We’ve all done it — watched a film like The Way and thought about packing up for Spain, or seen 180º South and considered a life of climbing mountains and surfing new waves. But how often do we turn that inspiration into the impetus to pack up a motorcycle and set off to write our own diaries?
After making Ride the Divide, a documentary film about the Tour Divide, a 2,700-mile mountain bike race that traces the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico, executive producer Mike Dion of Lakewood came away feeling inspired. So he and Ride the Divide director Hunter Weeks of Boulder, who also collaborated on Where the Yellowstone Goes, recruited two Tour Divide riders, Matthew Lee and Kurt Refsnider, bought four around-the-world plane tickets, packed up some bikes and took off to bicycle down the list of places they’d dreamed of cycling. The trip took them across four continents in 36 days, with cameras rolling the whole time.
“You come up with a big idea and immerse yourself in it and things unfold in front of you,” Dion says. “I think if you don’t believe in what you’re doing and have a confident stance in your abilities and what is out there, it can be a little nerve-wracking. But I think we believe enough in what we’re doing and our skill set that magic does unfold in front of you on a daily basis.”
The story of what unfolded is retold in Reveal the Path, which Dion directed and Weeks produced. Watching the film is like getting postcards from a vagabond friend. Breathless updates recount the people met, philosophies encountered and truths confronted while biking through monsoon rains, surviving the baking heat of Moroccan canyons and “bike mountaineering” on wheel-choking Scottish trails.
“The idea of revealing the path is really a bit of how we approached the filming of this project,” Dion says. “We knew the locations we wanted to get to, but oftentimes, once we were out in it, the people that ended up coming into our peripheral vision really just sort of came up through people that knew people, or via Twitter.”
Throwing the guidebooks away in the name of open doors and explorations guided by people met along the way led them to pedal heavy mountain bikes on the route for Tour de France cyclists, into the sheeps’ wool tents of Berber families in Morocco to share mint tea, and behind the handlebars of Nepalese rickshaws.
“They didn’t really have to pitch me very hard, it sounded like a pretty fun idea,” says Lee, one of the film’s characters and the winner of the Tour Divide race the year Ride the Divide was made. The Tour de France portion of the ride was his idea, and fell among an ambitious list of places to ride, many of which they weren’t able to work out logistically. What to make of the film as a whole, he says, he’s still working out.
Dion is now just coming off touring the film around the western U.S. with Dominique Fraissard, who wrote an original soundtrack for the film that includes a harp made of bike frames Fraissard created. Screenings opened with Fraissard playing some of his music from Ride the Divide and Reveal the Path, and closed with a Q&A with Dion and giveaways from their sponsor, Salsa Cycles.
“It’s been nice to have that almost band experience with that film,” Dion says. “Swapping stories in the lobby … the interaction was my favorite part.”
The questions he has fielded from audience members have often focused on the logistics — how to do what Dion has done. And, from the audiences, people have also stepped forward to share stories of adventures Ride the Divide inspired them to undertake, including riding the Tour Divide.
Though Dion is back home in Colorado, the film’s journey is continuing as distribution companies from France, Italy and New York inquire about the film, and bike clubs, bike shops and advocacy groups as far away as Australia request a screening kit.
“People left, I think, inspired, which is a lot of the meaning of the film, inspired adventure by bike,” he says. “Reveal the Path is really taking that idea of inspiration and maybe being a kick in the pants, or that sort of ‘Wow. Aha. Maybe I should be doing a little bit more with my life or my time on this earth.’” Maybe that manifests as training for a 100-mile bike race, and maybe it just means biking to work more often, he says.
The film reiterates that you don’t have to be a cycling pro to undertake a bike packing journey; Weeks didn’t even own a bike in 2008 when he worked with Dion filming Ride the Divide, wasn’t sure he could pedal the course sketched out for Reveal the Path, and ended up leading the charge on a fat bike down the Alaskan coast.
“Anyone could go through what we did,” Dion says, “And Hunter [Weeks], as one of the main crew on this film, is proof — and a little inspiration — that anybody out there can hop on a bike and have a little adventure.”