ARMCHAIR EXPLORATION: Long Way Round and Long Way DownFiled Under:
It doesn’t matter where you are on your travel journey – if you’ve already quit your job and are currently on the road of reckless non-stop travel, or between countries running low on cash, cleaning dishes ‘til you’ve scampered enough funds to move on, or if you already have a ticket to somewhere new and all you can do is wait eagerly, or you’re stuck in a uni degree or dead-end job restricting you from acting on your fevered sagacity of wanderlust – Long Way Round and Long Way Down should be a show right at the top of your most watched.
Watch amazed, glued to the tube, as Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman travel up, down and around the world on motorcycles. I assure you, dear reader, it’s going to get you through that period of anxiousness and enthusiasm in-between now and the imminent voyage of new discovery.
I first heard about Long Way Round from an old friend who rode motorcycles and loved tripping. After we had sat in the same spot on the couch for days watching Departures, we spent the next week glued to the tube watching two dads drive around the world on their motorcycles. Which, if you don’t ride a motorbike (or haven’t read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which you really should have) might sound as boring as watching paint dry. But the kicker is definitely having Obi-Wan Kenobi as your guide.
Long Way Round, and its sequel-of-sorts, Long Way Down, follow Ewan and his long-time best friend Charlie on a life-affirming motorcycle expedition through treacherous landscapes and barren backdrops. It’s one of the best shows I’ve seen that illustrates how enduring and shitty long-term travel can be, even for a Jedi.
The concept for this project happens over two trips over two 10-episode seasons, and a gap of 3 years in-between. The first, Long Way Round: a round the world 31,000 kilometer journey (or 19,000 miles. You’re welcome, America) starting in 2004. Ewan and Charlie venture from London to New York, travelling eastward through Europe, Asia, Canada and Alaska before arriving at their final destination.
The second, Long Way Down: a more menacing journey from Scotland to Cape Town in 2007 where the duo cover 18 countries, riding through Europe and the unpaved, unforgiving African wilderness.
Sure, these guys are older, more successful (read: famous) and have wallets fatter than your average traveller’s head, but Obi Wan is humble and the only money these guys blow is on an excellent production team and a motorcycle-riding cameraman named Claudio (who is unassumingly entertaining with his classic Claudio moments). The result is a candid and open observation of culture, bro-bonding and grueling long-term travel while isolated on the road.
Like all motorcycle trips, both Long Way Down and Long Way Round exhibit a colossal man-to-man connection and an on screen chemistry and humour that you’d expect two middle-aged motorcycle fanatic dads to have. Away from their Hollywood personas, contractual obligations and family responsibilities they’re mischievous, immature and, dare I say, free. Both men are poetically reflective and passionate about travelling and humanity, providing insightful and touching moments of commentary across every part of their journey.
The crew straddles the pigskin seats of their BMW motorbikes through some of the world’s most distinct passages (most notably the Road of Bones in Russia on their way to Magadan) and past prominent landmarks, including Mount Rushmore, The Church of Bones, The Mask of Sorrow and the Pyramids of Egypt.
Each 10-episode series come recommended as hypnotizing viewing, whether you love motorbikes or not. It’s an engaging television series that illustrates the unexpected obstacles that always get in the way, and when challenged with tough terrain or near impossible intersections you can always find a way with enough patience, effort and perseverance.
There’s a humbling and unspoiled glory to the fundamental simplicity of getting from A to B; this series illuminates the dark history of humanity and the (literal) off-the-beaten-track rarely-seen-on-TV regions of Russia, Mongolia and Africa (where they are warned of being shot, stabbed or robbed). Aided by the fact both presenters are professional entertainers, Long Way Round and Long Way Down fluently summons the viewer as a fellow passenger on an across the world adventure with two best friends from the comfort of their armchair.
That’s what I call easy riding, man.