Wanderlust's Tom Hawker chats to Charley Boorman about his new TV series Extreme Frontiers and explains why, and how, he got beaten up by a bunch of kids...
He’s been the Long Way Down the globe and traipsed the Long Way Around it, raced through Europe to Africa, travelled from Ireland to Sydney by any means. It might be surprising then to see Charley Boorman’s latest adventure Extreme Frontiers take place in just one country. When you realise that the country in question is Canada it starts to make a lot more sense.
Extreme Frontiers sees Charley travel 10,300 miles across the world’s second largest country – from the hub cities out to the furthest reaches of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. His adventures see him try his hand at canoeing rodeoing, heli-biking, iceberg spotting, wreck diving, ice hockey and clambering up the Alberta’s Mount Fable with mountaineering legend Barry Blanchard.
We caught up with Charley as he was setting off exploring his latest, marginally less extreme frontier that is Britain, on his UK Theatre Tour…
So, why Canada?
With the Long Way Down and the Long Way Around we always raced through lots of different countries, so we thought it would be nice if we could spend more time in one country getting to know it and all the fun things that you can do. So in Canada, there’s wilderness and kayaking and canoeing and rodeo. The ‘Frontier’ part is all about how the place came about – Canada has quite a rich history, much older than America.
They’re a rugged sort, out in frontier-land – did that put extra pressure on you to live up to their expectations?
Oh no, I never really bother about that; you can only do what you can do, you know what I mean? The intelligent thing to do is to not pretend that you can do something because then you’ll just die.
But the whole point of these things is to meet new people. I’d never really been climbing before, when we met Barry Blanchard. It was enjoyable until we got to the top of the mountain then we had to traverse across the top to get to the summit and there was a 1,000 ft drop on either side. I was clinging to every rock that I could find and Barry was just walking across the top, holding this rope that was attached to me. It looked like he was walking his dog in Hyde Park.
In those moments does having the camera make it worse?
I don’t really care about that. All our documentaries we try to make (hopefully) as natural as possible. And those are the funny bits when you look back and think, “Oh my God, you idiot. Such a fuss over nothing.”
Didn’t you have a nasty experience wreck diving?
What happened was I went diving in one of the lakes. It was extremely cold – you have to wear three wetsuits in order to go down. When I jumped in, it was the combination of the freezing cold water and the wetsuits obstructing the lungs, so for the first time in my life I felt this horrible claustrophobia. I was able to calm myself down and get under the water and so the dive was actually OK and enjoyable.
So what was the most dangerous thing you did? Mountain climbing? Ice hockey? Talking English in Quebec?
(Laughs) I was beaten up by kids playing ice hockey! I was slammed up against the wall by these seven-year-old children, which was quite depressing, really. It fucking hurt… and they just smiled. It’s one of the fastest games in the world and there are so many really bad head injuries. Back in the 80s they didn’t even wear helmets and they were just smacking into each other. I think the rock climbing was probably the most dangerous thing though. It was so alien to me. You make one mistake and you’re dead.
Was there any point when you thought ‘I’m just going to sit this one out?’
Not yet. We’re only here for a short period of time and you can’t let these opportunities pass you by.
In terms of Canada, what were your highlights?
I really enjoyed the wilderness, the stunning coastline and the people. I found an iceberg and chipped away a bit of 20,000-year-old ice. The ice structures are all fresh water. They’re all from glaciers in Greenland. It’s kind of cool to be drinking 20,000-year-old pure water.
Canada really seems to opening up as a travel destination...
Canada has a lot to offer. The people are a lot more European than they are in the States. Also I think adventure travel is one of the fastest growing areas of tourism – people aren’t just looking for a beach holiday. There are thousands of miles of marked trails for snowmobiling and motorbiking and it’s all on GPS so you can go out in summer and in winter there. Canada is incredible in any season.
Canada’s got these cool modern cities that are just a short distance from the frontier…
If you like the outdoors then Canada really is the place. You just have to drive north and you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s quite extraordinary. What’s interesting when you take a small plane out and you’re told how to survive after a crash, it’s not just about putting your seat belt on; they provide you with a sleeping bag and fruits, a SAT phone and that’s your survival gear.
Where would you like to take Extreme Frontiers to next?
I’d love to do Africa. If I got another chance at doing Extreme Frontiers, I’d love to; all of South America.
You know Africa quite well – it’s the location for your annual bike tour?
It’s a proper adventure, not just a tour! We go from Cape Town to Victoria Falls to Malawi and Mozambique and then back. 16 days, 5,000 km, 60% off the road!”
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