Have you ever wondered who answers the phone when you call with questions about a trip? Mark Vashro is one of our newest members in the Guest Services department at Backroads. He's been a Trip Leader in New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and Maine but has recently accepted this new position in our Berkeley office in order to have a more geographically stable life.
Why? Mark's in the process of finishing and releasing his documentary, Bike Against the Wind.
A man of many talents, Mark is also an actor, filmmaker and epic bike tourist. On April 4, 2010, Mark took a short detour from his predictable acting and producing career to cycle across the country -- solo -- filming the people and landscapes of America along the way.
Mark sat with me and discussed the film over dinner. "Originally," he said, "I wanted it to be a sociological study of why people live where they live. Are they happy there? I wanted to learn why people called home, 'home'." He wanted to know America firsthand, without stereotypes or preconceived ideas about certain geographical regions.
"What the film turned into," he continued, "which I should have predicted, is a film about a young man coming of age, and the lessons that he learns from the people that he meets along the way."
After dipping his wheels in the Atlantic in Boston, Massachusetts, Mark headed due south hugging the eastern side of the Appalachians. From Florida he turned west, zig-zagging his way through the South and onward through Texas and the desert states, eventually landing his front wheel on the beautiful beaches of San Diego, California.
Biking against the wind
Bike Against the Wind is a classic American tale of the road. Like Kerouac and Steinbeck before him, Mark documents the varied voices of America. He invites us into the life and world of Eleanor, the one-and-only "Granny" of Troy, Alabama.
Having lost her husband and three children, Granny is a woman who has endured more heartache than anyone should. Yet, she keeps moving. She wakes up every morning and participates in her community. From her church to the corner store, Granny shares her love with everyone and she radiates joy on the screen. The film takes us to the marshes of Louisiana and tells the hard-earned tales of Allan, a leathery local fisherman affected by the BP Horizon oil spill of 2010. Outside of Taos, New Mexico, we meet a man picking up trash on the side of the road and get to listen to him open up about the hardest decisions he's had to make in his life.
Unlike the other authors of the road, Mark's story is by bike. At Backroads, we're clearly partial to this sort of travel. However, in terms of storytelling, I would say that this mode of travel is the best way to listen to and experience the nuances of any culture or landscape. Mark says he wouldn't have done it any other way, "What I really loved about traveling by bike was to have conversations I wouldn't normally have been able to get into if I was hitchhiking or if I was in a car or on a motorcycle."
The beauty of traveling by bike is that it marries you to your immediate landscape. It makes you vulnerable to the man picking up trash on the side of the road, to the heat of the sun, to the true grade of a mountain range, to the goodness of conversation after hours by yourself. You're totally and completely immersed in your surroundings.
Three and a half months later, Mark couldn't have predicted the power of the stories he recorded along the way or how they would affect him. "The ultimate message of the film is to live a positive and active life," Mark went on, "That no matter what class, race, financial situation, geography, no matter where I was, who I met--everybody said that to be happy they look on the positive side of things."
The film is set to debut later this year. And we at Backroads couldn't be more stoked to watch it.
Visit www.bikeagainstthewind.com to stay up-to-date on the debut and showings, and look for it in film festivals next year.
For a small taste of what the film is all about check out his teaser trailer: