Within Reach: A Movie Review About Bicycle Touring And Sustainable Communities

Mandy Creighton and Ryan Mlynarczyk are an inspirational young couple that decided to leave their homes, sell almost all of their possessions, and travel more than 12,000 miles around the United States by bike. But this wasn’t just a normal bicycle tour for this young couple. No! Mandy and Ryan were on a mission to visit more than 100 sustainable communities throughout the United States of America in a two year period in hopes of 1) learning more about sustainable communities and 2) to search for a place that they could call home.

Within Reach: A Bicycle Touring Documentary

Within Reach is the name of Mandy and Ryan’s new documentary film about their cross-country bicycle tour and the search for their idyllic sustainable community.

But what exactly does is sustainability? And what does it mean to live in a sustainable community? Or live a sustainable lifestyle?

From the way I understand it, being sustainable means that you have one or more systems in place that work to maintain their own viability because they use certain techniques that allow for continual reuse.

The easiest way to understand this idea, I think, is to consider what sustainability is not. The easiest example, I think, would be fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels (which we use all around the world to power our cars, heat our homes, and run a plethora of other mechanical devices (both big and small) are limited in number. After a certain amount of time, we are going to run out of the oil we need to power these devices and there will be no way to reproduce the fuel we have extracted from the ground over the course of several decades and/or centuries.

A sustainable power source, on the other hand, is something that can be easily replaced or repaired and  never runs out. Examples of this might be solar power, wind power or hydro power.

Sustainable living practices don’t just apply to power sources though. Sustainable living is practiced in a whole host of areas.

For example:

  • Rainwater catchment systems
  • Solar stoves
  • Permaculture
  • Recycling
  • Composting
  • Riding a bike or walking (instead of driving a car)
  • Eating locally grown foods
  • And a whole lot more!

But Within Reach isn’t really a movie about how to live a sustainable life. Instead, it’s more of a focus on the numerous communities throughout the United States where people have decided to make a conscious decision to live more sustainable lifestyles.

As Mandy and Ryan slowly make their way across the country on their bicycles (at first on a tandem recumbent, then with a bicycle-car, and later on two independent touring bicycles), the couple comes to realize that 1) there are thousands of people all around the world living sustainable lives and that 2) there are things about each sustainable community that they either like or dislike.

Throughout the course of the film, Mandy and Ryan encounter flat tires, run ins with the Police, and struggle with the balance between their commitments to other people and their need to find happiness within themselves.

On top of all this, the young couple is constantly on the move, moving from one sustainable community to the next, interviewing the people they meet, taking the lessons they’ve learned, and passing those lessons on to others.

Sustainability, we learn, is not something that happens overnight. Many of these sustainable communities have taken decades to pop up and grow, and many of them are still in their beginning stages. It seems that sustainability, like bicycle touring, takes a long time, requires small steps, and will be full of good and bad moments along the way. “Sustainability is a journey.”

As a viewer of the film, I found myself not only following the storyline and wondering if Ryan and Mandy would ever find their ideal sustainable home, but also found myself thinking about how both myself and others I knew would react in some of the sustainable communities featured throughout the film.

I saw some of the houses, the communities and the people featured throughout the film and thought, “They look nice and all, but there’s no way I would want to live there, with them.” And I imagine others who watch Within Reach might have that same initial reaction. This is why I was so delighted to see, toward the end of the film, a short profile on the small town of Greenburg, Kansas, which was demolished by a tornado, and when they rebuilt the city, decided they were going to do so with an emphasis on sustainable living.

Only here in Greenburg did I see a small glimpse of how sustainable living practices could be used not just for an extreme and small number of people so committed to the sustainable lifestyle that they’d move to a special village out in the middle of rural America, but in practice in what many might consider your “typical American city.”

Personally, I don’t consider Greensburg to be entirely typical, but I could see how some simple practices (such as designing the town to be bicycle friendly, recycling oriented, etc.) could be a positive thing if implemented in communities all around the country and all around the world. In other words, Greensburg made me realize that sustainable living practices might, eventually, with small steps, become the norm.

When Mandy and Ryan finally settled on a sustainable community in New Mexico, they finished their long-distance bicycle tour by riding “home.” Within Reach comes to a close as the couple are greeted by their new “family” and neighbors… and it’s truly a touching scene. I teared up as Mandy and Ryan were greeted with smiles and hugs and the credits began to roll.

A film like Within Reach is a great introduction to sustainable living principles and it gives some wonderful examples of sustainable communities, but the film itself is really only the beginning of the discussion. Therefore, I’ve written up a few questions of my own about sustainable communities and sustainable living. Below are those questions… but I’m still waiting for the answers.

My Silly Questions About Sustainable Communities:

  • Does living a sustainable lifestyle require that I grow dreadlocks, pray to the nature gods and run around without a shirt on? (I feel that a lot of the proponents of this kind of lifestyle do tend to look like this. Why is this? And do you think these people are truly the best role-models of sustainable living? Maybe it would be better to have spokespeople who looked and behaved like your average American? Maybe the sustainable “hippie” is making people think you have to be some kind of extreme individual to live this way?)
  • What if I want to (and like having) my own space and don’t want to share my possessions, land, house, etc with other people?
  • What is the average age of people living in sustainable communities?
  • How are people in these communities making a living? Or are they?
  • Do each of these communities have one or more leaders? Or does the group truly make all of the decisions together?
  • What happens if you don’t like your neighbors (or the other people in your community)? What if you disagree about a certain action that is taking place within the community? How are these sorts of conflicts dealt with? Do members just leave? Are they ever kicked out?
  • Because some of these sustainable communities are so cut off from the outside world, is there any fear of incest (not necessarily sexually, but intellectually)?
  • Do you have to be spiritual to live a sustainable lifestyle? (I personally don’t think so). But if not, then why so much emphasis on spiritualistic principles/ideas? (Again, I think this might be turning off a lot of people to the idea of sustainable living (people like myself who don’t believe in those sorts of things.))
  • And how do know that when you join one of these sustainable communities you aren’t joining some kind of cult? (Many of the places profiled in the film do have cult-like qualities, in my opinion.)
  • What is the next step for someone who wants to learn more about sustainable living or sustainable communities?

Questions For Mandy And Ryan About Bicycle Touring:

  • You used three different types of bicycles throughout your bicycle tour across the country. Which bike did you like most/least? And if you had to do another 12,000 mile bicycle tour, which bicycle would you ride?
  • What was the biggest mistake you made during your bicycle tour? If you could do your bicycle tour all over again, how would you do it differently?
  • What was the best and/or worst part about traveling by bicycle as a couple, sleeping in a tent together each night, etc? How did you handle each other in such close proximity for such a long time? What lessons did you learn about being a couple from your bicycle tour?
  • What advice would you give to someone planning his or her first bicycle tour?

To learn more the Within Reach documentary, Mandy and Ryan’s bicycle tour, or sustainable communities, be sure to visit the website at www.withinreachmovie.com.


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