A keen motorcyclist in his youth, Ewan McGregor and his close friend Charley Boorman were inspired to undertake the gruelling journey from London to New York via motorbike after reading “Jupiter’s Travels” – a book by legendary motorcyclist, Ted Simon. Prior to leaving London, McGregor and Boorman received specialist training in a variety of different areas, including the Russian language, off road riding and how to operate within hostile environments; taught by ex-SAS major Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, who reasoned that the chances of coming across gun toting locals during their journey through certain countries were fairly high.
Aside from the physical and mental preparation McGregor and Boorman had to go through, they also had to prepare a team to follow them, including two producers, two cameramen, a security guard and a doctor. This support team were to follow approximately a day behind McGregor and Boorman, in Mitsubishi off-road vehicles, meeting at border crossings and coming to the rider’s aid should they encounter any problems.
The team left London on April 14th 2004, passing through France, Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic; stopping to view the breathtaking Church Of Bones, just a short journey from Prague and one of the most awe inspiring sights in Europe.
The team had their first run in with the authorities while crossing from Slovakia into the Ukraine. Border guards insisted on seeing the original paperwork for the bikes they were riding as well as documentation for the support team vehicles – everything from vehicle registration and insurance documents through to car finance agreements were likely to have been scrutinised by border guards before the Ukrainian Interior Ministry contacted the border police and insisted that McGregor and his team be let through after a 12 hour wait.
For most of the journey Boorman, McGregor and their entourage stayed in hotels, but as they reached Kazakhstan and Mongolia, the only choice was to camp rough, as the lack of humanity was reflected in the lack of hotels. Whilst in the area, Ewan and Charley took the time to witness the work being done by UNICEF, including visiting orphanages which housed children affected by the Chernobyl disaster. McGregor and Boorman hoped to bring attention to the humanitarian efforts of UNICEF though their travels.
The journey continued with a flight from eastern Russia to Anchorage, Alaska – one of the few parts of the trip not travelled on motorcycles. By this point, both Ewan and Charley had had their fair share of injuries, with McGregor battling irritating mosquito bites and two instances of having had petrol sprayed directly into his face, while Boorman had suffered shoulder injuries which had prevented him from riding for a few days.
The trip continued on schedule, with the team riding through Canada, passing the city of Calgary, before heading into the United States, and through Chicago, before riding the home straight towards New York City. As McGregor, Boorman and their team approached the city, they were joined by a phalanx of bikers – including Ewan’s own father Jim – who guided the road-weary crew to the finish line.
A documentary was released detailing the voyage shortly after its completion, while Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman took a well deserved rest and started planning their next trip.