Bike Against the Wind

Inspired by his mother and his acting professor, Mark Vashro began to dream of bicycling across the United States as a college student. In 2010, after two years of preparation, Mark cycled from Boston, Massachusetts, to San Diego, California. Determined not to put his acting and filmmaking career on hold, Mark carried along 125 pounds (57 kilos) of equipment so he could film his ride. On the road, Mark overcame multiple hardships, including a break-up with his girlfriend, a period when he decided to stop filming, and a loneliness that nearly caused him to call it quits. After reaching the Pacific Ocean, he did not suspect that completing his documentary film, Bike Against the Wind, would be an even greater challenge than the journey itself.

Episode Transcript

Mark: So I wouldn’t have been in the Bay Area, potentially, I wouldn’t have met my wife, wouldn’t have had my kid. So there’s, there’s a through line of this documentary being a huge turning point in my life.

Gabriel: You just heard Mark Vashro, talking about the life-altering consequences of biking across the United States and – perhaps even more challenging, considering that it took six years – completing a movie about his experiences on the road. Both the ride and the movie were accomplishments that Mark had previously thought unimaginable.

Sandra: You’re listening to The Accidental Bicycle Tourist. In this podcast, you’ll meet people from all walks of life and learn about their most memorable bike touring experiences. This is your host, Gabriel Aldaz.

Gabriel: Hello cycletouring enthusiasts! Welcome to another episode of The Accidental Bicycle Tourist. Today my guest is Mark Vashro. In addition to being an acclaimed actor, director, and producer, Mark is also an avid cyclist. He was the driving force behind a documentary film called Bike Against the Wind that captures his 2010 solo bicycle ride across the continental United States. Mark completed the journey from Boston to San Diego in 104 days, crossing 18 states. Mark, thank you so much for being a guest on the Accidental Bicycle Tourist.

Mark: Well, thank you very much. It’s great to be here. Great to talk about the past and cycling.

Gabriel: Yes. This this is a blast from the past for you, I guess.

Mark: Yeah.

Gabriel: I don’t know how present it is in your in your everyday life, now 13 years since the event.

Mark: Yeah, it’s wild. The event happened 13 years ago, but it took me 6 years to edit that film, so it was with me for a very long time and determined a lot of my life: where I lived and what I was focused on. The cycling is every day for me. Now II commute by bike, and I try and get out and do long rides on weekends when I can, and I also work at an adventure travel company, and we do cycling trips and hiking trips. And so it’s very much live in my in my life.

Gabriel: Sounds good, and I’d definitely like to hear more about that a little bit later on. For now, though, let’s go back to 2010, or maybe even a little earlier. In the film, you don’t spend much time talking about your background. So can we go back, and can you tell a little bit about yourself?

Mark: Yeah, for sure. So, I’m originally from Boise, Idaho, and I grew up as not an outdoors person, not a cycling person. I knew how to ride a bike, but I grew up in the theater mainly, like I took theater classes. Everything that I wanted to do in my life was related to storytelling and portraying that on stage. And my parents were amazingly supportive, which was great and rare. In high school I was very supported as an actor. Not professionally. I would occasionally do professional stuff, and then I went to Emerson College in Boston for theatre acting with directing second emphasis and then a second degree in in film production, because I knew that II didn’t have any connections in the film industry, so I knew that to have some sort of success, I would have to do it myself. My mom, 2005 was when she rode her bike across the United States. So my mom traveled from St. Augustine, Florida. She did the southern route all the way to San Diego. And she finished at the same beach that I finished that, and that was intentional.

Gabriel: I see.

Mark: It was inspiring to see my mother, who was 50 years old at the time, with a group of women all over 50, biking across the country, doing this feat that I couldn’t imagine. But my mom, of course, like, she finished, and she’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s something I did.” Yeah, it’s pretty amazing that you did it. And for her it was the bonding of her and these other women that was really special. She was a big inspiration, and then I had a professor, an acting professor named Ken Cheeseman. And he was an avid cyclist. He would commute in Boston, and then he told me that he biked across the country 3 times in his life. So, with those two influences I was like, “This is something I want to put on the to-do list… maybe, sometime in the future.”

Gabriel: Okay, so the pieces slowly came together, from acting in Idaho to the inspiration of your mom to this professor. At the beginning, you’re reflecting a little bit, and it seemed like you weren’t satisfied with your life fully at the time, and this was maybe an opportunity to do something for yourself that maybe you thought was not possible at first, and somehow you took this step to organize it and do it.

Mark: In 2008, I had decided that I wanted to bike across the country, and I just started talking to my mom about it, but I didn’t know when or if it was gonna happen. I had broken up with my college girlfriend. She and I were planning on getting married, all that sort of stuff, but just wasn’t healthy, wasn’t good. I was really concerned. I had a couple of good years right out of college where my acting and filmmaking career was going well and I didn’t want to just disappear off the map to do this. At that time, I didn’t know how long the bike trip was going to be. Like, I just, I wanted to just do it.

Gabriel: So already in 2008 you committed to the idea.

Mark: Oh, yeah, I’m gonna bike across the country. And then I started learning, oh, this person’s uncle did that, or this person’s parents did that, or this person did it. And so I would talk to these people about their stories of the people they met and the experiences they had cycling. And I was like, this sounds great, and there’s a larger community than I thought. You know, it wasn’t just my mom and this one professor. There was a bunch of people that do this. So it’s possible. You don’t have to have the best bike. You don’t have to go fast. You don’t have to have a full plan. You just need to figure out how to get yourself going, essentially, and then you can figure it out as you go.

Gabriel: Did you know from the start that you wanted to document it with video and notebooks, because, although some number of people do it, it’s of course, a much smaller number that end up editing and releasing a film. How did that part of it arise?

Mark: I didn’t want to leave my acting career ‘cause I had just had been doing like a year and a half of like solid going from acting to filmmaking to theater gigs. And I was like, “Oh, this is this is great! This is great!” But I need to do this cross-country bike ride, and so I was talking to a very good friend of mine from high school. His name’s Cody Fitch. He and I own the production company Chance of Fate Productions, which produced Bike Against the Wind. He was like, “Well, why don’t we film it?” I’m like, “Ugh, I don’t know, I’m not a documentary filmmaker.” At that point, I had been doing, like, narrative feature films and short films. And he’s all like, “Well, we can become documentary filmmakers.” He’s… he’s my rock. He’s the person I go to, when I need help, wise words. And I was like, “okay, okay,” because I could do this bike trip and stay relevant within the film world. So we started down that path. We knew we needed to raise some money, so we put together a little business plan for it, started reaching out to companies of the bike equipment that I was wearing because (a) I needed them to sign a release for their logos, but also I wanted to see if any of them would either give me stuff or give me money.

Gabriel: How did that go?

Mark: I got some stuff. There was just some random stuff. I got… it’s called a squishy bowl, which was like a silicone bowl, and I used that to eat out of during the trip, which was great, and it packed really small. So that was great.

Gabriel: Okay.

Mark: But nobody gave me money. That was unsuccessful except for the fact that it made us really think through a lot of what we were doing. How are we gonna do the data management of the video? How am I gonna approach these interviews with people? Who do I wanna interview? What equipment do we want to use? So it made us think through the whole process, which is really great.  And it got me in contact with other filmmakers that do documentaries. And so I learned about that. So it was very much, not in the original plan, but very quickly became the compromise or the solution to my conflict of not wanting to leave my career.

Gabriel: Interesting. And what then was the gear that you had?

Mark: My dad was incredibly supportive. I was talking to him about the film and the cross-country trip, and he just was like, “I would be happy to invest in this.” And so, he helped me buy a Surly Long Haul Trucker, steel, the Cadillac of tour bikes, which I was not expecting. I wanted something that was durable, and that I could fix while I was out on the road.  If something happened to break in the shifting, or whatever, I could fix it. I had Bontrager hard case tires, and those were amazing. I didn’t get a flat until Georgia, which was like a month and a half in.

Gabriel: You documented your first flat in the movie.  I remember you said, “Fifteen minutes! Not bad.”

Mark: Yeah, yeah. That day was the longest day. Like I biked 120 miles, 125 miles, which on average, I would bike like 70 miles for a whole day. But that day. I really wanted to get to my friend who lived in Peachtree City, Georgia. I got the flat and then I under-pressurized it, so I kept on getting flats, so I had like 2 or 3 flats that day. And it started raining. It just all compounded. But once I got to my friend’s house, his dad was like, “Come on in. Here’s a beer.” They had like a big pile of spaghetti and meatballs for me, like, it was great. That was a perfect end to that crazy adventure day.

Gabriel: What film equipment did you bring along?

Mark: Film equipment-wise, I bought a small laptop. It was called a Netbook. It was mainly just to move files from my card in my camera to a hard drive. And then I used it to like update my website as I was going when I had WiFi. I had LaCie hard drives. They’re called LaCie Ruggeds, and they have a rubber casing on it, so if they’re dropped, they don’t get destroyed. And then I had a Canon 7D. The Canon 7D had just come out. That was like the beginning of the evolution of the DSLRs with shooting HD, so that was like a big deal. It was compact. I got a hard case. I forgot what they’re called… Eagle something… but they’re military-grade cases, and I put all my film equipment in there with my computer in there, and I drilled a couple of holes in it which destroyed the warranty. Put a little hook on the back of it, and it fit just right between my handlebars. And so I slid that case in, and then the hook grabbed onto the back of the front rack. I used a strap to latch it down. So that sat in between my handlebars, and that’s where all my film equipment was: the hard drive, the laptop, the camera, the lenses, the audio equipment. Everything fit in there.

Gabriel: Was it a Pelican case?

Mark: Yes, that’s it. It was a Pelican case.

Gabriel:  So, you invented that. You invented that setup.

Mark: Yeah, II mean, we needed to. We experimented with different shots, different ways of filming me biking. One, we found this big poll, and we figured out a way to attach it, front and back, on my bike. We had a GoPro, the original GoPro, and we put the GoPro on it, and it worked on the back. But the front, the pole was too long and would just vibrate so it wouldn’t get any good footage.

Gabriel: So you also invented the selfie stick.

Mark: Yeah, for sure.

Gabriel: Fun to imagine, you going down the road with various bits and pieces sticking out.

Mark: I had 125 pounds of equipment extra on my bike, which was insane. And the first day I was going up into the Catskills, vertical climbing, and I remember I was biking and I had the GoPro mounted on my helmet, and I was biking. It was a Sunday, it was April 4th, which was my 24th birthday. This church just let out, and I heard someone go, “What an egotistical person having a camera, filming themselves.” And I was like, “Oh, no! This is my first day.” That was like one of my fears, that people are gonna think I’m egotistical. And then I was going up that hill, that same hill, and this motorcyclist comes up beside me and starts puttering next to me, and then he goes, “Put an engine on it,” and then drives off really fast. And I’m like, “Okay, I see how this is gonna go.”

Gabriel: Day 1.

Mark: Yeah, Day 1.

Gabriel: Oh wow! 125 pounds. I would not have guessed that it’d be that heavy.

Mark: I over-packed like crazy. I had a 2-person tent because I wanted to keep my equipment inside with me. I had some food, I had a little camping furnace or stove, I had way too much clothes. I had clothes for multiple days, even though really all you need is 2 bike pants and maybe 2 shirts, and then flip-flops and a pair of regular shorts and a T-shirt. Like a week in, I think, I got to New York, and I just shipped a whole bunch of it back to my family.

Gabriel: That’s a common thing that happens. Overpack and then realize and then ship a bunch.

Mark: Yeah, for sure.

Gabriel: At what time of the year did you set off? You mentioned being on the road in April.

Mark: If I got out of the Northeast quick enough, I would not run into any late spring storms, winter snowstorms that come in in April and early May. I was like, “Okay, if I do that, then I’ll get down to the East Coast in late spring, and that’ll be nice and fine. I did not think about what the Southwest was going to be like in July.

Gabriel: Okay.

Mark: I had never really been to, like, New Mexico or Arizona, or any of those places before. I knew it was desert, but I didn’t know that it’s 115 degrees by 11 a.m. I was very concerned, even though I didn’t need to be, I was very concerned about the way the wind blew. Everybody told me I need to bike west to east because the wind blows that way. I don’t know what kind of insane person came up with that idea, because the wind always feels like it’s blowing in your face, no matter which way you’re going.

Gabriel: Hence the name of your movie.

Mark: Hence the name. Exactly.

Gabriel: Here I need to clarify the difference between apparent wind and true wind. When you ride a bicycle, it’s true that you always feel wind blowing in your face. This is called apparent wind, and it’s a combination of the true wind and the wind generated by your movement. On a calm day, the breeze you feel is entirely due to your movement. Still, the true wind speed and direction are crucial to cyclists. As someone living in a very flat part of Germany, I pay a lot of attention to the true wind. I always try to get a tailwind on the way back. Otherwise, I might never make it home.

Mark: So, all I knew was, I just… I didn’t want to fly to the west coast to bike to the east coast. I wanted to travel from where I was, and set off on the adventure.

Gabriel: Right. So, it’s April 2010. You ceremonially dip your bicycle wheel in Boston harbor and you set off west. There is one scene early on, where you are lying on the bed, maybe you have a fever, and you’re already suffering. Let’s listen to a clip from the movie:

Mark (movie): Around every turn, I wanted to like… I wanted to stop. Sometimes I did stop. I stopped, like, halfway up the hill, which was obviously not good. But like, physically I couldn’t take it anymore, mentally I couldn’t take it anymore. And how am I going to get across the country if I can’t even get past the Berkshires?

Mark: That first shot of me laying in the bed with the fever, that was done like the second day of the trip. I was carrying a 125 pounds on my bike, I had never ridden that far in sequential days, ahh…

Gabriel:  Your body was in shock.

Mark: My body was in shock, yeah. At that point, my body was, like, reshaping itself. I would say, a week later, after that, physically, I could do anything. After biking 70 miles a day, doing elevation, all the muscle went from here to my legs. My endurance was great, it got a lot better. Maybe two weeks.

Gabriel: So, day after day on the saddle, you clearly got physically stronger. However, you faced other challenges. At some point, you decided to turn the cameras off. Everything went dark. What was going through your mind?

Mark: I wanted to stop filming. Around Southern Alabama, Florida, I just was like, “This is not… I’m not experiencing the travel and learning about myself the way that I wanted to. I’m doing it for other people because I was filming it and I was tweeting every day or Facebook posting, at that time.

Gabriel: It became a distraction?

Mark: Yeah, totally. There’s a moment in the film where I talk about it.

Gabriel: Right.

Mark: I just don’t have any footage for a week or two, and it was very deliberate. I was so frustrated. I didn’t feel like I was getting the experience that I wanted out of the trip. I was waiting for somebody to say something online which then would make me go and do something, or when I was talking to people, it was always, “Oh, I need to make sure to film this, or I need to make sure to document this in some way.” It was getting really frustrating for me, because I didn’t feel like I was making meaningful connections the way I wanted to.

Gabriel: Some of the people you interview seem so real and raw, almost.

Mark: Yeah.

Gabriel: There was, I think, Granny from Troy, Alabama, and then there were the people from New Orleans. Was there a special meaning behind the people who made it into the film? Did you interview a bunch of other people who didn’t make it into the film?

Mark: By the end of the trip, I had about 50 interviews that I had done. And so we narrowed it down to the ten that I think are in the film. I think it’s ten. It might be eight. I wanted to talk to some people in Louisiana, specifically, that were affected by Katrina, the hurricane. At that time, there was a BP oil spill that happened off the coast of Florida, Louisiana, in the Gulf coast.

Gabriel: The infamous BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Mark: Yeah. There was a lot of talk everywhere I was going about like, “Get down to Florida, see the white sand beaches cause they’re gonna turn black,” and so I wanted to talk to somebody that was affected by that. So I had these topics or interests, and then I would literally just meet people on the side of the road that stopped by to check out what the heck I was doing, you know, ‘cause there’s this dude with a big beard… by the end of the trip, a big beard with Spandex biking outfits.

Gabriel: A bicycle always draws attention. If you get out of a car, no one is going to pay any attention to you. As soon as you’re on a bicycle, especially if you’re alone, you’re a magnet for people. It’s incredible.

Mark: Well, I completely agree. And I think, if you’re on a bike, you can’t really like steal their TV and ride off with it. You know, you’re not gonna get away very fast. And a cyclist, especially a touring cyclist, is… the stereotype of them isn’t fully formed in people’s minds because most people don’t haven’t seen them, you know, so we’re more of an anomaly and more of an interest than a fear. So I felt like I was able to roll up to people’s houses on my bike and explain to them what I was doing and ask them for a place to put my tent and also ask them if I could interview them. And I got pretty good responses.

Gabriel: I agree with you. I find that a cyclist is in a vulnerable position, just being exposed to the elements, to people, not being able to get away that quickly. Some people just see the vulnerability and say, “I would never be a touring cyclist,” but it does allow these connections to be made, because, like you said, you’re not really threatening.

Mark: I think I only got turned away, like, whenever I asked to stay, I only got turned away twice. Yeah, and one was this family was leaving, and I just caught them at a bad time, and they were just like, “I’m sorry, we’re heading out. Plus, there’s a lot of ticks in the backyard, so you don’t want to stay there.” So I was like, “Thank you!” The other was, I got turned away by the police at this really small mining town in South Carolina, and I asked them if I could stay like at the public park or somewhere that they would know where I was, and it would be fine. And they’re like, “No, that’s not okay,” but that led me to another person that was really wonderful, and I had a great experience with them. So that negative ended up being a really big positive.

Gabriel: Many people fly between the East and West coasts. Boston to San Diego, for example. Some people condescendingly call the middle of the country the flyover states. This is unfortunate, because I think this neglect of the heartland of America has politically polarized the country. Did you experience any political tensions as you cycled through the country in 2010?

Mark: Barack Obama had been elected president, which I was very excited about, but at the same time there was being a lot of backlash from it, and I didn’t feel as though I connected to my country. I didn’t feel as though I knew anything. It was, like, one of the reasons why I wanted to go through the Southeast of the United States was I wanted to meet people from the Southeast ’cause I’ve never been there and there, there’s so many stereotypes of, you know, conservative gun-toting racists in the Southeast, and I wanted to prove to myself that that wasn’t everybody, or maybe it was.

Gabriel: What was your conclusion, after riding through this part of the country, with regard to the stereotypes?

Mark: That we’re all the same, like, that everybody that I ran into cares about their family. or somebody else. and they all want to make sure that they live their life the best they can. But I think, partially because I’m a white male, I didn’t have to deal with a lot of the prejudice or a lot of issues that I I’ve heard other cyclists run into sometimes. But in general everybody was, like, really interested in what I was doing, really wanting to help me out. Really wanting to share their stories.

Gabriel: I wanted to just quickly get back to the time that the cameras were off for a week. I’m curious to find out, what made the cameras go back on? Why did you continue on?

Mark: That’s a great question. Around the end of Alabama into Florida, I did a little bit of filming. Mississippi, I did a little bit of filming. I would do little bits of filming here and there, but my heart wasn’t into it. Louisiana, I did a lot of filming, but that was intended. I need to film it, blah blah blah, but I kind of told myself, after that I wasn’t gonna film anymore. So, from kinda the end of Louisiana into Texas to Austin. I would film occasionally, but it was just, “Oh, this looks pretty,” or, you know, it wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m I need to talk to somebody, I am going to interview them, I’m going to film this and that.” I met up with my dad and in Austin, and he became my sag wagon. My parents at that time were living out of an RV. We hadn’t spent really any time with each other for the past 4 years, ‘cause I was in college and kind of distant, and they were living their life. My dad had retired, and they moved into this small RV. And so I met up with my dad in Austin, and then we met up with my mom a couple of days later. So I went diagonally through Texas, which I was always told not to, because that’s the longer way. At about Lubbock, we were staying at a hotel, like a little motel, and my mom talked to the owner of it, and, you know, said what I was doing, and then she came to the room, and she’s like, “Mark, I set up this interview with this woman. You should go do it. I begrudgingly went and interviewed this woman. And it was… it was amazing. This woman was from Southeast Asia, moved to the United States. Her and her husband run this motel and both her kids are now in college and becoming doctors. It was just so powerful of a story that I was like, “Okay. these are the stories that I want to hear.” Making the documentary is a great tool to talk to people because it like gives you a purpose instead of just being like, “Hey, how you doing?” it’s like, “Hey, I would like to learn about your story. And I’m making this film.” So that’s what kind of triggered it back into filming again.

Gabriel: How was it having your parents in the sag wagon?

Mark: I think, having my parents there… I was feeling really lonely at that point, too. And so the psychological battle of it was… I was around people that loved me and were helping take care of me. And so I started feeling better about myself and my situation.

Gabriel: It sounds like that meeting, at least my impression of it, is that your meeting in Austin was by design. I think that was a very smart thing to do, because it’s a long road, and seeing a familiar face is always good. I’ve done some longer solo tours myself. Sometimes, I know when I’ve gotten to the point where I’m starting to get a little bit lonely, because everybody I see reminds me of somebody that I know. And I’m in a place…

Mark: Yeah.

Gabriel: I’m in a place where I know nobody. “Wait, isn’t that my old math teacher?” No. “Could that be…?” No. I’m looking to connect with somebody that I know. That’s a great boost for the morale to have your parents there, and they stayed with you for a while in the movie.

Mark: They stayed with me until the end of the trip.

Gabriel: Great!

Mark: Yeah, which was great, and that was the plan. I had designed it, in a way, to reconnect with my parents, because we didn’t have, like, a falling out by any means, but the person that I had been dating in college didn’t like my parents, and so I pushed away from my parents, being a dumb college student. And so this was a way for me to deliberately like connect with my parents, connect with my mother through the biking. This is very secondary, but I knew that it would be good for the film to like to have that story of family in there. And from a logistics standpoint, I wouldn’t have to carry any equipment. I could just throw it in the RV. One of my favorite shots from the film was shot because we strapped the camera to the RV, and was able to get me biking into the Grand Canyon area. And so I knew I was going to be able to utilize my parents as like my film crew for a little bit, instead of me doing it all the time. I knew that there were going to be long stretches of road where I didn’t know if there was gonna be a place to camp or a place to stay, so having my parents there was intentional for that, too.

Gabriel: Your accommodation shifted from a combination of camping and friends and random people that you talked to having your parents there.

Mark: Yeah, which was nice. It became pretty luxurious. It became like a vacation at that point, because, like I told them generally where I wanted to go. and they would drive ahead and like, stop every 50 miles, or is, you know, 40 miles, and then they would drive ahead and like help, set up camp or find a place to stay. And so I didn’t have to think about that anymore. I just got to enjoy the Southwest of, like the beauty of New Mexico and the Rockies and the Grand Canyon, you know. So that was that was really nice, where the logistics that I had to deal with in the Southeast and on the East Coast was all me, every day just figuring out what it was, where, when my parents came in, it became much more of a vacation, which was nice.

Gabriel: Right, it became a supported bicycle tour.

Mark: Yeah.

Gabriel: You’d show up at the lunch area, like, “Hey Mom, Dad… Awesome, tacos!”

Mark: Exactly, yeah. Beer and olives were my thing, like, the salt from the olives and the carbs from the beer was great.

Gabriel: One of the meetings that you had made a big impression on me, and it was one that was not captured on film.

Mark (movie): I met a man yesterday that was going across country with a mountain bike and a broken baby carriage. He sleeps at churches and is going to his mother’s side of the family in California, to let them know what her last words were. This man was scraping by day by day, and all I did was give him some bug spray and then I went and had a 37 dollar meal. I didn’t interview him. I was afraid of him for some reason.

Gabriel: Can you tell a bit more about that encounter and what was going through your mind, and why did you decide not to film?

Mark: I totally forgot about that. That was in the southeast, on the coast, I think Mississippi, or Louisiana, or something like that. He was… it was so interesting… so I talked to him for a while. He was unkept, his bike was pretty dinged up. The baby carriage was a, you know, a broken Burley. And he just had his stuff in the Burley. It was a combination of just feeling unsafe, like him, the way he looked at my bike I perceived it as, “Oh, he sees that I have all of this kind of expensive equipment, and my alarm bells of just fear, of him attacking me, or… he was very nice. I briefly talked with him, but, like all of the stereotypes and fear… I felt like there was a point, I don’t know the exact switch, but I felt like I was able to start trusting my instincts a lot more while I was biking, and I didn’t feel comfortable with this guy. He was biking across-country for a second time. Someone had died in his family and he was biking back to his childhood home to figure all of that out, and that was incredible. Like, that story alone would be worth filming and talking about. I think that’s part of the reason why I felt like I needed to mention it in the film. Maybe this isn’t correct, but good documentary filmmakers are able to approach topics like that, or people like that, and be able to get over the like, “Oh, I don’t wanna burden these people with me asking questions because their lives are already so tough.” That was an interview that I kind of regret not getting, but appreciating having that experience, both for the like feeling my gut of like not wanting to pursue it, but also just like his life story, the brief bit of it that I got, was is powerful, and I’m glad it affected you, and I’m glad that it stuck out to you. That’s really great.

Gabriel: It did, and I would love to interview somebody like that myself, but these people are kind of marginalized, and they’re very hard to get in an interview situation. Precisely for that reason.

Mark: And walking that line of exploitation and not wanting to exploit them for their story. It’s like that’s that’s something that I thought about when we were editing. Yes, all of these people agreed to the interview. They said it is okay, which should give me the okay to do it. But as a storyteller, you really, I think there’s a responsibility to make sure that you’re not utilizing their story as an exploitation. Oh, poor white person or black person or minority and this is gonna get hits. You know, this, people are gonna love this.

Gabriel: Right. Unfortunately, that’s how some people think. Several interludes in the movie deal with your relationship with a woman called Lara. She was your girlfriend at the start of the ride. This is not the person you have mentioned previously.

Mark: Yeah. So that was a that was a hard storyline to tell, because part of the inspiration for the bike trip was this woman Kate who I dated in college. It was a really hard relationship. But in between when I broke up with Kate and did the bike trip, I started dating this really wonderful woman, Lara. At first, when I went on the trip, (a) she said she didn’t want to be a part of it, and so I wanted to respect that, and (b) I was like, this story is not about me, this film shouldn’t be about me, it should be about the people I meet. Very quickly realized that it’s hard to tell that type of story without me being the through line. And I felt like a large part of why I was feeling lonely – looking back, I was probably a little depressed, too – was because my relationship with Lara was ending. We kind of put our relationship on pause for me to do the trip, but we were still technically together until around Alabama, when she made the wise choice to like call it quits with me. She needed to move on and I needed to move on. I was essentially telling her that I don’t know if I’m ever coming back. It’s not fair for her, like, this lovely person who is very supportive of me doing this trip and finding myself, you know, as stereotypical as that is. From the very beginning of the relationship, she knew I was going to do this trip. And we dated for like a year and a half before I went on the trip. Yeah, it would be hard to date someone that’s saying, “I don’t know if I’m ever gonna come back.”

Gabriel: Yeah, it’s not the most encouraging words that one can hear.

Mark: Yeah, so, umm…

Gabriel: You chose to do these melancholy scenes very artistically. It’s quite a departure from the rest of the documentary, which is showing actual footage, in the moment, and here you have these artistic scenes, with illustrations and collages. Why did you choose that format to describe the relationship?

Mark: So part of it was a an artistic desire. I always wanted to have some sort of animation in there. I love animation. I think it’s a really great way to tell a story. You can use animation to help transitions, and I was always gonna have, like time templates of where I was on a map, an animated map. So there was elements of animation that I was going to have, but then, after Cody and I like re-edited the film three different times, and the story wasn’t coming together, I realized, and Cody realized, that we needed to talk to Lara and tell that story and how that was affecting me, because it was a large impact on why I stopped filming, my depression, and then it helps build up to the climax, when I say, “I’m excited, I’m excited, I’m excited!” Being able to tell the struggle that I was going through allowed for that to be the climax. And so Lara didn’t want to do an interview, which I understand, but I did get her to sign a release form to let me use one piece of video footage of her in a car. That footage is from when I was testing the camera. When I first got the camera, she and I were driving back to our house, and I was testing, and I had just that little snippet of her. I asked her if I could tell my interpretation of her story, through animation, and she agreed. When I called her, which was 4 years later, after I did my trip, and I said, “Hey, I’m wondering if I… I need to tell our story a little bit,” and she’s like, “I know you did.” It’s like, “Oh, okay.”

Gabriel: Can you share a bit more about the process of getting the animations?

Mark: In 2011, I had gone to Sundance, and I was taking a bus ride back to Idaho, and there was this woman who had this huge bag of shoes, and she was drawing. Her illustrations were really beautiful, and so I started talking with her, and what she did was, she drew all of the images and colored them in, and then took high-resolution photos of them. And then I used Adobe After Effects to do all the physical movements. So I did all the animation with it. Yeah, I wanted to use the animation to capture the emotion of what I was going through and that storyline that wasn’t being told through the interviews that I was doing.

Gabriel: You’ve talked both now and in the movie about physical and mental tiredness. What kept you going when you were getting weaker and before you met your parents?  There’s some hidden source of strength that is maybe not really described fully in the movie.

Mark: The only time that the tiredness came back, the physical tiredness came back, that was noticeable was actually at the end of the trip, when I was biking over the Sierra Nevadas. I think it’s the Sierra Nevadas, yeah. That was difficult, because it was hot, and I was biking in the middle of the day, and it was a four-lane highway. Really, the physicalness of it became secondary to the psychological difficulty of the trip.

Gabriel: Yeah, so what about that, then? What prevented you from getting off the bike and flying home, from a psychological point of view?

Mark: I was in North Carolina, and I almost ended it. I almost decided to fly back because of the relationship with Lara, like that was going south, and I was like, “why am I doing this? Why am I leaving a perfectly wonderful relationship?” And also like at that point, I had done some really great interviews, but none of them… I didn’t see what the film was gonna be, and so I didn’t have that as the driving force yet, and so I almost did. I was, like, staying with a friend of a friend’s on their couch, and I stayed there a couple of days, which was longer than I expected. I was planning on just staying there one night, and I was just ready to go home, and I think what motivated me was the film. I talked to my buddy Cody and he just was like, “Okay, where next are we gonna do our drop?” Where I would mail him the footage, and then he would mail it back. The goal of making the film became a large motivation for it. An internal desire to finish something that I started, like, prove to myself that I can overcome this challenge. Up to that point it felt like I had not been doing anything for myself, or proven anything to myself, and so to give up on this big adventure that I had told everybody that I was doing, and told myself that I was doing and planned for a couple of years to do, was just not something that I was willing to do, so I just kept on pushing forward. And then I would just meet people, and they would make me happy or excited, like Granny, like you had brought up at the beginning of this is. I met Granny in Alabama, and she was the grandmother of a friend of mine. And she was just incredible, like her story was about positivity. She had so much loss in her life, but she still lived a really positive life, and so I would meet people like that and be re-energized to push forward.

Gabriel: Did you keep in touch with any people, or hear about any of them?

Mark: I would reach out to people occasionally. Granny, she was able to see the film before she passed. She and I talked very infrequently, maybe twice or three times over the last several years, or since the film.

Gabriel: You said that the making of the movie from all this raw footage that you had was an adventure in itself.

Mark: Yeah, for sure. So we had over three hundred and something odd hours of footage. And throughout the trip I was sending hard drives to my friend Cody, who was doing a preliminary cut of the film as we were going. So he was going through and tagging footage and all that sort of stuff. So he was – luckily for me – he was going through and doing all the hard work looking through the raw footage. And then, after I had finished my trip, I moved to New York City. He was living in Idaho, and he was editing, and we were doing, he would send me clips, and I would review them, and I’d send them back to him, and it just wasn’t going anywhere, and so he was like, “You can come live with me for practically free, and we can edit this film.” And so, I moved to Idaho after that, and we worked on the film and worked on the film, and we would do one cut where we were just constantly trying to tell this story without me in it, you know it was like, and that just wasn’t working. And then I got a job at Backroads, the bike touring company that I work for now. I would work half a year and then I’d have the winter where, I would come back to Idaho, and I would edit during the winter. And I thought, “Oh, this will be great! I’ll be able to finish the film real quick,” but that didn’t work out. And then Cody had his second kid, and he had been editing – he was the primary editor on it for the majority of the film – I don’t know, I think we were four years in, and he was just like, “Mark, I can’t do this anymore.”

Gabriel: That’s incredible. The amount of time!

Mark: Yeah, and he’s one of those people that doesn’t give up easily. Part of the reason why he’s one of my friends, and by him saying, “Mark, I can’t do this,” I took that very seriously, and so I took it upon myself to figure out how the heck I’m gonna be able to finish this film and finish it soon, because I need to move on. Like, I was just living in 2010 for so long, and I was making decisions… you know, I would start dating somebody in New York, and because of this film, I need to move to Idaho. And so I’d leave that relationship and move to…

Gabriel: Oh wow, not again!

Mark: Yeah, I know, I know. It just cycles. So what I did was, I moved into the office in 2014 of Backroads in Berkeley, so I started working in the sales department there. I have a year to work on this. I would work from. I would work at Backroads from 6:00 till 3:00, and then I would give myself a couple hours, and then at 7:00, I would start editing each night, and I would edit till 10:00. On Saturday I would edit from 8:00 to 8:00 and then Sunday I took off. And so, I did that for a whole year just and was able to put the film together and get it done. And then I moved to LA, and that’s when I started, like, showing it to people, and I did a screening of it, and I sent it off to festivals. It didn’t get into very many. It got into the Boise Film Festival, which was really great. I was able to win the best director for film there, which was…

Gabriel: Nice!

Mark: You know, it was a hometown film festival, so it was really nice to get that positive feedback and Cody was able to be there so, and the amount of time he spent on it, it was very nice. And then it got some distribution on this one website, the cycling website, that was based out of New Zealand. A couple of people watched it. I had the film up online for free anyways. More people watched it on Vimeo than on this web pay website, which makes total sense. Once I released it, like, if I had another person or two more people that were interested in helping me distribute the film, I think it would have had a little bit more legs, but I was done. I needed to move on. I was living in the past so much. I had met my now wife at that point, and we were in a long-distance relationship. She was in the Bay Area, in Oakland, and I was in LA, and I was ready to focus on her and my acting career and the Mark of the now, instead of the Mark of 2010.

Gabriel: I can imagine.

Mark: Yeah.

Gabriel: I think it was a great closure, in a way, to be able to be featured in your hometown festival, and to get a best director award in it, and to have Cody present. That’s a storybook ending.

Mark: Yeah, well, and the truth is, it keeps on giving. If I hadn’t had done that, I do not believe I would have started working at Backroads, and that has been life changing. So I wouldn’t have been in the Bay Area, potentially, I wouldn’t have met my wife, wouldn’t have had my kid. So there’s, there’s a through line of this documentary being a huge turning point in my life. Every once in a while, I get a message on Vimeo saying, “Hey, I just watched your film. This is really wonderful. I’m about to go on a trip myself,” or “I’ve always wanted to go on a trip.” I respond as quickly as I can, because I think if you truly wanna go on a bike tour, like, do it. It’s just the hardest part is figuring out the time to do it, but you can do it. No matter who you are, you can do it.

Gabriel: That’s what this podcast is dedicated to. You don’t need to be a super athlete, you don’t need to travel around the world to have, in your case, it turned out to be a life-changing experience.

Mark: Yeah, it’s special.

Gabriel: At the beginning of this episode, I said that Mark had done a solo cross-country trip. Now, having done the interview, I think he might have had a riding partner: his movie. The movie weighed him down with 125 pounds until the sag wagon arrived, but more importantly, it kept him going when he so desperately wanted to quit. If you would like to watch Bike Against the Wind for yourself, please see the show notes for the Vimeo link.

Gabriel: The transcript for this episode is available on the Accidental Bicycle Tourist website. I welcome feedback and suggestions for this and other episodes. You’ll find a link to all contact information in the show notes.  If you would like to rate or review the show, you can do that on your favorite podcast platform. You can also follow the podcast on Instagram. Thank you to Anna Lindenmeier for the cover artwork and to Timothy Shortell for the original music. This podcast would not be possible without continuous support from my wife Sandra. And thank you so much for listening. I hope the episode will inspire you to get out and see where the road leads you.   

Mark: I haven’t talked to him ever since, so… here, hold on one second. This is my kid, this is Orlando. I’m almost done, buddy.