An epic journey around the world that began in 1973 on a 500cc Triumph.
I have previously written about “Jupiter’s Travels In Camera” (here: http://wp.me/p7IHqF-FE), in an article which concentrated on the 2013 book. In it Ted Simon published 300 images from his original epic journey which began in 1973. While they are a fantastic record of the places he visited and images of the people he met, it doesn’t explain why the original publication, Jupiter’s Travels, which included none of his photographs, was such a resounding success. Ted simon was an accomplished writer and journalist when he began this epic journey. He was German born but lived in Britain. After studying chemical engineering and doing his national service with the RAF, where he had founded a magazine for new recruits, he had been spotted by an editor who gave him work at the Daily Express. He eventually left to start a man’s magazine called “King” which only survived a few years. He continued to contribute to a wide variety of publications. The editor at The Sunday Times was a motorcycle enthusiast, just like Simon, which undoubtedly helped in persuading a serious broadsheet newspaper like The Sunday Times to become involved in this project. Harold Evans was editor of the paper from 1967 until the 80s and obviously had a great interest in travel. He founded the luxury travel magazine Condé Nast Traveler in 1987, but for the purpose of this article his most important attribute was his willingness to support Simon’s round the world motorcycle trip. A trip that was proposed before anyone had ever heard of adventure motorcycling and it was considered a crazy idea at the time.
The secret of the success of the book can be attributed to Ted Simon’s style of writing. His enthusiastic and artistic method of crafting his story draws the reader in to the point that the book is difficult to put down. He tells of surviving war, deserts, imprisonment and particularly his own fears, while telling interesting anecdotes of the vastly diverse people he makes acquaintance with along the way. From 1973 to 1977 he travelled around the globe on a Triumph Tiger 100. A 500cc bike that was chosen for it’s simplicity as well as to try to bolster the failing British Motorcycle Industry. Simon’s story was broadcast through the pages of The Sunday Times at a time when Triumph was tearing itself apart, to be reborn two years later as a type of workers’ cooperative. It was Simon’s experienced penmanship that made the story of the journey so successful. It sparked an industry related to motorcycle adventure riding, and the accessories and equipment that a would be, round the world rider could possibly need, and all the blogs, websites and publications dedicated to motorcycle adventure riding that now exist. None of which existed when Simon was packing for his trip:
“I knew I had too much stuff, but there was no logical way to reduce it. Some of the problem was, of course, pure sentiment. How could I junk anything as unique and exotic as a mixture of cod liver oil and glucose”. Friends had told him this was an old naval remedy for tropical sores. “But generally I was on the horns of the knife and spoon dilemma; if you take a fork, why not a spoon, if salt then why not pepper; if you are going to ride fifty thousand miles on a motorcycle then at least you want to lie comfortably at night”. He didn’t have access to the ‘wisdom’ that’s available now on a myriad of websites and blogs. Where to find the smallest, lightest and most ‘eco-friendly’ tent, toothbrush, plate etc. etc. in the world. “Who can walk along the pavements of the City of London and seriously contemplate the prospect of being struck by a cobra. I suspended my judgement and went on adding to my pocket universe like an agnostic crossing himself before battle”. How he chose his route too was as much a matter of sentiment. “Generally the great overland journeys follow the Asian land mass East until the traveller is forced to take to the water at Singapore. I chose a different way because I was powerfully attracted by the challenge of Africa, and in great awe of it too”.
Taking on this massive circumnavigation of the globe that saw him cover 63,400 miles (103,000km) through 45 countries was not without trepidation for Simon. “People in lightweight suits, with interesting jobs and homes to go to, flaunted their security at me and I felt my gut scream at me to strip off this ridiculous outfit and rush back into that light and the familiar interdependence…. I was lost beyond hope, utterly defeated”. Equally he felt the rush of anticipation and excitement when he set off. “Within minutes the great void inside me was filled with a rush of exultation, and in my solitary madness I started to sing”.
How can I convey the beauty of the writing in this book to you? It’s impossible to pick out just one or two passages and say this is the definitive charm of Ted Simon’s writing. So I will just let you sample a few lines from the first page of the book and you can decide for yourself. “I let the bike roll off the asphalt on to the grass under a shade tree. The trunk of the tree was stout and twisted with prominent roots and a grey scaly bark. Drooping clusters of small dry leaves gave a medium shade. It was a common tree in India though I still could not remember its name”. He had run out of petrol fifteen miles from the nearest village and waited in the shade of a tree. “I did not doubt that help would come, and with it most probably some unexpected twist in my fortunes. It had taken years to achieve that measure of confidence and calm, and as I waited I allowed myself some pleasure in knowing it”. Some unexpected twist in fortunes on this occasion was being guest of honour at a local wedding where he saw a mesmerizing dancer and was introduced to the name Jupiter in a bizarre and whimsical meeting with a “wise” man.
Many people say their lives were changed by this book and motorcycles don’t have to be your thing to enjoy it. Ewan McGregor attributes at least part of the inspiration for his and Charley Boorman’s journey as described in their book, Long Way Round to Simon’s Jupiter’s Travels. The pair actually met Ted Simon on their journey in Mongolia. Others have read it and only saw a certain negativity in Simon’s fears and the tribulations encountered on his journey. For example: “I was heavily inclined to expect the worst, and when a strange Agente came for me in the afternoon and took me down those grim steps to the basement I really thought the worst was about to happen. But it was only to have photograph and fingerprints taken”. But equally there are descriptions of times of great contentment and joy. After particular difficulty loading his Triumph on to a ferry, the roof of which he slept on, he remarked about the beauty of his surroundings and the night sky: “For three days and two nights I drift up the Nile along Lake Nasser. The sunrises and sunsets are so extraordinarily beautiful that my body turns inside out and empties my heart into the sky”. At times he comes to achieve real inner peace: “I needed no better reason for the journey than to be exactly where I was, knowing what I knew. Those were the times when I felt full of natural wisdom, scratching at heaven’s very door. The days of Jupiter”.