Filmmaker Mike Dion On The Making Of Reveal The Path
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Mike Dion's first feature-length film, Ride The Divide, followed three cyclists on the inaugural Tour Divide, a 2,700-mile self-supported bikepacking race along the Continental Divide from Banff, Canada to Antelopes Wells, New Mexico, a dusty crossing on the Mexico border. Even the most jaded couldn't watch the movie, which won best adventure film at the Vail Film Festival, without being inspired to get out and ride. In his latest film, Reveal The Path, Dion follows Tour Divide founder and record-holder Matthew Lee and 2011 race winner Kurt Refsnider on a 36-day vagabonding bike trip in some of the world's biggest and most stunning mountain locales. Ahead of the film's upcoming release, Dion talked to me about bikepacking, filmmaking, and his own path to fulfillment.
OUTSIDE: The Path? What is it? Did this trip and movie reveal it to you?
MIKE DION: I view the path as a state of mind. What path are you on? What path do you want to be on? As individuals we get to reveal our own path by the choices we make in life. I’m hoping this movie will stir up wanderlust in the audience and get people dreaming of adventures of their own, be it in far off places or their own backyards. So many people have shared with us ways that Ride the Divide inspired them. We want to continue that.
This is your second film about bikepacking. What's the appeal?
From a micro perspective, these films are about bikepacking. But from a macro level they are really films about living life to the fullest. They are about dreaming, exploring, and the discovery of yourself and the world around you. The appeal is setting your mind on a goal, overcoming your fears, and setting off to make it happen.
The movie features riding in five countries: Scotland, Switzerland, Morocco, Nepal, and the US/Alaska? Why these locations?
Ride the Divide was set around the longest mountain bike race in the world. With Reveal the Path we asked ourselves, what if this time we went around the world? We wanted to take that aspirational big idea and ask, “If you had an around-the-world plane ticket and your bike, where would you go?” It's a magical process to let your mind wander like that. And it's doable. All you need is a $4,000 around-the-world plane ticket, a bit of time, your bike, some reliable gear, and an attitude open to adventure. I chose these locations because they are places I wanted to experience, plus they required no advance visa applications.
My experience of bikepacking is that it's about moving methodically through an environment and the nuances you glean from doing so. It seems a little strange to hopscotch all over the planet to do that.
Is bikepacking that easy to define? I would say it's about simplicity at its essence. It’s perhaps born from self-supported mountain bike races like the Tour Divide and the Arizona Trail Race, but could bikepacking also be about meandering unpredictably, picking new paths along your journey at will? Your efficient bikepacking setup allows you to live off your bike for extended periods, get into some remote areas, and stealth camp in locations picked at a moments notice. I would say bikepacking opens up the possibilities to explore with an open mind and not only with one purpose, destination, or sole outcome. The cliché, it’s not about the destination but rather the journey, definitely fits this way of thinking.
What was the most memorable place you rode? Why?
Everyplace we experienced had its own amazing memories. Can we really have one favorite memory? Or more importantly, should we have only one? The world is a vast and amazing place with more to experience than we can possibly fit into our lifetime. Things that stick out in my mind are Scotland's lush valleys, Switzerland's fairytale cottages and majestic Alps, Morocco’s Berber culture in the high Atlas mountains, Nepal’s small villages where children constantly smiled at us as we rode through, and fat bikes and like-minded friends in Alaska’s coastal playground.
Any disaster along the way?
We pretty much made it through the entire adventure without a real disaster, and for that I’m very grateful. Our bikes could have easily ended up in another part of the world or severely damaged from the not-so-gentle baggage carriers. Our camera gear could have succumbed to the elements. Kurt Refsnider did have an accident that had us incredibly worried and shook up the group, but you’ll have to watch the film to see how that unfolds.
In Kurt Refsnider and Matthew Lee, you have two big endurance racing personalities. But it's a solitary, quirky sport in many ways. Why did you choose them?
Kurt and Matthew take their sport very seriously. They are also individuals who have structured their lives so they can ride their bikes—a lot. There is something we can all learn from their passion and purposeful way of thinking and living. So many of us find ourselves enclosed in office cubicles attempting to climb the corporate ladder while these guys are out there breathing in mountain air climbing the local trails. They have made conscious life and career choices that allow them the freedom to have active, adventurous lives.
They definitely fed off each other. They wanted to go farther than was possible for Hunter and I loaded with camera gear, so we set them loose a few times to tear it up without the constraints of production.
The gear for this must have been an undertaking of its own.
It was not that bad. We knew we had to be pretty self contained, so we took bikepacking minimalism into our gear and packing. We wanted to be able to land at a location, build our bikes, store our soft-sided bike bags, and pedal off towards the mountains. We had two DSLR video cameras and a medium size HD camera. Hunter and I were able to carry our production equipment in our respective packs. We could not move as quickly as we wanted and the weight got to us at times, but we were able to pull it off. Our style of filmmaking is more cinéma vérité rather than enormous sweeping crane shots and rehearsed set ups. I’d say the best piece of equipment was the soft-sided bike bags from Pika Packworks, which were lightweight, rolled up pretty small, and protected the bikes.
What about bike gear?
Twenty-niners were the bikes of choice. Kurt was on a Salsa Spearfish. He decided on that after a shakedown trip we all took near Salida, Colorado, because he figured he'd have “more fun” on full suspension that on his Tour Divide-winning Salsa Ti El Mariachi. Matthew was on a prerelease Cannondale Scalpel 29er. Hunter Weeks, my co-producers on the movie, and I rode Salsa El Mariachi's. I think the ideal bike for a trip like this would be a Salsa El Mariachi Ti with S&S couplers so you could break your bike down small enough to avoid oversize baggage fees.
As soon as we returned from our around the world adventure by bike, Hunter and I started filming another project called Where the Yellowstone Goes about a 30-day drift boat adventure along the length of the Yellowstone river. We then started the editing process for both films, which will take us right up to the simultaneous release of both films (May 31 in Minneapolis). We’ll tour theatrically with the films during the summer, and they will then roll into distribution on iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, etc. later this year. It was arduous with no time off, but the experiences were absolutely incredible. I am truly grateful for my supportive wife and understanding son and daughter. I was away for nearly three months, and it was pretty tough being separated from my family for that amount of time.
Sounds like you need to aim your path at some personal vacation.
I sure hope so! It seems like most of my vacations of late have been “working vacations.” I'm looking forward to some Colorado camping, biking, and hiking with the family this summer: Crested Butte, Telluride, Leadville. I'm also looking at getting back to Scotland, setting up some screenings for Reveal the Path—more working vacations. Life is rough…