RAAM. It sounds nuts. The Race Across America ultra marathon is a 3000-mile bicycle race from the Pacific to the Atlantic — stop and think about that for a minute. Since 1982, riders have struggled to cover over 300 miles a day in their quest to keep up with the leaders of the pack and not get cut by the Darwinian rules of the race (half of the riders fail to finish).
Top riders sleep only a few hours a day — some less than that. I think I recall the phrase “11 hours sleep in 8 days” used about one of the leaders. Filmmaker Stephen Auerbach and his team use 18 cameras to capture the racers as they pass through the Mojave Desert, the Rockies, the Great Plains, the Appalachians and more scenic locations on their way to Atlantic City.
The backgrounds throughout the film are gorgeous. The foregrounds are brutal. These men and women push themselves to mind-boggling extremes. Hallucinations are routine. One rider saw dolphins on a dusty stretch of road and became convinced that the race really wasn't being run — it was all a trick. Two riders have died over the history of the race. One of them dies in this race.
Auerbach has crafted a documentary along traditional lines. His choice of music is bombastic — not necessarily a bad thing, though I rolled my eyes a time or two at some of the “Hercules Fights the Nazi Zombies” style passages. The film is packed with sound bytes from interviews with the participants, both riders and their support teams. Though some of the answers to the “Why are you subjecting yourself to this?” questions sound like blurbs from a PowerBar ad, there are many fascinating glimpses into the minds of people driven to go harder and further, day after day. Bicycle Dreams (trailer) showcases some of the most extreme extreme athletes in the world and gives you a look inside. Mesmerizing stuff.