By now, Cody Townsend has become one of the most well known house hold names of skiing. His 2014 Line of the Year, a jaw-dropping, downright puckering straight line of a chute in Alaska’s Tordrillo mountain range, has over 13 million views on Youtube and counting. His joyous personality and incredible passion makes him easy to like and a most enjoyable to watch in whatever sort of activity he is pursuing and documenting. Today, in the field of ski mountaineering, few have reached the level of accomplishment that Cody has attained: He has climbed and skied around the world, checking off peaks in a matter of months that many would woefully wish to do after years of planning and training. Not to say that he does not put in his fair share of said planning, as every project seems to be meticulously mapped out even if it does not go according to plan, but his fruitful desire to accomplish whatever goal is in front of him has led to the amassing of a career-worthy resume of results, and he’s still nowhere close to calling it quits.
However, being the ridiculously ambitious person that he is, Cody announced a plan in 2019 that he calls “The FIFTY”. Drawing the inspiration from the fittingly titled book, “The Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America,” he has now completed 30 of the 50 lines. This chapter of the story follows Townsend, joined by big-mountain freeride titan, Michelle Parker, as the two attempt to bike 1,033 miles from Lake Tahoe, California up through Oregon and Washington in order to ski Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainer and Eldorado Peak. While climbing and skiing these breathtaking peaks would be a troubling task on its own, adding a 1,033 mile bike, loaded with all the necessary gear, certainly seems like adding insult to injury. (Just for reference, 1,033 miles is greater than the distance from Denver to Los Angles. To put it bluntly, it’s a F*CKING HAUL!) And let’s not forget, after each peak is reached, a several thousand-foot ascent is required. Somehow, all of this did not look too daunting on paper, so with the help of the Fifty’s talented cinematographer, Bjarne Salen, following close behind in his van, the pair set off.
The tenacious tandem of bikers began with high hopes, but as can be expected on a voyage such as this, accidents happened and unexpected events were met head on. Through unseen rainstorms, broken bicycle pieces, road hogs, assault rifle wielding forest dwellers, and the unrelenting physical tole that an endeavor such as this brings, the crew bravely marched forward, putting one peddle, foot, and ski in front of the other. Having never endured something as treacherous and taxing on the body and mind as this, I was left astounded at the resilience displayed by Cody and Michelle. I have pushed my body and mind to what I thought was the limit, but after watching this documentary I may have to reconsider how much is too much. There is a fine line that every athlete and adventurer must trod carefully. As brought up by Michelle, it is very possible to push the body beyond the point of breaking, and accomplishing your task might lead to the impossibility of future ones. That being said, it is clear that the breaking point is much farther than we all think, and while these are world class athletes, I have walked away from this viewing experience more confident that anyone is capable beyond what they deem limiting.
The question of why still remained after the last peak had been conquered and the final post-decent beer had been sipped. Why push into these new tasks? Why bike 1033 miles just to climb and ski three ferocious mountains? Why meet these challenges head on? Perhaps these questions will never fully be answered, but I found Cody’s words at the end of the flick to be a beautiful stab and an elusive target. As he mentions, change is hard. It is a physically and mentally taxing experience that guarantees no finish line. However, the rewards are immense. In a time of global stress and anguish propelled by a pandemic and fueled by long over due civil and social awakening, perhaps a bit of struggle can lead to the change that we all desire. When real world problems are seen and felt everywhere, biking and skiing, no matter how challenging, can indeed seem trivial.
And here we are left with a similar but more broad question; why do something trivial in the first place? This was perforating my mind throughout the flick, and I was overly curious to see if it would be addressed. In the closing monologue, the ever thoughtful Cody gave what I thought was a sincere and fulfilling conclusion. To quote the mad man himself, “Although there is a shallowness of purpose on these trips, there is a depth of meaning. That through great challenge, you find a resiliency that bonds you to your purpose. The fact that change is really, really hard, and sometimes we need the hard to slap us right across the face to insight that change”. A journey like this is as much about the process as the results. It builds a greater bond, a greater purpose that may have not been see before. As we all face our own journey’s, I find this especially important to remember. The change that brings a better tomorrow for everyone is not easy. It is a backbreaking voyage, filled with unforeseen obstacles and problems. But by meeting that difficulty head on, we tackle peaks that seemed unclimbable and break barriers that seemed impenetrable. Now if that isn’t worthy of an après beer, then I don’t know what is.
For a great inside look at Cody’s life story and history, check out “A Mirror in the Mountains” written by THE Donny O’Neill, one of FREESKIER’s finest.