The BBC had an ambitious plan to send three bikers and three drivers down the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam. The only catch was that this team of amateur presenters were all physically handicapped.
No Back Brake
Explore Indochina was asked to prepare a 125cc Minsk motorcycle rideable for a partially deaf gal (attach an enormous horn), a 125cc Minsk motorcycle rideable for a guy with no left arm (use a motorbike an automatic Honda engine with no clutch), and a 650cc Ural rideable for a guy with no right leg (big problem because how will he use the back drum brake?).
‘Oh’, the BBC added, we also need a Landcruiser that is drivable for a gal with no right leg (i.e. no acceleration), a guy with no control of both legs (i.e. no brakes or acceleration), and one gal who was a little shorter than her mates.
The BBC promised to send us a kind of solenoid valve type piston that would allow the guy with no right leg (i.e. no back drum brake) to press a button which would apply the back drum brake on his Ural motorcycle. They also asked us to buy a cheap, automatic Toyota Land Cruiser. They promised that a specialist mechanic would arrive in Hanoi to modify the Toyota so that the gal with no right leg and the guy with no control of either of his legs could both drive it.
With just one day to go before the shoot, the special equipment designed to make the Ural ridable for the guy with no right leg finally arrived. To our horror, it was not a solenoid valve piston, but rather a US$2,5000 double clutch/brake hydraulic lever designed explicitly for motorcycles that have disk brakes on both front and back wheels.
Big problem!! The Ural motorcycle uses drum brakes on the rear wheel, something we had told the BBC a thousand times already. We quickly had to work out a way to weld and fit an entire disk brake system onto the Ural.
Digby was never sure what his job was, but he ended up leading the cast and crew down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, much like a regular tour. Little did he know that he was officially the health and safety officer. What could go wrong?
A heck of a lot, as it turned out! The Toyota ended up blowing a gasket because of very high outside temperatures and because all the special equipment that made it drivable blocked the red light that showed how hot the engine oil was. Once the gasket blew, the powered steering was shot, and the Toyota crashed into the barrier. Luckily there was no oncoming traffic, so that scene made it to the show.
Unfortunately, our jerry-rigged, one-day-old, back-disk brake broke off when the Ural was ridden down an extraordinarily steep and extended mountain pass (think 16 degrees for three kilometres). Fortunately, the cameras were not running, so Digby and the British car mechanic made some frantic repairs while the directors weren’t looking to the Ural and the Landcruiser (whose bonnet was showing an alarming tendency to flip up, completely blocking the driver’s view of the road).
They Made It!
The shoot itself was hot, long, and tedious, as they always are, but hanging out with the six presenters was great fun and rewarding. Aside from the challenge of negotiating their vehicles down Vietnam’s madcap roads, the team abseiled into a river cave, saw live UXO (unexploded ordinance) get blown up, interviewed Vietnamese people who had lost limbs to UXO, paddled boats out to see endangered Languor monkeys, and visited many of Vietnam’s famous tourist sites. It is an excellent, emotional, and warm TV show, which we highly recommend.