TV trailblazer Charley Boorman has returned for a new Channel 5 series, Extreme Frontiers: South Africa, on Wednesdays at 8pm. He talks to Gavin Haines about epic motorcycle trips, riding with broken hands and nearly being cheetah food.
MOST MEMORABLE TRIP
I rode in the Dakar Rally in 2006 (a motor race from Paris to Dakar via the Sahara Desert). It was a complete disaster; on day five, I lost the front end of my bike and when I got up I realised I’d broken both my hands. I got back on the bike and noticed that my left thumb was pointing in the wrong direction. I rode another 400km (248 miles) and then went to see a doctor. He said: “Not only can you not race in the Dakar, but I don’t know if you can wipe your own a***.”
MOST ISOLATED TRIP
Probably when I was in East Russia with Ewan [McGregor] for Long Way Around. We drove along the Road of Bones, which was built by prisoners in the Gulag labour camps during Stalinism. It’s called the Road of Bones because every 3km (1 mile) there are at least two people buried underneath, who died building it. The road is 1,900km (1,180 miles) long. Some of the bridges were gone so we had to wait for these massive trucks, with tyres as big as men, to drive us through the river. We put the bikes in the back, crossed the river on the bonnet and jumped off the other side to dig a ramp for the truck to get out.
MOST EXTRAORDINARY RIDE
When we were in Ethiopia we were riding up these crazy gravel roads in the mountains with these hairpin bends. There were huge articulated lorries trundling down and kids on the side of the road chucking rocks; me, Ewan and the camera man would argue who was going to go last because they were the ones that got hit by the rocks – the kids would see the first bike, aim for the second and hit the third. Then coming down on the other side, there were these smooth tarmac roads which were a biker’s dream.
LAST MOTORISED ADVENTURE
PARAMOTORING, SOUTH AFRICA
For the new series, I tried something called paramotoring, which basically involves strapping an engine and a propeller to your back and gliding through the sky; it’s a kind of motorised paraglider. They’re great fun and I used one to fly over a game reserve in South Africa. That was funny because I was flying above these trees with two inch thorns on them and I could see lions, leopards and cheetahs below me. I thought; I don’t want to crash here, not only would I be ripped apart by the trees, but I would be eaten by the cats.
DARIEN GAP, PANAMA
I would love to get a motorcycle across the Darien Gap (the undeveloped swamp land separating Panama from Colombia). More people have climbed Everest than done that. It ticks all the boxes of adventure for me; there are rivers, jungles, mountains and bandits. It’s a kind of dodgy, but that would have to be my dream trip.