Father and son Darron and Alex raced across the world in a trip like no other for a new TV show. They tell Laura Drysdale how the journey helped them to reconnect after drifting apart.
Reaching the other side of the world has never been easier - except for ten Brits who took on a challenge to travel to the furthest point from the UK by rail and road, without taking a single flight.
They were tasked to journey more than 12,000 miles at ground level to reach Singapore, without phones and bank cards and with just the price of the air fare to get them there.
“The idea of visiting loads of exciting countries which are off the beaten track not very often travelled, the opportunity to visit those places and experience all these cultures, I just couldn’t miss,” says 48-year-old Darron Speck.
He took part in the challenge for new television show Race Across the World with his son Alex Speck-Zolte by his side. The duo, from Thornton, Bradford, were pitted against four other pairs for the competition, which saw the teams navigate five checkpoints en-route in the hope of reaching the final destination first to be awarded a £20,000 prize.
“It will test them physically and emotionally,” narrator John Hannah said, as he introduced the extraordinary journey when the series launched on the small screen on Sunday. He was not wrong.
The first leg, which involved the pairs making their way from Greenwich, London to Delphi in Greece, already proved testing, with 20-year-old Alex claiming he was “at breaking point” as he and his father struggled to find a place to sleep in the Hungarian capital of Budapest.
“I go through a lot of emotions,” says Alex, the race’s youngest participant. “I cry, I laugh, everything really. I am myself through the whole thing. You will see every emotion going.”
“I saw Alex transform from a boy to a man,” his dad chips in. “How he starts the series compared to how he ends is a different person for the better.”
For Darron, a business analyst working on IT systems, the adventure was another to add to his list. He has travelled large parts of the world solo, hitchhiking and cycling to experience the globe’s hidden gems and immersing himself amongst each country’s people.
“I love getting out and about experiencing new things and seeing new cultures. My day job is very regimented...to relax, I do the polar opposite.”
His travels have seen him sleep in tents on top of mountains, in the wilderness and even at the side of an active volcano.
But, whilst he is used to “the unpredictability and hardship” that travelling can bring, for son Alex, it was a leap out of his comfort zone.
“It was a bit weird not getting a shower and having to wear dirty clothes at times,” he says. He is seen packing Versace aftershave in the show’s first episode, as Darron explains to the camera that his son has “a pretty cushy life and no responsibility”.
“The most difficult thing was that we would go to a restaurant to eat and have to pick the cheapest thing on the menu,” Alex says. “Some places we didn’t even know what it was. We ate some pretty bad food.”
The pair, who only met their fellow competitors on the start line, had just £1,329 each with which to complete the journey.
The show’s production team estimated each individual would have roughly £25 per day each to cover all their expenses - food, water, travel and accommodation.
Darron and Alex repeatedly reevaluated their money. “Sometimes we had to decide can we afford to eat?,” says Darron. “Can we afford to sleep in a hotel? These things that most people take for granted were constantly on our mind...You are very conscious that every decision you make could potentially stop you getting to the end.”
They were able to work to make money on the way but each hour they spent earning, was one less they spent on the go.
When they did take on jobs, they tried to choose those that offered accommodation or enabled them to meet people who could help them with information, Alex says. They had only a map of the world, travel guide with job adverts and their cash.
“I would say probably the hardest part for me was having to talk and communicate and get on with strangers,” says Darron. “I’m probably an introvert by nature but I had to be extrovert to help us.”
“We have different traits. My dad wasn’t too good at speaking to strangers whereas I would,” Alex chips in. “We did rely on the kindness of strangers.”
“We had a bit of a saying that I was the head and Alex was the heart,” Darron agrees. “Situations change constantly so sometimes my skills were really beneficial but sometimes being able to approach people with a smile and humour was needed.”
It was a trip of high and low moments for the both of them - and one of the most memorable was being stuck on board a boat on the Caspian sea for five days. Despite time ticking, the ship had to anchor down and stay put until a storm had passed.
“We were running out of food. We were running out of water. We couldn’t go out on the deck because of the storm. Most of the time we were in this small room with nothing to do,” says Darron.
Alex was ready to quit. “That was probably Alex’s lowest point but I think it was the making of him as well. I think he became a different person at that point. For lack of a better way of putting it, he grew up.”
Whilst the men were in it to win it, their journey was not just one of miles. The father and son hoped that their travels would help them bond after becoming distant in recent years.
“Alex and I used to be really close,” Darron says on the show. “Without a shadow of a doubt we have drifted apart and we have drifted apart pretty severely.
“He’s getting to the age where I think if we don’t reconnect now, it’s going to be harder and harder the older he gets.”
It has been a learning curve for them both. “I have found out more about dad than I would have,” reflects Alex.
The pair would often argue previously and he hoped he could re-establish a closer relationship with his father, whilst testing his ability to adapt and boosting his confidence. “We stuck together for 24 hours a day so we got to know each other more.”
“I have learned to see Alex as a person and not just my child, my son,” Darron adds.
“I got to know him as an adult. I have seen him transform during the trip from a child to a man and that is quite a privilege. I have learned a lot about who Alex is. I got to know him as a person, as a friend.”
Would they do it again? Neither hesitate with a resounding yes.
Race Across the World airs Sundays at 9pm on BBC Two. The next episode will see the teams leave Delphi for the next checkpoint of Baku in Azerbaijan.