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Series / Long Way Round

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Long Way Round is a travelogue series starring Ewan McGregor and his good friend and fellow actor Charley Boorman. There have been three editions:

  • Long Way Round (2004), in which McGregor and Boorman travel from London to New York—not by flying on a plane or anything, but by hopping on their motorbikes and traveling east, all the way across Europe and Asia and North America, visiting thirteen countries and traveling 18,887 miles. Countries visited included the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the United States, and Canada.
  • Long Way Down (2007), in which the motorbike-crazy duo ride from John O'Groats at the northern tip of Britain to Cape Town, South Africa. Countries visited included the UK, France, Italy, Tunisia, Libya, The Sudan,note  Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa.
  • Long Way Up (2020), in which the two reunite and travel north from Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, through Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. Unlike their previous trips, they don't travel as far as they can but stop in Los Angeles, Californianote . Also, McGregor, Boorman, and their team chose to use all-electric vehicles (including prototype bikes from Harley-Davidson) for this trip, which added the challenge of finding suitable overnight charging locations in remote areas with limited infrastructure.

The series features a theme performed by Kelly Jones of Stereophonics. The lyrics are slightly altered for each iteration to incorporate the changes in title.

Boorman has gone on to film solo travel series entitled By Any Means and Right to the Edge: Sydney to Tokyo By Any Means.

These travel series provide examples of:

  • Answer Cut: As they realize they just missed a right turn in Peru, Charley says "I hope this isn't going to turn out to be some very long dirt road." Cue the gang motorcycling down a dirt road, which is actually a mud road because of the rain that just rolled through.
  • Amusing Injuries: Ewan's body reacts poorly to mosquito bites. One got him on the forehead, causing his face to swell into a "manimal" appearance. He also shows off several bites on his butt and mentions bites on his penis.
  • Artistic License – Physics: When they hit the Equator in Kenya, Ewan and Charley watch a demonstration of the Coriolis effect (how water goes down a drain in opposite directions in the Northern and Southern hemispheres). Charley admits via voiceover that they later found out they were fooled; twenty meters on either side of the Equator is not enough to make any difference to water drainage.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • It would have been easier to just fly to New York, wouldn't it?
    • Long Way Up is done on e-bikes solely because Ewan McGregor is an enthusiast of solar power and electric transport. That proves pretty challenging though, as there aren't electric bikes with sufficient range for such a trip, nor is there charging infrastructure along much of the way. The gang basically has to do it themselves, going so far as to get experimental long-range electric bikes from Harley-Davidson (Charley rides the very first prototype.)
  • Badass Biker: Ewan and Charley, zipping around the world in their cool bikes, going to all kinds of far-off places.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Ewan and Charley go to an amusement park in Calgary, and go on a particularly terrifying pendulum ride. Ewan speaks of his "abject fear" while on the ride, then the next morning says he's happy to be "back on the safety of my motorcycle." This is immediately followed by a cut to the aftermath of an accident on the highway outside of Calgary, in which Ewan was rear-ended by a teenaged boy. Everyone is stunned that Ewan was completely unhurt after being hit by a car going 50 mph on the open road.
  • Broken Aesop: Long Way Up is supposed to be a Green Aesop about the potential of electric bikes and electric vehicles, but the message, at least in the early episodes where the gang is struggling through Patagonia in freezing-cold weathernote , is that e-vehicles are not good ideas in areas that lack the charging structure. Ewan and Charley don't spend very much time exploring because they're desperately struggling to get charges on the bikes, and the support team driving trucks manages to run out of charge on the open road. The Broken Aesop hits its peak when Ewan runs out of charge in the middle of nowhere, requiring a truck with an internal combustion engine to carry a diesel generator out to meet him and charge his bike.
    Ewan: I don’t want to discourage people from using electric bikes because I think they’re amazing. It’s just difficult to get these long distances from them at this time.
  • Broken Pedestal: Charley heavily lobbied for he and Ewan to ride KTM bikes and eagerly expected that a company that marketed itself as the premiere off-road motorcycle company would support them on their adventure. He was shocked to hear that KTM decided to pass on sponsoring the trip and was furious to learn that the company justified the decision by saying that KTM didn't want to support a project that could possibly fail. Charley could then be seen angrily ripping down the KTM posters he'd hung around Long Way Round's production offices.
  • The Cameo:
    • As the bikes are being shipped down Lake Nasser by boat (there's no road), Ewan and Charley make a side trip to Kenya to check out the "Riders for Health" program. They stop by the lodge of Richard Branson, a Riders for Health sponsor. Charley is mistaken for Branson's brother.
    • Mary Elizabeth Winstead is there to meet Ewan and accompany him on the last stretch run into Los Angeles at the end of Long Way Up.
  • Circumcision Angst: Ewan and Charley spend the night with a Kenyan tribe that is getting ready to circumcise its young males. Charley in particular is bothered by the description of the ritual.
  • Cliffhanger: Episode 2 of Long Way Up ends with Ewan and Charley, desperate to find someplace to plug in and charge their bikes, managing to coax the owners of a hotel that isn't even open to let them in. They have to bring the bikes inside to get them out of the cold so they can charge, but after they do, the bikes finally start charging—then the power to the hotel goes out. Roll credits.
  • Cock-a-Doodle Dawn: The gang stops for the night at a roadside village in Zambia. Charley considers a rooster wandering around the village, then says that it will be waking them up with crowing early the next morning. He then says "We could eat it." The rooster is not eaten, and sure enough, the next morning it's crowing the dawn.
  • Confession Cam: Or, rather, video diaries.
  • Cool Car: In the second episode of Long Way Down the group camps for the night inside Silverstone Circuit, a race track in England. Ewan and Charley get driven around in some racing Ferraris the next morning.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    • The special ten-episode edition of Long Way Round spends all of the first two episodes on preparation. Boorman and McGregor practice not only off-road riding and camping, but more unusual situations like how to give a bribe and how to escape ambush by bandits.
      • Also their equipment. Locals who repair the cameraman's bike laugh that they have such a great set of tools yet no clue how to use them. They ditch some of their gear midway due to excessive weight.
    • In Long Way Down they do things like work out with a strength and conditioning coach and practice what to do if they are taken hostage.
  • Creepy Cathedral:
    • The "Church of Bones" (Sedlec Ossuary) in the Czech Republic.
    • In Rwanda they visit a church, since made into a memorial museum, where Tutsi refugees were massacred during the 1994 genocide. There are bones piled everywhere as well as the clothes of the dead.
  • Crossover: Ewan and Charley meet the fellows from American Chopper and ride with them for the last few miles to New York City.
  • Darkest Hour: The dirt "roads" of western Mongolia—rock-strewn trails in the higher elevations and bike-swallowing mud ruts in the lower elevations—prove so tough that Boorman and McGregor briefly consider abandoning Mongolia for Russia and its more reliable roads. When they finally reach tarmac, Boorman lies face down on the ground and kisses the road. (The support team, driving two four-wheeled vehicles, managed to flip one of them over.)
  • Deadly Dust Storm: Dust storms are a major problem in Libya. One night the gang camps on the beach and suffers through a howling dust storm that leaves them cowering helpless in their tents; they finally come out after a sleepless night to find their gear half-buried in sand. Dust storms on the road reduce visibility to near-zero.
  • Dented Iron: As shown in the first episode of Long Way Up, Charley Boorman broke his pelvis during pre-production while recovering from two broken legs from a prior road accident. As a result of his injuries, one leg is shorter than the other, leaving him with a permanent limp.
  • Description Cut: McGregor pronounces the Siberian town of Tynda "grim" and wonders "What do they do here?". Cut to Ewan and Charley getting down in a Tynda disco.
  • Desert Skull: It isn't a desert—but the terrible time the gang is having in western Mongolia is only underlined when they see the skeleton of a horse just lying there on the steppe.
  • Down L.A. Drain: A shot of the world's most famous drainage ditch, the LA River, is used as an Establishing Shot to show that Ewan and Charley and the rest have finally arrived in Los Angeles at the end of Long Way Up.
  • Farts on Fire: Charley Boorman actually does this in Italy, successfully managing to light his fart one evening after the gang has made camp.
  • Flashback: When they start having real trouble with the extremely poor roads in Kazakhstan, there's a flashback to the beginning of the series when the duo practiced off-reading in Wales.
  • Foreign Queasine: A roasted sheep's head in Kazakhstan; assorted animal testicles in Mongolia. Some sliced meat in Kazakhstan which may or may not be horse penis.
  • For Science!: Part of the goal of Long Way Up was to see if a long-distance trek through remote territories with sparse infrastructure could be undertaken with all-electric vehicles. In support of this, Harley-Davidson provides two specially made touring bikes while Rivian accelerates its development timetable to give the production team the first two trucks they ever built. Because everything had to move quickly to meet a tight shooting window, proper testing of the bikes and trucks wasn't possible, meaning the trip itself became a proving ground for the vehicles.
  • For Want of a Nail: In Up, Ewan recounts the rough terrain he and Charley had to endure in Mongolia and how they seriously considered turning north to ride on better roads in Russia. If they'd done so, they'd have never gone to Ulaanbataar and visited an orphanage where Ewan met a toddler whom he adopted. He's amazed and emotional at the thought of how one turn to the left would have meant he'd have never met a daughter he loves so much.
  • Green Aesop:
    • When the duo stops at what used to be the Aral Sea, most of the sea having dried up due to waters being diverted for irrigation. They look at beached, rusting ships and talk about the damage man can do to the environment.
    • Basically the entirety of Long Way Up is this, as McGregor the solar power enthusiast decides to make the whole trip on electric bikes. Verges on Broken Aesop territory, as using electric bikes presents them with all sorts of problems due to the lack of infrastructure to charge bikes, as well as the inability to charge in the cold of Patagonia.
  • Hero of Another Story:
    • In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia's capital, during Long Way Round, Ewan and Charley arranged to meet Ted Simon, a British travel writer who has circumnavigated the world twice by motorcycle (a 4-year, 64,000 km trip in the 1970s, and then another in the 2000s following more or less the same route) whose book Jupiter's Travels inspired the two to attempt their own journey.
    • In Long Way Down, they run across a bicyclist named Jason Lewis in Sudan, a British adventurer headed northbound on the same road, who was completing a thirteen-year-journey around the world using only human power. Lewis had crossed the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in a paddleboat. He finished his journey a few months later.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Ewan and Charley. They even talk about this early in the first episode, when remembering the movie they were both in and how it's rare to make a friend for life on a movie set.
  • Humble Pie: Charley and Ewan try to refuse a police escort while in Kazakhstan as they're getting tired of being brought to welcoming parties with media coverage and because it goes against their adventuring objective. They're immediately forced to admit that they need protection after someone points a gun at them.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • As the group approaches Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, they reach a rickety-looking bridge. Charley, not trusting the bridge, decides to test whether the river is fordable. As he is wading through the river without any pants on, he looks over and sees a local zipping across the bridge on a motorbike.
      Charley: I look like a right idiot.
    • Happens to him again in Long Way Down, when he got into an argument with a rude airline employee for insulting an economy class passenger for waiting for their flight in the business class lounge. The woman then tells him to move his bag from the wall despite being too few people at the lounge for that to be any sort of problem, prompting Charley to stupidly snap "it's not like there's a bomb in it", which gave her the excuse to call the police on him. It were not for the airline manager and the airport head of security accepting Charley's apology, the trip could have ended before it started and his name could have ended in the no-flight list.
  • If My Calculations Are Correct: In Ecuador Ewan and Charley visit an American who re-forests hillsides where all the trees were cut down for cattle ranching. Their host actually says, "If my numbers are correct, the Amazon lost maybe 25 to 30 percent of its forest."
  • Indy Ploy:
    • In Long Way Round, Ewan and Charley have to board a train in Tynda, Russia because the road to Magadan is unfinished and impassible to motorbikes. Train station officials refuse to let them get tickets and load up their bikes in the cargo compartment—so Ewan and Charley ride in the baggage compartment with the bikes.
    • Something similar happens in Long Way Up. Ewan's prototype motorcycle stops working and he decides to cross the Darien Gap in the same cargo plane that will take it to repairs in Costa Rica just in case Harley-Davidson engineers will be able to fix it fast enough for him to ride back to Panama to reunite with Charley without causing further delays to the trip. When told that only employees can travel with the cargo, they arrange for Ewan to get hired for a day by the chartering firm that runs the cargo plane, thus fulfilling the letter of the regulations.
    • Due to security concerns regarding recent cartel-related violence in Mexico during Long Way Up, the team had to find to cross the country without alerting potential robbers or even kidnappers. Their solution was to convert an old school bus into a mix of camper and motorcycle carrier with built-in electric generators to be able to travel almost non-stop until the border while recharging the bikes at night, all while looking like a regular bus for tourism on the outside. The fact they managed to pull off a 2-week conversion in a four days A-Team Montage is a Moment Of Awesome on its own.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Played straight when Ewan and Charley meet a Peruvian bicyclist with only one leg who is doing a 50km bike ride up the Andes, as training for the Paralympics. Charley even talks about how one can suffer a trauma but not be defined by it.
  • Irony: In Long Way Up, Ewan is really enthusiastic about testing electric motorcycles in a trip across the American continent due to his fondness of green technologies, while Charley remains unconvinced of their reliability for the first weeks of the trip. By the end of it, though, Ewan's bike malfunctions badly enough that the entire battery unit needs to be replaced, whereas Charley's bike endures the whole trip without complain after they figure out that the batteries won't take a charge if they're near freezing temperatures.
  • Lighter and Softer: Long Way Down is this. In Round Ewan, Charley, and Claudio spent most of the series apart from their support team, except for border crossings, and as a result they ran into some real difficulties. In Down they are continually accompanied by a support truck that includes a security guard and a medic, and local "fixers" help guide the team on their way.
  • The Mafiya: The travelers are warned of this when entering Ukraine. After going further in Ukraine, they are invited to stay by a local electronics salesman who seems unusually prosperous and has a startlingly large collection of automatic weapons. (The scene where their host comes down the stairs sporting a guitar and a Kalashnikov is a highlight.)
  • Manly Tears:
    • Ewan cries as they cross the bridge over the Hudson River to New York.
    • During Long Way Up, Ewan recounts the story of how he adopted his youngest daughter after meeting her in an orphanage in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, but that he and Charley had actually considered abandoning their trek through Mongolia because of the rough terrain. He weeps at the thought of never having met someone so important to him if he'd taken a left turn in search of paved roads.
  • Miserable Massage: Ewan and Charley go for a spa massage in Almaty, Kazakhstan to relax them after a grueling ride. In a case of possible cultural differences, they basically get the crap pummeled out of them by two huge guys with stinging soap, and it's about as far from the relaxing experience they wanted as you could imagine.
  • Mood Whiplash: Long Way Up is mostly cheery, with much emphasis being placed on how friendly and helpful everyone is. In Colombia, they take time out of the trip to show how the country is moving past decades of civil war. Then, the group arrives in Mexico, and suddenly local fixers start talking about no-go zones, the threat of kidnap and ransom, and how cartels have lookouts everywhere.
  • Pixellation: Used a few times to avoid the Male Frontal Nudity trope, like on a couple of occasions where the guys go skinnydipping in rivers, or when they have a massage in Kazakhstan.
  • Politician Guest-Star: In Rwanda, they get to meet President Paul Kagame.
  • Previously on…: Each episode begins with a summary of the project and a recap of the trip so far.
  • Product Placement:
    • Defied with KTM. Charley plasters the production offices with KTM posters, fully expecting that the company will sponsor the trip. When KTM rejects the project, Charley rips them down angrily.
    • Played straight with BMW. Ewan, Charley, and Claudio don't just ride BMW bikes. They also wear BMW-branded gear with the logo clearly visible.
    • During Up, lots of attention is given to Harley-Davidson and Rivian and the capabilities of their all-electric vehicles.
  • Prolonged Prologue: The first two episodes of Round are all about pre-trip preparation. There's scenes of them practicing with their bikes, scenes with the two of them practicing camping...both Ewan's and Charley's parents get visits...Russian vocabulary lessons...there's even a shot of McGregor putting up shelves in the office they've rented for the project. They don't actually leave until the end of episode 2. Up does this again, with the gang again putting furniture in an office, and this time taking Spanish lessons, with a bunch of the first episode being Product Placement of the bikes and trucks getting built.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: Part of Long Way Up's first episode is dedicated to Ewan and Charley re-establishing their friendship having drifted apart after Long Way Down, followed by the two reuniting with David, Russ, and Claudio from their previous adventures.
  • Roadside Wave:
    • Charley is annoyed when a passing truck on a Peruvian mud road splatters him with mud, including almost completely obscuring his visor.
    • Charley is annoyed again when Ewan's bike splatters him in Ciudad Juarez, the whole city going through some mild flooding after a rainstorm.
  • Running Gag: Ewan and Charley keep decorating Claudio's bike with local souvenirs during the Long Way Up. By the time the arrive to L.A., it looks a bit like parade piece covered by dust.
  • Scenery Porn: The series delivers some beautiful scenery. Ewan and Charley marvel at the beauty of Mongolia even as they are driven to the edge of madness by the difficult roads.
  • Separated by a Common Language: As the guys camp out in England early on the Long Way Down trip, David the producer goes through their supply of camp dinners. He gets to their prepackaged spotted dick and custard and pronounces it "a big hit with the Americans." (Spotted dick is a sort of British cake entirely unknown in the United States, and the name sounds like a description of an STD.)
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Those aren't pillows" (when Ewan and Charley are going to bed in a tent).
    • Appropriately enough, Ewan likes to reference his roles in the Star Wars prequels. After having a little spat with Charley he says "you must do what you think is right" and then exclaims "I can't do it without the cloak!".
    • At one point Ewan calls their little show "Travels With Charley".
    • As the gang watches orca (killer whales) in Alaska's Prince William Sound, Ewan can't help but say "You're gonna need a bigger boat."
  • Skinnydipping:
    • A drive along a river in the Altai region of Russia (between Kazakhstan and Mongolia), allows the gang a chance to take a naked dip in a river. It's very cold.
    • In Egypt Ewan and Charley take a dip in the Nile, and get harassed (offscreen) by Egyptian soldiers, who think they're making gay porn.
  • Spit Take: The gang is trying to fix one of the trucks on a high mountain road in Bolivia. Ewan takes a swig of a bottle filled with a rather yellowish water. (Tea, probably?). They make some jokes about peeing in the bottle, then as Ewan raises the bottle to his lips and drinks, Charley says, totally deadpan, "I did pee in it though." Cue spit take from Ewan.
  • Sticky Fingers: Thieves are a constant worry on the trips. Charley and Ewan become especially irate when Claudio's camping gear is stolen in Siberia, as they feel stealing someone else's shelter is particularly heinous. Claudio, for his part, takes it in stride. Charley, meanwhile, had his wallet, containing a lot of cash and credit cards, stolen in Canada.
  • Stock Footage: Round opens with a clip of Ewan on The Tonight Show telling Jay Leno about the idea for the series, followed by a clip of a movie that Ewan and Charley did together in 1997.
  • Talking Heads: Classic reality-TV talking heads, as Ewan and Charley give interviews about what's going on.
  • Travelogue Show: Three of them, as Ewan and Charley crisscross the world on their bikes.
  • Universal Driver's License: Averted with Claudio, their Swiss cameraman and fellow traveler. During preparation for the Long Way Round trip Claudio discovers that his Swiss motorbike license is no good in Britain. He takes a motorbike test and fails. This delay causes him to miss the beginning of the trip. Consequently the first three days of the journey are almost entirely omitted and the filmed journey only picks up after Claudio flies out and meets them in Prague.
  • Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: The bus that the gang bought and remodeled and used to drive most of the way through Mexico is not mentioned once they hit the US border at Ciudad Juarez, after a last comment by David about getting permits to cross over into America. Presumably it was sold, donated, or even junked, but it's never seen again.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Discussed Trope. As the gang is riding in trucks through far eastern Siberia, Ewan and Charley having gone past the point where motorbikes are feasible, their drivers spot a bear by the road. They promptly leap out of the trucks, shoot and kill the bear, and skin it. Ewan is horrified. Charley isn't exactly thrilled, but he points out that Ewan has no problem eating meat from a cow. All Ewan can answer with is "But it's a cow."