Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Long Way Down

If you're looking for something out of the ordinary to watch on the telly (especially if you have Netflix), you might enjoy the 3 DVD set The Long Way Down. It is a remarkable video series chronicling the adventures of Scottish actor Ewan MacGregor and English travel writer Charley Boorman as they made an epic motorcycle journey in 2007 from the northern tip of the UK (John O'Groats, Scotland) to the Southern tip of Africa and over to Cape Town (South Africa). The 15,000-mile journey took 85 days and spanned 18 countries.

Needless to say, the videography and sights are beautiful. The guys meet interesting people, and see things up close that the rest of us only see on television. They deal with language barriers, mechanical problems, temper flare-ups, bureaucratic wrangling, and every sort of local character from a diversity of tribes and cultures. In some places, they are required to have armed escorts. They have to watch out for snakes and scorpions. They encounter camels and wild monkeys. They visit Roman ruins and ancient churches. They ride through bustling traffic in Rome and London, and hunker down in sandstorms in Northern Africa. Poor people living in huts share their food with them. They meet young people mutilated by land mines. They are greeted by people following their progress on the Internet. It is a candid and at times rather raw look at their trip, their difficulties, their triumphs, and the simple joy of riding. The also spotlight the plight of African children living in villages decimated by AIDS, in many cases taking care of one another with no adults present. It is a remarkable odyssey.

No other form of travel can compare to motorcycling - the exposure to the elements, the openness, the wind and sun and rain, the acceleration and the leaning in and out of curves. There is a oneness between rider and bike that just is not there in a car or van.

Though obviously nowhere near as extreme as The Long Way Down, I loved the motorcycle trips that I have taken - usually with my dad. We rode up and down the beautiful beclouded and craggy mountains of our ancestral home of West Virginia - usually camping, sometimes staying in motels, meeting distant relatives, doing genealogical research, visiting old haunts, seeing the sights, and spending irreplaceable father-and-son time together. We rode up the narrow and treacherous gravelly path to the top of Spruce Knob together (the highest mountain in the state) and took pictures of the odd plant life atop the foggy peak - decked out like 1960s cosmonauts in our snowmobile suits and space-age looking Nava helmets. It was a great adventure - especially for me as a young man of about 20.

Our longest trip was a trek from Ohio through the wild hairpin mountain passes in the Ozarks in Arkansas. While there, we slowed down and spent a relaxing day at a campsite near Hot Springs, actually spending some leisurely time together on a paddleboat on a lake in the mountains - a uniquely unhurried activity for us ever-on-the-go mountain-men who seldom go near water. From there we went to Tulsa, Oklahoma to visit family, and returned home to Ohio in two days of hard riding - the last leg through driving rain. It is the greatest fun I have ever had being completely miserable. We communicated by 2-meter band ham radio stations mounted to our Suzukis (my dad's GS850GL and my GS250T - I would later get a Suzuki 850 of my own - wonderful bike!). I had the unfortunate situation of throwing a chain in Tennessee - necessitating a not-so-exact fit of a replacement chopped together at a Harley dealership. But it got me back home to where we could order the right chain. Good times!

I had a few later adventures on my own, such as several trips to Canada and a few solo camping trips to the Poconos from my home base (at that time) in New York. These days, my biking is limited to visiting parishioners or coasting on the levee on my human-powered Schwinn.

Maybe when Leo is old enough to ride, we'll take one adventure that I actually planned, but never pulled off - a motorcycle trip to St. Pierre et Miquelon - an overseas department of France consisting of two islands off the coast of Newfoundland. It would be an even greater adventure setting out from Lousiana. When Leo is 16 years old, I'll be 56 - so God willing, and if there is time and money and if we are both around and healthy - maybe we can have a father-son adventure. Better yet, maybe we can ride three bikes and Mrs. H. could come along as well. Who knows? Maybe we'll be riding electric or solar powered motorcycles by 2021.

Well, enough of that. If you are interested in travel, motorcycling, and/or the sights of Europe and Africa - you might want to get your hands on The Long Way Down.

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