Mountain biking documentary follows riders through North America’s highest mountains.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Populated by grizzly bears and featuring jagged snow covered peaks, the Continental Divide seems like an unlikely place to stage an almost 3,000-mile-long mountain bike race. Starting in the pearly whites of Banff, Alberta, Canada, the grueling competition known as the Tour Divide passes through five mountainous states before finishing at the U.S.-Mexico border. Fewer than 100 riders have even attempted the route, which is known formally as the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route; fewer than 40 mountain bikers have been able to stay in the saddle for its entire distance.
Ride the Divide is an 82-minute documentary on the race that will be screened at the Cannery Row IMAX Thursday and Friday, April 15-16. Competitor and film producer Mike Dion puts the terrain of the Tour Divide in perspective: “You will end up climbing over 200,000 feet up and over the Rockies, which would be the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest from sea level to the top seven times,” he says.
The film, which took the Best Action Sports Documentary at the 2010 Vail Film Festival, essentially follows three riders, including family man and first-time Tour Divide rider Dion. There’s also Mary Metcalf-Collier, the first woman attempting to race the entire route, and Matthew Lee, a driven, four-time vet of the Tour Divide who seems to be riding to flee the upcoming responsibility of having his first child.
Early on, the riders encounter too-close-for-comfort grizzlies and black bears and near catastrophic wipeouts on tongues of snow. “It’s full-on mountaineering with cornices and huge side slopes,” Lee says of a northern section of the Tour Divide. “You can’t find the trail. It’s route finding. It’s everything. It took us four hours to go like four and a half miles.”
Unfortunately, little of the heart-pounding action is shown onscreen. Rather, the viewer learns of the grittier elements of the race via after-the-fact interviews and cell phone calls from the racers. We do get to see the filmmakers trying to locate the bikers in the vast Rocky Mountains or realizing they’ve gotten a flat tire on a dirt road.
Luckily, there’s the tension of wondering which biker is going to drop out next. (Only eight of the 16 racers make it to Mexico.) In addition, the film, directed by Hunter Weeks, takes side trails to visit with quirky characters like “Little” Larry, a hairy, half-pint lumberjack with a laugh-inducing accent. Ride the Divide also makes a pit stop with famished racer Matthew Lee in Pie Town, New Mexico, a tiny Continental Divide outpost brimming with Americana known for creations like the “New Mexican Apple Pie,” spiked with green chilies and pinon nuts.
Following the local screening, director Hunter Meeks, rider/producer Mike Dion, rider Matthew Lee and rider Mary Metcalf-Collier will participate in a question-and-answer session.