Former England cricket captain Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff tells What’s On TV about his latest challenge – to cycle 1,600 miles through the Brazilian rainforest, in incredible heat and humidity, for a two-part Sky1 documentary Flintoff’s Road to Nowhere (premieres Friday, April 4)…
For this show you spent a month cycling through the Brazilian rainforest on the Trans-Amazonian Highway with your environmentalist pal Rob Penn. What made you want to do it?
“I wanted to learn more about the rainforest and why it’s being cut down. It was the chance to see it first hand – and sleep in it and cycle through it!”
You’re known for your cricket, but had you done any cycling before this?
“I did a charity cycle from Athens to London about two years ago, but I didn’t do any training so I really struggled, especially through the Alps! I was about 3st heavier than I am now and I vowed never to get on a bike again after that!”
How did you find cycling in the heat of Brazil?
“It was tiring. I’ve never been to bed so early in my life. We’d be in bed for 9pm and then get up at 6am with the sun. I’ve played cricket in 40 degrees before, so I don’t mind the heat, but I got saddle sore in places I didn’t know I had – by the end, my buttocks were hotter than a dragon’s nostril! I also fell off a few times, too!”
Did you feel in any danger cycling on Brazil’s roads?
“Yes! The roads are dry and dusty and you can’t really see. The first week was spent just getting used to the traffic and I did feel vulnerable. In Brazil there are no rules and the truck drivers just aren’t bothered! I used to have motorbikes, but I got rid of them because I didn’t want my sons growing up around them, but pushbikes are probably equally as dangerous and you don’t wear anything to protect you other than Lycra!”
You slept out in the wild in hammocks every night… How did you find that?
“I was told it was the best way of sleeping, which I’m not sure about! It’s meant to be the closest thing to being in the womb, but I was glad to get back to my bed – I like my home comforts.”
Did you come across any dangerous animals?
“We woke up one morning and there were jaguar tracks! We also went swimming and if we’d gone further down river there would have been stingrays, which was worrying. We were also visited by a big hair tarantula! My daughter Holly was most worried snakes would get me. Mercifully, they didn’t!”
How did the local people react to you?
“They don’t really know about cricket in Brazil, so that was really nice. I’d just turn up to places and they didn’t know who I was! But the people were brilliant – everyone was very accommodating. My favourite bit was when we got the chance to teach English in a local school and I’ve probably found my vocation in life – I really enjoyed it!”
You looked like you were having a good time playing football with local lads, who all seemed to possess terrific skills…
“I’m a terrible footballer! We got the opportunity to play and you’re in Brazil so you have to. I played football as a kid and had a few games for Preston, but I’m not a football fan really. But I loved this opportunity, even though I missed a sitter!”
Did you come away with an opinion about how and why the rainforests are being cut down and how it could be stopped?
“One of the things I found was that the wood from the trees is a huge commodity for Brazil and it’s hard to tell the Brazilian people that they can’t use that. I think there are ways of doing it responsibly, though.”
You also attended a local rodeo where you and Rob were invited to catch a greased pig… How was that?
“I felt sorry for that pig. He stunk as well – was really smelly. I couldn’t get the grease off, but yeah I got into it…”
How did you find the gold mines you visited?
“I loved that visit. I watch gold mining shows on The History Channel. The only thing about those gold shows is that they never find anything! But I got a pan out and found gold, it’s easy! They did give me some, not much, but they were so nice. It was at a little family mine and they gave me this little nugget of gold. It’s worth about £30, so it’s more of a keepsake…”
You were away for a month. Did you get homesick?
“Yeah, it was hard. We had satellite phones, but they were useless and the kids didn’t want to speak to me anyway because they were always busy doing something else.”
You retired from cricket because of injury, but are you still involved in the game?
“My sons play and I help out with the cricket team. All the other kids listen to me but mine don’t! I have around 70 academies and I’m also getting involved at the Lancashire academy on a voluntary basis. I still enjoy cricket, but I just want to do it on my terms – I don’t want to make a living out of it.”
You’ve taken on a lot of challenges lately, but are there any other things you’d still like to do?
“Yes, so many. I’d love to go back to Africa and also spend time in India. I was there as a cricketer. but I didn’t see much, so I’d like to get out there and explore.”