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Man About the Island
Bruce Reeve
Cycle Canada, April 2003

The Isle of Man Tourist Board isn't going to like this part of the film, I thought to myself, watching the screen as Mark Gardiner hammered out a chunk of asphalt from the edge of the famous mountain course. If every TT visitor went home with a souvenir like that, they'd be repaving the course on a regular basis. By the time the film concluded, though, it became clear that what Mark Gardiner took away from the Isle of Man went far beyond a few earthly mementos.

The preview of this extraordinary new documentary film called One Man's Island was held at a small screening room at the National Film Board Building in Toronto, attended by various interested parties but most importantly by director Peter Riddihough and the subject of his documentary, Mark Gardiner. Mark is a middle-aged rider who cashed in his RRSP, moved to the Isle of Man and dedicated himself to racing the TT. Now Gardiner is flat broke, living with his girlfriend, and writing a book about his TT experience. Any regrets? None. "It's the best thing I've ever done," he says, the hardest thing too, but also the most enjoyable.

Riddihough's documentary is about risk and fulfillment, about staking everything to fulfill a dream. It's something he well understands himself, having made a considerable investment in a film project that could very easily have gone wrong in any number of ways. Fortunately the partnership between Riddihough & Gardiner proved successful for them both; the payoff has been a wonderful documentary and an extraordinary achievement. It's not just a motorcycling story, but a parable for living. I feel sorry for people who don't have a TT in their lives," says Gardiner.

Creative Approach

Gardiner was born in Vancouver in 1955 but attended school in both Switzerland and Canada before embarking on a career in advertising, where he's been a creative director at a number of different agencies in Calgary, the Maritimes and most recently in Kansas City. It was through advertising that Riddihough & Gardiner first worked together, but one of the things that impressed me about the film was how genuine it was, free of pretension and hype. Someone commented after the film that it seemed "very Canadian," and it is, in a manner I found appealing. The tone of the documentary is low key, without the heavy-handed attempts to portray the speed or the danger. Riddihough had no previous experience with motorcycling, and his direction is refreshingly free of the usual glamourizing clichés. Yet every now and then the sheer wonder of riding on the Mountain Course comes through with tremendous force, not only through the on-board camera footage but with strangely quiet sequences around the island as Gardiner explains what he is attempting to do.

 

The film has no narrator, just Gardiner's own words, and this proves an effective approach. Gardiner has a boyish innocence, and, as he describes it, his ambition was imprinted at an early age. He's an intelligent man with a self-deprecating wit, but there's also an incredible determination in his spirit. When he moved to the Isle of Man he began to learn the course on a bicycle, which also helped preserve his fitness. Although he doesn't emphasize the problem, Gardiner suffers from Lupus, which caused some physical deterioration, and a tendency to lose feeling in his hands in the cold and wet. But the last thing he wanted, says Gardiner in the film, was to end up on his death bed thinking he should have gone to race at the island. "That's not going to happen, " he says, preparing for the race.

A Time for Everything

Gardiner is the first to admit he's not a particularly talented road racer. An early attempt at racing in his youth went badly, because, as he realized later, he had no idea what he was doing. In his 30's he began racing in Calgary with a more methodical approach, later traveling to races in Seattle, Portland and Oregon and then at Loudon when he moved to the East. In 2001 his skills had progressed to the point that he raced in three AMA Pro Thunder races at Portland, Laguna Seca and Virginia. Yet at the Isle of Man, Gardiner's initial challenge was simple to qualify. The 37.7-mile TT course is the most complex, difficult and dangerous racing circuit in the world, by a wide margin, and it takes years to learn the circuit properly. Gardiner successfully qualified and completed his races, though a 100 mph lap eluded him, just barely, something that has led him to replay his fastest lap in his head again and again. He knows how to turn a 100 mph lap now he just hasn't done it yet.

As for the film, Riddihough is currently trying to interest various television networks in a one-hour version, while the feature length edition is being shopped around to the documentary film festivals. Be patient - this film is going to be seen. We can also look forward to Gardiner's book, which has yet to find a publisher, but judging by the two excerpts published in Motorcyclist, he soon will. Gardiner has also proved an exceptional writer, and he has a fabulous story to tell.

copyright 2003 Bruce Reeve & Cycle Canada Magazine, reproduced by permission.