It's become popular to focus on the "journey" rather than the "destination." And yet, most journeys do reach a conclusion. Less discussed is what happens when you arrive.
For Thousands of Miles (FTOM) explores the emotional impact of an arduous and solitary cross-country bike ride, and one man's struggle to reckon with the after-journey. Inspired by filmmaker Mike Ambs' own 55-day bicycle ride from Michigan to San Francisco, the film uses an actor to tell Ambs' personal narrative.
"The truth is this project means everything to me," Ambs wrote as part a Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $9,000, "and ever since those two months, I've been haunted by the experience of my days on the road. The memories of lonely sunsets watched from empty back roads in Montana's badlands. The memories of endless waving fields through North Dakota. The memories of feeling small against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean."
And that sentimentality is apparent. In many ways, the film feels like an attempt to memorialize that trip, and to externalize Ambs' inner experience. For all its superficial similarities to Cheryl Strayed's Wild—the challenging solo journey, the at times painful introspection, and the reluctance to leave nature behind when the trip is done—For Thousands of Miles is a different kind of story.
There is no drama, no intrigue. Where Wild is intensely specific, inviting the reader or viewer to connect with the narrator on a deeply personal level, FTOM traffics in generalities—broad, sweeping statements that could apply to any number of experiences.
Much like the journey, the film is slow moving. It opens on a wide shot of the main character, Larry McKurtis, riding his road bike along the shoulder of a winding mountain road. For the first 10 minutes, there is no dialogue, no narration. Just the sounds of birds, bugs, and the occasional passing car.
We catch glimpses of pre-journey Larry. He's been stealing bits of inspiration where he can. Stopping alongside the road to catch the sunset after work. Sleeping outside. He feels most at home on the road, and before long, flashbacks to nature scenes—accompanied by "The Very Thought of You"—win him over.
Eventually, we learn that Larry has set out to make the trek with his best friend, until an old snowboarding injury rears its head and forces his buddy to bow out. Still, our protagonist persists, intent on finding some greater meaning than that conferred by his dull day job at the local hardware store.
So he hits the road, riding through some of the most stunning landscapes in the American West. As he does, the viewer is along for the ride—both through the scenery and in Larry's mind, and he dives deep into self-reflection.
This is no high-action drama. Nor is it an info-rich documentary. Rather, it is a slide show of striking natural scenes accompanied by an appropriately majestic original score, with a sort of monotone, meditative narration.
If you too miss the solitude of the open road or trail, this film may well prove cathartic. Just don't expect to walk away with any answers. As the film winds down, the narrator serves that anticlimax succinctly: "Part of him expected something profound to be waiting at the ocean, but in many ways, it never came."
The film will be released online May 22 at ftomfilm.com and screened pre-release on May 21.
For Thousands of Miles
Written and directed by Mike Ambs
9 pm, Thursday, May 21
McMenamins Old St. Francis
$5, cash only, a fundraiser for the Central Oregon Trail Alliance