Best Travel TV Shows: Long Way Round

long way round
Photo Credit To Long Way Round, Charley Boorman

Long Way Round (LWR) is a documentary television series, DVD set and book documenting the 19,000-mile (31,000 km) journey of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman from London to New York City on motorcycles. They travelled eastwards through Europe and Asia, flew to Alaska, and continued by road from there to New York.

From 14 April 2004 to 29 July 2004, Ewan McGregor, Charley Boorman, motorcycle riding cameraman Claudio von Planta, along with director/producers David Alexanian and Russ Malkin travelled from London to New York City, via Western and Central Europe, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia, and Canada, for a cumulative distance of 18,887 miles (30,396 km). The only sections of the trip not undertaken by motorcycle were the 31-mile (50 km) passage through the Channel Tunnel, 580 miles (930 km) by train in Siberia, which circumvented the Zilov Gap; several river crossings and a short impassable section in eastern Russia, which were undertaken by truck; and a 2,505-mile (4,031 km) 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 BMW motorbikes through some fairly deep rivers. The summer run-off from the Siberian winter was in full flow and after a valiant effort, the bikes eventually had to be loaded on to the trucks of passing drivers and ferried across a few of the deepest rivers.

The journey visited thirteen countries, starting in the UK, then passing through France, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Canada, and the USA, ending in New York City.

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 (described as the “Mask of Grief” in the show) in Magadan, Russia, and Mount Rushmore in the USA. They ultimately arrived in New York City on schedule and rode into the city accompanied by a phalanx of bikers, including McGregor’s father Jim and the Orange County Choppers crew.

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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, creator of the Big Earth website, and cameraman Jimmy 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 4×4 pick-up (which tipped over at Mongolia, and then changed into a Ford Excursion in Alaska) and a black Shogun Warrior DI-D automatic estate. Additional vehicles such as a Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant 4×4 van were also used by the support crew during the Russian/East Asia segment. They generally followed about a day behind the bikers, meeting up at border crossings and when circumstances dictated a greater degree of teamwork was necessary.

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.

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.

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McGregor advocated riding BMW motorcycles, while Boorman preferred KTM, a specialist Austrian motocross 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. After one of their specialist terrain riders met with the LWR team and learned more about their intentions, KTM ultimately declined to provide them with their bikes, citing concerns that the team might fail. Boorman took the news badly as he had been particularly attached to the idea of riding a KTM motorcycle 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 customised GPS with specially mapped waypoints in Mongolia and Siberia was crucial in areas with no roads or signposts. More on Wikipedia.

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