Jupiter's Travels, 4 years on one motorcycle, by Ted Simons, 1979, Penguin Books, London. This is a remarkable book. I have enjoyed reading it each morning this last month, travelling to distance parts of the world through the eyes of this great raconteur and journalist. Ted Simon is part Jewish, English post hippie, Woody Allen meets Mel Gibson with a touch of Laurence of Arabia and Buddha thrown in for good measure. The book is remarkable as it spans Europe, Africa, then South America, Australia, Asia, India and home. Travelling with Ted Simon you see the country and people through the eyes of a lone motorcyclist stopping for kip and sundries, struggling with maintenance, frustrated by ferries, facing monsoons, storms, wars and government officials. At home in a hut in South Africa, he's straggling over a bare mountain in the Andes range, then picking his way through squalor and corruption in Panama only to love in a commune ranch of gentle folk in California. He describe the swarm of India and the poverty and riches of Mexico. He visits temples and shrines and all the while we hear his thoughts and impressions, his longings and questions. In the background history is unfolding and editors and wondering when he'll send another copy while the bike is deteriorating and he's nearly running on one piston till he can get somewhere there is the machinery to do what he can't with his jackknife. Meanwhile he's maturing and the insights of a young man become wiser each year till there's a kind of monk warrior riding a modern machine through a world of zen. Ted Simon's book inspired Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor's Long Way Round ride and movie. "It begins , "officially the journey began at 6 p.m. on Saturday, the sith of October, 1973. The announcement was to appear the following morning in the Sunday Times. I had just stepped out of the newspaper offer with aa last armful of film and other oddments, and I had seen the story in proof. Marathon Rider Off Ted simon left England yesterday on the first leg of his 50,000 mile motorcycle journey around the world….I really had to go…
"It was not an auspicious day."
His writing is whimsical at times but as an observer he's a camera lens and video combined with poetry of phrase and descriptions that vie with the classics. Places where I had been his descriptions took me back like a memory. Yet all the while I enjoyed the interactions with the people and his thoughts about life.
It's a remarkable read. He was backed by the Sunday Times "in particular, it's editor, Harold Evans". He rode a 500c Triumph Tiger. But the story isn't very much the story of a motorcycle. It's the story of a man and the people along the way. It's culture and origin and west and east and north and south. It's motion and place betwixt observation and participation. It's a gripping tale. It's over 4 hundred pages, like a 100 pages a year and obviously condensed, refined, reflected on, selected, edited and then some. As much as I want to ride along side him mostly I want to meet the people he meets and see the bustling cities and lonely stretches of hauntingly beautiful and diverse countryside.
Thank you Ted Simon for sharing a remarkable journey. You're a brilliant young man and I look forward to reading your latest book the reflections on this journey made some 40 years later. That will be a treasure of insight to compare with the wealth you have given us from your youth.