For Dominic Gill, 19,000 miles, two and a half years, the four seasons and one goal were all part of a trip that launched him into a realm most never dare.
Last weekend's Banff Mountain Film Festival at Appalachian State University presented Gill's film, Take a Seat, in which he bicycled from the southernmost point of South America all the way to Alaska on a tandem bicycle. Along the way, he picked up strangers who wanted to share the journey with him.
Gill attended the festival in Boone to discuss his work with viewers. What he learned while filming was startling.
Travelers who joined him on the journey varied from school children who rode for a lark to older individuals with diabetes. In many cases, Gill was the one doing most of the pedaling. As his journey drew closer to its end, he found himself denying travelers who wanted to bike for a stretch. He said that tremendous and interesting people would join him for a few days.
"Then you eject yourself," he said. "For a few days that is weird and eerily present. The silence is kind of cool; you could read a book, write in your journal with no interruption and no worries. Then, after a few days, that feeling disappears completely.
"By the end of the trip I stopped interacting with people as readily because I didn't feel anything. My heart had said, 'Right, were shutting off because this is dangerous.' That was profound."
Gill spent more than 50 percent of his journey alone, the longest stretch of solitude lasting a month and a half. "Out of two years and two months I was on my own 51 percent of the time," he said.
Unlike some other individuals who have done similar treks, Gill stopped along the way and worked. One young woman made a trek that correlated with Gill's and finished in six months. Gill said that a trip like that lacks depth in understanding the places through which one passes.
The effects of the trip were profound.
"It took probably four months to get back up to step," he said. "I was probably riddled with a few intestinal infections. I ate and ate. I was tired at four o'clock in the afternoon for three months ... It was that deep, physical, to-the-bones exertion that happens over a long period of time."
Although Gill reeled from the trip, he has bounced back and plans on making a new trek with a 74-year-old man with leukemia. They will film their tour of the United States on a tandem bike together.
"For the first time of his life, he is taking a leap of faith," Gill said. "He remembers the America of 50 years ago. It probably was, 'Hey, come in and eat with us. Do you need somewhere to stay?' I want to see if that still exists and so does he ... Like a lot of people his age ... he believes the world is getting worse. But he is open enough to seeing if it is true."
Gill said that the next trek will be a voyage both mentally and physically. Peddling with Ernie, the 74-year-old man, will be mostly his task. Gill hopes that by the end of the trip, both of them will have been enlightened to the true reality of the nation.
Why Gill decided to make the 19,000 mile journey stems from many places, but one involves the need to map his own growth.
"I will have footage of me, sort of, growing up," he said. "And that's really important."
For more information on Dominic Gill, visit http://www.takeaseat.org.