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Back in 2004, I saw some adverts on TV for a new show called Long Way Round, featuring Ewan McGregor and his best friend Charley Boorman travelling around the world on motorcycles. I decided to give it a go - after all, I've been a fan of Ewan's for year. Within minutes I was hooked, on the adventure, the fun and the camaraderie between the pair. Since then the intrepid duo have travelled through Africa in Long Way Down, and Charley has branched into solo projects, with Race to Dakar, By Any Means and Right to the Edge (By Any Means 2). Now he's back with a new adventure, Extreme Frontiers: Racing Across Canada.
In November this year I was lucky enough to see Charley's live show, in which he talks in detail about the trips he has undertaken. During the show he explained a bit about the then upcoming Extreme Frontiers TV show and the accompanying book. He told us that although he has visited numerous countries and learned some of their culture, he wanted to really get to know one country. He chose Canada, and so Extreme Frontiers was born.
Starting on the East coast of Canada, in Newfoundland, Charley journeys across the second largest country in the world, visiting each frontier - East, West, North and South. Along the way he meets lots of people, discovers native ways of life and undertakes some extreme challenges.
The book of Extreme Frontiers accompanies the recently broadcast series on Channel 5. As with all TV tie-in books, I was expecting more detail from the book than we see on TV, and this is the case with Extreme Frontiers. The show sometimes had a feel of hopping from place to place, while the book contains more of a journey, with every step covered. Charley does not shy away from talking about his feelings on camera, and this is most obvious during the cold-water diving he did in Extreme Frontiers, where he is shown having something of a panic attack. However, in the book he is able to expand a little more on his feelings about what he sees and does, and I find this is a really great addition to the TV show. One example is his experience in a sweat lodge - he tells us more in the book about what actually happened in the sweat lodge (which the locals did not want to be filmed) and expands a bit on what it meant to him.
When I first heard about Extreme Frontiers, I wasn't sure about the choice of Canada. After all, Canada is a developed country, where it seems unlikely Charley would get into the same hard-to-solve situations he had done on previous trips through less developed regions. But while in Canada you may expect it be easy to call for help, this isn't always the case. Charley visits some very remote areas - Bloodvein River, Tuktoyaktuk in the Arctic Circle, and the St Elias Ice Field. If something were to go wrong in these places, he could be in just as much trouble as in the wilds of Africa. These visits to remote areas worked well set against the more metropolitan side of Canada, with Charley visiting Quebec City, training with the Mounties, and taking part in the Calgary Stampede.
In the Race to Dakar book, Charley wrote that Long Way Round was his "OBE" - Only Because of Ewan. Since Long Way Round he has successfully carried four TV shows and their accompanying books on his own, and has seemed more comfortable with each one that passes. He is now an accomplished solo presenter (although the production team make regular appearances) and is successful in his own right. While I can't wait for him to reunite with Ewan for Long Way Up (which I asked Charley about at his live show - he said it was a case of "when" not "if"), I really enjoy Charley's solo work. The book of Extreme Frontiers reads very well, his style and manner has evolved over the last few trips he has done and he seems a lot more confident on his own than he did in the first By Any Means.
Extreme Frontiers is a really enjoyable book, Charley's relaxed style really draws you into the journey with him, and it makes a great accompaniment to the TV show but could quite easily be read on its own. I'm looking forward to whatever Charley does next - Extreme Frontiers has the potential to cover a few more trips exploring other countries, but who knows, perhaps he will do something completely different. Or perhaps the long-awaited Long Way Up will finally happen...
This review was originally published on www.curiousbookfans.co.uk. A review copy of the book was provided by the publisher through Curious Book Fans.
You can also read an interview with Charley here: