Bicycle Dreams is a documentary film that follows a group of hardcore bicycle racers participating in the 2005 RAAM (Race Across America), the most physically punishing and mentally exhausting annual bicycle race in the world.
The film introduces us to the participants, people coming from many countries, different social and economic situations, and the various personal reasons that they enter into such an intensely demanding race.
The discipline and commitment required to enter the pre-requisite races to even qualify to enter RAAM are far beyond the abilities of most people. As the film progresses, the riders detail the astounding efforts they’ve put into training; building themselves up for strength, endurance and the psychological torment that inevitably accompanies the prolonged physical effort and agony involved.
Dehydration, fatigue, hunger, sleep deprivation, hallucinations, rapid mood swings and a wild assortment of physical pains assault the riders at every turn of the race. The race goes non-stop, which means the competition is so intense that riders resist the need to stop at virtually any cost, and only under extreme duress will they stop to sleep. It is common practice to see a rider go over 24 hour without sleeping. Over the course of the 8 to 10 days of the race across the continent, a rider might get the combined total hours equal to what the average person sleeps in ONE night.
Riders have gotten into serious accidents when physical limits and mental exhaustion thresholds are crossed. Some people have suffered long-term, even permanent, physical damage to their bodies as a result of pushing themselves that hard for the 8 to 10 days the race takes to complete. At least one rider was known to end up partially paralyzed, unable to walk for months afterwards (it was unclear if he ever fully recovered)
Approximately 50% of the people do not even finish the race every year. In the end, one man crosses the finish line first, and ends up waiting over a dozen hours for the 2nd place rider to arrive, then nearly a dozen more for 3rd place to show up. As they riders slowly roll over the finish line they talk about the transformative powers of the experience of participating in such a grueling endurance race. What they take away from the race stays with them for a lifetime.
Bicycle Dreams is available on dvd at the Grand Rapids Public Library
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