When I first saw “The Road from Karakol” at 5Point Film Festival, my brain had already been numbed by dozens of killer films about people radder than I could ever dream of being. A film about a superstar mountaineer who rides his bike through Kyrgyzstan to make first ascents? Sure, I’ll sit through that. I expected to see a remix of the usual, highly produced “I went there, and wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, but I did” movie that we’ve all seen so many times before. Visually stunning, but predictable.
What happened onscreen, however, was a shaky, handheld mess of footage, bad audio, and an opening scene of Kyle standing in front of the camera naked. From there, what unraveled in front of my eyes was a story that was deeper, more real, and more alive than anything I’d ever seen.
Here are 7 things Kyle Dempster taught me about travel:
1. Having a destination doesn’t mean you can’t wander. Kyle sets out for a specific mountain range with certain unclimbed peaks as his goal. His path, however, was hardly a straight point-A-to-point-B dash. This brings me to a sub-lesson learned: Maps are great, but don’t fully rely on them.
2. When the military checkpoint guards say drink, you drink. Simple enough. Pissing off guards of any type is not the path of least resistance.
3. …But when they won’t let you through, improvise. Kyle doesn’t let a couple of corrupt border guards stop him from sending first ascents. He gives them the finger by finding another way to drunkenly cross the river.
4. It’s okay to be scared (even if you’re a big-mountain legend). On any sufficiently epic trip, you’re going to be scared at some point. That fear is good. It keeps your senses sharp, and might just save your life.
5. When you’re alone for 25 days, it’s okay to refer to yourself as “we.” In fact, it’s the only time.
6. Tell the people you care about that you love them. Even if you don’t die crossing that river, or get buried in an avalanche, these people put up with your adventurous ways, or maybe even support them. Tell them. They deserve it. Seriously.
7. The journey is what prepares you for the destination. There are reasons places like this still have first ascents: They’re hard to get to, and few people live there. If he’d chartered a helicopter to get to base camp, would he have grasped its incredible remoteness? Or did meeting the people, pushing his bike over miles of rocks, and fording rivers make him more able to savor the raw awesomeness of climbing these peaks? I’d like to think so.
* Watch the short film above and let me know in the comments what 7 things it teaches you.
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Frequent Matador Contributor Eric Warren has lived in various Montana locales including Missoula, Big Sky, Bozeman, and Billings, for 25 years.