In the second part of our interview with Charley he tells us his favourite places he’s been to and where he’d like to go…
So you’ve been incredibly fortunate and seen so much of the world already. Is there anywhere you would still like to go?
Yeah, oh God so many places! The Middle East and all that area, the Stans. I’m fascinated by that part of the world. Then there’s the whole of South America and China, so many different places that I want go to. Up into the Himalayas – I’ve not done anything there, so there’s definitely places I still want to go.
Me and Ewan always said we would do a third trip, although we thought we would do it when we were much older, and be two grumpy old men travelling around the world on motorbikes complaining about how much better it was when we were younger.
On your Honda Gold Wing’s or something!
On my Honda Gold Wing (laughing). Yes exactly! With this terrible 90’s music blaring out…
Where would you most like to go back to? Where really inspired you?
I would love to go back to Mongolia. I also have a complete love affair with Africa. I just love the place, and [we] setup these motorcycle tours to introduce people to the place and to riding in adventure holidays just showing them that actually it’s not that bad and most of Africa is as safe as anywhere else. So I go back there all the time, but Mongolia for both Ewan and I was a really special place and I would love to go back. I keep bumping into people who have been there and they have the same enthusiasm and excitement as I did when I was there. Not much has changed, if you really want to go somewhere remote and unchanged, it’s the place to go.
You talked about your tours there, would you say your tours have a particular audience? Just for accomplished riders?
No, not at all, they’re all setup to be suitable for people who can ride a bit on an adventure bike, and had some practice on gravel roads – just to give yourself a chance. It’s not easy, but it’s not hard either! We’ve got a great team of people involved, between myself and Billy and the others, we can pretty much get anybody up to speed quickly and easily.
There’s always the attraction of a really nice hotel and bar at the end of each day! We do safari’s and all sorts of lovely stuff on the way. Where else in the world can you go and be on a dirt road, and come across a herd of 40 elephants right in the way of your path. We just sat there on our bikes and watched them walk past. We see all sorts, giraffes and zebras all the time.
I missed the By Any Means series you did, what was different in that series – was it wasn’t motorbike based travel…
The whole idea was to go from Ireland to Sydney, by any means, Cars, trucks, boats, elephants, tuk tuk’s you name it, we took it. That was the challenge! There were plenty of bikes in the show, because you just can’t not have bikes! It was brilliant, and incredible fun. A huge adventure, we ended up in the most amazing places.
Apart from Wicked Campers [the 101st form of transport used in the show], which we have to mention because they are friends of ours at TNT. What was your favourite vehicle?
Those guys are great! There was a bamboo car which was completely made of bamboo (apart from the engine), that was cool. One of the best things was driving a tuk tuk through India. In a built up busy town, if you think the traffic’s bad anywhere in the world, India, in a major city, just takes the biscuit. It’s just incredible fun, like a giant real-life crazy video game.
There was a pretty hairy incident on that trip with a boat in Vietnam, where you lost power and got pretty close to some rocks. Can you tell us about that?
I didn’t actually want to get on the boat in the first place and I just had a bad feeling about the whole thing. It was a good lesson to learn to trust your instincts. But we were in a rush we wanted to get there, everything was on timing etc. We just went for it.
It just looked overcrowded, it just didn’t look right. Then these bloody waves came along, a big wave hit and the engine cut out and we couldn’t get the boat started again, and we were drifting to these cliffs. I was just thinking, half the people in this boat can’t swim and there’s some lifejackets but not enough. I remember just putting my passport and my credit card in my pocket and thought if everything else is lost then at least I have those, and we’ll just have to deal with those who can’t swim when we’re in the water. I thought we were done for at that point.
Luckily a fishing boat came along, and they threw us a line. They were really angry with the captain of our boat, we didn’t even have a rope long enough to tow with, we didn’t have anything in the boat. Fucking hell (laughs)!
Were there any other “how are we getting out of this one” moments?
Yeah there was, another boat one from East Timor to Darwin. That was a disaster as well, because it was supposed to take 3.5 days and ended up taking 6 days in the end. It was supposed to be a fairly smooth crossing from Indonesia to Australia on this guy’s boat. The first few days were OK while we were sheltered by the land, but as we got out into open water there were 10-12m swells for 4 days. It was just horrific, we were about 200 miles from land and doing 1 knot an hour it was just brutal.
It looked from the bits I saw from the series, more arduous than other trips, you looked pretty jaded.
Yeah there were definitely bits where you pushed it too far or didn’t get enough sleep. It’s tough when you’re making a TV show and you’ve got to make something everyday. Whilst it’s great fun and fantastic, it can be incredibly hard work.
It’s always the unplanned things, you can plan things to the nth degree with anything you do. It’s the un-planable that changes things, and you usually find them in the most unexpected places. A simple boat ride to cross the bay turns into a disaster. It’s the unexpected.
When people do extreme sports, whilst they are extreme, they’ve been well thought out with all the right equipment and everything is right, and then of course there’s the element that can go wrong, but you’ve hopefully thought of every possible scenario. Whereas potentially just travelling to somewhere to do something extreme you could end up having a disaster.
Moving on and talking about equipment, I recall from the Long Way Roundseries you massively over-spec’ed your kit and took too much stuff with you. Now you’re a hardened traveller and learnt from all your mistakes, what would you say are your essential kit bag items for an expedition?
I think you always have to take a lot less than you think you need. You can buy just as much stuff in the country you go to as you can in England. If you had forgotten something you can always pick it up on the way. I think you’ve just got to sit and think about the essentials. You don’t need four pairs of jeans, you only need maybe one or two and a couple of pairs of shorts. Be smart about your packing.
I always take a silk liner you can have for your sleeping bag. They pack up to nothing, and you can hook them over your pillow. I always take one of those, because you always end up in some sort of dodgy looking hotel, and sometimes it’s not quite clean. you can slip into your silk liner, and sleep because bed bugs can’t get through silk. It’s always a good idea, along with baby wipes. If you’re on a motorbike, just take the bare minimum of the toolkit you need. You can tell people as much as you can about your experience but you have to learn it yourself really, because you don’t always listen to other people!
So what’s next for you? I know the Darian Gap was something in planning before the accident. Is that still on the cards?
At the moment that window’s passed by. I’m still recovering, so I can’t commit to something like that yet until I really know where I am. There’s still lots of question marks as to how my leg is going, and I’ll probably have to have some more operations.
It’s a tough point of my life at the moment, where I really want to do more, but I don’t know the full outcome of my injuries yet so it’s a tough one. But I want to do it all (laughs).
What would your top tips be for budding adventurers looking to get off the beaten track, not specifically just by motorbike, but by any means?
You always have to do a lot more planning than you might think. Winging it is fine, but you want to get the most out of where you’re going. I always say if you look at where you’re going and look at all the things you’d really like to do in that country, and then once you’ve really decided on all the things you want to see, then make a route to connect them together, but don’t be too rigid on it. If someone says “You’ve really got to go and see this” then change your plan and go and see it! Have a good plan but be flexible.
Do you travel much without the camera rolling?
Yeah I’ve just got back from Kenya with my wife, we went out there to have a bit of a holiday. My kids love travelling too. The motorcycle tours in Africa are never filmed, just with a bunch of likeminded people who want have an adventure but maybe aren’t sure about travelling in Africa alone or just don’t have the time to plan it. We offer them a footprint into Africa by coming with us, to see how easy it is and then they go off and do it themselves or come again with us.
I’m going to close on a subject very close to your heart. You have many motorbikes at the moment, but if you could only have one bike and that’s it for the rest of your life, what would you choose and why?
Oh God! Erm… I suppose it would be the Triumph Explorer 1200 because that does a bit of everything. It’s a good touring bike, it’s pretty capable off-road, it’s good in the twisty’s, it’s also a good commuter bike, so I would have that!
Thank you so much for talking to us, good luck with your full recovery and I hope you keep your bike upright from now on!
(Laughs) Yeah me too! Take care.