They came a cruel second place, but for many viewers of BBC’s Race Across The World, the real winners were newly re-acquainted father and son team Alex and Darron from Bradford. We speak to Alex, before he plans his next adventure.
When you’re a 20 year old lad, drifting through life with no real direction – or even really any plan on where you’ll be tomorrow – the thought of being tasked with travelling halfway around the world with your estranged father must seem like mission impossible.
That Bradford’s Alex Zolte dived into the task with such enthusiasm and conviction endeared him to the nation when he took part in BBC’s Race Across the World earlier this year. And it went some distance towards his agonisingly close second place in the competition.
But the biggest prize? Alex and dad Darron negotiated the distance between them even more successfully, and are now closer than they’ve ever been.
What a journey.
“It’s true,” Alex says, “I’ve travelled to so many amazing places, and seen so many incredible sights, but the fact that it brought me and my Dad closer is the greatest prize.”
And it was his father who set the whole thing in motion, as Alex explains.
“Originally, Dad applied, when they were asking for single people to take part. Then the producers changed the show’s concept into having pairs of contestants compete. Dad suggested me, at a point when we’d lost contact with each other completely. I went for an interview, because I really didn’t have any clue where I was going in my life…” he says.
The rest is history...and a heck of a lot of adventures, with the pair forced to find a route to Singapore, without flying, heading off with just £1,300 between them. To continue their journey, they’d have to find paid work wherever their route took them. Between October and December last year, Alex and Darron squeezed more experiences into a single season than most of us would experience in our lives.
“I really wasn’t sure how we’d get on. I thought it would be a nightmare. But when you’re thrown together in extreme situations, you bond or you sink. And fortunately we bonded!” Alex says.
And it didn’t get more nightmarish than the pair’s enforced captivity on the Caspian Sea - a full five days stuck on board a boat going nowhere, riding out a storm: “That was the lowest point. I almost quit. But after that I thought it can only get better…”
And it did. Sort of. Although, for Alex, who revelled in making connections with as many people en route as he could, some experiences were better than others. “Working for six hours in the searing heat, sweeping the floors, and not being allowed a drink - that was one job that nearly broke me,” he admits.
But the brilliant thing about Alex’s adventures? The so called ‘snowflake’ millennial refused to quit. Some hitherto untapped steel core erupted to the surface, and Alex surprised us all: and Jack, like the rest of the viewing public, cheered him to every check point.
Despite the evident language barriers, and his dad’s reticence to communicate with others, Alex jumped headfirst into every situation. “With little money, we relied on the kindness of strangers. I had to find a way for us to fund our trip, and what amazed me is how warm and helpful everyone was.”
Favourite bits? “Working with elephants, the Cambodian landscape, the Chinese flower market...really, there are too many to mention,” Alex admits.
Now he’s back home, the biggest challenge is readjusting to life in Bradford. But Alex has returned wiser, older, surer of his place in the world. And certain that this adventure is only the beginning.
“I saw a lot of poverty, and it was tough. But it’s made me appreciate what I’ve got so much more. And it’s made me realise that, whatever bad stories we read in the news, the world is full of amazing, kind, welcoming people. And that you really have to seize the moment. Life is short. The world is big. Go out and explore it!”
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