‘Hard Miles’ Ending Explained & Movie Recap: Does Banda de Cantene Reach The Grand Canyon?

A down-on-his-luck coach or mentor assembling a bunch of underdogs and taking them to glory has to be the most common sports film template. Then we have these self-searching adventure films where one individual or a group takes a journey somewhere in search of purpose. Hard Miles, directed by R.J. Daniel Hanna, happens to be a mix of both of these kinds. Naturally, it appears to be conventional and familiar, but that doesn’t mean it’s not rewarding. In many ways, this genre (or genres, but they’re mostly the same) itself is like a comforting cheeseburger. If it’s done right, it’s always going to work, and it certainly doesn’t matter if you’ve had it thousands of times before. This film is a profound example of that. It is, obviously, inspired by this real person, Greg Townsend, and his incredible story. Matthew Modine (Dr. Brenner from Stranger Things is how most of you know him) plays the part, and he knocks it out of the park here. There isn’t much complexity in the narrative, but we’re going to take a look at it here in this article and also shed some light on the very grounded ending, which, in my opinion, was fantastic.


Spoilers Ahead

What Happens in the Film?

The sport here is cycling; the journey is 762 miles, and the destination happens to be the Grand Canyon. The film kicks off with Greg Townsend being unsuccessful at preventing the transfer of this young boy, Daniel, to a correctional facility. Daniel was at Ridgeview, the facility where Greg works. The court is transferring him because Daniel has been part of a violent altercation, even though he was just trying to prevent a fight. The state of Ridgeview’s security and safety is also under question. Skip Bowman (Leslie David Baker, aka Stanley Hudson from The Office), who’s running Ridgeview, is desperate for a big win—something that’ll keep the facility afloat. Greg, who’s a cycling enthusiast, comes up with the idea of a road trip to the Grand Canyon with four Ridgeview kids. Greg was going to go on the trip anyway, but now he wants to take the kids along. 


Of course, these boys are not at all enthusiastic about following the old man. They’re all troubled and not doing particularly well considering their circumstances. Atencio has anger issues; Rice is unsure about what’s going to happen to him; Smink is suffering from an eating disorder; and Woolbright is a rebel who’s mad at the whole world. On top of that, they don’t have much experience on bikes either. But this is a story of winning against all odds, and Greg is optimistic about pulling it off. Reluctantly, Skip commissions the trip, subjected to some usual rules and regulations. In-house child psychologist and counselor Haddie is also tagging along in a Sag Wagon. She is also not thrilled with Greg’s plan, but it is evident that she cares so much about both the old man and these troubled boys. In fact, Haddie is the reason Woolbright gets to be a part of the group, as Greg was initially skeptical about it. The team also finds a sponsor in Greg’s friend Speedy (Nice cameo by Sean Astin, aka Samwise Gamgee), who runs a gear shop.

How Does the Trip Go For Banda de Cantene?

“Banda de Cantene” is what the team is called. Greg even comes up with embroidered shirts for everyone. It means chain gang, and as you’d expect, nobody other than Greg likes the name. Woolbright refuses to wear the shirt, even though that causes him difficulty riding. The journey starts rather smoothly, but then the team starts falling behind. Greg does everything in his power to pick up the pace. The narrative flows exactly like you’d expect here—obstacles appear, but the team manages to overcome them. The bond between the boys gets established and continues to grow stronger. However, they do consider getting away now that they’re out of Ridgeview. The first real trouble appears in the form of terrible news: Ridgeview’s charter has been canceled, and the boys are going to be transferred to other facilities. Not to mention, Banda de Cantene has to cut the trip short and return immediately. But Greg has other ideas. He proposes to ride non-stop through the desert and cover 107 miles in a single day. They’re going to return to Ridgeview, but only after finishing the trip. All they have to do is make an excuse for Bowman for a day or so. Of course, Greg has to convince Haddie, but she’s already a part of the team, so how could she say no?


The 107 miles in the desert turn out to be utterly grueling. But nothing can take away the spirit of the boys and their coach. Sadly, health and the heart are two different things. Riding under the scorching sun for a whole day takes a toll on Greg, and he collapses. With that, the team’s dream of riding to the canyon gets practically over. It’s quite sad that there was a time when they couldn’t care less about the whole thing, but now that they’re actually in it, the chance is being taken away from them. Hard Miles makes sure that these kids never have it easy, which only makes you both care and cheer for them. So I’m sure we felt bad to see the four kids decide they’re going to bolt this time around now that their coach is no longer part of the journey. 

Does Banda de Cantene Finally Reach the Grand Canyon?

Before going into that, I’m going to address the sub-plot of Greg having parental issues. I’m not sure how much of it is true, but since the film claims to be inspired only, it could have been done away. Of course, it makes sense to dig a little deeper into Greg’s psyche and explore the reason for him being how he is, but this could have been something else altogether. Fortunately, Hard Miles doesn’t spend much time on it. Once Greg finally pays his father a visit at the hospice center, the film gets back on track. We never get to know how his brother Doug ended up in prison, though, and I suppose the father was responsible. 


Anyway, Hard Miles was always about the four kids. It wouldn’t have made any sense if they hadn’t finished the journey. They do manage to deceive Haddie and get out after slashing her tires, but thanks to Smink, the boys abandon their plan of escape. There’s a scene earlier where Smink almost has an accident when he loses control on a descent, and Greg eventually saves him. It’s only fitting for him to rise above and inspire his friends to get back on the right path. Rice and Atencio immediately get along with him, but Woolbright goes the other way. Smink and the two boys reach the Grand Canyon and meet Greg, who was really anxious about all the legal troubles these kids were going to face if they really had tried to escape. But seeing what they’ve really learned from him, Greg is more than happy. His happiness goes up a notch when Woolbright finally turns up, like a cherry on top.

Hard Miles ends with Woolbright, Greg, and the boys looking at the Grand Canyon and marveling at its grandeur. It’s strange how humans find purpose through such things, but it’s also very believable. One might wonder what might happen to the four boys after this, but since Hard Miles is brimming with optimism, can we just settle with the belief that all of them are excelling in life, thanks to what they’ve experienced with one Greg Townsend?

Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra likes to talk about movies, music, photography, food, and football. He has a government job to get by, but all those other things are what keep him going.

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