Actor Ewan McGregor on Globe-Spanning Motorbike Adventure

November 3, 2004

For some Hollywood stars, the greatest hardship faced while crossing continents is choosing between Cristal and Dom Pérignon. Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge, Star Wars: Episodes I and II) is a bit more open to roughing it through multiple time zones.

In April, with a handheld camera and the occasional support crew in tow, McGregor, 33, and actor-friend Charley Boorman, 38, set out from London atop matching BMW motorcycles. The pair crossed the English Channel by train and began a three-and-a-half-month eastward tear through Europe, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Alaska, and Canada. This adventure ended July 29 in New York City.

A six-episode TV series, Long Way Round, based on their epic journey, marked its debut October 28 on the Bravo channel. This month a book of the same title, drawn from McGregor and Boorman's trip diaries, hits shelves. National Geographic Adventure magazine grabbed a few minutes with the actors to talk about the open road, cranky border guards, and essential roadside hygiene.

Traveling 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) in three-plus months is a remarkable feat. But is this a trip that someone without a team of personal assistants could make?

Ewan McGregor: Absolutely. We had a short window of time and were lucky to have help with setting up, [but] there are lots of people out there doing this on their own. A trip of this scale takes an enormous amount of planning, though. You'd really need a year or two to plan it.

How did you prepare for mishaps?

Charley Boorman: We learned mechanics, did an off-road training course on the motorbikes, took a medical course, and did what's called environmental and hostile training … [which ran] through everything we could possibly come up against: border crossings, checkpoints, and dealing with officials. It turns out that to disarm an AK-47-toting drunk, you just kick him very firmly in the [groin].

What kind of rhythm did you fall into?

McGregor: We would ride for two weeks without a break, from morning to night, all day, every day. We never stopped anywhere for more than two or three days. We had music that we could listen to, but we only did early on. It was much more satisfying to just sit with your own thoughts. Once we were off paved roads, what occupied us most of the time was trying to keep our bikes on two wheels.

Where did you come closest to giving up?

Boorman: Mongolia. There were no roads, just tracks that wandered off in different directions. When you asked someone for directions, they'd say, "Go down that valley, and at the second valley on your left, turn left. Then you'll come across two clumps of trees atop a hill. When you see them, you're headed the right way." Even worse, we had every condition of weather imaginable and countless rivers to cross. At one point it took us three days to travel 100 miles [160 kilometers]. It was grueling, but it was also the most beautiful landscape I've seen in my life.

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