Riding Han (한): Bikepacking the Great Divide (Film)

“Riding Han (한)” is a touching 25-minute film that follows three young Korean Americans on an unlikely journey along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Amid rising anti-Asian sentiments in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it reflects on a tumultuous past and present and leaves fresh tire tracks toward a brighter future. Watch the film with an introduction and photos from the director here…

Words, photos, and film by Pak

This film, directed by me, Pak (박), and starring/filmed by Young Mazino and Matthew Pak, captures our journey as three Korean-Americans while exploring our identities through Han (한) as Asian Americans in a divisive time during the COVID-19 pandemic with anti-Asian violence on the rise. Han brought clarity that this was my time to create.

  • Riding Han film
  • Riding Han film

The foundational essence of Riding Han (한) is based on the Korean word “Han” (한), an inherent, undefinable, and complex part of being Korean. It is internalized/unresolved collective grief, resentment, and rage created by deep intergenerational trauma and oppression. Han manifests itself in the human experience of adversity through emotion, expression, and creation.

“Go Slow to Go Fast.”

The desert felt like an oven extracting our entire beings. Our bottled water tasted like hot tea, and our faces were scorched by the relentless sun as we looked across the desert—a kaleidoscope of heat. With countless cow pies and flies surrounding us, I was on the ground massaging Young’s thigh as he was severely cramping.

We had finished what we thought was the hardest part of our Great Divide journey, cycling in over 100°F temperatures through the Sonoran Desert in the middle of June for a week and a half. Our progress was slow, our bodies were weathered and beaten, and morale was at a low.

  • Riding Han film
  • Riding Han film

But sometimes life drops sages along the way. A few weeks in, we met ours along the shady haven of New Mexico’s San Pedro Mountains. We finally got the chance to camp with other Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) riders heading southbound. Our sage absorbed our stories and struggles while imparted onto us, “Go slow to go fast.” It quickly became our daily meditation. We yelled it as we pedaled up hills, cursed the continuous southerly headwinds, and whenever the struggle was truly real.

Riding Han film

The trip itself was an obstacle from the very start. I was trying to figure out how to create a film with a basic knowledge of cameras while shepherding two new bikepackers. Young and Matt have never biked more than five miles or done much camping. The whole trip was an exercise in forgoing comfort zones while seeking enlightenment through persistence, earthly medicine, and embracing pain.

This trip manifested after I decided to cancel my two-year bicycle tour from Europe to Asia in 2015. On that day, I vowed to take Matthew, my then 12-year-old little brother, on a bicycle journey when I turned 30. This happened to fall in the year 2021. With thoughts of wanting to memorialize the upcoming trip, I came up with the idea of Riding Han (한) as a film. Little did I know that several brands would hop on board to support my vision.

  • Riding Han film
  • Riding Han film

The trip turned into something more than just two brothers following a route. It was a chance to work on a new creative practice and to capture something unique in the bikepacking film space. But the biggest surprise was Young Mazino, my childhood best friend, coming along for the ride. Young and I are longtime friends. We spent our childhoods together as infants and growing up as angsty adolescents, each leaving the safety of our Maryland suburbs to chase our dreams elsewhere. Young had ambitions of becoming an actor and headed north to New York City while I headed west to chase mountains.

Riding Han film

The film idea was a collision of our creative and personal desires during the pandemic amid our gravitational despair. Never would I have imagined a childhood friend coming along for an arduous journey like this, but if one did, it would have to be Young. He brought the energy of the creator and showed the most fortitude throughout. With blood comes bond. Riding Han (한) couldn’t have become what it is without him, and I feel infinite gratitude for that.

So, beg your friends and family to go on a bike trip with you! You never know who might say yes.

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