03 Jul Grizzly Bear Ranch – The Movie
In all the long years I worked as a journalist, I never really worked with television.
Once in a while I might be caught on the margins of a wide pan at a well-covered newsy event, and one time my Mum claims (possibly falsely) to have seen me scratching my behind at a press conference in full view of the cameras.
But for the most part my journalistic output was confined to newspapers and magazines with the occasional interview for radio.
So when a presenter, director, producer, two cameramen and a soundman arrived at the ranch last month, replete with 12 large hard cases of gear and gadgetry, I was as much a virgin to the process of making television as the next man.
The occasion was the filming of an episode for New Lives in the Wild, a long-running British documentary series about city slickers who leave their comfy lives behind and head into the outback to start over.
Long before the team arrived we had been communicating about possible lines for plots, and which stories and peculiarities of our new existence we might want to present to the camera.
We were sent two previous episodes of the show – both depicting admirably rugged individualists living hand-to-mouth in brutal temperatures perched, it seemed, on the very margins of the planet.
After Kristin and I watched the episodes, we looked at each other with furrowed brows.
How on earth were we going to match the exploits of those diehards? Our idea of a bad day in the wilderness was when the eco-cycle on the dishwasher refused to do its thing.
It is true that when we first arrived at the ranch it was a haywire collection of half-burned wires, old car batteries and broken-down generators. The grumpy water pump growled and coughed and sometimes we were without power and water for days at a time.
At such times I would don my overall, grab a pair of pliers and a couple of wrenches and prod and poke around under the house until I either solved the problem or a helpful neighbour took pity on me and showed me a way out of the predicament.
Perhaps back then we had been honest-to-God frontiersfolk.
But in the intervening decade things had changed. We now used certified electricians and plumbers, like everyone else, and, although we still live far from the electrical grid, our high-tech power system does a more consistent job than that of the provincial energy board.
My overall sits mostly neglected, gathering dog hairs in the mud room.
“Well, what about foraging?” the director asked. “Do you forage for your supper?”
“You mean, like, nettles and things?” I asked in shock. “We just drive to the store or the local organic market.” She seemed a little deflated.
In the event, however, the week went better than we could have possibly hoped for. The presenter, Ben Fogle, a celebrity in his own right back in the UK, was affable and easy to work with.
The team was professional, sometimes brilliant, and jocular even as it poured rain for the entire length of their stay. And the whole thing was not without its frissons of excitement.
On the first day Ben and I arrived at the ranch down our fast-flowing river, just as it was in full flood. Oly – our awesome New Zealand guide who runs his own rafting operation in the summer and guides with us in the Fall – was at the helm of the three-man boat.
There was certainly no faking the difficulty of getting out at the ranch on a river that was thundering down the valley at speeds of up to 10 mph.
As I leaped to shore to try and moor us, I clipped a paddle with my foot and paddle and I both ended up in the fast-flowing water. Floundering, I somehow hung on to the boat. All this, of course, was caught by two cameras and an overhead drone.
Later that day we set off to clear a huge trunk that was blocking part of the river. Again the cameras were running and the soundman doing his stuff as Ben and I perched gingerly on a log above 10 feet of moving water.
I can’t pretend that I wasn’t nervous. The last major chainsaw operation we carried out in the river – almost a year ago to the day – nearly ended in disaster when Oly and I were thrown into the raging current by the huge butt of the log as it spun around unexpectedly.
We survived the dive into the water with a running chainsaw between us, but then had to swim for our lives as the water set out to draw us into its main flow towards what could have been a watery end.
That time we both made it out in one piece, though Oly was bruised and bloodied from the waist down. We consoled ourselves with a bottle or two of cold Russki Standart, the same brand of vodka that Kristin and I used to drink in the nightclubs of Moscow when we first met.
This time things went better. The tree was under huge strain from the water and its own weight, but it broke nicely leaving Ben and I safe and dry and another story line for the documentary in the bag.
As the days went by the team kept shooting. There was a take of Ben cutting firewood, as Kristin stacked. One of Ben mowing the lawn. There were several of the dogs, who at one point tried to eat the hugely expensive filming drone as the operator brought it back to earth. And then more of Ben and I trying to look manly in the bush.
The final big adventure was 24 hours out looking for bears in a remote area a couple of hours drive from the ranch. Unfortunately instead of grizzlies, we found bear hunters. (I promise not to get started about my feelings on BC’s provincial grizzly hunt in this blog post. I’ll save it for another.)
Despite the hunters we saw several black bears, and even managed to get some of them on film. The very day that Ben left the sun came out again and we saw several more.
So, stay tuned guys for the final result. The Grizzly Bear Ranch episode of New Lives should be out this autumn, sometime between October and December. It will be shown in the UK on Channel 5 and syndicated to the US, Australia and elsewhere.
We’ll keep you posted.