6 Inspiring Adventure Films that Will Keep You Going on the Trainer

by Gloria Liu

We’re having a nice break from the cold in Colorado right now, but unless you’re lucky and can get out in the middle of the day, you’re probably still logging a good amount of trainer time during the winter. Nobody likes riding indoors, but you can make it a little more enjoyable with a good movie.

Here are 6 recommendations for adventure films (jump to the bottom to see why they’re not all bike films*) that will keep you motivated throughout your workout. All but the very last one can be streamed on Netflix “Watch Instantly”. If you don’t have Netflix you can get a one-month free trial to get you through January.

1. All.I.Can. (Skiing / 1 hr, 16 min) YouTube Trailer

Because cyclists and skiing go together like peas and carrots. I first watched “All.I.Can.” at the 2011 Banff Mountain Film Festival, where it won the award for “Best Feature-Length Mountain Film”. This is not your dad’s Warren Miller movie. Utilizing time-lapse photography, animation, cutting-edge digital editing, and a killer mood-setting soundtrack, “All.I.Can.” is a full-on visual experience. In one scene the filmmakers flex their cinematography prowess by making the landscape turn from summer to winter and back as the skiers glide across the screen. And you’ll love the playful urban freeskiing segment with JP Auclair that went viral on YouTube. Finally, the film’s haunting juxtaposition of urban vs. natural landscape in time-lapse and its message on climate change is a reminder of our responsibility to protect the natural landscapes we love and play in.

2. 180 Degrees South (Surfing, climbing, travel / 1 hr, 25 min) YouTube Trailer

For all the wanderlusts out there. Inspired by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s 1968 road trip from Ventura, Calif. to Patagonia; a 20-something year old self-proclaimed dirtbag named Jeff Johnson decides to replicate the journey himself in 2008. Yvon and Jeff and their traveling buddies don’t ride bikes; they surf and climb. That doesn’t make the movie’s siren call for the open road any less seductive. Watching “180 Degrees South” will remind you that once in a while we all need to totally unplug, throw the essentials in a backpack, and just go--whether on two wheels, in a beat-up van, or in Jeff’s case, a rather sketchy sailboat. The film is also chock-full of epic travel quotes like this one: “The best journeys are the ones that answer questions we never thought to ask in the beginning.”

3. Ride the Divide (Ultra-endurance cycling, touring, MTB / 1 hr, 20 min) YouTube Trailer

“Ride the Divide” chronicles the journey of the 15 athletes who started the 2008 Tour Divide mountain bike race, dubbed by Outside Magazine as “the world’s toughest bike race”. Running from Banff, Canada to the Mexico-US border, the 2,700-mile race on the world’s longest continuous mountain bike trail takes the riders through snow, grizzly country, awe-inspiring beauty, and most of all into their deepest mental and physical reserves. In particular I was fascinated by the journey--and struggle--of Mary Metcalf-Collier, the first woman to race the Tour Divide. Watching Mary and the others battle mind-numbing boredom and fatigue will banish any thoughts of not finishing your trainer workout. As an extra bonus for Coloradans, the gorgeous scenery as the riders roll through our home state will make your chest swell with pride.

4. Pedal-Driven (MTB / 58 min) YouTube Trailer

I’ll admit it: I expected this movie to be boring. But it was SO good. Pedal-Driven is about the tug-of-war being played out between mountain bikers and federal land managers for access to trails. By interviewing illegal trail builders and mountain bike advocates, as well as local US Forest Service rangers and the BLM, the filmmakers do a great job of driving home the legitimate interests and concerns on both sides of the debate. And just to make sure you stay engaged, there’s plenty of freeride footage through some of the Pacific Northwest’s best singletrack. Besides driving home the importance of mountain bike advocacy, “Pedal-Driven” will make you pant for summer again.

5. High Ground (Mountaineering / 1 hr, 31 min) YouTube Trailer

This moving and inspiring documentary follows 11 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans as they strive to 20,000-foot Mount Lobuche in Nepal. This would be an impressive feat for anyone, but the group includes former soldiers dealing with PTSD; Chad Juke, a single-leg amputee; and Steve Baskis, who will attempt the climb after a roadside bombing left him completely blind. On their quest for the summit, the vets struggle with their own physical and emotional scars, striving to find solace and inspiration in the mountain. I watched this film at a screening with Ignite Adaptive Sports who I volunteered with the past two winters; and it brought tears to my eyes on numerous occasions. It’s a real reminder that to be able to move our bodies each day is a privilege that should be appreciated as much as possible.

6. Rising from Ashes (Road cycling / 1 hr, 22 min) YouTube Trailer

This last documentary can’t be found on Netflix, but I had to include it because it remains one of the best cycling movies I’ve seen. You can download it on iTunes here. “Rising from Ashes” chronicles the creation and journey of Rwanda’s first national cycling team, recruited and coached by Jock Boyer, the first American to ride the Tour de France. Many of the athletes had lost family members in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and struggled with basic things like reading and writing or feeding their families...let alone learning to train and race bikes professionally. However, cycling becomes an avenue for the young men to move forward from the shadows of their country’s dark past. Just as captivating as the story of the riders is Jock’s own personal journey to redemption through his mentoring of the team, as he guides them towards their ultimate goal: the 2012 London Olympics.

*The Bigger Picture

You probably noticed that not all of the movies were bike films. This was intentional. I think the spirit of human endurance is absolutely fascinating in all the different ways that it manifests itself. And sometimes it’s healthy--and motivating--to think about something other than bikes for a while.


Author Gloria Liu

The common reason I loved all these films is that they reminded me of the bigger reasons I’m training in the first place--even if I have to do it indoors for today. We’re not just training for some bike races next spring. We exercise our bodies today so that we can be fit and healthy for many days to come; to live long, varied, and adventurous lives full of exploration and movement. When we remember this, it’s not hard to keep pedaling.

Gloria Liu is a mountain biker, skier, writer, and recovered financial analyst. She’s also the editor for TrainingPeaks.com. Follow Gloria on Twitter @thats_my_line.

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