Adventurer Ryan Pyle goes to extreme lengths on his outdoor treks

  • Global
  • Sunday, 28 Nov 2021

Pyle – with his orange jacket – visiting the home of a local in Myanmar’s Chin Hills in an episode of Extreme Treks. — BBC Earth

Anything in nature can be extreme at any given moment. And Mother Nature has a way of pushing the human endurance to its limit, whether it is tolerating high altitudes or battling it out with the elements.

That is exactly why adventurer, photographer and TV host Ryan Pyle thinks being in the great outdoors is such a wonderful thing.

“Every (trekking) journey is completely different. Every journey has its own extreme challenges and we don’t always know what that’s going to be before we go out.

“We very much just have to deal with everything in the moment and it becomes an exercise in safety management and problem solving. And that’s what we’ve always loved about our extreme trekking around the world,” Pyle, 43, says in an exclusive interview.

Pyle certainly knows well the extremities of putting yourself out in nature. He is, after all, the host of Extreme Treks.

The BBC Earth TV series invites viewers to join Pyle as he ventures into some of the toughest trekking destinations around the world.

The latest season, which premiered recently in Malaysia, follows Pyle as he explores adventurous landscapes such as Chin Hills (Myanmar), Simien Mountains (Ethiopia) and Tatra Mountain (Poland).

Pyle makes it a point to highlight that extreme scenarios in the show is very real – and of course, very extreme.

“We just tried to do really authentic adventures and journeys. And when the walk across the desert is 140km, we actually just walk 140km and that’s just where we are,” he says.

But for all the physically tough adventures Pyle has gone through, the biggest challenge so far has been the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pyle was in the middle of filming the fourth season of Extreme Treks last year when travel restrictions kicked in to curb the coronavirus. He recalls how the world suddenly became all about lockdowns, quarantines and vaccination certificates.

Trekking and filming during that time, according to him, was “a nightmare”.

“Obviously, the number one issue was safety. There was so much uncertainy that we didn’t really know what was going to be possible, and what wasn’t going to be possible,” he says.

Trekking forward

The pandemic, Pyle shares, has devastated his prospects in showbiz, and it all boils down to the uncertainty surrounding international travel amid Covid-19.

“The global viral pandemic has pretty much destroyed my television career. I will not mince words,” he says dejectedly.

Although it’s not all doom and gloom on the adventure front, Pyle does reckon that the pandemic has made people rethink the way they explore the outdoors.

“A lot of people are going to do adventure tourism when they can because being outdoors is a little bit better than being indoors with regards to people who are cautious about Covid-19,” he says.

That sentiment is shared by many experts who believe that more people will head outdoors in a post-pandemic world. Some worry that this might adversely affect rural communities where many of these popular “adventure destinations” are located.

However, Ryan – who is a proponent of sustainable travel – doesn’t see the immediate threat in this trend.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a huge overwhelming rush that’s going to destroy rural destinations or rural communities.

“Adventure tourism, and especially adventure trekking, is still pretty uncomfortable for the average person and there’s not a lot of modern conveniences (readily available such as) bathrooms, hot showers or reliable food... all these kinds of things.

“So I don’t think there’s going to be a huge rush of people going out to do this stuff,” he notes.

Ryan adds that it’s still early days when it comes to forecasting how the pandemic has changed travel behaviour. But he foresees people keeping their outdoor excursions close to home.

“Trekking excursions are just going to have to be local or regional because I just don’t see anyone travelling like the way we used to for a long time to come.

“My advice to travellers seeking their next great adventure is probably just to stay local for a little while until you can really have some certainty in being able to go somewhere, and come back safely,” he says.

For the most part, though, Pyle says people will still remain hesitant about travelling.

“I think people are going to be quite fearful about taking big trips abroad. Just given the fact that they don’t know if they’re going to get locked down. They don’t know if they’re going to get quarantined... there’s just too much confusion about the rules,” he says.

According to Pyle, any form of travel restrictions will continue to be a deterrent for travellers.

“I think that’s going to really turn a lot of people off this kind of adventure trekking around the world,” he says.

Born to explore

Pyle was born in Toronto, Canada and spent his early years close to home, but the call of adventure was too strong to ignore.

After he obtained his degree in International Politics, Pyle realised a lifelong dream and left Canada for China on an exploratory trip. He moved to China in 2002.

Pyle’s first foray into television was in 2013’s Tough Rides: China, which saw him travelling around China with his brother Colin on a motorcycle.

Many other series followed suit and then, of course, there’s Extreme Trek that documents Pyle’s love for great trekking adventures.

Of all terrains that he has trekked, Pyle shares that he loves the desert best.

“I find that deserts are incredibly beautiful. The vast space and the openness is just incredible. And I feel that that the feeling of isolation is strong and powerful in a desert because it’s just so empty and remote in every direction,” he shares.

Pyle is also a prolific photographer and a check on his personal Instagram profile reveals many beautiful pictures of the places he has been to.

Another thing one might notice is a striking orange jacket that he’s often photographed in. This begs the question: Is there a special story behind the sartorial choice?

Pyle immediately brushes off any notion of sentimentality.

“Orange is just really easy to see. Nothing too sentimental, just, you know, high visibility, I suppose,” he says with a laugh.

“And wearing bright colours out in nature is also very safe because if you run into difficulties and there needs to be a helicopter rescue and stuff like that, it’s very easy to see you from the air,” he adds.

Moving forward, Pyle hopes that he would be able to explore the world freely again.

“Travelling and filming in remote destinations and in beautiful places is my normal state of being. Being stuck in a city locked in an apartment or hotel room for months on end is not.

“I hope we come back to some sense of personal freedom of movement soon because I think travel is really important not only to learn about the world around us, but to learn about ourselves.

“And I think that spending time out in nature is is also very, very valuable,” he concludes.

Extreme Treks S4 premieres Nov 23 at 9pm on UnifiTV Ch 501 and BBC Player/Astro Channel 554.

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