“How old are you?” Phil Keoghan asked me Wednesday morning as we sat to talk about his new documentary The Ride, which had its Twin Cities premiere the night before to a sellout crowd in Eagan.
I did the math and gave him the number.
“Imagine you’re turning 40,” he replied, implying that I am quite a way from actually understanding the sort of feelings that would precipitate the decision to take a cross-country journey across the United States, which is precisely what Keoghan did in 2009. His trip, removed from globetrotting as the host of the CBS reality show The Amazing Race, became the subject of his documentary.
He’s right, though. I, in the full bloom of youth (sic), cannot comprehend the state the freshly over-the-hill Keoghan must have been in when he embarked on his bike ride.
“Imagine someone says to you, you’re going to have a midlife crisis, you’re going to get pec implants,” he said. “People were telling me this was all going to happen. So I thought maybe I should make a documentary. Maybe it would be funny, maybe like a comedy.”
Ok, you want to talk things comedic? Once upon a time, I attempted to bike my way home from work downtown here in Minneapolis, riding along the Hiawatha corridor. I hit a little snag maybe about a mile and a half, maybe two miles in. That snag: I am hysterically out of aerobic shape. I got home, more than six miles later, feeling and dripping like a sponge that had just been wrung.
In other words, the question isn’t age. It’s physical endurance and ambition. It’s not impossible for me to empathize with the implications of turning 40; I’m more than three-quarters the way there. On the other hand, it’s quite literally impossible for me to understand putting one mile behind me and then getting ready to then tackle the next 3,499.
The neat thing about Keoghan’s documentary is that it saw its genesis in contemplation of the supposed ridiculousness of men reeling from their midlife crises, but emerged as a testament to Aaliyah’s old maxim — age ain’t nothin’ but a number.
Instead of colluding with other newly 40-year-old men, Keoghan dusted off his List for Life (a bucket list which includes, among many other modest goals, treating his wife to a romantic dinner atop Italy’s Mount Stromboli … mid-eruption) and set out to pedal his way across America. His movie is culled from many, many, many miles. So much happens during the movie that, when I asked him to tell me what doesn’t happen during its running time, he had to think a moment.
“Well, I don’t lose weight during the movie,” he joked. Indeed, he shed at least 13 pounds. “Which, for me, is a lot. You met me and you thought, ‘What a skinny little runt!’”
Between Los Angeles and New York, he ran up against troublesome weather, grueling paths, unexpected detours, llamas and potholes. At one point, he biffed it on a particularly decimated piece of road and had to be hospitalized. When I mentioned how “crumbling infrastructure” had become a media buzzword in the aftermath of the I-35W bridge collapse over the Mississippi River in 2007, he admitted the event had been at the back of his mind for much of his trip.
“That was on my mind a lot. Because when you slow down, you really see things,” Keoghan said. “The difference between doing 70 on the highway in your car and doing 20 on a bicycle, where you’re all open and can really look, I realized just how much of the American infrastructure really needs to be upgraded.”
In addition to the totemic implications of the bridge collapse, Minnesota is also connected with The Ride in a more explicit way. No, his journey didn’t cut through our state. (His path took him through Iowa.) But Keoghan noted the National MS Society’s Bike MS event got its start right here in Minnesota. Which is no surprise given Minneapolis has been repeatedly ranked among the best biking cities in the country, if not world.
“Here in Minneapolis, they have a fantastic MS 150 Ride,” he said. “From here, it has grown into 100 rides across the country with 100,000 riders that participate every year. Minneapolis should be very proud of that.”
Raising funds for multiple sclerosis became his cause, emerging as the true impetus behind his entire quest. (All proceeds from his special screenings of the documentary are going to benefit the National MS Society.)
I couldn’t help but ask which continent’s next. He laughed, “Now I’m getting offers for all kinds of things, now that they know I’m crazy. ‘Hey, you want to bike across Asia?’ No, I’m good.”
But he’ll never stop globetrotting, thanks to the Emmy-juggernaut that is his bread and butter. Keoghan said he’s excited because The Amazing Race is finally available in high definition.
It seemed a natural fit. If any show ought to be presented in HD, he argued, it’s Race. Like a bone fide film geek, he drew out a 16:9 frame to show just how much better composition is in that format. He’s right about that. Race is the Around the World in 80 Days of reality television, and postcards aren’t in 1.33:1.
“We’re a show where we show off the world,” he said.
If you’d like to see more about The Ride, or to see a preview for the documentary, click here.
WCCO-TV’s Natalie Kane Talks With Phil Keoghan