Human beings seem to have the strange and often overwhelming desire to push themselves to their limits and prove their worth. Whether it’s the entrepreneur behind her desk working 70 hours a week, or the marathon runner, pushing themselves over their last mile, personal pride stands to be gained by outlasting those around you. Proof of the need to push ourselves further and further is the emergence of extreme races such as ultra marathons that take place in Death Valley. Hunter Weeks’ film Ride the Divide features one such extreme race: The Tour Divide Race. The Tour Divide takes place along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
Ride the Divide follows 16 riders as they make their way through one of the most grueling mountain bike races on the planet. The Great Divide is a series of forgotten mountain passes and old roads that connect Banff, Alberta all the way down to New Mexico and the Mexican border. The race is approximately 2700 miles long and takes its riders up treacherous mountain paths, through beautiful open glens and hits them with a punishing mix of frosty cold and sweltering heat.
The film jump starts with an incredibly awkward and forced narration describing the race, the competitors, and why the filmmaking crew is tagging along. It’s useful information, sure, but it could have been done much more artfully than just slapping it on haphazardly in the hopes that the story would make sense. This disjointed beginning introduces the audience to an interesting cast of characters. We meet the filmmaker’s friend Mike, a 40-year-old family man who is eager to prove himself on the trail, and Mary Collier, the very first woman ever to compete. Some competitors are people who have attempted the Divide several times, and never succeeded, while others are fresh to the course.
After the awkward intro, it takes a little bit for the film to get on its feet. The first few days documented feel fairly scattered. The filmmakers lose several of the riders, and jump around too much to actually relate to any of the characters. However, as the film goes on and the competitors begin to drop like flies, Weeks becomes more focused. He picks the two most interesting riders of the bunch, such as pack leader Matthew Lee and sticks with them. This is when Ride the Divide really kicks into gear. The filmmakers begin to hone in on what is driving each rider. We witness not only the physical punishment they must endure, but also the mental stamina required for the hours of riding every day. While many riders collapse from injury, others simply cannot bear the mental strain.
The film is absolutely gorgeous, and functions as a kind of eco-friendly road movie. The riders tackle all types of terrain, sleep out under the stars, and meet a variety of interesting locals. Although slightly unpolished and saddled with a soundtrack that is mostly dull and uninspired, it is hard to put a damper on anything this beautiful.
Despite its weak points, Ride the Divide provides a captivating look at the Canadian and American countryside, while also providing a glimpse at the strength of will these riders possess. Despite injury and mental setbacks, the riders who prevail break through every barrier to come out on top. This race is not so much about winning or making a record, as it is about challenging one’s own limits and blowing past them.