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Great Divide Mountain Bike Route: The Inner and Outer Wild

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The word “wild” comes with a lot of baggage. Does it mean crazy, violent, or maybe senseless? For musician and biker Ben Weaver, the word has only positive connotations. To Ben, wild means to simply be in a state of nature – not tamed or domesticated. In other words, being wild means being exactly oneself, no more and no less. Being “true” might be another way to think about it. To be wild is to first discover one’s inner nature, and then go and be that person.

Ben has been playing his instruments and singing for nearly 20 years, 15 of those spent dutifully following the well-worn path that up-and-coming musicians are expected to tread. But after all those years, in what he calls the rat race of the professional music industry, he decided on a 180º turn and threw all that aside in order to do the things he would much rather be doing. He decided to no longer stay domesticated.

In Roam Media’s film, Music For Free, Ben is on an enormous bike ride down the Continental Divide, going from Banff, Canada all the way south to the U.S./Mexico border. Just your normal, everyday 2,700-mile bike ride. He is following the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route – the longest mapped mountain-bike path in the entire world. This is the 20th anniversary of the opening of this amazing route, and the purpose of his journey is to celebrate the many people who have supported this route through the years. He aims to meet many of the inhabitants of the small communities – those who sparsely populate the trail. And, he wants to give them as many free concerts as he can manage.

He honestly looks a sight, in his bright-neon zebra-patterned bike pants, with his several instruments strung up vertically at the back of his bike. As Ben puts it, he appears to be an insane pro-wrestler from the 80s. But he’s used to this – he once rode his bike from St. Paul, Minnesota to New Orleans. On that trip, he learned that “when people think you’re crazy, then they listen to your stories!”

And if you are going to make these epic bicycle voyages, you will certainly end up with some stories. The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is about 90% unpaved, and depending on the weather, some parts can be impassible. The video shows him trudging alongside his bike through some pretty deep snow, where he encounters a pick-up truck completely stuck in it. He waves as he slowly passes them, and then stops with a sudden thought – I wonder if they’d like to hear one of my songs? Turns out they do! The parents get the two kids out, and everyone sits on the truck’s back gate to hear Ben and his guitar give an impromptu wintertime performance. Just another typical day of Ben being Ben, wild.

His mom, Jessica Flynn, has a cameo in the film. Her one-word description of her son is “non-traditional.” She remembers that he never felt the need to do what everyone else was doing, not at all. “He didn’t care about grades, and he didn’t care about going to college, and that is the path so many people take. It was always hard to see him take a different path.” But he persevered and never once seemed to doubt that this sort of life is what he was going to do.

Years ago, when Ben completely ditched the professional music industry, he was finally free to live the life that had been calling to him – his personal call of the wild. And it was simply “to ride my bike and visit small towns and rural communities because that’s where my heart is.” It’s really just that simple – he wants to be where his heart is. And on Day 14 of the journey, in Wyoming’s Great Basin, he sings these deeply felt lyrics, “I find my heart in the open spaces, where closer I always long to be.”

As a musician who travels via bicycle from gig to gig, he’s become known for fostering a deep connection to the natural world. Of course, these endless winding trails help with that. He sometimes has to lift his bike over downed trees and deal with random snowfalls, rocks, wind, darkness, you name it. The worst enemy of a mountain biker is always rain, which can quickly turn a smooth path into unnavigable mud. Lightning doesn’t help much either, and part of the video captures Ben waiting out a storm by taking shelter in a campground restroom. But you’ll hear no complaints! He simply talks about how one has to abide by the “pace of the land.” And when it’s all mud and puddles and wind, the pace of this land right now is about eight miles an hour, so that’s what he does.

The endless trail changes so much and so quickly as it traverses many different terrains, ecosystems, watersheds, deserts, and communities. The various individuals who live along the trail, either in groups or singly, are a fascinating mix. As one resident explains, even in a little town of 65 people, there are those representing every end of the spectrum. Despite the relative lack of population, the sense of community is very strong. They each share a willingness to seek out what they all share, rather than fixate on their inevitable differences.

Ben worries how people are so far removed from the simple act of being on the land. Wildness, the act of truly living your inner self, has to be grounded in the natural world because we as humans are part of that world. To Ben, wildness is “inherent in an animal and in a river and in a human being.” As he sings about how “you can take my bones from the wild, but you can’t take the wild from my bones,” he extrapolates on his theme. “Wildness is not a place or a product. It is an inherent quality, a process and structure of life.”

As the film draws to a close, Ben sings about how “I find my heart in the open places,” and the viewer realizes that all these people living alongside the route have been struck by the same idea. In these tiny communities, they have actively decided to make life how they wanted it to be. No one ended up there randomly – to choose to live close to nature, out on the open land, is a very conscious act. The feelings and wildness they share brings one of the locals to tears as she tries to adequately describe its power. Existence out on the land without this precious community feeling would quickly become a very lonely one, despite the endless natural beauty they are all surrounded by.

See Ben Weaver’s new album “Sees Like a River” on Spotify:

See Ben Weaver’s Interview on Path Less Pedaled here:

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