As an idea it could have come straight off the pages of a boys own annual.
Forty thousand miles on a bike travelling from the toe of Argentina to the Canadian Arctic, from China to Turkey, from South Africa to Egypt and finally from Greece back to the UK through mainland Europe
Adventurer Ben Page (26) had dreamed of this from being a teenager, determined to push off alone from the moment his final year studying geography at Durham University was over.
He did and three years later having passed through some of the planet’s most amazing places - from the scorching Atacama desert in Chile to the freezing tundra of north Canada - he now finds himself feted not only for the incredible journey he completed but also the award-winning film he created along the way.
“I am not a photographer or a film maker. I’m a geographer, so at least I knew I wouldn’t get lost very often,” joked Ben over a cup of coffee in the comfort of Ramble and Rose, a cafe in Hebden Bridge. “It’s amazing what the internet can teach you.”
Armed with some second hand camera gear and a “painfully slow” laptop, his own creativity and an indomitable spirit, the results of his labours are now starting to open doors he might never have thought possible.
Ben, who went to Crossley Heath school arrived back home in Heptonstall in September and has yet to condense three years of footage into a film. But in the middle of the journey he did take time out to edit and complete the 1500km heart-stopping leg through Canada’s Yukon and Northwest Territories.
The result is The Frozen Road - a powerful and emotional account of triumph over adversity. A man, a bike, a tent, a camera and a vast snowy wilderness. A first effort that has amazingly gone on to win awards in New York and Colerado, a best director award at the Bilbao Mendi Festival in Spain, and a starring role in the Banff Film Festival tour - which showcases a global selection of short films on adventure and derring do.
“I thought as an individual element it would be quite compelling. I guess my challenge was to film in these conditions. I thought I have come on this trip for a challenge and this is the perfect challenge,” he said. “I shot it more intensively than the rest and felt that when I got home and I was looking for interest in the film of the whole trip, this would be perfect footage to send out.”
The film was cut during a month staying with his sister in Cape Town before beginning the African leg.
It follows him cycling from Whitehorse to Tuktoyaktuk along old gold prospecting trails, frozen rivers and into the Arctic Circle as the latitude increases and the mercury plummets to approaching -40C.
“These places are great but at the same time I am experiencing it all by myself,” he muses on camera. “There is this big dulaity on solo trips between loneliness and solitude. I have never really felt the same kind of pure happiness and elation unless I am doing something by myself. On the flip side there is that part of me wants to be sharing it with somebody.”
In darker moments the camera captures Ben wrestling with debilitating thoughts as he is caught on the 160 kilometre final leg in an horrendous snow storm with warnings of wolf packs and visible signs of frostbite on his face.
“I started to question myself. I wondrered whether I should be filming. Was it really a dangerous situation? The last thing anyone wants is to be eaten by wolves and somebody find your last footage on the camera. One part of me was saying just get off this leg, get to safety. The other was saying. Stop! Film! Talk to the camera. I guess it was a good distraction because it really eats up time.”
In the end Ben never saw the wolves, he only heard them.
“I just worried that after a long winter they might be hungry. They certainly knew I was there but generally wolves don’t attack humans.
“I had been offered a gun as I set out. But I’d never touched one and figured that I could accidentally end up shooting myself, so I declined.
“In the end they were no danger,” said Ben.
That unexpected storm forced him to push his bike through the latter part of the journey delaying the finish by days with his food rations of beans, rice and stock cubes running low.
In the end a search party on snowmobiles found him but the gravity of the situation was all too evident - even though it turned out he was very close to an Inuit community. For trailing behind one of the snow machines was a body cart. Thankfully there was no use for it. Then with one last effort he sets off on the final leg, letting out a loud whoop after reaching his goal.
Ben, was 22 when the trip began, and set out with only vague ideas of where he might go and what he might encounter.
He had been an accomplished road cycle racer, so his fitness was never in doubt. Filming the trip however was new. His cycling mates were photographers and had made short films. Ben was a novice.
“I was always the one cajoling them to get a move on,” said Ben. “So I had no benchmark to measure how good or bad what I was shooting was.”
But over the marathon 15 month slog from South America through North America he learned what he could do with the camera and how to set up for the best shots. By the time he began the Canadian trip, he was more than proficient.
It turns out he had a natural eye for film making and since the success of The Frozen Road he has worked on more films in Scotland and Nepal. Now he is looking forward to a career as a film maker.
Ironically, when the Banff Film Festival arrives at Hebden Bridge Picture House on February 8, the only member of his family and friends that won’t be there to celebrate is Ben himself. He will be in Colerado editing a film about mountain biking in Nepal.
“It’s a real shame. I would have loved to have been there. Since I started filming I have thought how wonderful it would be to get a film into the Banff Festival.”
So as the dust settles on this epic story, has he any more incredible journeys planned? Or was this enough for one lifetime?
“I am thinking about a new challenge travelling across Russia,” says Ben with a big smile. “I can’t say too much about it now but it wont be by bicycle and I’m looking for sponsors.
“It’s a journey that fills me with more fear and excitement than anything I’ve previously done!”
For more information go to www.benpagefilms.com
The Frozen Road is available to stream for free or a “name your price” download. Money raised will help produce the film of Ben’s full journey.
The Banff Film Festival Tour is at Hebden Bridge Picture House on February 8.