Reveal the Path: Good Adventure Porn, Decent Film

Recently, I had the opportunity to see a screening of Reveal the Path, a new documentary from Ride the Divide executive producer Mike Dion. Ride the Divide follows a handful of racers during the 2008 Tour Divide. For those unfamiliar, the Tour Divide is a 2,700 mile, self-supported mountain bike race from Banff, British Columbia in Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico on the U.S.-Mexico border. That style of self-supported mountain bike racing and riding is called bike packing.

Reveal is, in many ways, a sequel to Ride the Divide. Though it’s not about racing, the film follows Tour Divide alums Matthew Lee (five-time winner), Kurt Refsnider (2011 winner), Dion (he competed in the 2008 race, though he did not finish), and the film’s producer, first-time bike packer (and Ride the Divide director) Hunter Weeks on a bike packing journey, riding and camping on trails and remote mountain roads across Scotland, France, Morocco,  Nepal, and Alaska.

Without any real plot to speak of–four guys ride their bikes in a bunch of amazing places–the film is essentially adventure porn. Though that sounds negative, it is not necessarily a critique. A compelling storyline always helps, of course (one of Ride the Divide’s strongest suits was the racers’ emotional and physical struggles and triumphs and their changing perspectives through the course of the race). But, Dion, who was in Seattle to talk before and after the screening, said that one of his primary goals for the film was to inspire people to get out, explore, and push their personal boundaries. On the inspiration front, Reveal is a great success. As the foursome ride through amazing vistas on high alpine trails, push through torrential rains to reach a small village in Nepal, climb through a desert canyon in Morocco, it’s easy to start imagining the sorts of adventures you yourself could embark upon. That the film is beautifully shot and has an enjoyable soundtrack only furthers that fact.

A common downfall of this genre of adventure cycling, skiing, kayaking, and other similar movies is the tendency to break up action shots with clips of the athletes waxing philosophical about the meaning of life. Great physical talent is not synonymous with an ability to eloquently philosophize. Reveal mostly manages to avoid this foible. There are definitely some cringe-worthy “deep” thoughts (sitting around a campfire in Alaska talking about despite our different life paths, we’ve all landed here at the same place right now, etc). The film would have been better served by voice overs and expositions about the places through which they were traveling. You get a little of that, but more facts and information about the towns and mountains and geography featured would have been nice.

The most problematic part of the film comes in Morocco. As they pedal through the desert canyon, alongside a wide, slow moving river, they happen upon a family washing their laundry. With nothing around but the river and canyon walls, it’s clear that the family has to hike a long way to do their wash. This fact prompts Weeks to admire that the family remains so happy and upbeat living with so little and wonder if we (Westerners) would be happier as well if we didn’t have so much to stress about in our daily lives. While I concede that the documentary is about lightweight adventuring and his sentiment certainly came with the best of intentions, it is nonetheless a blatant example of romanticizing poverty. The Moroccan family are the simple natives; their uncomplicated lives inspire the more advanced Westerner to ponder if his life would be better if he lived with less. But such a sweeping statement ignores the hardships they face with disease, access to healthcare, clean water, and more and creates a false equivalence between matters of life and death and the stresses we create for ourselves with modern technology. It assumes that the people they met in the river wouldn’t want or be happy with the security and comfort of life in the first world.

Much like the handful of deep thoughts, the Morocco scene was a cringe-worthy moment but one that passed easily enough.  All in all, Reveal is an enjoyable film and worth a viewing. It is fun and exciting to watch a group of athletes embark on the type of adventure most of us will never have the opportunity to do. The film’s shortcomings will likely keep it from being remembered as one of cycling cinema’s greats, but Dion and Hunter have proven with both Ride the Divide and Reveal the Path that they’ve got the talent to put together a quality documentary. I look forward to their next offering with fingers crossed that all the pieces come together.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly listed Mike Dion as Ride the Divide’s director. He was the film’s executive producer.

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