There were times of great wonder. And, every so often, flashes of magic. Like when we were riding at the end
of the day and the sun, setting in the west, warmed our backs and threw our shadows ahead of us on the road. Just chasing our shadows
as we headed east. All the way round the world to get home.
—Ewan McGregor, Long Way Round
Ewan McGregor, star of Star Wars,
and his best friend, actor Charley Boorman, are at home in London this week and reminiscing over the phone about being thousands
of miles away on their motorcycles.
Their adventurous ride last year from London to New York, through Europe, Russia, Mongolia,
Alaska and eventually Canada, premieres on the Outdoor Life Network this Tuesday and they're always happy for an excuse to
talk about those faraway days. And especially for a chance to talk about their motorcycles.
"I love riding bikes and the landscape
kind of evolves about you," says McGregor. "You're part of it and you're not protected from it. There's something unique about
carrying all that you have on a motorcycle and being in terrain where there's no roads."
"Yeah," says Boorman. "The great thing
that a motorbike offers is that during the whole day, you're in your own world. Although you're on the same trip, you've almost
got your own trip. In a car, it must be a bit more difficult, together for hours on end. And if we drove a car, we'd argue over
who got to do the driving..."
Their seven-part television show, Long Way Round, has already been broadcast in a number of countries,
including the U.S., according them immediate status as extraordinary motorcyclists. It's raised close to a million dollars
The trip was quite a physical achievement, too: 26,000 kilometres, much of it through swamp and mud, over bridgeless
Asian rivers and along remote unsigned tracks. Their high-profile trip has inspired many, though some criticize the venture
as an exploitation of their ability to garner sponsorship, riding donated BMW Adventurer bikes and pursued by donated Mitsubishi
rally trucks, loaded with tools and support. A cameraman rode alongside on another BMW to film when he could.
But all this just
makes for a more engaging show, putting the viewer right there in the saddle, and there's no doubt that Long Way Round has
raised the profile of adventure motorcycling no end.
"There were really no setups," says McGregor. "The only one I remember was when we had to attend a goat
polo match in Kazakhstan, and that was only because we had six hours (of finished TV) to deliver and people were nervous that we
wouldn't be able to fill it. But Charley and I were always very confident.
"We just wanted to experience the journey and we felt
confident the TV side of things would take care of itself and it did."
There's drama and impending danger throughout, fuelled
in the beginning by mistrust and a fear of robbery and bureaucrats, but much of the real risk was of their own making; the
only serious incident occurred just outside Calgary when a teenager drove his Honda Civic into the back of McGregor's bike.
been on the road for almost five months and about to head into Africa. Now after approximately 200 Ewan McGregor comparisons,
none is worse than the one I had the other day.
As I pulled up to a stoplight, an Australian couple pulled up next to me on their
rented scooter. The girl quickly said in her thick Aussie accent: "Hey mate, are you Ewan McGregor?" I looked at her in disbelief and
just shook my head. She then said "Oh, so you saw the movie and you are now riding around the world?"
Again I just shook my head
wishing the light would turn green, I swear this is the longest light on the planet. She then said again, "Are you sure you are
Now Ewan, I haven't seen your movie so I couldn't, even if I wanted to, judge your trip. And to be fair, anyone would
probably jump at the opportunity to get sponsored and such as you have, even if they don't admit it.
So I have only one favour
to ask. Next time, could you maybe put a subtitle at the bottom saying something like this: "I, Ewan McGregor, did not invent motorcycle
travelling and people have been doing this since they could carry enough fuel to make it over the horizon, and if you happen
to come across one of the overlanders, please do not ask them if are doing this because they saw my movie."
P.S. If you do a second
movie and need someone to, oh, say carry your bags or drive your support vehicle, give me a shout.
—Josh Hogan, posted on http://www.horizonsunlimited.com
"When we went around the world between '87 and '98, we figure that we were probably about the 200th people to do it on motorcycles," says
Grant Johnson, talking a little later over another phone line from his Vancouver home.
"Since then I figure there's something
like 2,000 or 3,000 people who have done it, now including Ewan and Charley, of course."
Johnson should know. With his wife Susan,
he runs the Horizons Unlimited website that links long-distance motorcyclists around the world. It's filled with advice on
bulletin boards from riders in Internet cafés around the world.
"The biggest thing that keeps people from doing this stuff is fear," explains
Johnson, "but now they're reading travellers' stories and if they have a question, they can ask and get an answer from someone
who is there today and just went through that border yesterday. All of a sudden you're empowered and you have the information you
need to get rid of your fear."
The journey doesn't even have to mean selling everything and abandoning your responsibilities for
years on end. Johnson says he knows of at least 20 bikes currently parked in places between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego, just
waiting for their owners to reclaim them and resume their rides. Some of those trips may take a decade, taken a few weeks at a
time whenever life at home allows it.
For Johnson, there's no question that such a journey should be undertaken on a motorcycle,
forsaking the comfort and security of four wheels.
"When you pull up somewhere on a motorcycle in the developing world, the locals can connect
with a motorcycle, they can aspire to having one. They will never aspire to having a car or a Land Rover. Never. As far as they're
concerned, these guys showing up in a Land Rover and stepping out of an air-conditioned vehicle into 110 degree heat and looking
like they just stepped out of GQ — they don't even comprehend these people; they're like aliens from another planet.
here you are on a motorcycle, you're dirty and you're kind of grungy and sweaty just like them, so they can connect to you and
they'll come up and talk to you."
The refrain is similar among adventure motorcyclists: people are curious and friendly about
their machines, so they serve as an instant introduction. And the physical sensation of riding through strange new countries
makes all the difference.
"What's the difference between watching Animal Planet on TV and seeing it in a car? It's all on a piece of
glass in front of you — you're not in it," says Johnson.
"On a motorcycle, you're riding along the road and you smell the
coffee plantations and you feel the cool of the stream as you cross over it. You may never even see it, but you feel that you've
just ridden over a stream, underneath the road. No car can give you that."
If you go in a car, you are shooting a movie. If you
go on a bike, you are in the movie. —Greg Dziewierz
Music teachers Greg and Natasha Dziewierz rode this summer with their
friend Jacek Dubiel on their Kawasaki KLR 650s on basically the same route as McGregor and Boorman, though in the opposite
They left their homes near Burlington for Alaska and ferried the bikes to Siberia's port of Magadan, setting off across
Russia in early July for Mongolia.
"It wasn't that hard," says Greg, downplaying the mud and the bridgeless rivers.
"I saw Ewan and
Charley's series last year and I thought it was really good, but they took bikes that were way too heavy, especially for Mongolia.
And they left too early, so the weather didn't co-operate."
Dubiel and the Dziewierzes — who all speak fluent Russian — met
up with another rider on a KTM 640 who was in more of a hurry to cross through Asia and who made it to Poland, riding alone, in
three weeks. That's seven weeks faster than the two actors with their laden BMWs.
"It could have been a dangerous trip if we'd
met up with a bear," says Greg. "There were places where we were hundreds of kilometres from anyone else. But with a little common
sense, it's possible to do a trip like this without support."
It is no trick to go round the world these days; you can pay a lot
of money and fly round it non-stop in less than 48 hours, but to know it, to smell it and feel it between your toes you have
to crawl. There is no other way. Not flying, not floating. You have to stay on the ground and swallow the bugs as you go. Then
the world is immense. —Ted Simon, Jupiter's Travels
I rode my old motorcycle to California last summer and stayed a few days
with Ted Simon at his home north of San Francisco.
The British author is considered by many as the father of round-the-world
motorcycling thanks to his book, Jupiter's Travels, about his four-year journey on a Triumph in the mid-'70s.
Others had made
the journey before him, of course, but his account is one of the most popular.
In 2001, at 70 years old, he set off to do it
again, covering another 100,000 km in three years through 48 countries on a BMW. It never occurred to him to not ride a motorcycle
always travel silently," he said. "I'd just stop in a square, park the bike and take my helmet off. Then I'd light a cigarette
and people would gravitate towards me. By the time I finished the cigarette, I'd have at least one new friend."
Simon had just
returned from a short visit to Mongolia when I saw him; Ewan McGregor had asked to meet him there because he's interested in
filming Jupiter's Travels one day.
"He was a bit of a hero of mine," says McGregor, "and his book had inspired me."
house was a place for other adventurers to stop by, and while I was there, a young rider named David Stafford came to stay
"Travelling solo by motorcycle has put me in unfamiliar and sometimes challenging situations that I would never have otherwise
experienced," he told me over dinner.
"Ted says, `The interruptions are the journey,' but I say, `The most desperate circumstances
make the best stories.'
"You can't help but learn a great deal about yourself in those situations. I got to know something about
the world but I also got to know myself much better. And it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been on a motorcycle."
been around the world on a motorcycle but I know something of which he spoke.
Back in the '80s, when I was 24, I spent more
than a year travelling around North America on my motorbike.
I didn't have kids or own a house and all my belongings could
be packed into a pair of saddlebags.
On the road, I accepted many invitations to eat or to stay with people solely because
we had struck up a conversation about the motorcycle.
Once, in the Yukon, I was rescued from a crash beside the road by a group
of native hunters who let me stay and recuperate at their home for days. Another time, broke in Texas, I siphoned gas from
an abandoned car near the home of Hanging Judge Roy Bean.
I wanted to continue to South America but kept a promise instead
to return to school, where I fell in love and settled down to raise children.
But last year, the pull was too great and I set
off across North America on the old bike, retracing the route of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for a book-writing
It was a short trip in comparison with the world's true adventurers but memorable nonetheless, all the more so for
throwing myself into the elements and absorbing all the road has to offer.
You get onto a bike and it changes everything. There's
no distractions except for what's in the world around you. You're not in a car, smoking a cigarette, drinking a coffee, driving
along. Everything around you is exactly what it is. —Caleb Dykstra
The official Guinness record holder for the longest motorcycle
journey is Argentinian Emilio Scotto, who quit his job in 1985, aged 30, and set off with $300 in his pocket to see the world.
In 10 years, he covered more than 735,000 km through 214 countries and territories.
And then there are Caleb Dykstra and Liz Wilkinson,
a couple in their early 20s who have never attempted anything like this before.
They will leave their Ottawa homes Nov. 4 for
Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city, on the tip of Chile.
It'll be the first motorcycle trip for Wilkinson, who earned her
licence this summer after meeting Dykstra and who bought a Kawasaki 250 Super Sherpa for the journey. Dykstra will be riding
alongside on his KLR 650.
not quite in the same league as Ewan and Charley," says Dykstra. "We've got a budget of $6,000 Canadian each, which is $15 a
day for fuel, $10 for food and $5 for lodging. That breaks down so that once a week, we can probably stay in a hotel. That's
enough — take a shower and do some laundry, get recouped and get going again."
They expect to return next April and have already accepted many
Internet offers of accommodation from motorcyclists along the way.
"I'm 24, I don't have kids or a house, and I can pack all
my belongings into three tote bags. I manage a landscaping company, so there's no work in Ottawa in the winter and why should
I stick around?" he asks.
"Of course, I'll do it on a motorcycle — there's no better way to travel. And after all, I believe
that if your life is not worth reading about, what's the point in living it?"
Mark Richardson is the editor of Wheels. email@example.com