Band of bikers: Thrill-seeking veterans find adrenaline, solace in stunt riding
Kevin Brannon remembers hearing fireworks at his brother's graduation ceremony back when he was serving during his first tour in Afghanistan.
"I wasn't ready for it," Brannon recalls. "After a couple seconds you remember, oh...I'm not there anymore."
Brannon is a 29-year-old veteran living in North Phoenix, now five years removed from his last deployment. After serving two tours with the Army, Brannon has found the same elements of community and adrenaline in stunt biking that were once so tangible while on active duty. The high-speed intensity of stunt riding, the intersection of veteran re-assimilation and the need to "get the blood pumping," the subculture of biker community -- all of this is the topic of Rated Red's latest documentary, "The Infidels."
In their latest cinematic venture, "The Infidels" director Tommy Davis introduces us to four stunt riders: Eddie, Dasen, Trisha and Kevin. Davis met the group at a big stunt rider event in St. Louis and then traveled to Arizona with his team in February to film the foursome over the course of four days.
Davis soon realized most of the riders he was profiling had military backgrounds.
"They all miss the sense of rush, danger and adrenaline," Davis says of the film's subjects. "All of the experiences that come with riding give them this sense of community they all seem to miss."
There were 21.8 million veterans living in America as of 2014, and approximately 540,000 of them have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- a disorder that occurs after a person experiences a traumatic or life-threatening event.
"After a year, you're going to come back changed," Brannon says of time in the service, "whether it's good or bad."
Kevin Brannon works your typical warehouse job during the day, but finds the dangerous, untamed nature of the streets while biking gives him the rush he grew accustomed to while in service.
"Being over there is hard to explain," Brannon tells AOL News of being in combat overseas. "It's a huge adrenaline that you kinda don't find coming back. To come back to just doing laundry and paying bills...[biking] is almost just trying to fill the gap."
Motorcycle stunt riding is a popular subculture in the U.S. and beyond -- and has sparked criticism from law enforcement who find the activity to be dangerous for both bikers and others on the roads.
Brannon has been arrested for illegal maneuvering while riding (only to be left in jail by his parents). He lives with chronic pain after recovering from back surgery at the young age of 27. He even says he finds himself resisting the urge to defend stunt riders in the wake of the documentary's release -- but a tattoo on his right forearm reading "ride" reveals an intimate element of his relationship with stunt biking.
BTS: The making of Rated Red's 'The Infidels'
Brannon joined the Army when he was 17, and was 18 when he met friend Mike Miller at basic training.
"He was pretty much the first person I rode with," Brannon says. "He was there when I crashed my first bike. He was there when I bought my first brand new bike. He's pretty much who taught me how to ride."
He and Miller were split up at the time of deployment in March 2007, but not before they got the same tattoo together. Six months later, while sitting in class, Brannon overheard news of Miller's death. He had died in an IED explosion after his humvee was hit. Brannon now wears a bracelet dedicated to Miller -- an item he never takes off.
"I get what we do isn't legal," Brannon says when asked how he responds to those critical of stunt biking's dangerous nature. "We regulate each other a lot -- people don't see the behind the scenes of it, really. We're not gang members out to hurt anyone."
Davis reiterated endlessly to AOL News the gracious nature of Kevin, Trisha, Eddie and Dasen. When asked to single out a favorite shot or moment in the documentary, Davis recalls a shot of Kevin riding by himself, talking about how he copes with trauma.
"To come home [from war] and have to talk to somebody and tell them I'm having a hard time sleeping at night, it's not something you want to do," Brannon says. "You're still in that mentality of not wanting to be the weakest link. When I have something like riding where I don't have to think, all I think about is riding."
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