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Ryan Mlynarczyk and Mandy Creighton | Director and Producer of Within Reach

by Rich Awn

If you’re planning on making your eco-doc on sustainable communities in the US, better saddle up your horse because that’s the only other way you might be able to compare your transportation/production method to that of the tirelessly driven director/producer/dreamers of Within Reach and our guests, Ryan Mlynarczyk and Mandy Creighton.

GA: We’re speaking with director Ryan Mlyarnczyck and producer Mandy Crighton who are now in post production for their upcoming documentary film Within Reach which takes the viewer along on a cross country tour of the United States’ sustainable communities, many of which have been thriving for many many years and others which are the product of new ways of thinking about sustainability and community.  Mandy and Ryan, thank you so much for joining us.

Super glad that we had a chance to hook up and thanks to Solana out in Occidental who I bumped into when I was out there speaking with Michael Stusser who is the owner of that wonderful oasis, Osmosis.  I don’t know if you guys ever had the chance to get out there but if you didn’t, do it.  Take the enzyme bath.  I highly recommend it.

It’s one thing to make a documentary film on sustainable communities but it’s another to do it in the way that you did.  Can you tell us what was special about how you actually toured the country and shot this movie?

MC: Sure, well, first of all, when we had the intention of going around and visiting sustainable communities, we thought, well we can’t show up in a car.  So that first sparked the idea of what’s the most sustainable way of get ourselves around and we experimented with solar bikes and solar trailers and electric bikes and things and ended up feeling like this is about wants versus needs and what do we actually need?  We need to get from place to place and the side benefits are optimum health, you get to experience nature and humanity in a whole new way.  I expected the nature side because when you’re on your bike you’re subject to the elements and whatever comes your way.  What I didn’t expect was the high level of interaction with people.

GA: When you’re on the ground level like that it’s inevitable that you’re gonna bump into people on a bike.

RM: Yeah, it’s almost like you become a magnet.  When people see two bikers with all this gear and flags and they look worn and weathered, instantly within two seconds people are like, “Where are you from?  Where’d you come from? Where have you biked?”  It’s like, “Does it look like I’ve traveled around the country?

GA: So it’s just you two in the production and you had saddle bags on the bikes, using touring cycles.  I’m curious about the actual physicalities of the set-up.  Can you run through the gear a little bit for me?

RM: It is just Mandy and me riding.  There are other people involved in the actual production but we’ll get into that later, like Solana for example. But, yes, Mandy and I, as riders we have experimented in many different ways with our gear.  We started off on a tandem recumbent bike and had saddlebags and panniers along with a solar powered electric assist bike trailer that we invented and showed off at the Maker Faire.  It was really fun, however, we found that in sustainability one of the first questions you gotta ask yourself is, “Is this a want or a need?”  And we quickly realized that a lot of the things we were bringing with us were definitely not needs, they were wants.  We got rid of a lot of the unnecessary gear like books, because they’re heavy, and extra clothes we didn’t need.  Even during the summer we got rid of our winter clothes and sent them to somebody who would hold them and when we needed our winter clothes we’d have them send them to us where we were.  Lot’s of little tricks of the trade to figure out how to keep your bike as light as possible.

MC: Some other things we did, of course, we carried lightweight backpacking gear but we call it “bikepacking.” Essentially it’s tent, sleeping bag, pads.  We joked that on each of our bikes we had four panniers, a rear rack back and a front rack and we would jokingly say, “Well, go in the kitchen and grab the fork.”  One of the panniers being the kitchen, one being the closet, so we sort of kept ourselves organized that way.  But one of the most amazing things that happened about bike touring that made this all possible is the site called  I don’t know if the listeners have heard of this but for touring cyclists, it’s an amazing community and it’s online and it’s cyclists who open up their doors and host other cyclists who are on tour.

GA: Get outta here.

MC: No, it’s awesome.

GA: I would love that!

RM: Have you ever heard of couch surfing?


RM: It’s the same kind of a setup but it’s more geared toward bicyclists hosting other bicyclists.

GA: I wanted to just get back to something that I think is sort of up in the air for a lot of people, is this definition of sustainability.  It seems to have different meanings for different people and I just wanted to get a clear idea from you what defines a sustainable community and how you were able to determine which of these communities that you were going to visit.

MC: We tried to focus more on intentional communities, so smaller groups of people who live in the same region often on the same co-owned piece of land and who are trying to live as sustainably as possible.  Not just ecologically sustainable meaning by lightly and having a lower carbon footprint but by trying to live more economic, spiritual and socially sustainable lifestyles.  So this kind of redefines sustainability in a new way, it’s not just about the physical things you can do to change how you impact the earth but it’s also how we impact one another in our way of communicating and just being together.  We tended to narrow down the list that way, by people who were intentionally trying to live sustainably together.  And for us that meant ecovillages, co-housing communities which are more of an urban, townhouse-style cohabitation.  Co-ops, where everybody lives under the same roof but you each have your own bedroom.  And then we also visited a couple of the old communes that are still around.  There are a few but there are actually a few incoming sharing communes that started up in the 60s and 70s that have adapted their lifestyles and are still thriving.  And then lastly, we visited a few transition towns which is the more accessible part of this movement to anybody and that’s where an entire town decides okay we’re gonna get together and transition our city or our township to become a sustainable community.

GA: So a town that may have been affected by some kind of natural disaster where they have to overhaul the community or is it something else?

RM: Are you talking about Greensburg, Kansas?

GA: That’s the one I guess.

RM: That’s one that’s actually on our list.

MC: That could actually be an ideal situation because they’re at kind of ground zero and they can start from scratch but we’re also talking about just existing towns that are saying, “Hey!  This isn’t working.  Peak oil is coming, global climate change is happening.”  Whatever’s the motivation but we want to live more sustainable lifestyles.  And they buy this book, The Transition Handbook, get a group together and just start relocalizing.

RM: The great thing about it is that it started in England and there’s already over 100 or 200 in the world that started through England and now there’s like 50 in the US with over 500 cities that are trying to become a transition town.  It’s a huge movement.

GA: Looking at the stats it looks like you guys covered something like 6,042 miles all told which is quite a haul.  Was there much danger along the way?

That’s interesting because I remember being interviewed by another crew at the beginning of the journey about that same question and I think a lot of people by asking me that question wonder, first of all, how it could be possible to bike all across the country on all different types of roads and not be hit by a car.  I tell you, there is something special about being on the road with all that gear and as long as you’re visible, cars really watched out.  For most of the time on the trip we had no issues with cars.  There were about three or four incidents, we had narrow misses but it was mainly due to Mandy and I getting bored out there on a desert road and wandering in too close to a lane and the same thing happened with the big rig who wandered too close to us. It missed us by inches but for the most part, after 6,000 miles I was completely shocked by the miraculous safety that we had throughout the journey.

GA: Was there something that happened along the way that was a particularly magical moment, something unexplainably amazing, hopeful, shocking…

MC: I’d say one of the most magical moments that will definitely be in the film is an interview with a gentleman named Sam Katz.  Who chose to live in co-housing in Madision, WI, and he chose that because he has a disability – CP. This is one way he thought he could have a more balanced life and be able to give an receive equally.  I think people with disabilities often thing, well, “How can I live a sustainable life and how can I contribute to this movement?  I’m just a burden.” And he, in this community, is able to give an receive so equally.  I mean, I was brought to tears in the interview.

RM: I was brought to tears too because his gift in life to people is his presence.  I don’t think he even realized that until we started crying and he hadn’t even done anything, he was just talking.  The way he talks, by the way is really – it requires a lot of patience.  I don’t know if you’ve ever heard people with severe stuttering problems but it’s like that times 10.  The way he talks makes you slow down but if you’re patient enough to listen to him he says things that are absolutely brilliant.  I mean, the guys a genius but he just can’t communicate like a genius.  This guy was just so brilliant because he taught us that you don’t have to give money, you don’t have to give labor, you don’t have to give skills.  You can actually just give your heart and be a gift to a community.

GA: When can we expect to see the film?

You can expect to see it on Earth Day, 2011, that’s our goal.

In the meantime, our website is updated weekly with teaser clips, two minute teasers which give practical information about things you can do right now in your life to live more sustainably and create community right where you’re at.  And we’re blogging and constantly sharing stories from the tour.

RM: I just wanted to give a plug to this amazing community we’re staying at right now through the winter.  It’s called the Joyful Path Healing and Meditation Center out in Blue Mounds, WI, which, in itself is a sacred portal place.  It’s an old Indian burial ground and it’s just outside Madison, about 25 miles west and they are struggling to keep the doors open because they’re kind of out in the boonies here.  But, if anybody is coming through this winter to the Madison area, please stop on by.  We’re giving monthly workshops about our journey and about sustainably community living and the most important feature of these presentations will be something that’s quickly coming up in mass consciousness which is that, we believe that sustainable communities are only within reach once you reach within.  So the thing that we’re learning the most about, of course, is meditation and natural healing and just greater well being through preventative healthcare and just living a healthier lifestyle in general.  If you wanna come learn more about that we’re out at this amazing place with some Buddhist monastics who are crazy cool young people about our age.

GA: Our guests have been Ryan Mlynarczyk and Mandy Creighton, director and produced of the pedal-powered forthcoming documentary film, Within Reach and visit for first look.

Photos by Ryan Mlynarczyk, Conscious Photography.

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