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Long Way Round

Long Way Round (LWR) is a documentary television series, DVD set and book documenting the journey of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman from London to New York on motorcycles. They travelled eastwards through Europe and Asia, flew to Alaska and continued by road from there to New York.

Overview

From 14 April 2004 to 29 July 2004, McGregor, Boorman, motorcycle riding cameraman Claudio von Planta and their support crew travelled from London to New York, via Western and Central Europe, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia and Canada, for a cumulative distance of . The only sections of the trip not undertaken by motorcycle were by train in Siberia, a short impassable section towards the end of their Russian journey, which was undertaken by truck, and a flight from Magadan in eastern Russia to Anchorage, Alaska. Upon encountering numerous swollen rivers and a serious lack of functioning bridges while travelling along the Road of Bones to Magadan, the riders got their motorbikes through some fairly deep rivers. However, the summer run-off from the Siberian winter was in full flow and after a valiant effort, the bikes eventually had to be loaded into the trucks of passing drivers and ferried across some of the worst rivers.

The journey visited twelve countries, starting in the UK, then passing through France, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, USA and Canada, ending in New York. In early episodes of the series the narration claims that they will visit 13 countries, which is consistent with a map in the book version which shows they briefly entered Kyrgystan while travelling between the Kazakh cities of Shymkent and Almaty. However, the entry into Kyrgystan is not explicitly mentioned in the text of the book or TV series and the "13 countries" reference could possibly be a mistake, perhaps because they entered Russia more than once or counted Alaska or Siberia as a separate country.

The team mainly stayed in hotels while travelling in Europe, North America and populated parts of Russia but frequently had no option but to camp after reaching Kazakhstan and Mongolia. They took time to visit a variety of sights and landmarks while travelling, including the Church of Bones in the Czech Republic, the Mask of Sorrow monument in Magadan, Russia and Mount Rushmore in the USA. They ultimately arrived in New York on schedule and rode into the city accompanied by a phalanx of bikers, including McGregor's father Jim and the Orange County Choppers crew.

Support crew

In addition to McGregor, Boorman and von Planta, the LWR team also had a support crew which comprised producers David Alexanian and Russ Malkin, and cameraman Jim Simak. For the section of the journey through Russia and Asia, they were also accompanied by security advisor Sergey and doctor Vasily. The support crew travelled in two Mitsubishi off-road vehicles — a red L200 Animal LWB 4x4 pick-up and a black Shogun Warrior DI-D automatic estate — and generally followed about a day behind the bikers, meeting up at border crossings and when circumstances dictated a greater degree of teamwork was necessary, such as at the aforementioned river crossings.

Prior to leaving London, McGregor and Boorman received specialist training in a variety of disciplines. Operating within hostile and dangerous environments (e.g. illegal checkpoints and gun-toting locals) was covered by the ex SAS Major, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton. Off-road riding, Russian language and motorbike maintenance were also covered prior to their departure. They also took practical advice from experts and embassy officials about the various countries they were to visit. During the first aid training, McGregor decided they would have to take a doctor with them on the main part of the trip, where they would be far from other medical help.

A small army of researchers, dubbed "Ewan and Charley's Angels", also helped to get the team on the road. Claudio von Planta's mother was called into service to personally deliver a new passport from Switzerland to her son, as Claudio did not have enough space in his passport for all the visas they would need. Claudio also discovered that his Swiss motorbike licence was invalid for several of the countries they would visit and had to take a new test in the UK. The day before departure, he failed his test for failing to check his mirrors while changing direction. He therefore missed the start of the trip, and flew out to Prague to join the team after passing at the second attempt.

Bikes

McGregor advocated riding BMW motorcycles, while Boorman preferred KTM, a specialist Austrian moto-cross and off-road bike manufacturer. They had also considered Honda bikes. After off-road tests on the KTM and BMW machines, McGregor acquiesced to Boorman's passion for the KTM. However, after one of their specialist terrain riders met with the LWR team and learned more about their intentions, KTM refused to provide them with their bikes, as the trip seemed too dangerous, or perhaps unlikely to generate the right publicity for KTM. Boorman took the news particularly badly as he had long been desperate to ride a KTM on such a journey.

BMW then contributed three BMW R1150GS Adventure all-terrain motorcycles. The bikes featured a range of modifications to help the team achieve and document their mission. The bikes were also equipped with cameras, microphones and display / viewfinder screens mounted on the dashboards. A customized GPS system with specially mapped waypoints in Mongolia and Siberia was crucial in areas with no roads or signposting.

The authorities

The first problem with Customs officials came when the team crossed from the Czech Republic into Slovakia. They hadn't stamped their carnet (a document which ensures that expensive items brought into a country have not been sold) when entering the Czech Republic, which could have meant the seizure of their cameras. A fee was paid and the team was allowed to continue with their equipment. A similar problem occurred when crossing into Ukraine. Border guards insisted on original copies of the vehicle registration certificates, while the team was only carrying photocopies. After around 12 hours, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry contacted the checkpoint and insisted that the team be let through.

The team had problems of a different nature with the police in Kazakhstan, who often insisted on escorting the team through the country. The journey quickly became local headline news and the police would sometimes bring the team to impromptu welcoming parties, usually featuring television news crews and offerings of fermented milk. The team grew tired of these unscheduled events and eventually insisted they be allowed to travel alone. However, after an incident when a passenger in a passing car pointed a handgun at them on a deserted stretch of highway, the team realized the value of police protection and were glad to see the authorities when they reached the next town.

Filming

The on-board cameras used by McGregor and Boorman were designed specifically for the trip by Sonic Communications after consultation with the team during the preparation stage. Each rider controlled two cameras, the first of which was built into their helmets and provided panoramic views from the front of the bike. The second camera was removable which allowed McGregor and Boorman to hold the cameras or attach them to the front or rear of the bike depending on where they wanted to film. This was especially useful as they could be removed to prevent theft or damage while the bikes were unattended. Ewan and Charley could view what they were filming on a small monitor attached to the handlebars. Claudio von Planta carried more sophisticated camera equipment and often went on ahead or stayed behind the others in order to get the desired shots.

Riding for UNICEF

The journey was also used to bring attention to the humanitarian efforts of UNICEF. During the journey, the team took time out to see and film some of UNICEF's work. The projects visited included an orphanage in Ukraine housing children affected by the Chernobyl disaster, a climbing wall built at a youth centre in Kazakhstan, and an outreach project working with street children who live in the heating systems of apartment blocks in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Accidents

The trip was inevitably not without accidents and incidents. Ewan McGregor had petrol sprayed into his (recently laser-corrected) eyes at filling stations on two occasions (one of which required a trip to an optometrist in Ukraine), once when petrol gushed out of his own bike's tank while filling and the other when Boorman attempted to stop a petrol pump by putting his finger over the nozzle, only to send a jet of fuel directly into McGregor's face. McGregor's forehead became badly swollen around a mosquito bite in Kazakhstan (Claudio and Ewan joked that it could be a black widow spider bite) which required treatment and threatened to curtail the adventure. McGregor also showed his badly bitten rear and revealed that his penis had become swollen and painful during the trip, again due to mosquito bites.

Russ Malkin and Vassili rolled their off-roader in Mongolia and were lucky to escape with minor injuries. Boorman badly strained the muscles in his left shoulder in Siberia and was unable to ride for several days (this occurred while they were unable to cross the rivers and were largely riding on local trucks and with their support crew). McGregor was rear-ended by a very young driver outside Calgary and was lucky that his panniers took the brunt of what could have been a very serious incident had the rear wheel taken the full force of the impact. The following day Boorman was bumped while stationary by a Calgarian who reversed into him at slow speed, fortunately without causing injury or major damage. Cameraman Claudio von Planta suffered the only theft of the trip, when an opportunist thief stole his tent and personal effects which had been briefly left unattended while in Siberia.

In the pits

The bikes also took their fair share of punishment. Cameraman von Planta's bike had a broken frame after a bad fall in Mongolia and only a "bodge job" by Boorman using tyre levers and cable-ties enabled them to get the bike to the next town where the frame could be welded. However, after the frame was arc welded, the anti-lock braking system no longer worked and the entire bike had to be shipped to Ulaanbaatar. A replacement was found locally (nicknamed 'The Red Devil'), a new Russian-made red IZh Planeta 5, purchased for US$1000. This bike later broke down and was restarted with help from local passers-by. The frame of McGregor's bike broke in two places in Siberia leaving them no option but to flag down a passing truck which took them back to Tynda for more welding.

One of McGregor's greatest fears was drawing water into his engine, and this ultimately afflicted him twice while crossing the Siberian rivers. However, he calmly took the necessary steps to pump out the water from the engine and exhaust and the bike roared back into life. The bikes also sustained various problems after being incorrectly stowed during the flight from Magadan to Anchorage, necessitating a full service when they arrived in Alaska. Boorman suffered the only serious puncture of the trip and all the bikes suffered various other bumps, scrapes and cracks. However, the bikes ultimately survived the journey.

Music

The music in Long Way Round was picked by Ewan & Charley and features tracks from Stereophonics, Coldplay, Orbital, Massive Attack, Radiohead and others. The theme Song 'Long Way Round' was written and performed by Kelly Jones lead singer of Stereophonics, Ewan discussed ideas for the title song with Kelly Jones by text message during the trip.

DVD

A 2-disc DVD of the journey was released as a mini-series on DVD late in 2005, consisting of seven episodes of about 45 minutes each, totalling around 400 minutes of material. The episodes are unnamed, but cover roughly the following sections of their trip:

  • Episode 1: Preparation;
  • Episode 2: London to Volgograd;
  • Episode 3: Kazakhstan;
  • Episode 4: Barnaul to western Mongolia;
  • Episode 5: Western Mongolia to Yakutsk;
  • Episode 6: Yakutsk to Magadan (the Road of Bones);
  • Episode 7: Anchorage to New York

The accompanying bonus disc contains several short features and deleted scenes.

Special edition

Some time later in 2006 a special edition of the DVD was released, extending the series to a total of ten episodes of about 45 minutes over 3 discs (and without the original version's bonus disc), totalling around 540 minutes of material. Differences between the two versions are notably at the beginning (the original version condenses their trip preparation in one episode, the special edition is over two), and at the end (the original version shows their trip from Anchorage through Canada to New York in one episode, the special edition over two); the special edition also dedicates an entire episode to interviews and a look back of the trip one year later. The special edition's episodes are also unnamed, but cover roughly the following sections of their trip:

  • Episode 1: Preparation, part 1;
  • Episode 2: Preparation, part 2;
  • Episode 3: London to Volgograd;
  • Episode 4: Kazakhstan;
  • Episode 5: Barnaul to western Mongolia;
  • Episode 6: Western Mongolia to Yakutsk;
  • Episode 7: Yakutsk to Magadan (the Road of Bones);
  • Episode 8: Anchorage to Calgary;
  • Episode 9: Calgary to New York;
  • Episode 10: One year later.

Music selection is also slightly different across the two versions.

All the Special Edition episodes, along with free short clips and trailers, can be obtained from the official download store, which is accessible from the Long Way Round website.

Other projects

McGregor, Boorman and the LWR team undertook a second journey known as Long Way Down, riding from John o' Groats in northern Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa in 2007. As with Long Way Round, visiting and raising awareness for UNICEF projects was an important part of the journey. Boorman competed in the 2006 Dakar Rally, which was filmed and broadcast in various countries as Race To Dakar.

Inspiration

McGregor and Boorman were inspired by legendary motorcyclist Ted Simon's book Jupiter's Travels. They met up with Ted in Mongolia.

References

  • "Long Way Round" (DVD), Elixir Productions / Image Wizard Media, 2004. ASIN: B000B5KEEQ
  • "Long Way Round" (book), Time Warner Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0-7515-3680-6

External links

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