With fifty percent of marriages ending in divorce, a British couple wanted to road test their brand-new union to make sure they stayed on the happier side of that statistic. For some, that might mean visiting a counselor, spending some quality time together or getting advice from other couples.
That was the plan for the Mike and Alana Clear, too, and then some — some 20,000 miles, eight months, nine relationship experts and advice from over 100 couples from the Kenai Peninsula all the way to Tierra del Fuego.
“We’ve decided to use our honeymoon to benefit our brand-new marriage, not just sit on a beach somewhere squabbling.”
They decided to film the entire expedition and turn the results into a feature-length documentary called “Going the Distance,” which has just been released this week. The film already has gained notoriety, being selected for several film festivals and winning a gold in the 2014 International Documentary Movie Awards.
The couple was married in 2009. It was love and laughter at first meeting, but they wanted to be serious about the success of their marriage and devised the trip as a sort of marriage gauntlet. In the first part of the film they undergo DNA testing, neurological scans and meet with a noted psychologist to evaluate their compatibility. The test results are sealed in an envelope, to be opened only at the end of their trip.
In July 2009, the Clears flew to Anchorage to meet the Ural motorbike with sidecar that they had shipped across the pond, and set off to the Russian Old Believer Village of Nikolevsk outside of Anchor Point on the Kenai Peninsula to meet their first couple. Nina and Dennis, who were media shy but did consent to being filmed for the documentary, made for a charming first interview.
“Eighteen years. I love my husband. It’s my love. Just when I meet him, I love him,” Nina said.
“You get married you become like, a one. Sometimes get in an argument and before you know it all the friends know what they were arguing about. I tell them, ‘Don’t go and tell your friends about it. Because it’ll be over before you know it and your friends will keep dragging it around,” Dennis said.
From the Kenai Peninsula, the Clears drove to Whittier and boarded a ferry to British Colombia, then spent eight full months driving south to the southern tip of Argentina, interviewing relationship experts and visiting with diverse couples along the way. They spoke to Vegas newlyweds and a couple nearing 60 years together. There were families settled with kids, and other biker couples who lived on the road. They spoke to gay couples and visited a Mormon fundamentalist community where polygamy is practiced. There were swingers, a Nobel Prize winner, a Lucha Libre wrestler, British ambassadors, a couple that survived the husband nearly dying in a fire, and a wife reunited with her husband after he was held hostage in Colombia for seven years. All had some tidbit of wisdom for the Clears.
“I know all of her soft spots and she knows mine and we could just crush each other just in two seconds if we wanted. We hold them sacred. Oh yeah, you don’t ever, ever want to go there. … I think love is sharing everything and trying to see the other person’s point of view when you have to, yes. … Fall in love every day. Yeah, and date every day. Yeah. … Love is the way he treats me.”
Mike and Alana had ample opportunities to put the relationship advice to use. A 20,000-mile, eight-month road trip on just a motorbike is as sure to suffer breakdowns as the bike.
Sure enough, the weather extremes, poor road conditions, language barriers, minor fender benders and other stresses of life on the road took their toll.
“Yeah, I’ve cracked a little bit, the main thing is that we don’t put our own marriage at risk by the amount of stress and pressure we’re putting ourselves under.”
Finally, in February 2010, after a three-week detour in Bolivia while the bike’s clutch was replaced, the Clears reached Tierra Del Fuego.
“Eight months. Wow, 207 days, 31,629 kilometers, 15 countries, two languages, 116 couples, two of us. We’ve gone the distance. Yeah, and we’re still together.”
But their journey together was just beginning. They opened their test results and found that their psychological evaluation, DNA sampling and brain scans all showed they were compatible. And they now had plenty of road and life mileage through which to test that compatibility.
“I don’t know what love is, but I now can recognize it. I think you can just tell when you’re near it. There’s something inspiring and inviting and warm and just amazing.”
The Clears are still married, live in the UK and have two kids. The film, suited for adult audiences, is available for download and DVD purchase at www.goingthedistance.org.uk.