Long Way Up Poster

Some thoughts after watching the first 3 episodes of The Long Way Up

The Long Way series returns to our screens. The latest installment is the Long Way Up, and it features actor Ewan McGregor and his best friend Charley Boorman back on bikes. They’re attempting another big road trip. And you can probably guess that it’s long and heads North.

If you have never heard of the Long Way Series, let me catch you up. In 2004, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman set out on a 19,000 mile (31,000 km) road trip from London to New York City on motorcycles. Along the way, they traveled through Europe, Asia, Russia, and Alaska. They called that series Long Way Round. Then in 2007 the team returned to complete the Long Way Down. This road trip, again on motorcycles, started from John o’ Groats, Scotland through eighteen countries in Europe and Africa, and finished in Cape Town in South Africa. These road trips were both filmed and then turned into a documentary tv-series.

I am a big fan of the first two series, so recently I dug out my DVDs of those series to re-watch before this new series started. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get through all the episodes before the new series started. But the good news is that Apple TV+, which is hosting the new series, has added these to its line up so they can be watched either before the new series or after. Apple Tv+ dropped the first couple of episodes when the series launched but from episode 4 they are releasing an episode once a week.

Also returning are the other co-creators of the series David Alexanian & Russ Malkin who co-produced and directed the first two series. Claudio von Planta also returns. He was the traveling cameraman from the first two series and he’s again back on the bike as the biking cameraman. It’s interesting to hear that this 3rd version they have been trying to happen for many years but between McGregor’s busy schedule and Boorman’s many motorbike accidents have kept that from being so.

It’s indeed a long way up

For this trip, the Long Way Up crew started in Ushuaia, Argentina, and traveled over 13,000 miles (20,920km) and through 13 countries to the finish in Los Angeles, California.

The first episode in the series talks about the planning of the trip. It’s interesting to see this stage. Especially for this adventure as they plan to use electric vehicles for both the bikes and the support vehicles. So it takes you through their process of finding bikes that will not only survive the rough journey but also have a decent range to allow them to travel enough miles to get between charge points. They expect to get around 180 miles a day out of the bikes.

After looking at a couple of options they end up talking to Harley-Davidson, who at the time had only created a prototype electric bike. Charley then goes and tests the only prototype of the Livewire, which is a road bike. Harley-Davidson takes feedback from Charley and converts the road bike to an off-road version machine. That’s a pretty impressive commitment by the brand.

For the support vehicle side, on the past series, they have used fuel-powered Mitsubishis in the 1st series and Nissans in the 2nd series. For this trip they wanted to use electric vehicles. The producers approached the electric truck manufacturer Rivian. As a result, Rivian builds the team the first two R1T trucks for the trip, they are actually VIN numbers 001 and 002, the first two VIN production trucks ever built by the company. The other impressive thing that Rivian did to help with the trip and to help with the range issues was to install 150 quick charging points along the route. Prior to this, I didn’t realize that the R1T could be towed charged. An hour of towing can give the truck a 50% charge.

Rivian RT1 Truck
The Rivian RT1 Truck

Time to do this thing

Harley-Davidson had only 10 weeks to build them a pair of bikes for the trip. The bikemaker had redeveloped the suspension and spent a full week testing the suspension. Harley-Davidson also said that the team that built these bikes did it outside of work hours and were all volunteers on the project. The episode ends with the team leaving HQ and flying into South America.

Long Way Up PR image
Ewan and Charley with their off-road Harley Davidson Livewire bikes

Episode 2 opens with the different teams arriving and meeting up in Ushuaia in the middle of a snowstorm. The guys get to see the finished Rivian’s for the first time. These may be called production-spec trucks but they certainly have prototype or pre-production parts being shown.

r1T interior long way up
The interior switches on the RT1 trucks

After their arrival, the team then head to unpack the bikes and to reassemble them for the trip. It’s interesting to note as everything was freighted down to South American that both brands sent staff to help with the set up of the vehicles. They also pick up a large Mercedes Sprinter van that they will use a support vehicle, which is kitted out with a large solar panel to help with power. Before they officially head off though, there is a slight hitch to deal with the charger set up needing a change of part to make the process easier. This delays their departure by three days. Then its time to finally start, so the team heads to the set-off point which is a car park at the bottom of Tierra Del Fuego, the southernmost point of the Pan-American Highway.

Tough right out of the gate

The first big test comes when they reach Tolhuin in Argentina where they have to charge the bikes for the first time on one of the fast chargers. It all goes well and the charger happens to be installed at a local bakery so the guys get to stop for a food top-up as well. Not long after they get to their first border crossing, which takes on a different approach now as they need to try and top-up charge on the bikes to help with the range. But what they quickly realize is that they need to make charging a high priority.

So while both the bikes and truck are both low on charge, the teams separate. The trucks are trying to make the local ferry to head to Patagonia, but they don’t make it as the trucks run out power and the Sprinter runs out of diesel stranding the support team by the side of the road. The bikes meanwhile head to a local hotel, which is closed but opens for them, where they try to charge the bikes. But due to the weather being so cold, the bikes will not charge. So they move them inside the hotel, something that’s easy when you have electric bikes. As soon as they warm up they begin to take charge. But no sooner do they begin charging, the power goes out.

Fade to credits end of the episode.

Long Way Up bikes action image
Ewan and Charley in action on their Livewire’s

Keep rolling

Episode 3 opens with the bikes being unable to charge during the night and having to resort to a portable generator that they have as part of the team. The next challenge is to try and cover the distance to the team in Porvenir to jump on the ferry to Punta Arenas to continue the journey. Ewan runs out of power just outside the town and is forced to get a tow by one of the support trucks so they can make the ferry.

From Punta Arenas, the team spends the next two days traveling through the Torres del Paine National Park. They stop off at the EcoCamp Patagonia hotel to pick up a special care package for Ewan and to top up the bikes, using sustainable energy created by the hotel where they are staying overnight. The next morning though there are issues with both bikes looking to be dead. It turns out that the 12V battery has died and both bikes needed a jump start to continue. It’s off to the Chile/Argentina border. This is one of many border crossings they will do on the trip between the two countries.

r1T long way up
The two support RT1 trucks

Range anxiety

Again due to range issues they have to call out a diesel generator to charge the bikes so they can make their hotel that night in El Calafate. The next day is a day off to explore one of the local glaciers. This brings back memories from their visit to Alaska during Long Way Round. They then continue on north into Argentina. This is where they hit the two-week mark of travel. It’s a struggle to make the distances they need to complete the trip on its target of being in LA by Christmas.

Two thumbs the long way up

I have really enjoyed the series so far and we are only 3 episodes in. It’s so good and the photographer/videographer in me is absolutely loving the cinematography. The drone footage alone is breathtaking. This show is shot in 4k so the quality is brilliant and I am looking forward to the rest of it.

This series has also made me realize how much I have missed road trips over the past 6 months due to lockdown. Hopefully, we can get out of this situation soon, so that we can return to exploring new places and to have our own adventures. After watching the series, I am an even bigger fan of the Rivian product. Fingers crossed that we see Rivian arrive in Australia in the not too distant future. I am not a bike guy, but I am super keen to try some electric bikes now that I have seen what Harley-Davidson has done with the Livewire.

Episode 4 will be released on the 24th of September for us Aussies and the 25th for the USA and will continue to be released weekly on Apple Tv+

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4 responses to “Some thoughts after watching the first 3 episodes of The Long Way Up

  1. neight428 Avatar

    I saw a video of McGregor going to check on an electric VW Beetle conversion that a shop in California was building for him. He was driving a 4Runner to the shop.

    He’s making a movie about a trip using vehicles that his daily could complete without the drama.

    1. Maymar Avatar

      Sure, but you could apply that to all three of the Long Way’s he’s done.

    2. Joel Strickland Avatar

      That was actually his VW Beetle that is being converted by EV west to full electric.

  2. Mhouse Avatar

    What a wasteful farce. I’m sure the world’s cobalt miners approve. What level of thermal efficiency could ever be obtained by charging an electric vehicle using a portable diesel generator?