Long Way Round to a New Update

So it seems that whole updating weekly thing has gone out the window pretty quickly.

The main reason for this delay is that about a week and a half ago I started reading Long Way Round by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman and was instantly hooked. The book is the personal account of a trip undertaken by McGregor and Boorman in which they travelled by motorcycle from London, England to New York City by what is probably the longest possible route.

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If you can’t make it out on that map, they travel through Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia a couple times, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Canada, and finally the United States. In total, they travel over 30 000 km in 115 days across some of the worst roads in the world. Comparatively, a flight from London to New York is about 5500 km and involves far fewer Ukrainians with guns (hopefully).

I had initially picked up this book a few years ago for my brother, thinking it would provide an interesting perspective on world travel during a trip he took to Singapore, but I don’t think he gets as excited about books as presents as I do. Consequently, I found the book sitting untouched on a shelf when I moved back home and decided to riffle through it.* As previously mentioned, I was instantly hooked.

It’s not that the writing was particularly good (I certainly didn’t expect two actors to start spouting off the new War and Peace), nor am I a motorcycle enthusiast of any sort, but the premise of a grand adventure aroused an instinctive yearning to get out on the road and explore the world alongside McGregor and Boorman. The pair planned to travel through some areas I may never have the chance to see in my life, and being able to share their experiences in whatever small way from the relative comfort of my armchair was an opportunity I relished. I would soon learn, however, there was much more value

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Seriously, could this picture be any cooler?

There are two pervasive themes throughout Long Way Round. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is the friendship between McGregor and Boorman. The entire trip was originally envisioned by McGregor as a sort of vacation from his hectic acting schedule, and who better to take along than his best mate? Gradually, as the realities of planning and financing dawned on the pair, the trip expanded to include a cameraman and a small support crew, but the essence of two guys out on the open road experiencing the world together remained nonetheless. The pair had their fair share of arguments, of course, but such is the case with any close friends. One of my favourite scenes in the book provides a perfect example of the relationship between the two friends, and was eerily similar to the kind of conversations I have with my own best friend.

‘Did you sleep well?’ It was Ewan crawling out of the tent.
‘Yeah. Really did.’
‘You were asleep in seconds as usual. It’s an uncanny knack. Three seconds after your head hits the pillow you’re fast asleep. Never seen anyone fall asleep quicker in my life.’
‘That’s what my wife says.’
‘Mind you, there was a bit of snore there,’ Ewan said. ‘Just at the beginning. Did I snore last night at all?’
‘No, only in the morning. I had to give you a poke, but you just turned over and went “aaaassssmmmmhhh”.’
‘A poke? I wondered what that small thing up my bum was. Didn’t realise it was you,’ Ewan laughed. ‘Anyway, what did you think of our first night sleeping in the cuds?’
‘Once I got used to the fact that I’ve never been this far away from McDonald’s, I really enjoyed it.’

The second theme in the book is put most elegantly by McGregor. While sitting by the White Lake in the middle of Mongolia, and after travelling a third of the way around the world, he reflects that

“…ultimately we are all the same: we all love our kids, we all need somewhere to sleep and some food. We all want the same things; the world isn’t that big a place.”

Throughout their trip, McGregor and Boorman met countless people in nearly a dozen countries, and the vast majority of these people welcomed the two without a second thought. Whether it was a Ukrainian policeman offering to let the guys spend the night at his house, or a group of men helping to repair one of the bikes on the side of a Mongolian ‘road’, the inherent goodness and openness of people was a constant feature at nearly every point of the trip, regardless of political boundaries.

In the end, I am very glad I read Long Way Round and would recommend it to anyone. Or, at the very least, you can check out the documentary version on YouTube. I’ll even embed Part 1 for you.

A final thought – Leaving aside dropping their bikes, the only accidents McGregor and Boorman were in during their entire trip (which, remember, went through places like Mongolia, Russia, and Kazakhstan) occurred within 24 hours of each other…while they were in Calgary. Come on guys, let’s be better drivers than that!

Images in this post via www.longwayround.com.

* I had originally written ‘rifle’, but luckily I learned today that this isn’t correct. For ‘rifle’ v. ‘riffle’ see the excellent grammar tips by Grammar Girl here.

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