Watching ‘Cycling the Americas’

Just finished watching the third and final part of Mark Beaumont’s ‘Cycling the Americas’; the filmed (often by Mark himself) record of a 9-month journey along the Rockies/Andes chain from Alaska in the north to Ushuaia in the south.  As if the journey itself wasn’t enough, Beaumont, a 25-year old Scot bearing a disturbing resemblance to former United sharpshooter Ruud van Nistelrooy, also managed to build into his programme two 20,000 feet + climbs of the highest mountains in North America (Alaska’s Denali or Mt McKinley if you prefer) and  South America (Argentina’s Aconcagua). 

Mark Beaumont reaches the end of  his journey at Ushuaia in Patagonia

Mark Beaumont had already set a new record for cycling round the world and nowadays has become an adventurer-at-large.  Having secured the backing of the BBC for this project, Beaumont has also been busy seeking out commercial sponsorship from the likes of Orange, something that has not always played well with the cycling community at large, some of whom clearly see Beaumont as an opportunist and shameless self-publicist.  By way of an illustration, here’s a quote from the CTC Forum, an online discussion board for cyclists you can find at http://forum.ctc.org.uk

“…..Bottom line is that there are people who do things off their own bat, without thought or need of reward, sponsorship or fame, and there are certain people who without these rewards wouldn’t do these charity events or world records.
Eventually people decide for themselves who to give their respect to, but in an increasingly cynical world the number of people deserving this respect is sadly diminishing.
As for scooting around the world on a bike as quickly as possible with a large wedge of someone else’s dosh in my pocket and then calling it a world record……….OK its a world record but no big deal, athletically, spiritually or in terms of an adventure, just another tentacle of Corporate sponsorship…..”

Tempting to dismiss all that as just sour grapes and I certainly think there’s a whiff of that in there, but there’s also a grain of truth in there as well.  ‘Cycling the Americas’ was, as I mentioned largely filmed by Beaumont himself and whatever footage ended up on the cutting room floor (so to speak) what we have left is often as much about Mark and his moods as it is a travelogue of the fascinating landscapes through which he travelled.  I mean, yes, OK, we can imagine that it wasn’t a barrel of laughs cycling into a headwind through the Atacama Desert for day after day.  If it had been easy then he wouldn’t have been doing it and we vicarious travel junkies wouldn’t have been watching.  Even so, there were probably a few too many sequences featuring his agonised progress up hill and down dale and not enough about the countries through which he passed.  A military coup in Honduras is dismissed in a few sentences, no real explanation is offered as to why he had to take a ship from Panama to Ecuador, detours to chilli farms, bullfights and observatories seem random – and Bill Paterson’s background narration is often high on melodrama but low on information

Of course, some of this is due to the restrictions placed on Beaumont by the BBC.  A 9-month journey is somehow compressed into 3 x 1-hour programmes, which is clearly ridiculous, but perhaps the quality of the self-filmed footage wasn’t up to any more than that..or maybe it was just more and yet more agonised pedalling through mountains and deserts.

Mark Beaumont brooding in the Atacama desert…I think he’s brooding anyway…

Having followed Mark Beaumont’s progress from the very start via the BBC website, Facebook and Flickr, what was clearly an epic journey was not reflected in the resultant films – which were a tad disappointing if I’m going to be honest.  Maybe he will do better with a book, though not if it’s based on the transcripts of the films – and not if it’s as inward -looking. 

It’s understandable that endurance cyclists are going to be focussed on the drama of their own situation, the state of their bikes and bodies, the roads and the weather.  That is why this project would probably have been better if it had been covered, filmed and narrated by a film-maker, rather than by a cyclist.  However, with BBC budgets as squashed as they are nowadays, such a project would never have been made unless someone from ‘EastEnders’ or ‘Strictly Come Dancing‘ had been on the bike.  What price ‘Celebrity Tandems  Go to Vladivostok’ hosted by Ant & Dec?

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