By John Adamian
2:40 PM EST, February 28, 2012
The screening is sponsored by Bike Walk CT.
The Race Across America may be the most extreme and grueling challenge in sports. Cyclists pedal over 3,000 miles — from San Diego, Calif. to Atlantic City, N.J. — in 12 days, usually fewer. It's ridiculous, masochistic, brutal. Some of these guys pedal 1,000 miles and only sleep an hour (or at least one winner did). Many of those who attempt the race end up bailing out, exhausted and delirious. The 2009 documentary Bicycle Dreams, screening at the Wadsworth Atheneum on March 7 follows several of the cyclists on the 2005 race. Some of the athletes have to quit because they end up in a hospital, and, as the film shows, some of the racers end up dead.
A film like this one faces a major challenge: it's hard to make something terribly interesting to look at out of hours and hours of footage of a bunch of guys and one woman riding bikes. The landscape is beautiful in places, but in the end, you've got people hunched over handle bars, spokes spinning, with no other racers around for miles.
The riders and the talking heads, including the race's creator and a cycling journalist, all compete to outdo each other in voicing Nietzschean and/or Darwinian quasi-spiritual koans and inspirational tidbits about testing the limits of one's endurance, stripping the ego, mastering desire, transcending pain.
"It's not a sporting event in the classic sense," says Perry Stone, the journalist, "it's more like sending a gladiator into a pit with a lion. "They're the seekers of the new realm or plane."
One of the first-time racers featured in the film is John Delia, a lawyer in his early 40s from Middletown.
"I think that people in society these days surround themselves with comfort and safety," says Delia.
Delia dropped out after 40 hours.
The film tells the stories of a number of racers — two Terminator-like Slovenians, an American first-timer, a beaming Italian family man, a French AIDS researcher, a Brit who's rebounded from devastating riding injuries in the past, a Swedish woman who's kept her participation in the race a secret from her concerned parents. Each racer requires a team, with coaches and medics making sure the rider doesn't fall asleep and crash. Who needs a race to go on a vision quest? Oddly, there can be something egomaniacal about the drive to transcend the tyranny of the self and the limits of the body.
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