Monday, 14 July 2014

The spirit of cycle touring: The Straight Story


“We saw castles, canals, cottages, boats, churches, Roman ruins, a steam train, ancient forests, smuggler’s towns, hedgerows, roses, butterflies and birds. We had rain, blue heat, storms and soft clouds over rolling meadows. We saw the ocean, walked beaches, headlands and woodlands. We cycled canal paths, train tracks, country lanes and hills. We met nice people, grumpy people, alien worshippers, fellow travelers, bakers, fisher folk, happy hotel keepers and cheerful folk on the side of the road wanting a chat. We freewheeled down and climbed agonizingly up. We cursed and sang and laughed and told stories. Finally, we arrived at Land’s End.”

Susan Brown who lives in Gland, Switzerland, truly has a talent to put into words what you can experience on a long-distance cycle touring journey. She cycled our London-Land’s End Cycle Route in 2013 and clearly had a great time. In 2014, we had more people on the road with our guidebooks and holiday packages than ever before. This fact fills me with feelings of pride and joy.

This mood makes me inviting you to watch a piece of art that in my opinion very well reflects the spirit of cycle touring. The film I want to write about really shows how it is to be out there on a bicycle, on your own, on the road, absorbed by the surrounding countryside.  In David Lynch's 1999 film The Straight Story, the main character Alvin Straight is on a long distance journey on a lawn-mower (!) and the are many parallels with cycling in this film... 

Although the speed of the lawn-mower (and the film itself) might be lower than the average speed of any cyclist, the film beautifully captures all issues long distance touring cyclists face. During the first half of the film, we see Alvin Straight struggling to get his long distance journey off the ground. It parallels the emotional process an individual has to go through before being mentally ready for a long distance bicycle ride. We also witness how Alvin builds his relationship with his means of transport. Don’t we all have a relationship with our bicycle too?

It is the second half of the film where the parallels with cycling really kick in. The beautiful photography and amazing soundtrack (featuring great music by composer Angelo Badalamenti) and "landscape" sound effects (by David Lynch himself) pull the viewer with great emotions into the beauty of "slow travel". The film magically shows how you can become part of your surroundings if you take the effort to t-r-a-v-e-l  s-l-o-w-l-y

The film also defines all inconveniences of being on the road. Alvin Straight and his lawn-mower have to deal with typical cyclist's issues such as  bad weather and overtaking fast moving traffic. Also that desperate desolate feeling a touring cyclist can have when his/her equipment has a serious break down is shown; Alvin's breakdowns are heartbreaking. 


The film also beautifully witnesses the daily routines of finding shelter for the night and food and drink to keep going. Last but not least, there are all those wonderful encounters with other people who either live en-route or who are on a journey too. It is all very much like how a real bike ride is. And yes, there is also an amusing scene with a stressed driver who "must drive the car to work and must drive the car home every day", as she says so to herself, oblivious to her surroundings...

Most magic moment of the film from a cycling point of view is the short scene in which Alvin and his lawn-mower are actually overtaken by a large group of cyclists 
(see also top picture of this article). This special scene with its unique sound effects and amazing imaginary should thrill every true touring cyclist, because it embraces so close the magic of cycling!

The scene of the "grand depart" (see below) gives a good idea of what The Straight Story has to offer (even when dubbed in Italian). A true touring cyclist should watch the film over its full length...



Copyright notice: this article intends to raise renewed interest for "The Straight Story". Copyright holders will hopefully excuse us for using "Straight Story" film captures and "You Tube embedding" in this article!

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