Vague Direction – A Bicycle Powered Project about People
We recently chatted with Dave Gill, a 24 yr old film maker and writer from the Lake District currently cycling an 11,000 mile loop of the US and Canada. Dave is putting together a film and book project about lifestyle choices. Dotted along the route he intends to meet up with a whole host of different people and look at how they have developed their own lifestyles. His life at the moment is literally strapped to a bike so its also a radical shift in his own personal lifestyle.
Tell s more about SteepMedia and what you look to achieve?
SteepMedia is a company I started a while back that focused on adventure film content (specifically rock climbing), but due to commercial work it lost momentum so has been dormant for a few years. I thought this would be a good project to aid it’s revival and pivot into digital publishing.
Have you embarked upon a long distance cycle tour previously?
Nope, never. It’s funny (or stupid) because even though it was advised, I didn’t do any training at all before setting off. The reason was, well it’s such a long ride, that the first few weeks would be natural training. It was quite a shock to the system and upon landing in New York – I had severe doubts about what on earth I was getting in to.
Why North America?
So many classic adventurous tales of ‘the open road’ come from North America, that was definitely a huge appeal. It’s such a vast continent, with a huge variety of people, landscapes and travel conditions. Plus in Europe, bears aren’t much of an issue. It just seemed like the obvious option that would result in a truly adventurous story.
So before we get started on why your doing it, lets talk about your bike, ultimately the most important part of your kit, what is your chosen steed and how much kit have you taken?
I think this is the bit where you find out that I really went into this project with a certain amount of naivety. The bike is a Trek 7.5FX, it’s basically a standard version component-wise, but I’ve changed the wheels to stronger Salsa rims, got a Brooks saddle, Marathon touring tyres, SPD pedals and adapted it to carry pannier bags with Tubus racks. The reason for going with this option was that it was the only bike on eBay that was the right size, within 3 weeks of setting off. It does the job most of the time though – but this morning I’ve just found out I’ve snapped another spoke on the back wheel. That is such a frustrating problem.
What has inspired you to take on this journey?
I had that common nagging feeling that a lot of people get. When you’re sat at a desk for too long, and gaze out of the window daydreaming about the adventures that are out there waiting to be had. I felt a strong and growing desire to get away the daily grind and go on an adventurous mission. It’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking about doing stuff, but making excuses because it’s not ‘the right time’ or whatever. I thought well even if it’s not the right time, it’ll never get easier than this. I was terrified about the decision, but there was no going back.
It clearly seems like a journey of self discovery, what do you think you have learned so far?
That’s definitely a part of the project. It’s been a total shock to the system – constantly being on the road and spending many nights in a tent or bivvy bag without home comforts. I suppose the self-discovery thing was more a case of seeing what happens when I get completely immersed in a new way of living. There’s been so much learning – perhaps one of the most significant has been to do with intimidation. Interacting with people or scenarios that are intimidating for whatever reason has become a relative non-issue. People are people, whether you grow organic vegetables, are an ex-convict or direct films with Ryan Gosling in them, and most of the time there’s no need to be intimidated.
Your objective seems to be about finding out how other cultures live, what has been the stand out point for you so far?
We are bombarded, every single day, by negative news. It’s easy to forget that there’s also a lot of positives out there. There’s been so much generosity on the trip so far – people cooking meals, offering a place to sleep – it shows that so many people are kind. Also, there’s been times meeting people who are just super intimidating – big motor biker dudes with tattoos and scary appearances -and they’ve turned out to be awesome and insist on watching Mr Bean. Seriously. There’s something to be said about the judging a book cover cliché.
11,000 miles across a part of the world that was unfamiliar to you, do you get lonely or scared, what has kept you going?
Yes to both of those. There are situations that are just scary, no two ways about it. Neighbourhoods that you just do not want to be in. And loneliness is a constant issue on this kind of project. Whilst it’s a project about people, the reality is that you only ever spend a few hours / a day with someone, and most of the time you’re totally solo. Coping with that was really tough at first. But it’s important to remember to just savour and appreciate the good moments as they happen. And there’s a goal to the project – I can literally map the progress I’m making – so what keeps me going is knowing that the project is progressing. Plus with tools like Skype the world is a much more connected place.
I would imagine that not all those 11,000 miles go smoothly, what’s been the most challenging aspect so far?
There’s three challenging sides. Mental, physical, and mechanical. Something’s always going wrong with the bike, but eventually you learn to just take it as it comes and not worry too much. The physical challenge was quite a shock to begin with – my body hadn’t adjusted at all so there were a lot of sore days in the beginning. Now though they don’t seem to be as common. The hardest challenges are mental. Some days motivation is just nowhere to be seen, plus you can be in an area or around people who make you uncomfortable, and also you can go for days without real conversation. Coping with the mental game can be hard, but then you get to a massive downhill and it’s all good again.
Highlight to date?
A riding day would be Van Horn to El Paso – 106 miles of basically downhill all the way. An effortless triple figure day. Doesn’t get better than that. An off-the-bike highlight would be getting invited onto the set of a new TV show to watch a scene involving an exploding van.
People seem to be a big inspiration for you, what’s been the most interesting person you have come across so far?
The biggest part of this project for me is about the people along the way. The cycling is really just the means of getting around. To name one person as the most interesting is impossible, but there’s definitely been some unique examples: a singing cowgirl in Texas, civil war re-enactors in Georgia, and a major film director in LA.
What cycling have you enjoyed prior to this journey, are you an avid cyclist in day to day life?
I used to be big into trials riding but quit about 6 years ago. Watching Danny Macaskill video’s still gets me really psyched, he’s a badass. Other than that, I used to commute 3 miles to work in Manchester on a road bike when it wasn’t raining, which was rare.
What do you miss most about home and what do you miss least?
I miss friends, family, a bed, a hot shower, a kitchen, a sofa. I don’t miss the rain or the 9-5 or a car (much).
Unchained Mag wish Dave all the best for the rest of his journey and look forward to hearing more as it happens…
Follow Dave’s cycle tour and the people he meets along the way here www.vaguedirection.com