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Reviews

Aug 22, 2018

3 Sons & A King: Documentary Film Review

"30 miles round trip, 4100 feet elevation gain, and no legs." Sid Smith, double-amputee, attempts to summit King’s Peak, the highest point in Utah, inspiring his son and us, as outdoor enthusiasts, to challenge ourselves.

WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

This film moved me in more ways than one. It made me reflect on my own relationship with my father and it motivated me to drag my able-bodied ass up off the couch.

Sid’s Story

Sid Smith was born with a disease called Charcot-Marie-Tooth which caused structural foot deformities and muscle wasting throughout his legs. He grew up feeling left out, unable to tag along with his father and brothers on their epic outdoor adventures like hiking Utah’s King’s Peak mountain. After numerous surgeries, he finally made the decision to go through with a double-amputation procedure in 2015, which meant he had to completely relearn mobility. Using state-of-the-art walking prosthetics Fillaur Running Blades, Sid is now able to not only walk, but also to tackle challenges like summiting the tallest mountain in the state of Utah. Well aware of the inevitable pain and high risk of failure, Sid’s grit and determination pushes him onward.

King’s Peak – The Challenge

King’s peak is the highest point in Utah, the seventh tallest among the United States high points. It stands 13,528 feet in elevation and the route covers over 27 miles round trip. King’s Peak is generally regarded as the hardest state highpoint which can be climbed without specialist rock climbing skills.

The route entails rickety wood bridges, ridgeline scrambling and boulder jumping sections. The final stretch of jumbled shale rocks looks like a nightmare to fall on. One single trip would leave you battered and bruised, if not dead. It would take sure footing and deep concentration for the typical able-bodied hiker. I can’t imagine hiking on that uneven terrain without the sensation feedback from my feet and legs.

One single trip would leave you battered and bruised, if not dead

In the film, Sid attempts to complete the final section with a different set of prosthetics with a lower base that would give him a more optimal center of gravity for the uneven ground. I imagine being there in person as an observer was probably just as excruciating as it was for him. It’s a dicey move to try a completely new setup for the first time up on the mountain where there is risk of falling over and tumbling down the cliff face. As the viewer, you want to will it to work, but it just doesn’t. This scene gives the audience a glimpse of Sid’s perseverance over the past 3 years. He was able to relearn the small things in life, and ultimately ascend mountains, because of his strong character and willingness to troubleshoot, to fall and get up, to fall again and get up again and to never give up.

When he makes it to the top and hugs his son, softly patting him across the chest, he’s happy because he was able to gift his son the sensation of pride for him as a Dad. Shattering his self-view as the runt of the litter, he becomes the adventurous father.

Technical Review – Well Seen, Well Heard

From the audio mixing of flowing rivers and wildlife to the the non-diegetic soundtrack, V6 Media’s artistry shines.

V6’s production is of the highest-quality. It can stand next to some of my favorite outdoors documentaries like 180 Degrees South and Meru. The filming storyboard is comprised of a variety of angles including an exciting juxtaposition of close-up shots of the subjects with stunning wide shots and drone footage that present an appreciation of the mountainous landscapes and starry nightscapes. One of the best shots of the film is a medium shot of Sid’s genuine smile as he fishes with his son. The clip illustrates Sid’s appreciation for spending a moment with his son, and the acknowledgment that those moments are few. Another one of my favorite clips is a 270 degree drone shot that swings out over the climbers scrambling along the ridge to show its steepness.

Notwithstanding the inspirational story, the crowning achievement of the film is the sound design. From the audio mixing of flowing rivers and wildlife to the non-diegetic soundtrack, V6 Media’s artistry shines. The single best technical aspect of the film is the marriage of visual content to the music. There are several action moments that are expertly timed to a crashing crescendo and deep bass boom that delivers a visceral impact on the audience.

Read Next on The Outdoor Journal: Himalaya’s Hardest Climb – The Shark’s Fin on Meru Central

Ways to Improve – Wanting More

Simultaneously a compliment and a critique, I felt frustrated that the film is less than 8 minutes. It left me wanting more. There seems to be more to the story, and enough engaging content to reach feature length, in my opinion. The short film would be richer by adding more backstory about Sid dealing with his disease growing up, and his decision to go through with amputation, which you can find in a related video here: How I Conquer | Sidney Smith. If you’d like to learn more about Sid’s story and his burgeoning career as a triathlete, check it out.

From an editing standpoint, I think the film is missing one more line of narration. The last line carries truth and wisdom, but I would argue that it comes off as negative in tone. I wish there was one more line afterwards on an uplifting beat. I yearned for some resonant line that I could take with me and mutter to myself while I’m in the midst of a formidable challenge – some mantra I could repeat that would give me strength like Sid.

Conclusion – 3 Kings of the Mountain

This story, following three generations as they embark on the King’s Peak challenge together is a great example of fear-bonding. When men encounter a scary situation together, and push past the fear, it unites a camaraderie between them far deeper than the plain knowledge that they share the same blood. Reflecting on the title, I wondered, so which one is the king? The three generations of father and son working together to summit the peak concludes with each one of them truly becoming king of the mountain. Their journey made me think about when was the last time I did a challenge like that with my own father. I welled up with tears, reflecting Sid’s emotion. But the ending didn’t leave me feeling sad, but inspired instead. We can expect more authentic, high-quality productions from V6 Media in the future.

You can follow Sid Smith’s instagram @tri_nofeet

For more content by V6 Media, visit:
Here is V6 Media’s website – www.v6.media
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/V6MediaGroup/

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Athletes & Explorers

Oct 29, 2019

Book Review: Tales from the Trails

From the top of the world to the end of the earth, essays from a marathoner’s odyssey to compete on every continent and the lessons learned of friendship, life and pushing past borders

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WRITTEN BY

Douglas Baughman

In the predawn moonlight, 65 adventure runners, wearing headlamps to hack through the darkness of the dense taiga forest and backpacks outfitted with provisions for survival in the probable—or at least, historical—event of calamity, gathered under a makeshift banner for the start of the annual Sunrise to Sunset Marathon in Khovsgol National Park in the far north of Mongolia.

Read next on TOJ: Solo Running in the High Himalaya

The course would be treacherous. Already a mile above sea level, it skirts the shores of Lake Khovsgol, known as the “Blue Pearl of Mongolia,” one of the most pristine and ancient lakes in the world, estimated to be between two to five million years old, before climbing another 2,400 feet to Chichee Pass. From there, the race heads south along a ridge, drops into a marshy river valley, then climbs again up to Khirvesteg Pass on an extremely narrow precipice, where a few years earlier an unfortunate runner suffered a spine-breaking fall.

View of Kilimanjaro from Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Photo by Sergey Pesterev.

“The pages of Tales from the Trails are packed with adventure.”

For publishing exec Michael Clinton, it would represent the penultimate challenge in a shared quest with his sister Peg to run a marathon on every continent, seven on seven—the first in London, followed by Buenos Aires, the Gold Coast of Australia, Philadelphia, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and finally culminating in Antarctica. He chronicles these adventures, and aside misadventures, in an inspiring collection of personal essays from his latest book, Tales from the Trails, often with self-deprecating honesty and humor:

“My confidence was so sufficiently eroded that I wondered if I would ever be able to complete such a challenging course,” he writes in “Mongolian Madness” on the eve of the Sunrise to Sunset race. “All of a sudden, running Tokyo, a normal city marathon on flat roads, seemed like it would have been a much smarter choice! Maybe I hadn’t done enough research or focused on the details, but there I was in the middle of nowhere with nothing else to preoccupy my time except getting my head around how I would find the courage and stamina to conquer this newfound feeling of fear that permeated my whole being. …

It became apparent that everyone was feeling a bit anxious, evident when the gallows humor set in. Who would fall down the mountain? When we learned there could be wolves on the course, we identified who would be the most delicious runner to eat.”

From Tales from the Trails: Runners’ Stories that Inspire and Transform by Michael Clinton, copyright © 2019, published by Glitterati Editions.

For certain the pages of Tales from the Trails are packed with adventure and stories about the transformative power of confronting and overcoming challenges, both common and personal, mental and physical. But if would-be readers expect a book solely about running, they may also be surprised to discover a few pleasant sidetracks. Clinton’s brisk narrative pace makes ample time for an occasional “off the beaten path” anecdote, in true travelogue style, such as the all-out city sprint to find the last sports bra in Buenos Aires, or the matter-of-fact rationale for remaining calm in a Tasmanian rainforest whilst picking leeches from one’s private parts, even tricks to survive seasickness on a creaking Russian vessel crossing the Drake Passage.

In fact, with respect to some of the more poignant passages in Tales, running itself is nearer to a middle-distance metaphor, a means to facilitate connection, whether through introspection or a way of threading together generations of family, such as in “The Irish Surprise”:

“More than forty years since there had been any contact with our Irish family, my sister Peg and I decided to search for our roots there. It had all started with our decision to run the Dublin marathon, a stop on our quest to run races around the world from Mongolia to Argentina. Ireland was a natural choice since it was the birthplace of our paternal grandparents. Little did I know at the time that it would have a profound impact on me in ways I could have never expected.”

…or pausing for life’s precious and fleeting moments in “Time to Run for Your Life”:

“Life’s mantra should be to chase your dreams with a vengeance. What is important to you? Does your family want you to be an accountant, but your true passion is working with animals? Does your partner complain that he or she hates the idea of long flights, but your dream is to go on a safari in Africa?

Too many people argue they are too old to start running or to go back to school or change careers, yet there are countless stories of people who started running in their sixties, finished college in their seventies, or find an exciting third chapter that has turned their hobby into a business. Every single day that you ignore the deep dive into the depths of your soul, you are not being true to yourself, and that is what always matters first.”

From Tales from the Trails: Runners’ Stories that Inspire and Transform by Michael Clinton, copyright © 2019, published by Glitterati Editions.

The second half of Tales from the Trails is reserved for an elite group of contributors—Jean Chatzky, financial editor of NBC Today; George A. Hirsch, chairman of the New York Road Runners and former publisher of New York magazine, Runner’s World and Men’s Health; and Lucy Danziger, former editor-in-chief of Self magazine, among many other distinguished marathoners—each paying tribute to the motivational magic of this oldest and most basic human sport—running.

Tales from the Trails is available at major booksellers and online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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