The Frozen Road (Full Film)
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Released today after winning awards at film festivals around the world, The Frozen Road depicts and incredible month-long expedition through Canada’s remote and frozen Yukon Territory to the Arctic Sea. This was just a month within a 3-year bike trip that Ben Page began in 2014. Watch the film, see an amazing collection of photos, and read a QA with the filmmaker…
Film and photos by Ben Page
The Frozen Road is a film about the last month of a bike trip through the Americas. In the grand scheme, this was part of a much longer three-year bike ride that Ben made around the world between 2014 to 2017. In total he pedaled and pushed his way across five continents covering almost 55,000 kilometers, give or take. As Ben faced the final leg of this massive journey from the tip of South America, he stood his own map’s edge and wanted to take a peek at what lay beyond. So he cycled through Canada’s remote and frozen Yukon Territory to the Arctic Sea. There he caught a glimpse of what it truly means to travel alone through a great emptiness. Watch the full film below and scroll down for more photos and a QA with the filmmaker…
As a boy from England, this was a long way from anything I knew. On a map of my experiences, it lay somewhere beyond its edges.
First of all, why did you decide to make Tuktoyaktuk your final destination in North America?
It was either Tuktoyaktuk in the NWT or Prudhoe Bay in Alaska that was to be the end of the Americas for me. Prudhoe Bay lies a degree or so further north of Tuk so initially I’d planned to head there…however, whilst riding through northern Canada I wasn’t granted permission to cross the US border at a non-regulated crossing (I was following the Yukon River at this point) and so I just decided to leave the river and continue up through Canada. As it turned out northern Canada was wonderfully diverse with mountains ranges, tundra and forest and ended up with riding across the enormous expanse of the frozen Arctic Sea. Getting to explore such an incredibly wild place was a true boyhood dream, but a place I had never really imagined being on a bike!
Where did you go afterwards and how’d you get out of there??
The top of Canada was just the half way point for my journey, after a little time healing up the frostbite and putting some weight back on whilst staying with friends on Vancouver Island I then began riding across Asia, from Beijing to Istanbul. Following that I rode from Cape Town to Cairo and finally Athens to my home in northern England!
The film does a great job of capturing the fear and near helplessness that you experienced on that 3rd day of pushing your bike through… What the film didn’t capture was how you managed to overcome those emotions. What kept you going?
I’m not totally sure what kept me going, it was certainly a scary place to be, a situation I had never previously experienced – but I didn’t have any other option other than to keep pushing and rationing my food. I had estimated it would take me between 3 or 4 days to push my way off the river, and, barring any further incident with the cold/wild animals etc then it was a simple equation of putting one step in front of the other a lot of times. Obviously, the physical and mental strains of that period were pretty tough…
How did the camera effect your experience? Did it alleviate some of the loneliness that you felt?
I’d love to say that it did, that’s certainly the clichéd idea of the camera becoming a companion, but sadly it wasn’t true in my case, there was no Tom Hanks and Wilson relationship! Often I found myself begrudging the filming aspect of the ride since it was a hindrance to making further progress – particularly whilst stuck on the Peel River. However I guess it also served as a meaningful distraction, my mind being brought out of the difficult present circumstances and escaping with thoughts about various shots and compositions and how to best tell the story I was living through. There is certainly a dichotomy of thought that went on – half my head would tell me to stop filming and get myself to safety whilst the filmmaker part of my brain was saying that this is an important period to capture.
My tires following the centuries old footsteps of prospectors, men who, like me, had stood on their own maps edge and wanted to take a peek at what lay beyond.
I love the ‘post-modern’ approach where you show the camera being set up, turned on and off. It’s kind of a documentary within a documentary. What are your thoughts behind that approach?
I thought it was really important to acknowledge the camera and that this isn’t a documentary filmed by a remote team of people, rather this is simply a single guy plonking his camera and tripod down and cycling backwards and forwards in front of it. Self-filmed journeys, to my mind at least, are always far more engaging (I’m thinking of the brilliant Road from Karakol by Kyle Dempster which served as a huge inspiration to me). To have people assume some of the shots have been taken by others has been quite a compliment to the time and effort I went to in trying to still make the film ‘cinematic’.
The Frozen Road is a pretty personal story and I think I leave myself emotional bare through it, and so this notion that the camera is the lens through which others will be having a vicarious experience was something I wanted to play with. The lens can only ever capture so much of a story. Thus I needed to show the camera being set up and turned on and off – it hints at the unavoidable element of subjectivity in the filming process – and that there is still the journey going on between the moments that are captured.
What camera equipment did you bring along to shoot The Frozen Road with?
I was using a Panasonic GH4 with a Metabones adapter with a Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 and a Canon 70-200mm f4 lens and a Rode Videomic Pro. I’d got the body second hand just before embarking on this portion of the ride, and this was the camera equipment I then continued to use for the remaining year and a half of my journey. I was also carrying a battery pack and 8 third party batteries, which I was able to charge twice throughout the ride through northern Canada. I still find it remarkable how little equipment you need to be able to make a film – I’m not trained in photography or filmmaking but had been slowly teaching myself over the previous year riding up through the Americas, and I edited the film on my laptop whilst riding across Asia and Africa. So a big thanks to Youtube for all the tutorials!
What safety precautions did you put in place for this portion of the trip?
I read as much about cold weather safety as the internet blogosphere could conjure up! These had a mixed effect, either making me feel very confident in what I was doing or making me fixate on the varying degrees of frostbite and grim cold endings I may end up in…! I had been working for a few months in an outdoor equipment shop before I left so had managed to kit myself out with cold weather gear and I also took a SPOT tracker with me.
Any favorite pieces of winter gear?
Probably my second hand old military boots that I’d picked up for a handful of dollars on eBay – they seemed to be the cheapest way I could keep my feet warm in the -40C temperatures!
Any interesting winter bikepacking ‘must-know’ tips you’d like to share?
I’m probably not much of an authority on this, since I kind of just made do with what I had (which is sage advice for any bikepacking climate!). But obviously sleep with the doors of your tent open to reduce condensation….and definitely expand your vocabulary with many flowery expletives since these are essential when your hands begin to thaw out after freezing them off taking video at -40!
The last scene of the film reflects no elation, no visible relief, no joy, no satisfaction. In fact, you appear to be on the verge of tears. What were you feeling in that bathroom? What was it that you were trying to capture?
The last scene was really important to include in the film as it shows the stark and honest reality of what it actually felt like to finish. I’ve watched a plethora of adventure films, which, to my mind, always try and evoke a sense of wanderlust and success – that this is the best possible thing somebody could be doing. The reality for me was the “finish line” of the Americas was a complete anti-climax and actually a pretty depressing place to be. I’d tried so hard, and put myself into a world of risk for an emotion that never surfaced. I really wasn’t expecting that at all. Rather than revel in the joys of the finish I was still just on my own, my mind whirring and wondering whether it had all been worth it. Very little had really changed other than I wasn’t going to be turning my pedals for a few days. I tried to make the film as a whole a slight musing on the nature of solitude and loneliness and the extents to which one can experience them. For a long time I wasn’t going to close with that ending as it seemed a little negative – however I realised that it was really important to maintain the emotional honesty throughout the film. That final scene is perhaps the loneliest that I felt, unable to share that finish line with somebody else. Any questions posited by the undertaking of the journey were actually left unanswered.
Any future trips or films in the works?
Absolutely, I finished my round the world ride late last year and am now pursuing adventure film making full time – so plenty more trips in the pipeline. As for the ride, I filmed the entire three year journey and so I am hoping to edit a feature length piece about that later this year, stay tuned!
Anyone you’d like to thank?
I really couldn’t have done this ride without the generous support of Fatback Bikes who kindly provided me with a Corvus fat bike. It was this bike that I rode through the Canadian Arctic and then onwards across Asia, Africa and Europe. It’s rare for somebody to take a carbon fibre bike to fairly remote and inaccessible places but it performed incredibly and without even a whimper. The guys at Fatback were fantastic also when I was hit by a truck in Ethiopia and needed a new wheel to get myself back riding again – thanks!
It’s worth noting that Ben turned down selling the film to a few different companies as he wanted it to be available for free. If you would like to donate something to the cost of the film (whatever you feel like, or what you can afford), click here. You can also find more from Ben at his website benpagefilms.com. And, make sure to follow Ben on Instagram @benpagefilms