Rocky Mountain Road Trip
Three trailblazing women – Ruby Wax, Melanie Brown and Emily Atack – come together to re-trace the footsteps of intrepid Victorian explorer, Isabella Bird, whose exploits have largely been lost to history.
At a time when most explorers were men, Yorkshire born Isabella was a trailblazer. Being prescribed mountain air to cure her malaise, in 1873 Isabella set off on her travels across the globe to find exactly that. Travelling alone, she crossed the lawless American Wild West, riding 800 miles on horseback through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She befriended outlaws, climbed mountains and faced grizzly bears, in what was a restrictive era for women in Britain.
Using her original 1873 book A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains as inspiration for their own historic American adventure, Ruby, Mel and Emily want to pay homage to this forgotten pioneer. They explore the people, places and curious customs of an ever-changing America, while reflecting on the changes in Western society over the last 150 years and their own experience of womanhood.
Trailblazers (3×60) is made by Studio Ramsay. The Executive Producers are Jo Bishop, Lisa Edwards and Gordon Ramsay and Series Director/Series Producer is Jill Worsley. It was commissioned by Catherine Catton, Head of Commissioning, Popular Factual and Factual Entertainment and the BBC Commissioning Editor is Max Gogarty.
In conversation with Emily Atack, Melanie Brown and Ruby Wax
As the youngest in the group, Emily’s travels have been confined to clubbing in Ibiza and holidays with her mum, making the American West way out of her comfort zone. Not letting that stop her on this voyage of discovery, Emily throws herself into anything and everything.
“Learning about Isabella Bird and what she put herself through really gives this trip meaning, everything we did whilst following in her footsteps was very humbling. I had Mel and Ruby to make me laugh and keep me company. Isabella didn’t even wear any shoes when horseback riding through the mountains, I had a Spice Girl galloping behind me!”
“I come into my own when I’m physically and mentally challenged, and it does me good to get outdoors and push myself. When I’m stripped of my comforts, I always seem to find a better version of me. It was amazing.”
For Ruby this is the journey of a lifetime – following in the footsteps of one of her biggest heroines, as she recaptures some of the wayward spirit of her youth. Voraciously inquisitive, she wants to take the trio well off the beaten track to meet the characters living in the hinterland.
“Isabella Bird left Yorkshire after surgery on her spine (without anaesthetic) in both physical and mental agony. She began riding on horseback 800 miles through Colorado, and then onward to many countries across the world. She never stopped moving and besides being one of the world’s greatest adventurers, I believe it helped her cope with her pain. I feel a connection to her in that I never stop moving either, maybe because I’m running away from something, but in that running away there are such rewards. Life is thrilling and everything is a novel. I just don’t have a horse handy!”
“The reason I did Trailblazers: A Rocky Mountain Road Trip is because Isabella Bird is my heroine. We were tracking her 800 mile journey on horseback through the Rocky Mountains. She actually walked and travelled the equivalent of three times around the world throughout her years. She rode with only a backpack, sometimes slept in the snow and faced constant danger, either from the wild desperados or wild animals. She climbed 15,000 ft mountains and wrangled cattle throughout the state. She had no fear and yet most people have never heard about her. Hopefully now they will.”
Mel feels a strong connection with Isabella Bird: closest in age to the explorer when she set off on her travels; both born in Yorkshire and keen to seek out adventure – she also wouldn’t take no for an answer. A kindred spirit to the Victorian pioneer of girl power, Mel wants to discover who Isabella really was and what made her tick.
“I thrive from being around really strong, independent and opinionated women. So when Trailblazers: A Rocky Mountain Road Trip got presented to me, going away with these two amazing ladies: you’re going to on this journey and follow the path of this unsung, forgotten hero, I thought ‘wow I would like to watch that show because I’ve never heard of this woman’, and to do it along Ruby and Emily, for me it was just a no-brainer.”
“What stands out for me is that firstly whilst it’s an educational show – you learn about a woman who hasn’t been put in the public domain in this century – and secondly, we are three girls from three different walks of life helping each other, figuring stuff out and having an absolute blast doing it and making really good TV! It’s hectic, informational and a lot of fun.”
Trailblazers: A Rocky Mountain Road Trip airs on BBC Two and iPlayer. Episode one will air on Mon 28 November at 9pm.
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