‘Expedition Asia’ films new episode in Taiwan

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The "Holy Ridge Trail" (雪山聖稜線) is an awe-inspiring, often razor-thin ridge of mountains in the Shei-pa National Park. (Courtesy of Discovery Channel)

TAIPEI (The China Post) — Ryan Pyle, a noted documentary film producer, and his team visited Taiwan earlier this month to work on a new episode of the television show “Expedition Asia.” The show about travel destinations and natural landscapes in Asia, which will begin next year, will feature the “Holy Ridge Trail” (雪山聖稜線) — an awe-inspiring, often razor-thin ridge of mountains in the Shei-pa National Park.

Upon visiting Taiwan, Ryan Pyle noticed the natural beauty and landscape of the island. He praised Taiwan’s topography for its variety of landscapes, close together, compiled into a small area.

He remarked that in just two days, tourists could travel from the ocean side to the peak of a mountain by foot. Pyle has traveled to many places, and according to him, Taiwan holds its attraction in its own way.

Ryan Pyle stares off into the distance as he hikes on the Holy Ridge. (Courtesy of Discovery Channel)
Ryan Pyle stares off into the distance as he hikes on the Holy Ridge. (Courtesy of Discovery Channel)

Realizing the Explorer in Himself

Growing up in Toronto, Canada, Ryan Pyle could have never envisioned he would be a world explorer. He spent most of his early life through college playing basketball, but once he graduated, he was left with nothing else to do but travel. Thus, he came about his three-month solo trip to China.

If not anything, traveling to China changed Pyle’s life significantly. Admittedly, it is the discipline he learned from training every day for basketball which has honed his perseverance—he has yet to turn back on an expedition.

Following the 2008 financial crisis, Pyle shifted his focus from publishing articles to a different form of content creation: television. In addition to becoming a TV show host, Pyle held many jobs from being a photographer and regular contributor to the New York Times to producing other television series.

Being a storyteller, to him, is his first and foremost job. In relation to his own show, he explained, “I think that on my TV show, I’m never the main host. I’m always the second host. Nature is the first host.”

With this mindset, Pyle has strived to introduce fascinating destinations to viewers at home. He is the liaison between the diversity and culture of the world to his audience and that is what makes the job rewarding.

Overcoming Challenges

Prior to filming in Taiwan, Pyle filmed in Mongolia, which he described as “absolutely beautiful” and “a classic.” He reminisced about Mongolia, saying that it was, “like walking on the moon.” There are only two people per kilometer square in Mongolia, he said.

Mongolia is vast and unoccupied, while Taiwan is dense and heavily populated, he added. A challenge of living in Mongolia is getting from one place to another. Pyle usually had to board a plane for two to three hours. Even though Taiwan is small in space, it can still be a challenge for adventurers.

Endowed abundantly by rugged mountains as a tropical island, Taiwan astonished Ryan Pyle by providing a unique trekking experience. Pyle explained in the excitement that travelers can literally spend a day at the beach, and a day later, at a forest. Taiwan has a diverse landscape that poses challenges to the adventurer.

A steep climb on a rainy day on the Holy Ridge. (Courtesy of Discovery Channel)
A steep climb on a rainy day on the Holy Ridge. (Courtesy of Discovery Channel)

One challenge that Pyle and his team faced while in Taiwan was carrying 300 kilograms worth of camera equipment up to the mountains because the mountains of Taiwan are very steep. To carry 300 kilograms worth of camera equipment, Pyle hired Ross and Neil, two people who eventually assembled a big team of 14 aboriginals who were familiar with the environment to help with the equipment and other essentials.

He also had to plan accordingly before he set out on his whole expedition trip, as he mentioned that during the winter times in Taiwan, the “Holy Ridge” mountains would snow, making trekking difficult and dangerous.

Besides, since the Holy Ridge Trail was 3,000 meters above sea level, the temperatures were drastically different than the city weather. Pyle stated that at the start of each “Expedition Asia” episode, he starts by filming in the city, and later on, he heads towards the special landscape that each country provided.

Normally, in Taipei City, it is usually somewhere between 28-30 degrees Celsius, but up in the Holy Ridge Trail, the temperature can drop to below 0 degrees Celsius during the nighttime. It was a challenge adjusting to such a temperature drop.

The challenges that Pyle faced were not just physical but mental as well. A mental challenge that he faced was his biggest fear, which was taking absolute control of the situation and preplanning everything out. Pyle stated that “Going on an adventure is all about adapting to the change; the most important thing about an adventure is to adapt to the changes and the unknown.”

If everything in the adventure was controlled, then the adventure will lose its excitement and become dull. He joked about making terrible television and being lazy if he organized everything beforehand.

Despite all the challenges, Pyle also spoke about the most memorable moment on the journey. At the last day of the trip in the “Holy Ridge Trail,” the team stayed at a lodge in Snow mountain. It had rained terribly the previous days, but the team insisted on waking up at 4:30 am to see the sunrise on the last day.

Amazingly, the weather turned out to be perfect and they got to witness a spectacular sunrise. For Pyle, that breathtaking scenery was worth all the efforts in overcoming the challenges.

Views above the clouds from the highest altitude on the Holy Ridge (Courtesy of Discovery Channel).

Igniting the Spark

Through his work, Pyle hopes to inspire both younger and working audiences to step out of their comfort zones. To him, too many people are burdened by the weight of societal expectations, which unfortunately drags them away from experimenting with their robust dreams.

Whether it is being stuck in an office cubicle or worried what other peers might say, Pyle pushes his audience to challenge and encourage themselves to commit to the seemingly “impossible”.

“For young people, try everything,” Pyle says. “If people or society tell you it is not possible, you should try. You’re young. You have no spouse, no children. This is the time to take risks and try everything.”

As for his working audience who are hesitant to leave their orderly lifestyles to travel, Pyles advises, “if you travel all the time, you don’t have a home but you also love what you do.

The cost is worth it. I’ve really embraced a different lifestyle, and I’ve dedicated my life to storytelling. So yes, you could stay where you are, or you can be like me and love seeing new things every day.”

Speaking of his source of inspiration, Pyle credits his past in competitive basketball for granting him the ability to maintain a strong mental space. According to him, playing sports is one of the greatest methods for building strength mentally to complete demanding adventures.

“Everything is very mental and psychological, being able to deal with discomfort is all very sports-related,” Pyle says. “A lot of times, most people fail when it comes to having the strength to push themselves mentally, but I have a strong background in these things because of sports.”

In fact, Pyle and his crew have never given up filming because of hardship. “A lot of times, it is 80 percent mental strength and 10 percent luck and physical capability,” Pyle admits. “And we’ve never had to turn back. We’ve been lucky, of course, but we also are a really great crew.”

Ryan Pyle poses as he climbs up a mountain on the Holy Ridge. (Courtesy of Discovery Channel)

What Comes Next?

When finished with “Expedition Asia,” Pyle plans to start a new television series immediately. “When I am done with this current series [“Experidition Asia”], I will start right away on a new one. It is what I love, and it drives me,” Pyle says. As of now, he has directed, produced and managed more than three shows.

Although many may perceive Pyle as just another reporter on television trying to push the importance of preserving nature, Pyle himself disagrees with this vision. To him, his ultimate goal is to demonstrate his version of the world onto others.

Although he is an advocate of environmental awareness, he hopes to stray away from being the common newsman who constantly reports on the importance of saving the natural world. “I feel like people are constantly met with news telling them about how they need to save the world,” Pyle says.

“And after a long day of work, I hope to be something people can return to without having to worry about listening to another tiresome rant. And I hope when they sit down to watch my show, they’ll see the world as beautifully as I see it.” ●

By Yuka Miyazaki, Sabrina Lin, Phoebe Chen, Amelia Chea, and Lillian Lu