We’re grateful to Sarah, Jeff, and Matt, for their willingness to take part in an interview regarding their film, Choosing To Live. Their amazing work was recently awarded as a finalist in the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Also, earlier this week the film was announced as an official selection at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival in the UK. Our congratulations on those incredible achievements and our thanks for letting Salsa take part in sharing this story. -Kid
SALSA – Can you share some of the backstory on how you decided to make this film?
JEFF - Ryan Correy invited me for coffee shortly after his first round of chemotherapy to discuss the idea of creating a film about his return to bikepack racing the following summer. He suggested targeting the Banff Mountain Film Festival, as well, because there aren’t too many local films represented. After he passed away, I hadn’t given much thought to the film project until I learned that Sarah wanted to ride the ten routes in his guidebook. I knew it would be an incredible journey, so I reached out to Sarah to see if she would be interested in turning her experience into a film.
SALSA – Sarah, can you share with us how you and Ryan met?
SARAH – We met online nearly ten years ago and immediately connected over a shared love for and interest in adventure, though in that regard, Ryan’s “résumé” was far more extensive than mine! At the time, he had his sights set on the Tour Divide, which he ended up completing for the first time in 2012. That was my introduction to bikepacking.
SALSA – Jeff and Matt, how did you meet and know Ryan and Sarah?
MATT - I unfortunately never got to meet Ryan. This story was brought to me by Jeff.
JEFF - Although I knew Ryan and followed his website and social media work in person, I didn’t meet him until we raced the inaugural Alberta Rockies 700. I didn’t really have a race strategy, but I knew Ryan was fast. I decided my goal would be to keep him in sight for as long as possible as we rolled out of Hinton, Alberta. My plan failed within the first 30 km. After the race, we stayed in touch online, but we didn’t meet again until we had both moved to Canmore.
SALSA – Was the decision to share this story difficult, Sarah?
SARAH – Not at all. I knew Ryan wanted to make a film about bikepacking (him and Jeff had been discussing the idea) so it felt like the perfect way to fulfill that wish for him. The biggest challenge for me at that time was actually finding a meaningful way to move forward with my life without leaving Ryan behind, as I say in the film. At times in my grief, I felt a tendency to be protective of my pain and sadness, as though it represented my last remaining connection to Ryan. In time though, I knew that I wanted to step beyond that space by honouring him in ways that were rooted in joy, peace, and appreciation. Riding Ryan’s routes and making the film were perfect ways to do just that.
SALSA – Jeff and Matt, as film makers telling such a personal and emotional story, did the project take on any additional feeling of pressure?
JEFF - I felt an incredible amount of pressure to do a good job on this project, because of the connection Sarah had with the story. It felt much different than the majority of commercial projects, where the filmmakers have so much more control. I’m proud of how well we all worked together to make it happen without sacrificing the personal aspect of Sarah’s story.
MATT - For me it was truly doing Sarah’s story justice. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to document Sarah’s journey throughout this project. The biggest pressure was finding a happy medium between letting the story happen organically versus showcasing the routes, landscapes, and emotions that took place during the project.
SALSA – Can you share some of the basics on the logistics of how you filmed a pretty complicated, multi-route, multi-weeks-and-months journey?
MATT- This is definitely a question for Jeff!
JEFF - Matt and I had it easy. Ryan had created the ten routes, so it was as simple as downloading the GPS Files. Sarah, as it was her personal experience, took care of all the smaller details like booking campsites and selecting her ride dates.
The biggest challenge that Matt and I faced was keeping our gear working. We had a few incredibly rainy days—the types where everything gets saturated—which is always hard on cameras. We also had to keep things charged in the backcountry, move vehicles around, and balance how productive we could be when filming from a vehicle with getting on bikes to be closer to the authentic story.
SALSA – Sarah, you make note in the film of the fact that previously you “weren’t much of a bikepacker”, but you’ve clearly had a whole host of experiences now. What was that journey like?
SARAH - It was fun! And challenging. And tiring. And full of laughs and learning. Ryan sure knew how to put together some testing itineraries! But I couldn’t think of a better way to have experienced this bikepacking project than by just jumping right in. I was fortunate to have some great friends around me who I could lean on while I learned the ropes. That said, this experience was also a great reminder of how we don’t have to be experts or have everything figured out and dialed in… you learn the most by just doing it! In the end, the memories from these trips will stick with me forever, and I can’t wait to continue with more bikepacking adventures.
SALSA – Early on, when you first introduced this film as a possible project, you stated your hope and goal of being selected for the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Aside from its importance in the outdoor film world, were there other motivations pushing you toward that goal?
JEFF - There are a few different layers to why we targeted the Banff Mountain Film Festival, but in many ways it can be boiled down to a desire to see a film made locally by locals included in our local film festival. The idea began when Ryan and I first spoke about creating a film about his cycling achievement and, when the story changed to showcase Sarah’s journey, it remained our primary goal.
Ryan had a reputation for coming up with big ideas and then working until he achieved them. I’m glad we were able to honor that legacy and complete a project that was born from his initiative.
MATT - The BMFF is a platform for a collective of like-minded creators to come together to tell important stories. From the first day Jeff came to me with Sarah’s story, we believed that if we did our job, it would be a story many would find inspiration from.
SALSA – Clearly this had to be an emotional undertaking and journey. When the film was finished, what were each of you feeling?
SARAH - Naturally, there was a lot of anticipation on my part to see how Jeff and Matt crafted the film, as I wasn’t involved in the editing process. Grief and death can be a difficult, and very personal, subject to navigate and I really hoped the film would accurately represent my feelings and journey. Matt and Jeff took a lot of time throughout the filming process to understand and be considerate of my experience, so it wasn’t a surprise that the end result was a beautiful reflection of my journey. I’m really proud of how we all came together this way.
MATT - Depends on whether you mean once it was shot or once it was edited? After 20-plus days of shooting over the course of a year it was pretty daunting to know we had to go through all that footage to put together a short film. After editing, I think it was a bit of relief. A lot goes into what most people simply see as an eight-minute short film, but for us it was countless hours from the start to what the finished product ended up being.
Jeff - Throughout filming, we captured so much footage but we were fitting this project into an already busy summer. We didn’t have the opportunity to review footage as we went, so when we finally sat down to edit the film throughout the winter I was nervous to see how it would come together. With any project, but especially one of this scope, it’s easy to be critical of your own work. The true sense of relief arrived once we had feedback from colleagues and supporters.
SALSA – Do you have any additional thoughts or messages that you’d like to impart on our audience?
MATT - For me this is something Sarah’s said best in terms of the lessons learned from loss and the choice to enjoy life once more.
SARAH - I’d like to thank Salsa Cycles for the generous support they provided on my journey. I was lucky enough to not only get to know some of their awesome bikes, but also the wonderful people behind the scenes. I am so humbled that of all the worthy stories out there to be shared that they took interest in this one.
JEFF - This project ignited a desire to create more documentaries and tell larger stories, which I look forward to pursuing in the coming years.
We're honored to be included in the Banff Mountain Film Festival and to show a film inspired by Ryan's contribution to bikepacking and his passion for the Canadian Rockies. We also want to thank Sarah for her commitment to the project, her patience with the filming process and, ultimately, allowing us to follow her personal journey.
Click here to visit the 2020 Banff Mountain Film Festival and buy a Festival Pass for up to 75 films and 40 events over nine epic days.
Choosing To Live is one of the selections in the Out The Back Door – Short Films category of this year’s BMFF. Click here to access that programming. Available November 1st through 8th.
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I love being outside. I prefer to ride on dirt. Or snow. If I was born a hundred years earlier I might have been a polar explorer. There's a great natural world out there to see, smell, taste, listen to, and experience. Life slows down out there and the distractions we've created will disappear if you let them. Give me a backpack and let me go.