Monday 19 July 2010, 13:05
My brother Sam is the brains, or lack thereof, behind BBC Four's On Hannibal's Trail. After a cycling holiday in the Pyrenees his suggestion for our next trip was following the 2,500 mile route Hannibal took when he invaded Italy.
Sam is an archaeologist and one his heroes is Hannibal - the Carthaginian general who brought Rome to the brink of destruction when he marched an enormous army and herd of elephants from southern Spain, over the Alps and into Italy.
Hannibal's Carthage was fighting Rome for the domination of the Mediterranean. They had lost the first great war to the Romans and Hannibal planned to restore Carthaginian pride and prestige with this audacious march.
Sam's plan wasn't so audacious but it was slightly ambitious. He suggested we film it and we hadn't made a "film" together since I was 12 and Sam starred as Chuck Norris (it's very embarrassing - you can watch it on YouTube).
Luckily our other brother, Danny, came to the rescue. He was working as a journalist in Madrid and his contacts at the BBC loved Sam's idea.
So, after an involved commissioning process and an exhausting yet exhilarating two and a half month film shoot/cycle ride, we are now on the brink of transmission and thrilled that the plan came together. Thanks mostly to the fantastic crew we worked with.
Before we left to start our epic cycle though, I was a little worried about what I had gotten myself into. The cycling wasn't so much of a concern - I had done similar trips to this before - but the TV presenting was an unknown quantity.
I've worked as a software developer most of my life so I'm more comfortable joking with computer nerds about how to set the laser printer to stun than talking to a camera about an ancient Carthaginian general.
I love riding and I love cycle touring - I can't get enough of the freedom and the satisfaction you get at the end of a hard day of riding - but I was very nervous about talking to the camera. At the same time I was very curious about how you go about making a documentary.
I tried as best I could to prepare myself mentally and physically for the journey. My brothers and I were living in different parts of the world at this time so we spent endless hours on Skype discussing everything from which pass Hannibal may have used to cross the Alps to what sort of brakes we should have on our bikes.
I was in Sydney, in our native Australia, and in between work and reading everything I could about Hannibal, I followed a strengthening programme in the hope it would stave off injury during filming. I also cycled absolutely everywhere and went for long training rides a few times a week.
Before I knew it we were arriving in Murcia airport where we were met by our location manager Jason. He had illegally, but conveniently, parked our support vehicle which doubled as the crew's living quarters right outside the front door of the airport.
I initially thought this is what happens when you are on a film shoot - you do whatever you like - ignore all the rules for the sake of art. I started to get a little carried away, thinking innocent bystanders and local laws had to bend to accommodate artists and the cultural vanguard we represented.
But just as I was about to demand a nearby civilian carry my bike box for me (and get me a mineral water) I noticed Jason was busy fending off a few different sorts of Spanish parking police. It turned out the camper van was just too big to get into the car park. So we packed it up as quickly as we could and headed off to Cartagena without a parking ticket.
This was one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip. Everything was new. I was excited about starting the journey.
The local Spanish were so welcoming and friendly. We hung out with the crew who were all so engaging and entertaining - they would all make way better TV presenters, I thought.
We quickly came to appreciate the effort it takes to put together a TV documentary. Filming requires patience, imagination and expertise - qualities the crew had in abundance. And what I had imagined was going to be a physically strenuous but mentally soothing touring bike holiday quickly became an intense film shoot plus demanding cycle ride.
We had 10 weeks to cover 2,500 miles and film three hours of documentary. So a full day of filming followed by 60 miles on a fully laden touring bike meant we would arrive at our campsite completely and utterly exhausted.
One of the lowest points on the trip was after just such a day. We pitched our tents in a hungry and frazzled silence and realised all too late we had chosen the local dog poo park for a campsite!
There were so many more high moments on the trip than lows though and hopefully that will be obvious in the programme. I hope you enjoy it. All comments are very welcome!
Ben Wood is the co-presenter of On Hannibal's Trail.
On Hannibal's Trail is part of The Call Of The Wild, a season of programmes on BBC Four.
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