It’s not everyday you see a unicyclist, so when I came across Laura Mahler’s latest short documentary I was taken aback. In the beauty of Switzerland, Laura follows three mountain unicyclists enjoying what they love and experiencing unridden paths.
Without further ado, here is the incredible short documentary ‘HOME’ followed by my interview with Laura about her background, why she chose to create the documentary and her filmmaking tips for those wanting to pick up the camera themselves.
Can you tell us about yourself and your background?
I’m fascinated by the world around us, and honestly love delving into journals, books and films to research & discover as much as possible. I got an MRes in Environmental History and really considered going on to a PhD. But I always found documentaries so exciting and engaging, and in the end I wanted to give it go. It’s a big learning journey and I’m only just at the beginning, and its in making these sort of shorts that I’m really finding my voice and what it is that I want to say.
You’re on a mission to document ‘important stuff’ – what’s the message that you’re trying to convey in your filmmaking?
I have this idea that I want to look at individual aspects of human life, and question each one’s impacts on and of the natural environment. So with Home, it’s really about our need to be outdoors and engage with nature – to get away from everyday life and be with nature in weird and wonderful ways unique to each of us. That as civilisation encroaches wild lands more and more, we try harder to feel a part of and vulnerable to nature. I think that makes unicycling very important!
Your latest film follows three people in Switzerland who are mountain unicyclists! How did you come across Etorre, Sandy and Florian?
I imagine loads of film or book ideas come from somewhere very far from where they started. I started with knowing I wanted to do something about mountains – I hiked a bit in Poland in the summer and came back just really curious about them and how humans have managed to create lives in the most difficult of mountain terrains. And it turned out no one had made a doc about MUni yet, so that seemed like a good way to angle it.
Unicycling is one thing, but mountain unicycling is next level. How would someone even begin to get into this?
Sandy (in the film) said it best – he lived among mountains, so it just came as natural next steps to him. I think if you’re into outdoor sport and pushing your limits, it makes sense to continually increment our activities. Run an extra marathon the next day, add another section to the -athalon, try to beat a time record. Sort of: “sure you can unicycle – but can you unicycle down that massive hill?” I wonder what they’re going to do next!
Did you have a go at mountain unicycling yourself!?
Nooooo I straddled it for about one revolution of the wheel before toppling over – all holding onto two people’s shoulders!
Throughout the cycling industry are so many untold stories of passion, success and dedication. Do you think you’ll look towards bikes (with two wheels) for a future project?
For sure! Cyclists are brilliant people. I’m no wheel-ist, I’m interested in awesome stories with any number of wheels! Haha. There’s so much to be inspired by and learn from out there. You can do it downhill, uphill, across countries, with a motor, in pairs… Its something that carries us from 3 years old, from the graduation out of stabilisers, to the city-centre commute to work, to 75 and regularly heading out to keep your heart in check. I could make a whole career out of this!
You’re a self-claimed “wannabe filmmaker” but you’re out there making films. If you had only three tips to give to someone wanting to make their first short documentary, what would they be?
I sort of run off these:
Ask yourself: What is it about the world that interests you? What makes you really appreciate the world around us, or even, what do you really think could be better? Anything we make ourselves has to really get our own hearts beating.
Ask for advice. If you can, be as specific as possible about what it is you want help on.
(This is the one everyone will tell you and everyone tells me) Just start making it.Eventually it’ll find itself, or you’ll reroute it, or move onto something better. You’ll learn more in one day of just starting it than a month of planning. You gotta start to start.
If anyone has any tips for me in exchange I happily welcome them!!
I’m yet to fully comprehend cycling 200+ kilometres but for Grace Lambert-Smith, it’s a feat that seems all too ordinary. I first met Grace whilst working at British Cycling in 2017. Within the day to day of office life, I’d often hear about her preparations for the next long ride or her training for the Transcontinental Race across Europe. It always inspired me to go out on the bike despite never riding those long hours.
I was lucky enough to commit Grace to share her achievements, experiences and advice on getting started in the world of long-distance cycling and Audaxes. Enjoy!
So Grace, how did you get into cycling and long-distance cycling?
I got into cycling through running actually; I was injured after a long-distance trail run so I decided to pick up cycling in order to cross-train a little bit. Long story short, I have never run since! That was at the back end of 2013 and by 2016, I’d done my first long-distance ride: Rapha’s Manchester to London. Even though it was a supported ride, it was a great first introduction into the world of long-distance bike riding and I got the bug not long after that. I began to document my bike rides on my blog, graceqom.com and my career takes me in and out of the cycling industry too through project like DotWatcher, a website I run that offers coverage of ultra-distance bike races.
What are some of your favourite long distance rides and multi-day rides?
I have too many to count now! I’ve done heaps of Audax rides over the last three years including multiple Super Randonneur Awards (200, 300, 400, 600 in one season), a Randonneur Round the Year Award (12 consecutive months of riding at least one 200km ride) and PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1200km randonnee between the cities). I rode my bike from Paris to Girona a couple of years ago with some friends and I’m often finding any excuse to ride home from a weekend away. I also once attempted the Transcontinental Race (TCR) back in 2017 but the heatwave through Europe at the time wiped me out in Austria.
The heatwave put an end to your TCR race, an amazing effort might I add! Is there anything you would have done differently now in the run-up and during the event?
I guess looking back I was quite inexperienced compared to now but I guess we could all say that about something we’ve done in the past. I think if I entered now and it wasn’t 40 degrees for multiple days in a row, I’d finish but it’s easy to say that when I’m not 2000km into a 4000km bike race! I think just general life experience prepares you better for those kind of events and also knowing more people in the same situation. I knew a few people but nowadays I think I could call upon the advice and friendship of a lot more people. My job also makes training a lot easier: not having a strict 9-5 schedule means I can make the most of the weather.
What would you find in your panniers for an event like this?
You wouldn’t find panniers for one! I use frame bags and I pack a lot of food. Food’s the main thing I’m concerned about to be honest. If I know the places I’m riding have plenty of places to sleep then I ditch the sleeping setup in favour of higher quality sleep in hotels. Buying food takes a lot of time and mental energy, so if I go to a supermarket, I stock up for a good few hours. I would take a spare pair of bib shorts, chamois cream, spare base layer (either for sleeping or wearing on the bike…or both!) and a tube of papaw ointment.
I once rode to Copenhagen and we slept in fields so in that instance I took a sleeping bag and bivvy. That was fun!
Have you any stories from your trips that have stuck with you and are go-to’s at a dinner party?
I’ve done a few Audaxes that stick in my mind. I did a 400 and ended up having a #hedgenap on the side of the road while my friends fixed a puncture. Too many cooks and all that! I also did a 600 and forgot to charge my di2 beforehand which meant I had to do 500km with access to just three gears on the back. That was a long day out!
What would you say to anyone who thinks doing an Audax or multi-day tour is crazy?
I’d say they’re crazy and that they don’t know what they’re missing.
Are there any tips you’d give to first-timers looking at these long distances?
Get into Audax as fast as you can! The community is so welcoming and there are so many people to ask “dumb” questions, lord knows I still ask them. You’ll realise just how fit you can be later in life when you ride Audax. So many of my long-distance comrades are decades older than me but so, so much fitter. I can’t wait to be spinning away when I’m their age.
Which online resources if any do you think are worth looking at for these people?
Obviously the Audax website is useful for finding events. I’m trying to keep my blog going with fresh ideas for long-distance bits and pieces. YACF forum is a hive of activity where Audax and long rides are concerned. Otherwise, get involved on social media: there are many groups on Facebook, plenty of us on Twitter and Instagram and never be afraid to ask for advice.
Lastly, what does 2020 hold for you?
I’ve got quite a busy 2020 actually. I’m part of a 5-woman team taking part in this year’s Easter Arrow (24 hour team time trial up to York all in the name of Audax and a badge at the end of it). I’m doing a 1000km Audax at the start of May, then All Points North at the end of May and in June I’m donning my first race cap since Transcontinental by lining up for Transpyrenees. I’m really looking forward to that as I’ve never ridden in the Pyrenees before. I’ll try and keep my RRtY going as well for a second year.
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