by Margaret Chrystall
A MAN who has crossed the Canadian Arctic alone by bike at -40C and below gets to hear things most of us never will.
The crackling sound from a skyful of Northern Lights and the howling of wolves not far away have both been heard by Ben Page as he captured the journey in his film The Frozen Road which comes to Eden Court next week.
“I was on a three-year bike ride around the world and had been cycling for the 15 months beforeThe Frozen Road from the bottom of South America,” said Ben from Heptonstall in West Yorkshire.
“I finished the ride off about four months ago. From 2014 to 2017 I was just cycling. So I am just getting used to being at home!”
Taking on the frozen North came as a great idea to Ben somewhere that couldn’t be more different.
“It was a journey I dreamed of doing a year earlier when I was in Chile in the Atacama desert,” he laughed. “In one of the world’s driest deserts I concocted the idea of going to one of the coldest places I could go.
“And going to the Canadian Arctic was a bit of a childhood dream, just to see that place.
“It’s in a lot of the Jack London novels I’d read and he writes about those places at the turn of the 19th and 20th century.”
But what sounds like a romantic notion tested Ben to his limits and he found himself facing the challenge of loneliness and the realities of life in one of the world’s wildest, most isolated locations.
He said: “I had no experience in that environment, so I had to mentally overcome that and be physically prepared. So lots of warm clothes and vigilance – not expose flesh, make sure you are well-hydrated and well fed.
“Other dangers were getting stuck and pushing my bike for three days in the Arctic Circle on this frozen river… with some wolves following.
“Those were easily the most scary, most dangerous moments I have ever had.”
But in a way, Ben had been in training all his life.
“I’d always been brought up by my parents in the outdoors, running, cycling and climbing. I set off on this round the world bike ride at 22 I had just finished university. And I had been saving up as much of my student loan and as much from my part-time jobs as possible for the five years before I set off and that gave me enough money so I could go off and cycle for five years.
“I hadn’t seen the Northern Lights before but I saw them almost every single night while I was out there. To see them is one thing and pretty staggering, but to hear them is something else!
“When they are really burning brightly there is this slight crackling like static in the air. If you listen closely, you can just bout hear it and that is really special, knowing that there is nothing else around for hundreds of miles and there is this faint crackling sound with the northern lights dancing above.
“It’s seared into my memory.”
Ben has already started making his next film – and it brings him to the Cairngorms this week where he has been walking in the footsteps of the man whose books inspired him.
“I’m working on a short art film inspired by the writings of a mid 20thcentury Scottish mountaineer called WH Murray. It is involving three weeks of wandering around Scotland and using some of his writings to generate the piece.
“He wrote a couple of really pioneering books – Undiscovered Scotland and Mountaineering In Scotland – and he wrote them both while in a prisoner of war camp in Italy in the Second World War. The books are quite a romantic take on what it is to be in the mountains and outdoor spaces because they were all written from memory and are recollections.
“He kept the writing hidden from the guards on scraps of paper.
“Unfortunately his first draft of Mountaineering In Scotland which had taken about two years to write was taken from him, but he rewrote it while he still in the camp, for a second time.
“The film is a little homage to him, really.”
There will be much more from Ben, if he has his way.
“I’m going to pursue filmmaking as a career and I have far more adventures that I want to do than the ones I’ve just been. So hopefully I’ll be going on more trips, making more films and having more experiences.”
He didn’t study film at university.
“I studied physical geography so I don’t get lost very often! But it didn’t really help with learning to make films.
Ben wants to learn more about filmmaking and photography to continue making films as he explores the world.
“Technology is dialled down to the point where I can cycle and make a film on a little camera and edit it on a laptop – that’s pretty staggering. And the scope for learning from tutorials online is huge.
But The Frozen Road has not done badly for a first effort. It won one of just two Special Jury awards at last year’s Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival in Calgary – and a place on the festival’s world tour which comes to Inverness. And as well as being named Spirit of Adventure at the Adventure Film Festival, Ben has won best director at the Bilbao Mendi Film Festival.
He believes being picked out by the Banff festival has been a big boost to his future filmmaking hopes.
“This is my very first film, so its relative success has been quite surprising to me because the festival is like the Oscars of outdoor adventure filming.
“So picking up an award there and allowing me to have my film on the world tour was fantastic. Just my little film, to have a one-man production being seen by so many people is great – and just the reach the tour offers. And I’m getting lots of feedback from people who have seen the film too, which is really lovely.”
The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour 2018 was at Eden Court on Wednesday, January 31 and Thursday, February 1. Ben’s film was screened on February 1.