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Are we there yet? ‘Big Crazy Family Adventure’ sees parents take two young sons 13,000 miles round the world using every form of transport EXCEPT planes

  • Bruce Kirkby and his wife Christine Pitkanen took their two sons aged three and seven on a holiday of a lifetime
  • They travelled by canoe, carrier ship, tuk-tuk, riverboat and even a yak as they went from Canada to the Himalayas
  • Their adventures were filmed as part of a nine-episode series, which saw them reach a remote Buddhist monastery

By

Becky Pemberton For Mailonline


Published:
01:06 EST, 3 September 2015

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Updated:
01:06 EST, 3 September 2015

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Travelling with children is a challenge for most parents – so the mother and father who took their two boys, three and seven, on a 13,000 mile journey from Canada to the Himalayas without a single plane journey deserve the utmost respect.

Bruce Kirkby and Christine Pitkanen’s ultimate destination was a cliff-side Buddhist monastery in the Zanskar Valley and to get there the family’s modes of transport included rickshaws, yaks, trains and canoes.

Their epic journey was filmed for a nine-episode series, Big Crazy Family Adventure, which shows how they achieved their ambitious goal and saw incredible sights such as the Great Wall of China and Hong Kong’s Shingo La Pass along the way.

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Intrepid explorers: Bruce Kirkby and his wife Christine Pitkanen took their two sons Bodi and Taj, aged three and seven, on a holiday of a lifetime including seeing sights such as the Great Wall of China

Intrepid explorers: Bruce Kirkby and his wife Christine Pitkanen took their two sons Bodi and Taj, aged three and seven, on a holiday of a lifetime including seeing sights such as the Great Wall of China

Apart from planes, the brood journeyed 13,000 miles from Canada to the Himalayas using every form of transport including the pictured rickshaw

Apart from planes, the brood journeyed 13,000 miles from Canada to the Himalayas using every form of transport including the pictured rickshaw

Their adventures were filmed as part of a nine-episode series, which saw them eventually reach a remote Buddhist monastery in Zanskar

Their adventures were filmed as part of a nine-episode series, which saw them eventually reach a remote Buddhist monastery in Zanskar

Not the usual mode of transport: The family got the chance to ride on yaks as part of their epic land and sea adventure

Not the usual mode of transport: The family got the chance to ride on yaks as part of their epic land and sea adventure

Kirkby and Pitkanen describe how they had dreams of staying at the Buddhist location but that the ‘someday’ never seemed to come.

Following the birth of their sons Bodi and Taj, they decided to clear their schedules and head out on the road in pursuit of fulfilling their mission. 

‘We were attracted to the idea of the grand, overland journey – a romantic thing of the past almost now,’ Bruce told MailOnline Travel.

Their decision to attempt the mission by land and sea was one inspired by Bruce’s dad’s emigration from England to Canada in the 50s, where he returned by steamer.

‘Planes are kind of like magic time machines, we get in, have a meal, snooze a bit or watch movie, and wake up in Bangkok or Singapore – which a few generations ago would have taken four weeks or more to reach,’ he expanded. 

‘In that sense, planes diminish not just time and distance, but everything else in between, the great frontiers and natural barriers and civilizations.’

The family witnessed colourful flags and bunting decorating mountain dwellings on their mission to the Himalayan monastery

The family witnessed colourful flags and bunting decorating mountain dwellings on their mission to the Himalayan monastery

Journalist Bruce and wife Christine had travelled extensively prior to the birth of their sons and dreamed of completing the mission 

Journalist Bruce and wife Christine had travelled extensively prior to the birth of their sons and dreamed of completing the mission 

Let me take a selfie: Taj leans in for a picture with a Tibetan monk, as others smile in the background

Let me take a selfie: Taj leans in for a picture with a Tibetan monk, as others smile in the background

Rolling landscapes: The 96-day trip saw them experience snow-capped mountains, fishing in lakes and canoeing

Rolling landscapes: The 96-day trip saw them experience snow-capped mountains, fishing in lakes and canoeing

And so the clan set off, with a TV crew from TravelChannel in tow, to capture the escapades they experienced along the way. 

The mission began in canoes from their home in the Canadian Rockies, and the family chose to leave behind anything they couldn’t carry. 

With the highs of witnessing sights such as water buffalo, the jungles of Nepal and the baking plains of India, there were also lows.

‘We had a rough night on the Ganges riverboat in 100+ degree conditions,’ Bruce said. 

‘It was a humid night with a terrible hatch of bugs and the possibility of malarial mosquitoes so we had to keep windows closed. We slept basically in the bilge, which reeked of diesel fuel. 

‘It was one of those nights you are just wishing would end. We got the kids to Varanasi as quick as we could the next day and quickly got them a lassi yoghurt drink.’ 

Taking to the water, the family-of-four were creative with how they completed their vast journey

Taking to the water, the family-of-four were creative with how they completed their vast journey

Peering out of a train window Bodi admires the incredible view of picturesque forests and mountains 

Peering out of a train window Bodi admires the incredible view of picturesque forests and mountains 

The family visited the North Base Camp at Mount Everest, before the recent earthquake, although not everyone was thrilled

The family visited the North Base Camp at Mount Everest, before the recent earthquake, although not everyone was thrilled

The riverboat was only one of the varied and diverse forms of transport which carried them along their adventure.

The family used everything from a 77,000-ton container ship, bullet-trains, tuk-tuks, narrow-gauge trains, rickshaw and even yaks on their 96-day trip.

On the massive container ship, Christine made the boys wear life jackets, as the large railings were not intended for children. 

The family also got to sample food that they normally wouldn’t have come across in Canada, such as larvae and scorpion.

Despite the monastery being a difficult location to reach, the intrepid travellers managed to reach the traditional settlement.

Witnessing incredible architecture and exploring on boats was part of the slow journey
Witnessing incredible architecture and exploring on boats was part of the slow journey, which parents Bruce and Christine hoped would bring the family closer together

Witnessing incredible architecture and exploring on boats was part of the slow journey, which parents Bruce and Christine hoped would bring the family closer together

Up close and personal: Taj smiles in the arms of mum Christine as a shaggy dog leans in for a sniff

Up close and personal: Taj smiles in the arms of mum Christine as a shaggy dog leans in for a sniff

Luxury accommodation: The boys had been brought up camping so were more than used to spending nights under the stars

Luxury accommodation: The boys had been brought up camping so were more than used to spending nights under the stars

‘Being with the boys was the best bit, and watching them enjoy and discover new experiences,’ Bruce said. 

‘Tibet is a magical place, I have been before but was privileged to take my family back. Staying at a monastery and becoming part of that community and falling in love with all the young monks we taught English to was also very special.’

Sons Bodi and Taj were no strangers to travel before their intrepid holiday. 

At only two months, Bodi had been camping in the mountains and by 16 months had spent a quarter of his life in a tent. 

On the massive container ship, Christine made the boys wear life jackets, as the large railings were not intended for children

On the massive container ship, Christine made the boys wear life jackets, as the large railings were not intended for children

The boys watch as Christine has a turn riding an elephant, before the whole family get to wash the giant creatures

The boys watch as Christine has a turn riding an elephant, before the whole family get to wash the giant creatures

The arrival of Taj did nothing to damper their wanderlust, with the young brood heading to Republic of Georgia to trek the length of Caucasus for 70 days. 

‘The effect of that time alone with boys, away from the noise of modern life, had a big impact on me, I realised how distracted I was at home, how much our relationships changed, for the better, when we went away for big journeys,’ Bruce said. 

‘Next we’d like to get the boys down to South America – the culture there has great reverence for youth and elders that is missing in the western world, and it could have a huge positive impact on kids I believe.’

The nine-part Big Crazy Family Adventure is now on TravelChannel, and available for download on Amazon. 

Sounds familiar: Taj poses outside the Taj Mahal in India, just one of the stops on their way to Zanskar Valley

Sounds familiar: Taj poses outside the Taj Mahal in India, just one of the stops on their way to Zanskar Valley

Taj gets intricate henna applied to his upper arm by a local woman while the Canadian family visited India

Taj gets intricate henna applied to his upper arm by a local woman while the Canadian family visited India

The nine-part Big Crazy Family Adventure is now on TravelChannel, and available for download on Amazon

The nine-part Big Crazy Family Adventure is now on TravelChannel, and available for download on Amazon

  

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