The new documentary “The Highest Pass” follows seven motorcyclists as they weather altitude sickness, flooded streets, and crashes on a journey that pushes them to their physical and emotional limits. We talked with the film’s producer and star Adam Schomer about the highlights and lowlights.
The new documentary The Highest Pass follows a group of seven searchers on a motorcycle trip through the Himalayas — the highest drivable roads in the world. Over 21 days, they weather altitude sickness, flooded streets, and crashes on a journey that pushes them to their physical and emotional limits. We talked with the film’s producer and star Adam Schomer about the highlights and lowlights.
by Maria Fontoura
You agreed to follow your Indian guru, Anand, on a motorcycle trip through the Himalayas without ever having ridden a motorcycle before. Why?
I was very resistant at first. I’d been on a moped a year earlier and I was terrible — I crashed with someone on the back. When a few of my friends heard I was going on the trip they were like, “Really?” Because they’d seen my moped skills. But I had been hiking in the Himalayas before, and I remember just not wanting to stop. When it was time to leave, I had felt the Himalayas saying “Come on man, come back home.” That was a big reason I said yes.
As the group hit serious altitudes — 13,000 feet and higher — people start getting sick, and snow and slush make the already-treacherous roads near-impassable. The frustration is evident on people’s faces. Why didn’t anyone quit?
It was the most grueling thing I’ve ever done in my life. The bikes we were on weren’t made for touring. Sometimes we were on the bike for 14 hours a day — your back hurts, you get tired, and when you’re at that altitude, you’re incredibly winded and have a headache. But I think everybody had a strong inner desire to grow. And here’s the thing that helps more than anything: Having no choice. That’s very helpful when you’re stuck on a mountain. You can’t go back alone. So you surrender all your bullshit. And you move on.
That sounds like a yoga-influenced state of mind. You started practicing while you were a soccer player at Cornell in the mid-’90s and once taught Los Angeles Galaxy players like David Beckham. What has yoga taught you, particularly in sports?
Yeah, I had long hair in college. And a goatee. You’d see me meditating at the goal an hour before the game, in my Birkenstocks. I was that guy. But when I started integrating meditation and yoga into my training, I saw a huge shift in my play. I went from being real fiery — I’d get a lot of yellow and red cards for yelling at referees or getting over-emotional — to having that same passion but really being able to harness it. Very quickly I saw the power in taking time to look at your emotions so you’re not so owned by them. Instead, when they come up you say, “How can I use my energy to play as well as possible?” Or, “This player that’s trying to egg me on really doesn’t matter.” It totally flips the tables so you’re using all that emotion to your advantage. Plus, in athletics, you have to let the moment pass all the time. Your previous mistake was your previous mistake. You just have to move on.
The bikes you guys ride in the film, Royal Enfield Bullets, look awesome.
Yeah, they’re the real deal, 1950s-style military bikes that the Brits brought over to India way back. They have very simple, sturdy design — they can go through slush and water and altitude and not have the problems modern bikes have. And they’re easy to fix, which is important when you’re in the middle of the Himalayas. It’s the number one bike in India, and I’m thinking about buying one here, because they’re really great.
Are you still riding?
Yeah, I have a little bike I tool around on in Santa Monica, a 250 Honda Rebel. I love riding a motorcycle now. I see why people are so into it and want to journey and across countries. But the funniest thing is that, for some reason, when you pull up somewhere on a motorcycle, people tell you all their horror stories. If I ride up in a car, people aren’t like, “Oh I had a friend who got in a car accident a year ago.” Or if you’re eating candy, they don’t walk up and go, “I had a friend who got diabetes from too much sugar.” But they’ll do it when you ride a motorcycle.
You’re planning to film a sequel in September.
Yes, there’ll be a ride up into the Himalayas and then hiking in for a couple of days, and then we’re paddling into ancient caves, meditating where gurus have sat for years. So, a mixed journey that’ll go a little deeper into the people and the teachings.
What’s the most important lesson you took away from reaching the highest pass?
I came away with a deep faith — not a religious faith, but a faith in a higher self that doesn’t abide by the laws of time or ego; the ability to recognize that trust and grace are always present and to live with those ideas more fully.