RAAM - the Event Itself
First held in 1982, the Race Across America ("RAAM") is one of the most challenging sporting event in the world. The fastest finishers in this cross-country trek will come in under 10 days, and typically ride 350 miles or more per day over the course of the race, sleeping just an hour or two here and there when they stop. There's no big cash prizes, no glory, no throngs of cheering spectators -- only the question of if you'll make it or not, slogging on, mostly alone, mile after endless mile.
In BICYCLE DREAMS, director Stephen Auerbach and his crew take us to the heart of this race, following the riders and their support over the course of the 2005 race. We follow transfixed as the riders first roll out of San Diego, and then slowly start to fall apart. We get to know the people on the bikes, what pushes them, and why they have taken on this seemingly insane pursuit. Auerbach does a terrific job in capturing the essence of this race in a half-dozen or so riders: allowing each one to be distinct and memorable and to feel as if we know them, yet not so few that it becomes a story about a particular rider or two. The focus of the film remains on the race and the challenge it becomes.
As the story rolls on, what we witness grows more terrible, yet more compelling. We watch as the riders suffer through days of riding without sleep, and still can't turn away as the challenge breaks them down - physically, mentally and emotionally - and reveals to us what lies deepest within them and pushes them to push themselves beyond what a person should be able to sustain.
Bicycling Dreams: Incredible Cinematography
BICYCLE DREAMS has taken home numerous awards, and rightfully so. Director Stephen Auerbach's cinematography is breathtaking, and the way the American landscape is itself used as a character in this film is tremendous, for that is where the true opponent is found for those who would attempt to complete RAAM.
The stark and barren world of the Mojave Desert with its blazing heat; the agonizing climbs of the Rockies with its snow-capped mountains and bone-chilling cold; the shimmering summer heat that bakes the green and brown fields of the Great Plains -- all of these are masterfully presented as a force of their own in this film. This constant yet subtle presence reminds us of the enormity and beauty of the U.S.A., and we are struck by what a small part of the whole landscape we all really are. Also, images of people and places dance in and out with the ever present white line alongside the road, leading riders east and running themselves together into a blurry string of memories over the course of the race.
During the race, the riders push on and on. Though there's a 'winner' -- Slovenian Jure Robič, who doesn't sleep at all in the first 40 hours of the race, and at most takes in a dozen or so hours over ten days -- what we see is the cyclists chasing the demons that come bubbling up from inside as much as they chase the race leader.
The music of BICYCLE DREAMS fits the mood of the film quite well - never quite jublilant, never totally somber, either. It complements the scenery and the action, bringing home the emotion without overwhelming or getting in the way.
What We Learn From BICYCLE DREAMS
While one could say that this is a bike movie, it's really not. It's not a bike movie just as RAAM is not a race. Sure, there's a winner, but every cyclist in the event knows that the real competition lies in finding one's limit and pushing past it, no matter how difficult that may be. And that story, revealing what lies at the heart of every impossible human endeavor is what BICYCLE DREAMS is really about.
People who go into this movie thinking that it will be some sort of a race recap, akin to watching the highlights of the Tour de France or Leadville 100 will find something totally different. The focus of RAAM (and the focus of this movie) goes completely beyond strategy of riding or some study of race tactics. What drives these riders, we see, is found in emotions and desires far more primal. Love, anger, desire, dependence are all themes that appear again and again in this movie, and which are explored and demonstrated in various ways. In taking in this film, we admire and yet agonize over watching riders doing whatever it takes to stay on the bike. They push on despite hallucinations, hellish dehydration, and being so spent in every way that they cannot even bring pictures of their own family members to mind. Auerbach's masterful direction and editing exposes raw lessons about the individual desire that drives people to do the things they can do, and about what it takes for people to push beyond the supposed limits of human endurance. And in that is found a great lesson for us all.
About BICYCLE DREAMS
Featuring: Jure Robic, Chris MacDonald, Bob Breedlove
Winner of awards at seven U.S. film festivals
Runtime: 104 minutes
Format: Color, DVD, NTSC