you regarding projects which include brand management, design, photography, and project management.

Questions about photography technique, mind numbing technological challenges, or equipment and tools? Ask away!

Exchange St
Portland, ME, 04101
United States

I would love to hear from you regarding projects which include brand management, design, photography, and project management.

Questions about photography technique, mind numbing technological challenges, or equipment and tools? Ask away!

caiman negro, cocha lobo.jpg

Blog

Escapades documented with photography and candid (stream-of-consciousness) storytelling.

Pit Caribou

Frances Buerkens

I woke to the gentle pitted patter of rain on my tent. Ignoring the complaints of my bladder, I immediately rolled over and went back to sleep until the luxurious hour of 9:30, by which time the rain had stopped. Zipping open my moss green tent fly, I was relieved to see that we were enshrouded in a cool layer of fog. It is, what I like to call, a nature inspired rest day. Which is exactly why we went on a 5 mile walk (what the hell is wrong with us!).

 Gannet Colony: Shrieking Mass of Birds

Gannet Colony: Shrieking Mass of Birds

We visited a Gannet colony on a wild island preserve which housed more than 200,000 birds. (And smelled like it!). We caught a boat from the public pier to the national park and trekked across the island, 2.5 miles uphill. Only a mile into the islands interior, we could hear the shrieks and squawks of the birds, but had no idea as to what we were about to experience. Minutes later, we rounded a bend and suddenly got blasted by a sea breeze laden with the unholy stench of birds living much too close together. Don't get me wrong: they were not in a cage. This was a nesting colony, raising their young on the ragged cliffs of Gaspe. The chicks were no longer in a cute a fuzzy stage and boasted awkward patchy wings which they flapped with utter confusion. Summer is, after all, nearly over. It was almost time for the Southern migration to Florida. A small catwalk carefully skirted the colony, allowing us to stand as close as two feet to the sleek creatures. They paid us no mind. Too busy eating pests, fighting, feeding their juvenile children, and shrieking with such a fervor as to leave our ears ringing with their atrocious calls for an hour.

Returning to the mainland, we entered a new local brew house. The converted general store had a vast open wood floor and sheltered us for the duration of the rainy day as we slowly savored their selection of craft beers. Our quiet reading (and writing) hour was interrupted by a raucous 15 piece brass gypsy Cumbria band complete with dancers. The group sought shelter from the pouring rain no doubt, set up in minutes, and shook the halls for an hour. What had been an empty bar was standing room only. Claps, cheers, and whistles emitted even from the modest viewers as the band kept things playful by wandering between the seats. They collected their tips and left they left the way they came: quickly and quietly, stopping to chat with us about our trip and their tour.

Perce

Frances Buerkens

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Our reward for exceeding our own expectations? A scalding hot shower (I am seriously considering cooking our cous cous in that water tomorrow), a cold beer in Perce and dinner in a restaurant where they served every single platter with a healthy dose of golden mozzarella on top (not appealing in all circumstances but we could have cared less at the time). The one beer nearly did me in, but really, I could care less. We earned it (and I'm a block from my tent). Good night.

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Exceeding my own expectations...

Frances Buerkens

 17% Grade. 2 Kilometers. Au revoir brake pads!

17% Grade. 2 Kilometers. Au revoir brake pads!

I don't really have a lot to write home about now. I'm in my fabulous tent, burrowed in my cozy down bag, icing my knee. My legs are coated in tiger balm. My palms are beginning to blister (from gripping handlebars for dear life on harrowing 17 percent downhill grades), my face is wind and sunburned. I just biked 45 miles over heavy headwinds in the marshes, steep rolling hills along the coast, and across another majestic mountain pass who's great red face was calving into the hungry sea. I feel AWESOME.

 Down to 30 lbs of gear thanks to all the food we ate. Mountain pass, here we come!

Down to 30 lbs of gear thanks to all the food we ate. Mountain pass, here we come!

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Parlez vous Ingles?

Frances Buerkens

While speaking French is not an absolute necessity here, thanks to a fair abundance of English speakers, communication is not always easy. I am reminded of my travels through Turkey, occasionally able to understand, but powerless to respond aside from basic manners. "Oui, no, merci, tres bien". I now have a few essential pieces of vocabulary (please excuse the spelling, I only know how to pronounce them!) like combustible de camping (white gas) and diluant pour peinture (paint thinner). Thanks to my time in South America, after being directed to a Sherwin Williams to buy white gas for our whisperlite, I now just head to the paint shop - typically far more abundant than a camping store, incredibly cheap, and sold by the quart instead of the gallon. Aside from that, my French is hilarious and mostly consists of standing around feeling stupid with a big grin on my face, hoping that an English speaker will magically appear by my side. So far, it's worked every time.

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The Bike Trip Begins: Gaspe Peninsula.

Frances Buerkens

Excuse the typos. Written on an iPad in a tent.

The rain pounded against my kitchen window as I buckled the last of my gear into my bright red panniers. Sarah scampered on to my porch, escaping the deluge to help me load my bags into the car. Pulling freshly baked brownies out of the oven for the 9 hour drive to the Gaspe Peninsula, I locked the rain swollen door behind me.

Three people, three bikes, plus gear sat comfortably inside Sarah's Honda Fit. What was less comfortable was carefully (slowly) guiding the hydro planing vehicle for 9 hours with no more than 100' visibility at any point. There was no waiting it out. The radar blanketed us from Southern Maine to Quebec. The thing about driving 55 mph that people sometimes forget: you still get there in the end. As for three stomach churning accidents we passed along the way? Well... We just drove even slower.

Leaving the country was a piece of cake, but the stretch of I-95 past Millinocket was unexpected. The interstate was closed for construction and a detour led us through gently rutted roads where flashing signs warned us of imminent danger: "Caution, share the road - Horse and buggy ahead"! Riding into Houlton at last, Chris topped off the tank with America's subsidized oil and we prepared our passports. A surly border patrol officer questioned us with the usual: where are you going, are you carrying firearms, etc.

Crossing the border, the roads became smoother but the skies were darker. No civilization to be found. Angie (Chris's GPS) confirmed as much. She tried in vain to lead us astray, offering directions on highways whose names were "unpaved" and "dirt road". We are highly unprepared for our trip. We forgot to research such useful items as the hotel and bus station address or if we need to be prepared to deal with bears. We are just competent enough not to follow this said GPS and to use a real life atlas. Even if we weren't traveling internationally, cell service is not exactly an option. (C'mon AT&T).

We presumed that we would find English speakers. This is somewhat true. The scenery feels like Maine but everyone around us is chattering away in French. We relied on the kindness of strangers all morning to find the bus stop (the Esso gas station in New Richmond), where to buy bike boxes (the next town over), and where to park the car for a week for free. We were a spectacle of spandex and bike wheels strewn across the parking lot as we scrambled to prep our bikes for the 4 hour bus ride and debated whether or not to bring that extra shirt. Ultimately the extra shirt was tossed in the car. The boxes secured with metallic silver duct tape. We were ready.

Day 1 cont.

Turns out, we were not ready. At all.

The bus pulled to a stop on a plot of grass on the side of the road which overlooked the ocean: the bus stop. We unloaded our gear while the bus driver, clearly in no hurry, paused for a few minutes to ask us about what must appear to be a hair-brained idea for a vacation. Little did we know - it was a little crazy. Unloading our bikes from their respective boxes, we began to reassemble them, piecing together wheels and racks. Until I noticed that something was missing... My front axle, it turns out, was in Portland on the front porch, right where we left it when we were scrambling to dissemble and load the bikes on the car. Now what?

Stranded on the side of the road, exhausted and confused, we wondered: 1) where to find a spare bike axle, and 2) how to ask for it in French. Wandering into the Auberge across the way, we met Gil, the English-speaking owner of the youth hostel. Gil grinned when we explained our dilemma, and led us into the basement. Low and behold, 15 miles from town and stuck in the mountains, we came upon a basement full of bikes in various states of disrepair and their corresponding parts. Digging through piles of greasy pieces we found a promising looking axle and sighed in relief when, magically, it fit perfectly.

Now we are ready!

Cinching our bags into place, we stepped onto our pedals to begin the long awaited trip. Our bikes were cumbersome and off-balance. Every movement, each breeze from a passing car, each intake of breath felt like my bike would topple over, bringing me with it. Turns out, this is pretty hard. Now I understand why people use bike trailers.

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Rounding the first bend, wobbly but determined, we encountered our first (of many) hills. Never mind the weight of our gear - these are no ordinary hills. These hills are three times as long as Fox + Walnut St (in Portland) and steeper. Yellow warning signs depicting trucks flying down steep hills with grades marked at 15% took on a whole new meaning. It meant we would tackle a terrifying brake frying downhill or a dreadfully exhausting uphill so steep that we had to push our bikes the 1/2 mile to the top.

Even though we were wrong about our assumptions (that things would only be a little hard) we are still smiling. As it turns out, we were right about two things: 1) That we are in one of the most dramatic and beautiful places on the Eastern seaboard; and 2) The 3 dreadfully heavy beers in my pannier (which I resisted chucking over the side of the guardrail just an hour earlier) tasted AMAZING while we enjoyed them from the rocky cliffs of Forillon National Park.

Bon Voyage

Frances Buerkens

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The hike was as spectacular as we had anticipated. It served to stall for time, but also to procrastinate our bike ride ahead. We weren't quite ready to leave the park, but we felt it was time to make some tracks. The mountain pass proved to be fabulously steep. I ran out of gears far before I had even crested the smallest hill and proceeded to push my bike up the mountain. Cars whooshed by, grinning ruefully at our trio. One encouraging fellow shouted, "Bon voyage!" as we neared the top. We breached the massive hill (after all, all descriptions of the Gaspe are "hilly" - easy for a car to say!), we prepared for the mile long, brake melting descent into town. No one could hear me but I hooted (and shrieked) all the way down, juggling the mixed emotion of pure joy combined with utter terror at my speed thanks to my heavy load. We are grateful that the roads are smooth. Potholes would teach a cruel lesson. 

We prove to be quite the hilarious crew. It seems we are recognized by many, thanks to Chris and Sarah's ingenious panniers they constructed from bright yellow kitty litter bins. "Is for zee cats?" one curious local asked. While hiking the park, we met several couples who identified us as "the poor saps pushing their bikes across the mountain pass". Indeed. I promise, we are really having a great time!

More photos will follow later when I can find decent Internet. It's past my bedtime.

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