Photo by Riley Seebeck
Photo by Riley Seebeck
Being adventurous is synonymous with youth. The call of the road has been in vogue for kids since well before Jack Kerouac picked up a pen. The pull of the wilderness and self-reliance, the longing to endlessly migrate in a mobile home, is an itch left unscratched for many, particularly as age draws the curtains on the opportunity. With adulthood comes the anchor of responsibility, the bind of family, a mortgage or a job – obligations that quiet the call of past dreams to whispers. But not for the 71-year-old Craig Bierly, a man bound to a dream that he’s been living for more than a decade. Faced with time, and intent on riding out his retired years to the full, Bierly turned to mountain biking, a labour of love that has given him purpose and his life meaning. Unemployed and untethered, he set a goal to mountain bike the United States in two years. Some 13 years later, the wheels of his bikes and van still haven’t stopped turning.
Comfortable in his own company and with the conversations unfolding in his head, Bierly enjoys a solitary life governed by his own choices. Without anyone to bounce ideas off, the stickers on his van do most of the talking, marking the roads taken and offering satirical, political and religious sentiments that speak volumes for Bierly’s own principles and life philosophy. Meandering with purpose – through the US, and in the corridors of his mind – Bierly ‘plays the seasons’ and records his travels on a document to mark new horizons and far directions. On solitude, he says: ‘There’s nobody to tell me to shut up. Conversely, there’s nobody to engage in a conversation with. I just wander inside my head thinking about things.’ But a life on the road also offers chance encounters, which Bierly grasps with gusto, his warmth and natural charisma keeping friendship in reach. Moving through the open country, he rides from dawn to dusk, challenged and stimulated by the physicality of mountain biking and its ability to refuel his own tank: ‘I’ve solved my problems and this is my solution to it.’
Tracing Bierly’s travels, the director Brandon Watts and the director of photography Spencer Johnson offer viewers a window on the striking landscapes of the western US, from the glassy lakes and snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the sparse red-brown of the Southwest. Montage footage captures the passage of time, each dawn bringing new ground and opportunity as spring morphs into summer, and summer to fall. And beyond the film’s striking scenery is a deeper line of enquiry into freedom. Bierly’s reflections on his life foreground the delicate dance between desire and reality, and time and age. Though pursuing his dreams may have come at a cost – physical and financial – he describes the years since 2008 as ‘self-serving’ and ‘satisfying’, paying testament to the fulfilling path he chose and continues to live. With a shattered collarbone, a bad foot and a full heart, his journey continues.
Written by Olivia Hains
Director: Brandon Watts
Producer: Jon Grinney
Director of photography: Spencer Johnson
Website: Freehub Magazine