Magazine Jul/Aug 2013 Pedaling to a Dream

13 July 2013, 14:06
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Pedaling to a Dream

My conversation with someone who has crossed over 40 country borders (from the United Kingdom all the way to Mongolia) in less than seven years promised to be quite a compelling one. But my anticipation was amplified by the fact that all those trips were taken on, believe it or not… a bicycle. But there is even more than that to this unusual story.

For Tom Allen, a young native of England, what once started as an escape from a mundane existence in the county of Northamptonshire in the east midlands region of the country, turned into a way of life, and then something entirely different, particularly after he met the woman of his dreams in the remote city of Yerevan, Armenia. Tom’s journey on a bicycle was eventually developed into a documentary, titled by the not-so-English word janapar (road or journey in Armenian). The film premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in London a few months ago and was awarded the prestigious Spirit of Adventure – Gold Award at the 2013 Sheffield Adventure Film Festival.
If it weren’t for the ardent desire to take the most that life has to offer and to dare to turn his life 180 degrees toward the unknown, Allen would have never known the taste of an extraordinary life. “After I graduated from the university, I had to find a job. The problem was that I was studying a subject which I wasn’t really interested in – computer science. Though I was really good at it, I couldn’t think of anything worse than to be stuck in some office in front of a computer,” says Allen. “My parents are both teachers, and they have always encouraged me to take opportunities and to make my own choices. They’ve never forced me to choose a certain profession and have always supported my decisions. On the other hand, that freedom complicated my task of deciding what I wanted to do in life. I would constantly ponder, ‘what if I am missing out on something better?’ I guess that’s why I got to the age of 23 with a degree on my shelf and still doubting what to do in my life.”
Tom and his best friend Andy decided to bring change into their lives by cycling – something that they spent their teenage years doing together. Except this time the plan was to go a “little” farther – to cycle around the world! With no biking experience, with no particular athletic talent and no clue what they would eat or drink, or where they would sleep, they set off equipped with their bikes, a tent, video camera and a dream.
Tom and Andy started their trip in 2007. Thinking to document their journey, the two friends started to do some publicity before setting off, telling everyone about their plan. Soon the news about two lads attempting to cycle around the world reached documentary film director James Newton, who had previously made films for the BBC.
They traveled through the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, and in the winter of 2008, they arrived in Armenia. During the first 10 weeks on the road they were accompanied by another friend, Mark, who had always intended just to cycle around Europe, so ten weeks later he returned to England. The two young men were six months into the trip, however, when Andy also decided to give up the grand plan, and Tom was left all alone with his bike, struggling to keep the dream alive.
“How many times did the thought to turn back and reconsider the entire plan occur to you during the trip?” I asked. “Never,” was his response. “I was sick of the options I had in England. So when I left, I didn’t leave with any plans to come back. The whole point was to get away from the options in a life that I didn’t want. While there were very difficult times, I never felt that going back was an option.”
“I met up with Tom and his friend Andy in 2007. They were enthusiastic about their plan, and I could see there was a potential for a story to develop. We talked about them filming their experience on a MiniDV video camera and sending the footage back,” says director Newton. “The creative process turned out to be challenging and unpredictable. To start with, it was a question of working out what the story was, and in fact whose story I was going to focus on. Then it was a process of visualizing the film from over 300 hours of footage and finally getting into an edit suite and working my way through it, reducing it down to the film we have today. I think the biggest challenge was how to structure the film. It was too predictable in a linear fashion, so we ended up starting the story in the middle of the Sahara Desert. From there we could go back and show how he came to be in the desert on his own, and then follow him as he figures out what to do with all the challenges that have come his way.”

The post in Allen’s blog reads, “I finally decided on a title: Janapar... It’s an Armenian word...I chose the word janapar because it’s simple, personal, unique, intriguing and couldn’t be more relevant to the story. It manages to be pronounceable in English without assistance. And I just like it.” The title font was designed from scratch using the Armenian alphabet for influence.

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