Conquering the Great Divide on two wheels

Conquering the Great Divide on two wheels

Alexandria film producer Joe Cantwell has managed to help make a film about crossing America’s borders that is not the least bit political or controversial. In fact, it’s inspiring.

No, there is nothing divisive about “Ride the Divide,” a documentary that follows three mountain bikers 2,700 miles as they traverse and attempt to traverse the Continental Divide of the Americas through the Rockies from Banff, Canada to the Mexican border.

Mike, a 40-year-old family man who catapulted himself into the Divide to escape a corporate lifestyle, Matthew, a five-time veteran of the race and Mary, the first female ever to attempt the test of endurance, are just three of the 16 participants.

The “underground” event is considered the toughest mountain biking race in the country. No trophies are handed out, no onlookers cheer the cyclists on and much of the trip is a solitary one minus the racers’ bikes, the grizzly bears or the interesting people they meet along the way.

Racers climb about 200,000 feet uphill on the odyssey, which is equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest seven times.

The riders battle the natural elements snow, rain, heat as well as themselves. It’s a physically tenuous journey, but the mental challenges are not to be scoffed at, Cantwell says. Then there’s the aspect of equipment, which must hold up to the test; there’s no equivalent of Triple A for mountain bikers.

A Mike Dion documentary, “Ride the Divide” was team effort, Cantwell says. He had some time to tell the Times what that effort entailed about a week before the film will be screened at the Arlington Cinema ‘N’ Drafthouse.

ALEXANDRIA TIMES: How long does it take to finish the race?

JOE CANTWELL: The actual time is totally individually determined. It could take a month, it could take 50 days, or you may never finish. The majority of people who’ve attempted it have never finished.

I’d imagine there are snags along the way.

Absolutely. As you can imagine, with this kind of terrain and weather that is highly variable, the year we shot it, which was 2008, the dominant theme was snow. So imagine coming out of Banff County on a beautiful day an absolutely chamber-of-commerce sort of day and getting up into the Canadian Rockies and across the U.S. border to see nothing but snow. Riding becomes more about mountaineering.

What other kinds of challenges do riders face along the way?

So there’s the physical challenge, which is daunting, as anyone can appreciate, going through the Rocky Mountains and along the continental divide. There’s the mental challenge, which for a lot of the riders proved to be their undoing or the biggest hurdle they had to overcome. And then there’s the equipment challenge because anything you that you use on this race you must fix yourself.

What made you choose the three riders that you did?

We wanted to show a diversity of riders because the race was starting to attract just that. It was really starting to get some buzz outside of the U.S. Mike  he worked in the corporate world just a little too long as he turned 40. A lot of people dream of chucking their jobs. Well, he did it.

Mary was an easy choice. She was the first woman ever to attempt the route. And she’s interested in the mechanics of bikes. Her and her husband make them. So she was trying out her gear, testing her body and trying to get on a level no other woman has.

Matthew, well, he was the five-time champion. But also, he wanted to retire from racing after this race because he was about to have his first child. His wife was near labor as he was finishing up. She gave birth a week after she crossed the border into Mexico. It was interesting because you could see him almost slowing his pace toward the end. He knew that once he crosses that line into Mexico real life comes back and a new race starts.  

Mike Dion’s “Ride the Divide” premieres in the region at Arlington Cinema ‘N’ Drafthouse on August 5.