“When people asked me, later, why I chose to ride a motorcycle round the world I had dozens of ingenious explanations. The question was usually put by interviewers and I was expected to entertain them. I talked about curiosity, about my interest in the nature of poverty, about the pursuit of self-knowledge, and of my reluctance to leave the world without having seen a great deal of it. The honest answer was too short and uncomfortable. I did it because I felt like it. All else followed from that”
Ted Simon, Riding Home
As a young man I was interested in British motorcycles and had a wanderlust only partly sated by overseas postings whilst serving in the British Army. It is not surprising that I, along with tens of thousands of others, was enthralled and inspired by Ted Simon’s tale of his setting off on his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 in 1973 for a four year, 60 000+ road mile journey round the world.
I never followed in his tyre tracks, though countless others were inspired enough by his 1979 account to do so. Jupiter’s Travels is a rattling good read that led the way for the plethora of similar, if often lacklustre, motorcycling travelogues that followed from others detailing their own exploits.
The very best of travelogues involves jeopardy and mistakes, the author was no fool, but he certainly had errors and misfortune aplenty, interspersed with adventure and life experience.
He was 42 years old when he set off on his first circumnavigation. Aged 70, he set off again. This time, he rode a BMW R80 GS. It was not just the bike that had changed, this time he took a laptop and digital camera, electrically heated clothing and gloves and a folding seat to save him from sitting on the ground- “something that has always disqualified me for the New Age”. The account of his second motorcycle journey was recorded in his 2007 volume- Dreaming of Jupiter.
Another of Ted Simon’s books that I have enjoyed, one that never reached the elevated sales figures of Jupiter’s Travels (it sold over a million copies), was his account of his rediscovering his old haunts in the British Isles by motorcycle. In Rolling through the Isles much had changed- “busier roads, bureaucracy and, worst of all, the dreaded ‘Sat Nav’. “
For those, literally, more pedestrian in their travels who have no interest in the motorcycling exploits of others, Ted Simon did venture out on foot for another of his journeys. This self-devised adventure is recounted in his book The Gypsy in Me. Seeking to walk from his mother’s birthplace in Hamburg to his grandmother’s birthplace on the Baltic coast, from Russia, his route would take him south through Poland and the Ukraine to Romania. His plan on walking much of the 1500 miles comes steadily undone. This is no ‘how to’ book, more a fascinating personal account of encounters with a part of Europe undergoing change, and its people in a time that shall, thankfully, never be encountered again. This is a fairly well presented story from an accomplished author and traveller. But it is no Jupiter’s Travels.
When I left the army, my intention was to travel to India, buy an Enfield motorcycle, still being made there as a pattern copy of the British made Royal Enfield, and ride it home to the UK. That would be my adventure. Postponing this, I instead travelled to England and found a home and a job. As a consequence, that particular adventure never occurred for me. Give thanks for the true adventurers out there.
Book from my shelves:
Jupiter’s Travels, Ted Simon, First published in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton 1979. ISBN 0-241-10180-8