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Going on your first bikepacking trip is a feat. So is directing your first film. Analise Cleopatra did both at the same time.
Released by REI and funded in part by Travel Oregon, the short documentary Pedal Through is Cleopatra's directorial debut. It follows her on a weeklong mountain biking trip last summer through Central Oregon with her friend Dej'uanae Toliver and professional mountain biker Brooklyn Bell.
Cleopatra co-directed and helped lens the journey, which sometimes meant riding stretches of the trail more than once to get a good take. There were moments of doubt and anxiety, as well as a few gnarly-looking crashes. But it helped to ride with a supportive team and a close friend who was also new to the experience.
"It can be really intimidating when you're with people who are so much more comfortable in the outdoors," she says. "You say you're scared of wolves and they kind of laugh it off, and it's like, that's not making me feel better."
That condescension plays into cycling's lack of diversity: In a Q&A about the film, Bell said she decided to participate in Pedal Through partly because she had never seen a mountain biking movie about three Black women before.
But despite the sport's exclusionary culture and history, there are Black women cyclists competing at the top levels of just about every discipline, and Pedal Through has helped Cleopatra get in touch with more of them.
"Since making the film," she says, "I've connected with a bunch of people that I can't wait to ride with eventually."
That includes professional cyclocross racer Sam Scipio, Pedal to the People founder Rachel Ozler, and Ayesha McGowan, an elite road racer and longtime advocate for POC representation in cycling. One of the racing world's fastest rising stars, Teniel Campbell—who would have competed in the 2020 Olympics—is from Trinidad and Tobago, where Cleopatra's family is from. (For her next film, Cleopatra plans to focus on biking in the Caribbean).
"There's a pretty strong group of biking women out there that everyone should know," says Cleopatra.
WW talked to Cleopatra about crashing, the challenges of directing and biking at the same time, and what she listened to in order to make it up the ride's biggest climb.
See more Distant Voices interviews here.