Terry and I are heading onto the TransAmerican trail after long careers at the BBC. Terry has spent 37 years as an editor and cameraman, I’ve racked up two decades as a radio and TV producer. In that time we’ve spent countless hours together in the dark confines of an edit suite doing our best to produce TV magic. Occasionally we’ve succeeded. We’ve also talked. Sometimes quite a bit.
Invariably that conversation has often turned to our joint passion – cycling. Terry has done a lot over the years, Vietnam, Morocco, Peru, Bolivia, Norway. He’s also completed many of the British classics – such as the coast to coast and Lejog. My two-wheeled adventures have been much closer to home, almost exclusively in Europe, more often than not with a group of friends collectively known as the ‘Wheezy Geezers’.
But there is one important respect in which Terry is a novice. He’s never been to the United States before. I on the other hand have been there several times and once even spent a month in deepest Iowa working for a student newspaper. I’ve tried to prepare him for a continent of contrasts. A country that has the very best the world has to offer – and sometimes the very worst. A land that you can love and loathe all at the same time. But a country, nevertheless, that draws you back time and time again.
I think the States are going to like Terry. He is the epitome of cool. Wearing shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops even on the coldest days of winter, he’s also a natural on a bike. He’s one of those people who can strip down his machine in a matter of minutes, chuck a few clothes into a rucksack, grab his passport and shades and be on the plane to some far-flung destination while I’m still in Waterstones deciding on the relative merits of the Lonely Planet Guide vs Dorling Kindersley.
I’m the antithesis of cool. My wife describes me as a cycling Mr Bean. I make a fish on a bike look graceful. As a child it took me two years to learn to ride – and I still have the bruises. Even after covering thousands of miles I still look completely awkward on two wheels, as if I’ve been plonked onto the saddle to see if I’m going to fall off. Trouble is I often do. Sometimes it has hurt more than others. I once collided head-on with a petrol tanker. I’d advise against that.
So we are an unlikely pairing to take on a 4300 mile adventure across the United States. But I think the days and months spent together in the edit suite have prepared us. They usually go something like this:
I arrive fresh from filming with a box full of rushes, a few photos on a memory stick and a head full of creative ideas about how this jumble of material can be shaped into award-winning TV. Terry loads the footage into the computers, scans through all the shots and begins to scratch his head. It’s his job to transform the vision in my head into a physical programme on the screen – and it’s very rarely straight-forward.
But after days and often weeks, of sifting, mixing, weaving and shaping we eventually transform something that started as the inkling of an idea into a fully-formed documentary, ready for broadcast.
The TransAmerica planning has gone along similar lines. Again it all began as a germ of a idea, thrown into conversation while editing a particularly tricky sequence. Then it grew wings, maps were looked at, dates discussed and then finally and rather unexpectedly, we both found ourselves leaving the BBC on exactly the same day with bit of spare cash in our pockets. The opportunity to step off the mad merry-go-round of life for a few months was irresistible and the TransAmerican Challenge was on.
So there is it. Mr Bean and Mr Cool head Stateside – and to give it more purpose we are also doing our best to raise money for Cancer Research UK at the same time. We’ve both lost people close to us in recent years, so it’s a cause close to our hearts. And because we’ve already paid for the entire trip and equipment ourselves you can rest assured every penny or cent goes straight to the charity. Check it out on www.justgiving.com/bestbybike