I finally watched Bicycle Dreams last weekend. About time, right? On the one hand, I'm so fully engulfed in all things RAAM that it seemed really incongruous that I'd not have watched this, oh, I don't know, a dozen times or so. On the other hand – I know how it ends. And I wasn't looking forward to part of it.
So – when I had the opportunity to get my hands on a copy of Bicycle Dreams, I jumped at it. And then, I stopped short. Now what? I've got to watch it. And Dr. Bob dies. There. I said it. A guy DIES while racing RAAM, and this movie has to deal with it, and now so do I.
I decided that watching it by myself was right out. Not much point. I'd already decided to drink a toast to Kevin Walsh every time he made a cameo appearance, and I make it a point to not drink alone. So I used it as an excuse to have a crew and supporter get together at fellow Carbent rider Chris Young's house. We had about a dozen folks seated, theatre-style, in his basement. Hope made a lot of popcorn, and put out Twizzlers and Junior Mints. I didn't think that Junior Mints and the very nice Pinot that they were serving were a natural pairing, myself - but it worked in a zen RAAM way - like chilled Ensure and slightly warmish watermelon cubes served out of the back of a mini van, some things just “work”, and you don't question the mystery.
The film itself follows several of the racers from the 2005 RAAM fairly closely. Organizationally, it jumps back and forth between interviews with the various racers and footage of them in action, which is actually very cool.
This juxtaposition of a racer's words and deeds serves to clearly depict the integrity of these racers – no one took the easy way out in the interviews by acting tough or overstating their case. Pretty much what you saw of the racers' motives and personality in the interviews is what happened on the ground. Everyone has a slightly different take on the “why” of RAAM, and their reasons have a lot to do with how they approach the race.
It's hard to pick out highlights, but I'll try:
The enduring image in my mind is Bob Breedlove's 1000-watt smile, every time you see him on the bike. Damn. Bob had a collision with a vehicle in Colorado; he died at the scene. Although I'd been dreading watching this part, it was very tastefully handled. The rest of the racers had to decide what to do – abandon the race, or keep going? What honors the living? The dead? What does “safety first” mean now?
Every racer dealt with these demons, I'm sure. What we do see is Patrick Autissier struggling to find his personal balance point after he finds out about the accident. His crew made the hard call to not tell him about Breedlove's accident and death, and when he does find out from an outside source, he loses faith in his crew's willingness to put safety first. Ultimately, he abandons the race.
Watching Marko Baloh race his heart out and then DNF with pneumonia was humbling. He'd left the race in 2002 due to a blood clot. Despite this, he decided to come back – not out of an “I'll show this race” defiance, but with an attitude of real respect for the challenge. It's good to remind oneself that RAAM doesn't come with a guarantee, no matter what your pedigree is.
The obligatory puke scene was as good as it gets for RAAM-style puking. The unlucky racer spews what appears to be a full quart without anything approaching fair warning, crew members' shoes are fully involved, and the racer wordlessly gets back on his bike and pedals away. I don't know how many pukes they had to film before they got that one, or if they got lucky the first time. But speaking strictly as someone who's been there, both as a racer and as a crew member, it was pure cinematographic genius. Other than that, they more or less left the physiological yuckiness of RAAM safely behind the privacy sheet, which was fine by me.
Chris MacDonald is inspiring – it's hard to imagine a guy who's such a stud on the bike also being so soft-spoken and so brutally honest with himself at the same time. Of all the racers, he seemed to have his head the most wrapped around the paradoxes that define what RAAM is all about for me – the freedom that comes from utter dependence on your crew, sublimating one's ego in the physical act of cycling, and then ultimately finding one's humanity in the challenge of losing it. Like any RAAM racer, he has some really good times, and some really bad times, and we see both extremes.
One thing that puzzles me a bit is the late entry of a couple of racers – Cat Berge and Fabio Biasolo – into the film. We really don't see much of them until a couple of the early racers quit and make room, as it were, in the story line. It would've been nice to see more of them earlier – particularly Cat. By the time we get a glimpse of her, she's several days into the race and not always lucid (note: this is par for a RAAM racer several days into the race). We do get to see some excellent rider-crew interaction as her crew member eases her through a moment of anger and frustration.
The last few days seem to be working toward a foregone conclusion – and let's face it, that's pretty much what it was – Jure Robic had run away with the race. There was a bit of a fight for second for a while; it would have been nice to see a little more of that dynamic.
Overall, Bicycle Dreams is a “must see” for any endurance sport junkie. The photography is wonderful, particularly in the western half of the race where there's so much more scenery anyway. Sit down and watch it with your friends and loved ones. It's a glimpse into a world that's totally foreign to most people. No guarantees that they'll magically “get” why you have to go out and ride a double century again this weekend, of course, but you never know. And you might find out something important about yourself, your riding, or your life. Are you getting better, or are you getting worse? Because you sure as heck aren't staying the same....