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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Long Way" series more than celebrity gawking, motorcyles

Let it be said that I hate motorcycles. The only downside to warm weather in Wisconsin is that it's an excuse for every moron out there to pull out his Harley and clog up the motorways. I simply just don't get it (maybe it's a girl thing -- both my grandfather and my dad owned motorcycles back in the day).

Given this, you might wonder why exactly I spent my weekend watching the first part of "Long Way Down," a travel-plus-adventure series heavily featuring motorcycles (and Ewan McGregor). Admittedly, McGregor is a hottie, but even that's not enough of a reason, right? In 2004 McGregor (of "Star Wars" and "Trainspotting" fame) and his best friend Charley Boorman decided travel eastward from London to New York by motorcycles, documenting their adventures through Eastern Europe, Siberia, Mongolia and North America in a series called "Long Way Round." In 2007, they followed this up with "Long Way Down," where they traversed the length of the earth by riding from the tip of Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa. (I watched "Long Way Round" before this blog was up and running, so I didn't get a chance to share my love for it).

I'm not a fan of celebrity travel shows or articles that ask celebrities where they like to hang out in their favorite cities (the only exception being Matthew McConaughey, who once told American Airlines' inflight magazine that his favorite place to eat in Texas was Sonic Drive-In). What's great about this duo is that Boorman and McGregor rough it out for most of the trip, camping in tents and eating food from roadside stands. They're followed by their support crew in jeeps, but it's generally just the two of them and their motorcycle-riding camera man Claudio. If they get stuck in the sand or hurt, they've got to exhaust all the ways of helping themselves out before the support crew lends a hand.

The other plus is that they travel off the beaten track -- their journey in "Long Way Down" takes them through Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi -- countries that celebrities rarely visit unless they're adopting a child and most of us will never see. It also takes them away from the big cities for the most part and through roads, gravel paths and sometimes open fields. In "Long Way Round," Boorman and McGregor took the "Road of Bones" into Magadan in the eastern tip of Russia, a treacherous route build in the Stalinist era by people who literally died on the road while constructing it. This remote part of Russia is rarely seen by Russians, let alone tourists. The best part is that they enjoy meeting the locals, check out the local food (including sheep balls) and play tourist without whining too much about wanting the comforts of home. Because they're traveling to places where running water is more of an issue than celebrity scandal, McGregor is rarely recognized as a movie star and attracts the same amount of attention any other white guy on a bike would. Plus, they used the trips to raise funds for UNICEF. Angelina would be so proud.

"Long Way Down" starts off a bit slowly because McGregor breaks his leg a couple of months before they're hoping to set off on their journey. Their initial trip through Europe (Scotland, England, France, Italy) is quick and somewhat boring, quite frankly, because it's mostly on European motorways and it rains for the majority of the trip. Things definitely start to get more interesting when they take the ferry over to Tunisia from Italy, ride through Libya in a sandstorm and ferry down the Nile from Egypt to Sudan. I haven't finished the series, yet, but so far, it's an eyeopening journey through North Africa.

If you like travel shows or traveling, you'll love either of the "Long Way" series. Even if you don't, this is a travel-adventure series that has mass appeal (read: Ewan McGregor's naked butt in a shower scene). Neither of the shows have aired here, but they're both available on DVD. Since you probably can't afford to fly anywhere in this recession, you might as well travel vicariously.

Here's a preview of the show:

-- Malavika Jagannathan,



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