The first thing most people ask when Ben Page happens to mention he has just recently returned from a three-year bike ride, which took him from the tip of South America via the Canadian Arctic to his front door in Heptonstall, is “Why?”
When he first saddled up in 2014, having just graduated from university, he would have told you it was cheaper than backpacking around the world and besides it was a way of seeing places not on the usual tourist trail.
Now back in England and having had time to reflect a little on the epic ride which took him to some of the most remote parts of the world, he gives a different answer. “It made me feel small and sometimes it’s important to feel small, important to feel a sense of yourself in this great big world,” he says.
Now 24, when Ben left home he didn’t have a route planned or a checklist of must-see places that he had to stick to. What he did have was laptop and a camera to record his adventures and £9,000 in the bank. “That might not seem like a lot of money to most people,” says Ben. “But I reckoned that the kind of places I would be travelling to I could easily survive on £5 a day. “I had a tent, I had a bike, so I didn’t need accommodation and I didn’t need transport. All I needed was food.”
The highlights of his trip, which saw him clock up 40,000 miles, included the dramatic scenery of Mongolia, the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia and the vast desert plains of the Sahara. It all sounds idyllic and for the most part it was, but it wouldn’t have been a proper odyssey without a few hairy chapters. For Ben, most of those came in the month-long stretch which saw him navigate the icy tracks of the Canadian Yukon.
It’s a chapter of his journey that he has recently turned into a film, The Frozen Road, which is being screened at Leeds Town Hall next week as part of the Banff Mountain Film Festival. The film opens with Ben adjusting to life surrounded by what he calls “the great white silence”, a quiet which was punctured only by the rumbling of the ice packs.
Stumbling across an empty log cabin, he lit a fire and, staring out onto the snowy horizon, it initially seemed quite romantic. However, when he decided to leave the Dempster Highway and the old gold rush trails, where he would occasionally be passed by a truck or a herd of caribou, for an even more remote trail, he soon found he wasn’t alone. “A couple of the locals in a settlement called Fort McPherson had told me they had spotted a pack of wolves a few days before. It was the wildest place I had ever been, but despite the warnings I set off anyway.”
Any bravado soon disappeared when he was staring ahead at an empty landscape knowing he had almost 40 miles of icy wilderness to cover before hitting the next small town. When a storm, forecast for a few days later, arrived early, it resulted in a scene in The Frozen Road reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project.
In his tent, his face illuminated by the light of the torch, Ben began to question why and how he had found himself miles from anywhere, battling temperatures of almost -40C and with the very real prospect that come the next morning he might have been eaten by a pack of wolves. “It had been a long winter and I knew they would be hungry and I was a very accessible source of food. I did shed a few tears and there were times when despite the best pep talks I gave myself I found it really hard to be positive. I knew that if the worst happened no one would know where I was and there was every chance I might never be found. I mean, it was madness really.”
Aside from a small amount of frostbite on his face due to exposure to the Arctic temperatures, Ben escaped unscathed and finally made it home last September, arriving, as he had set off, on his bike. “I’d imagined riding back down my street with family and friends outside cheering me on and, to be honest, that’s exactly how it was. I had been ready to come back and it felt good. I had a cup or tea and a slice of toast. Toast was the one thing I had missed, I’d missed the crunch.” It was also confirmation of what his three years on the road had already taught him – sometimes in life, it’s the simple things that are the best.
The Frozen Road, Banff Mountain Film Festival, Leeds Town Hall, February 8&9.