Long Way Round

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One day Ewan MacGregor (of Obi-Wan fame) was pouring over a map of the world and noticed that Russia and Alaska were actually quite close.  It occurred to him that you could go almost all the way from London to New York by land the “long way round”.  Ewan and his best mate Charlie Boorman had a passion for motorcycles, and the two of them hatched a plan to go around the world by motorbike.  They pulled it off in the summer of 2004, going 20,000 miles from London to New York in 115 days riding BMW 1150 Adventures.

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Ewan and Charlie recorded their adventure in a book and a DVD set, both entitled “Long Way Round: Chasing Shadows Across the World”.  I read the book in a couple of sittings (it was almost impossible to put down) shortly after returning from my maiden voyage on a motorcycle through southern California.  I highly recommend it, even if you’ve never ridden a motorcycle and don’t intend to.  Tonight I finished watching the DVD.  Ewan and Charlie’s story is enough to make even the most unadventuresome person dream of embarking on a round the world (RTW) motorcycle adventure.  Reading the book planted a seed.  I decided that if I ever got the chance, I too would travel the world by motorbike. 

The DVD shows spectacular scenery and the encounters they had with people living in the places they passed through.  It’s hard to believe that a place like Mongolia actually exists on our planet.  The DVD makes me want to go there, and leave tomorrow. 

Tom and I have been discussing a possible round the world (RTW) trip by motorbike for some time now.  However, the odds of us actually pulling off a “Long Way Round” adventure of our own are stacked high against us.  I will be in intensive training for the next 9 years, accumulating debt, with basically no time off for any RTW foolishness.  Tom has an actual job.  How can he justify taking several months off to go RTW on a motorbike?  We both want to do it, but the logistics are hard to overcome.  I only have two summers off in the next decade: this summer (2007) and the summer of 2008.

A RTW trip takes 2-3 years to plan, and typically costs about $20,000 (not incuding bikes and equipment).  Realistically, the only time we could go would be during the three months that I have off in the summer of 2008.  Financially I can’t afford it, but I can live with that.  I have no problem borrowing against my future earnings for a life-enriching experience like traveling around the world.  If my credit runs out before I’m done medical school then I will deal with it then.  

The RTW trip will also be tough to pull that off in terms of planning.  I’m not sure a little over a year is enough time to plan the trip, or whether we can even make it around the world in only three months.

Tonight we started talking about possible routes for the RTW adventure.  Talking about routes made the trip seem real to me.  This wasn’t fantasy anymore.  When Tom and I talk about things like this they have a tendency of happening.  The golf/cowboy adventure of August 2005 and the golf/easy rider adventure of July 2006 are both examples.  We can certainly make a RTW trip happen.

We are also planning a less ambitious, but still daunting, motorcycle adventure for this summer (2007), but we haven’t quite decided on where yet.  A discussion of the much more ambitious RTW trip of 2008 came up when we were trying to decide where to go for the June 2007 trip.  Our options for the June 2007 trip were 1) Eastern Europe + North Africa; 2) Central America; or 3) Argentina + Chile + Peru.  At this point we both are leaning towards Argentina because we want to see the Andes and neither one of us has been to South America. 

We wanted to go to a place this summer that wasn’t on our planned route for the 2008 RTW trip.  Why go to the same place twice when there are so many places in the world that we would like to see and so little time to see them?  This necessitated the discussion of routes for the RTW trip.

We managed to narrow the RTW route options down to a few choices.  The difficulty of traveling by motorbike in China pretty much eliminates that country.  Myanmar is not passable at the moment.  The middle east is iffy.  The border between Algeria and Morocco is closed.  Thus, going RTW from west to east requires retracing Ewan and Charlie’s trip from the London to New York via Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan (I like), Mongolia, Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and the continental US.  This route is marked in royal blue on the map below.  It requires flying from Magadan in Eastern Siberia to Anchorage, Alaska.  The road of bones in Siberia is not considered passable on a motorcycle by most standards.  Ewan and Charlie did it, but they fought one swollen river crossing after another, and had to rely on loading their bikes on passing trucks.

Another option is to do the Great African Circle (marked in pink).  This route starts in London, goes through France, crosses the Mediterranean between Italy and Tunisia, continues east to Egypt, and then cuts down the East coast of Africa, past the Horn, and down to the Cape.  We would then make our way by boat from Cape Town up the west coast of Africa to Senegal.  This would allow us to ride through the Moroccan Sahara, cross to Spain, and head back to London.  Another version of this trip starts in Scandinavia (“The Long Way Down”).

The last option would be to do the Pan American highway from Alaska all the way to the tip of South America (marked in cyan).

There are pros and cons for each of the routes, but I will save that discussion for another time.

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Am I crazy to want to do this?  Is it absurd to think that I can actually make it around the world on a motorbike?  I am currently reading a book called “Jupiter’s Travels” by Ted Simon.  Ted Simon quit his job for four years to travel the world by motorcycle in the 1970s, and “Jupiter’s Travels” is an account of that adventure (and was in fact an inspiration for Ewan and Charlie’s trip).  In Jupiter’s Travels, Ted Simon writes that “many people dream about going on an epic adventure around the world, but so few actually do.”  He says that most people feel trapped by their own lives and have convinced themselves that they “can’t” go.  I hope I can keep the bars from closing in.

Why do I want to do this?  I want to experience the world.  I want to challenge myself.  I’ve already proven I’m a sucker for punishment by doing a PhD and going to medical school.  Why not add getting stuck in a Saharan sand dune or a Mongolian bog?

2 thoughts on “Long Way Round

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