A “TODAY is Your Last Chance to Register for 100 Miles of Nowhere” Note from Fatty: Registration for the 4th Annual 100 Miles of Nowhere ends tonight at Midnight, CT. Which means that if you’re planning to ride it, you need to register now.
As a quick recap, The 100 Miles of Nowhere — The Race Without a Place — is an event where you ride your bike for 100 miles by riding the shortest (and, often, most ridiculous) course you can imagine. It’ll be hard, you’ll have fun, and you’ll help Team Fatty help LiveStrong in the fight against cancer. For details, read this post.
And then mark June 4 on your calendar for the strangest, most awesome 100 mile event of your life.
Stuff Fatty Loves: Bicycle Dreams
If you do something enough — and by “enough,” I mean “too much” — that something will get into your head. It will burrow in and start occupying a space way out of proportion to its actual importance.
You can get so close to a single tree that you forget there even is a forest. You can get so close to a tree, in fact, that all you see is a couple square inches of bark. And then, if you lean your forehead against the tree, you have to strain hard to see anything at all.
As a guy who has, from time to time, stared intently at a couple of square inches of bark for months at a time, I found myself empathizing with the people in Bicycle Dreams — an excellent documentary about the 2005 Race Across America (RAAM).
I also found myself thinking. And asking myself some questions.
It’s a rare movie that does that to me.
I Recognize These Guys
Bicycle Dreams concentrates on a handful of solo racers. On one hand, this means that some people who undoubtedly had compelling stories to tell never even appeared on screen.
On the other hand, this also means that for the people the show does concentrate on, you have enough time to start to get to know a little bit about them. Why they’re there. What they’re going through.
And if you do any kind of endurance racing — no, not necessarily ultra-mega-endurance, just plain ol’ endurance — you find yourself identifying with what they say.
When one of the leading racers, Jure Robic, says of the race, “It gets like poison into you. I like…I love this race,” I found myself nodding in agreement. The key words in what he said seemed carefully considered: I’ve had an event take over my system like a poison. I’ve felt an attachment to a race that felt so emotional and strong I’d call it love.
When I watched how personally involved the racers’ crews were — watching how they would beg with and plead with and calm and care for and make hard decisions for their riders, I thought about crews I’ve seen at races and how racers are only a small part of a racing team and how the crew carries the heavier burden.
And when I saw the complete exhaustion and hallucinations some of the riders experienced, I thought about how I felt after riding the Kokopelli.
But in each of these cases (and many more like them), I really only had enough of a basis of comparison to understand what these guys were going through a little bit.
I mean, I’ve had crews give up a weekend for me, but never two-plus weeks. I’ve gotten involved in training, but I’ve never quit my job and flown around the world to do a race. And while I was completely wiped after riding the Kokopelli for 18 hours, the first people to abandon the RAAM had ridden more than twice that amount of time — the winner of the race would have slept around eleven hours in eight days. Unbelievable.
So I guess I’m saying I can relate to these guys because of my own experiences, but only just barely. These guys take my most obsessive race experiences, and then multiply them by ten. Or more.
I Like These Guys
I don’t want to portray this Bicycle Dreams as a movie about obsessive-compulsives on bikes. The fact is, most of the guys doing this race are around my age — guys in their thirties and forties. And I like them, because they’re not too different from me. They talk about looking for meaning in riding their bikes forever; I talk forever (this blog is now six years old) about riding my bike.
Over and over, while watching this show, I turned to The Runner and would comment on how I thought I’d be doing in the same situation — whether it be a hallucinating rider, a rider who has to don a makeshift neckbrace, the rider whose exhaustion is so complete he can no longer bring an image of his wife and child to mind. These guys, at least from what I saw in the movie, were candid enough about their experience that I couldn’t help but imagine myself right there with them.
And I found myself rooting for every single one of them.
In particular, I found myself identifying with a particular rider — Dr. Bob Breedlove — who was riding his sixth RAAM (he had completed each of the previous five attempts). In one of the first shots of the man, he’s asked how he’s doing. He replies “Another day in paradise.”
I turned to The Runner and said, “That’s the guy I want to be like when I grow up.” I want to be the guy who, once he’s picked a challenge, embraces it and enjoys it and soaks up the fact that he’s doing something pretty remarkable.
It seems weird to want to avoid spoilers for an event that happened nearly six years ago, but I’m going to assume that most people don’t ordinarily follow RAAM any closer than I do, and I’ll just say this: partway through Bicycle Dreams, the numerous expected dramatic moments are interrupted by a tragedy, and it bothered me enough that the first time I watched this movie I wasn’t able to concentrate on the rest of the film. In fact, it bothered me enough that I didn’t feel like I could write a review about the movie (which I’ve had for more than a year now) until I watched it again last night.
Then, watching the show again last night, I found myself saddened by a whole different event. Many of the riders do ultra-endurance rides because there’s something sublime about riding your bike well past where you thought your limits are. I nodded my head in agreement. If you’re willing to push yourself, you deserve an epiphany.
But then one of the riders pulls over to the side of the road and says, quietly, “I’m done.” He had his epiphany, and his epiphany was that racing wasn’t worth what it had cost him.
He says it with such conviction, such certainty, such clarity, that I can’t imagine a person who’s dedicated a big chunk of his life to biking not feeling a little bit shaken.
So, be ready. Bicycle Dreams is inspiring and exciting — Stephen Auerbach deserves huge kudos for the beautiful look and compelling telling of the story — but you’ll probably find yourself asking yourself some serious questions afterward.
Wrapping up, then. Is this movie for everyone? I don’t know. I’m sure that my mom would experience it differently than I did. One thing is certain, though: If you ride a bike and have, at some point, thought about pushing yourself to find out what your limits really are, Bicycle Dreams is a movie you absolutely must see.