Volume 7, Issue 2: Fall 2011
By Ted Simon
Covelo, CA: Jupitalia Productions, 1979 and 1996
By Ted Simon
Covelo, CA: Jupitalia Productions, 1984 and 1997
Dreaming of Jupiter
By Ted Simon
Covelo, CA: Jupitalia Productions, 2008
The 1970s were a time of change, transition and travel. As the last vestiges of the colonial European order faded, young people traveled around the world in unprecedented numbers. A sixteen-year-old named Robin Lee Graham spent five years sailing around the world in a twenty-four foot boat named Dove. An eighteen-year-old named Eric Ryback became the first person to solo hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to Mexico. Countless others engaged in a wide array of adventure travel in Europe, Africa and Asia. Among this group was a most unlikely figure. In 1973, a 42-year-old British journalist named Ted Simon embarked alone on an around-the-world motorcycle journey that took him almost four years to complete, covering 64,000 miles through 45 countries. Merely undertaking such a trip and completing it is remarkable in and of itself. Add to that the fact that just a few months before he departed the rider did not even have a motorcycle, or a license to ride one, and the achievement becomes all the more compelling.
Spin the clock ahead to 2001 and Simon—now age 69—decides to do the entire trip again. It takes him two and a half years of riding covering 59,000 miles and visiting 47 countries. The first ride was accomplished on a chain driven Triumph (1973 500cc T100-P), while the second on a shaft drive BMW (1997 R80 GS). On his first journey he witnessed a world in transition from the old to the modern, while the second allowed him to experience the change from the modern to the uncertain. Simon fell in love on the first trip and again on the second. In between journeys he married and became a father. The desire simply to see if he could do it, along with answering questions about himself, propelled him around the world from 1973-1977. To see if he could do it again and if one could go back served, in part, as the catalyst for 2001-2004.
Ted Simon turned 80 this past May and is still a passionate rider and motorcycle enthusiast. His around-the-world journeys served as inspiration for countless motorcyclists to travel around the world or simply around their own backyards. Simon chronicled his adventures in three books that are essential reading for any motorcycle enthusiast. Jupiter’s Travels and Riding High tell the story of the first journey, while Dreaming of Jupiter narrates the second. Read together as a trilogy they are a chronicle of a changing world and a man searching for himself within that world. Many of the countries that Simon visited the first time were no longer in existence during his second trip, while during his second journey he encountered new nations and governments that were yet to be born during his first. On the first trip being a British citizen proved invaluable in many circumstances, while during the second trip his British roots and American citizenship were not always a benefit. The first ride benefited from the blissful ignorance, naiveté and sheer enthusiasm of a new rider, while the second was burdened by a man undertaking a journey in the present while simultaneously reliving the past.
All three books have much in common, but most importantly Simon simply narrates a first-rate adventure story that holds the reader’s attention from beginning to end. He makes you feel a part of his inner and outer journey, you get to know the people Simon meets, you feel a part of the political situations he encounters, and you break down with him when his motorcycles (and his own body) temporarily fail him. In essence, you become Ted Simon and experience the world through his eyes.
Simon’s trips are parallel journeys. Both began in England and Europe. Africa, from Tunisia to South Africa, comprises the second leg, while South and Central America serve as the third. The United States acts as a rest and transition stop on both trips before Simon continues on through New Zealand, Australia, South East Asia, India and then back to Europe and England via Turkey. During the first trip, Simon rode from India to Turkey, while the second time around the war in Afghanistan coupled with the political situation in the Middle East forced him to fly from India to Istanbul.
The majority of Jupiter’s Travels focuses on his time in Africa and South America, in large part simply because he did the most riding in those regions. Simon relates the problems of crossing borders in North Africa, the beauty of the desert and the challenges faced riding in regions where “road” is merely a word and not a reality. He also relates stories of the kindness of strangers, such as the faculty and students at the Kinedra Secondary School for Boys in Sudan, or those who went out of their way to assist him—such as the local people who helped him in a Kenyan village after the Triumph suffered a flat. On his voyage to Brazil, he met a young deck hand on the Zoe G who became the most memorable figure of the journey. In Brazil, he experienced the power of a military dictatorship while being detained as a “guest” in a Brazilian jail. The journey through Peru and Chile provided some of the most beautiful scenery and challenging riding (and also some of the most interesting reading). Central America and Mexico are given brief mentions. In the United States, he meets and falls in love with a woman named Carol before continuing on to Australia, Asia and India. It is during this segment that he suffers a potential journey ending accident when he damages an eye in a fishing accident in Malaysia. The event is complicated further when his wallet is stolen from him while he lies recovering in a hospital bed.
In the chapters dealing with India (where he is given the name “Jupiter” by an individual during a Rajput wedding), the book becomes more a philosophical treatise than a motorcycle travel book. Simon not only reflects upon his life (after losing Carol), but also on the journey itself. In the end he asks himself: “Have I really been on a long flight from reality?” His answer takes the form of a duality and a reflection upon the concept of the self and its place within the context of the journey. The reader is left thinking that Simon has yet to find the answers that he seeks, especially when the journey ends with his belief that “The end of the journey was even more confusing than the beginning.”
Riding High provides us with answers to questions raised in Jupiter’s Travels and gives more insight into the reasons for undertaking the journey (such as the story behind the “ruin” he tried to resurrect in France). We learn more about his relationship with Carol and the accident in Malaysia. Simon’s spiritual trip through India is highlighted in greater detail, as is his time in California and South America. Rather than follow the path of the journey itself, the book is written in a more stream-of-consciousness style as it jumps back and forth from event to event. Without first reading Jupiter’s Travels, the reader would be hard pressed to understand the stories related in Riding High. Having said this, it is an integral component of the trilogy and one cannot fully understand the first and last volumes without taking the time to reflect upon what Simon discusses in this book.
On the cover of Dreaming of Jupiter there is a line: “You CAN go back.” After reading all three books one might add, But you might not like what you find. Simon’s reasons for repeating the journey are many, but the genesis of the idea evolved on a plane flight when the man sitting next to him (Jacques, who will become a main financial supporter of the trip) brings up the simple idea of Simon doing the journey again. The decision to switch from a Triumph to a BMW was made after Triumph offered him a bike but could not afford to provide any other financial support. In the end Simon decides upon a BMW R80GS that was given to him by Stephen Burgess. The other big difference in terms of equipment between the two journeys was Simon’s decision to stay “connected” with the world through the use of a cellular phone and laptop computer, two technologies which were not available to him in the early 1970s. As Simon states, “I resolved to make this journey the opposite of the first one. Instead of seeking to lose myself in the world, I would take advantage of all the communication technology that had sprung into existence since the seventies” (14). This embrace of modern technology fundamentally altered the journey from the start and it is best left up to the reader to decide whether or not he made the right choice.
Route-wise, the second trip follows the same path as the first with the notable exception mentioned earlier that Simon was forced to fly from India to Turkey. The book itself also mirrors Jupiter’s Travels in that the vast majority of it is devoted to his time in Africa and South America. The reader is left with the nagging thought that this second ride was hindered by the ghosts of the past as Simon attempts to retrace his path of the 1970s as well as seek out those he met during that time, most of whom had either died or were no longer living where they had when Simon undertook the earlier trip. By attempting to repeat and find what was, Simon becomes nostalgic for what will never be again. In the end he concludes—somewhat sadly—that what had been so fascinating to him during his first journey was disappearing. One is then left with the feeling that, while Simon was happy he undertook the trip a second time, he was also saddened by how many things had changed. The world had advanced technologically, but in the process had lost something far more important—something irreplaceable to both Simon and the reader.
All three books are essential additions to any motorcyclist’s library. More importantly, they are essential to anyone seeking to further understand why we ride. Through the words of Ted Simon we learn more about ourselves, not only as motorcyclists, but also as people who continually seek what the journey holds in store for us. As with all journeys, Simon’s ended with more questions raised than answers found. He also hoped that his experiences would cause others to seek a similar path, albeit of their own direction. Consequently, if we never embrace the journey we will never know, but only continue to ask: What if?
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