Two Great Motorcycle Adventures

The Long Way Round

Armed with three BMW R1150GS Adventure bikes, cameras, motorcycle communications devices and a bag full of a sense of daring and spirit, world-renowned Scottish actor Ewan McGregor and his friend and fellow actor/ adventurer, Englishman Charley Boorman, set out for the journey of a lifetime.

Accompanied by cameraman Claudio von Plata, the duo left London on April 14, 2004 and traveled eastwards on their motorcycles until they reached their destination: New York City. All in all, their group rode for more than 3 months, covered 19,000 miles and rode through the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, USA, Canada and New York. The trip, McGregor described, was borne out of their “desire to ride motorbikes for a very long time”.

As to be expected, the modern adventurers’ trip was neither an easy nor an uneventful one. In Kazakhstan for example, the local police insisted on escorting the group whenever they went. The locals (with the aid of the cops), aware not only of McGregor’s popularity but also of the significance of what the duo was trying to do, kept inviting them to parties (invitations which they could not possibly refuse).

During their trip, they were also held at gunpoint twice. One was by local authorities at the Ukrainian border who, because they rode ahead of the local TV people filming them, did not recognized the pair and the other by a lone gunman in Kazakhstan, who apparently did it as a joke as he left the terrified travelers laughing.

In Mongolia, they ate a bowl of sheep testicle soup, a native delicacy.

Minor accidents like getting icy-cold water into their engines, machines breaking down, having petrol sprayed into their eyes, getting rear-ended also kept occurring while the two finished their journey.

In spite of these mishaps though, the two look at the 107 days they spent on the road with nothing but fondness and glee. Not only were they able to see and experience firsthand the generosity of the people of the countries they visited, the experiences they shared during the trip also transformed them from “friends, to brothers”.

Motorcycle Diaries

While the McGregor’s and Boorman’s journey can definitely be described as truly adventurous and quite groundbreaking, it was not however, the first of its kind. More than half a century before the Scot and the Englishman traveled around the world, two young men from Argentina, has already embarked on a similar motorcycle adventure.

In 1951, Alberto Granado and Ernesto Guevara, the future Che Guevara, traveled the length of South America starting from their hometown of Alta Gracia. Unlike their modern counterparts who traveled with GPS devices, powerful bikes and motorcycle intercoms, the young Argentinians only had themselves and their rundown 1939 Norton 500 cc (which they dubbed the “Mighty One, the Second”), to depend on.

Despite having to share one old bike (which was not really in its best condition), the duo was able to travel to 24 different locations in 5 different countries.

While McGregor and Boorman’s journey opened their eyes to the kindness and generosity of the people of the places they visited, Guevara and Granado saw the poverty and inequality that plagued the countries of South America. This journey and the dire conditions he witnessed helped shape the political views and stance Guevara would later try to spread in South America as Che.