Where the Trail Ends: Movie Review

While I have been lucky enough to spend the semester studying in Paris, the time spent off my mountain bike has been crippling.  I’ve decided to channel my longing into a movie review of Where the Trail Ends, a travel-oriented mountain bike epic that I’ve been meaning to watch every since I watched the first preview on YouTube.  Aside from the expected eye-candy that goes along with a Red-Bull Media House production, I was pleased to find a cyclical narrative, some actual conflict, and a refreshing global awareness.  Where Strength and Numbers doesn’t move past the extended music video sensation, Where the Trail Ends succeeds not just as MTB porn, but as a well-rounded adventure movie.

The movie opens with a montage of big mountain riding in Utah, something the mountain bike community has become very familiar with thanks to Red-Bull Rampage.  What surprised me was the slight air of arrogance in the narration in speaking of Utah; “Every crack, every slope, every line” is said to be “known like the back of [their] hands.”  I guess I shouldn’t have expected modesty, but actually pretending to know all of Utah’s terrain struck me as a ridiculous exaggeration.  I decided to forgive the arrogance as soon as they started to touch on the total freedom of the bike and its ability to forge connections, and in the instances of these lucky few, provide all-expenses paid trips around the world to test new ground.

Next they move to the “Fire mountains” within the Chinese deserts, where temperatures can reach up to 45 Celsius/113 Fahrenheit during the summer.  Kurt Sorge, (winner of the most recent Rampage) after nailing some tricks, actually lines up a road gap to then back down and walk away.  For me, seeing one of the best riders in the world neglect the “Go big, or go home” attitude was seriously refreshing.  We’ve all flirted with the edge of our limits, though often our limits don’t coincide with 50-foot virgin road gaps in the Gobi Desert.  When Sorge was able to acknowledge that he doesn’t know the Fire mountain soil enough to risk the road gap, he moved up a notch in my book.

However, his mental block didn’t last long, and the determined Sorge shows us his resilience in Nepal with a huge 360 down the mountain.  We watch him huck the same 360 off a ledge, only to over-rotate and eat it four times in a row.  Cheered on by the other riders, he’s able to nail the rotation just as the beat drops for one the film’s many heavy-hitting songs.  Upon arriving in Nepal, the group was seriously disappointed in the soil and physical terrain; they noted that the entire trip was a huge (albeit Red-Bull sponsored) gamble.  7 days of travel and intense hiking in high altitude landed them at long last in rideable terrain, right after they were about to pack it in and return home.  Clearly evident here is the learning curve associated with riding terrain in completely different continents.

Surprisingly, yet pleasingly, the movie finishes with a return to comfortable Utah.  For the riders, the return is comforting, though not without anxiety.  As the narrator notes, because they know Utah so well, there’s a lot of pressure, and “No excuses.”  The entire movie up to this point was about discovering and learning to ride new terrain, while the return to Utah is all about pushing the limits and trying new tricks.  Sorge throws down a couple of crazy tricks, including a backflip one-footer with a slight tabletop.

In the return to Utah, we’re given a strikingly powerful image of Darren Berrecloth who struggles with some inner demons in attempts to nail a front flip down the mountain.  Having broken his back in his own backyard trying a front flip in the past year, the mental block was apparent as he repeatedly rode up to the lip of the jump and stopped, grunting and cursing.  On the third attempt, Berrecloth throws his bike in front of him in frustration, and watches it tumble off the jump and down the mountain.  He stands there yelling, takes off his helmet, winds up, and throws it off as far as he can.  As he rides away in frustration, we’re left with some commentary of other riders, who note Berrecloth’s true passion.

Perhaps why this movie succeeds as such a true adventure movie is it’s awareness of risk and the attitudes of each respective rider.  We’re given the consoling mantra: “Sometimes you eat Utah and sometimes Utah eats you.”  There were three hospitalizations during the movie; Only X-rays were taken, there were no broken bones, and each rider got back on the bike shortly thereafter.  After a huge, nearly debilitating wreck, Cam Zink goes to the hospital and learns he has no broken ribs.  He sits there smiling, covered in blood and scratches.  He gives us a sobering monologue on his way back to the mountain about how no one likes to crash, but that surviving something like what he did and walking way relatively uninjured gives him a sense of invincibility.  Of course this sense of invincibility can be casually assumed of all extreme sports athletes, but hearing it come from straight from the mouth of someone who was just sitting in a doctor’s office is all the more sobering.

It’s hard to be critical of a mountain bike film that, in my opinion, succeeded in so many areas.  You can be critical of the extreme sports lifestyle, but that’s really a tired and futile criticism.  Freeriding will not progress past its current point without a certain level of daring and recklessness, though Where the Trail Ends gives a a little peek into what fuels each rider.

The soundtrack was incredible, with unique songs that also fit the terrain and location.  Check out some of the songs on a YouTube playlist, here.

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