Happiness is a girl called…Suzuki.

Getting in some trips on the new V-Strom 1000. Laurie loves the comfort…

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The new V-Strom exceeding expectations.

My wife Laurie was not a fan of the seat on my Yamaha Fazer. It was a reliable bike and brought me on some long trips and back, safely without and issues, breakdowns or fuss. dsc05573-2When I decided to change, Laurie’s comfort was one of the highest priorities, and the V-Strom Adventure I got from the guys in AMI (Adventure Motorcyles of Ireland) to test ride, came first in her rating. It got an immediate thumbs up with a special reference to how comfortable the seat was. So, we picked the Suzuki V-Strom up, all shiny and new, in Gorey Business Park in the first week of January. To say the least, she is loving it. I think the number of miles we covered on it together has probably already exceeded the number covered on the Fazer.

Last weekend we did some nice miles, heading to Duncannon beach in Wexford, in the dsc05574South East corner of Ireland. It’s a lovely beach with great views of the Hook Pennisula and the Waterford coastline. It’s one of Laurie’s favourites, having spent all her childhood summers there. Duncannon has some great pubs and restaurants and we hookstopped on the beach, which is firm enough to drive on. The “Ta-Dah” moment in the featured photo is when Laurie found a suitable piece of driftwood to put under the side-stand so we could park up for a little while. We headed for the Hook which is another of our favourite stops. Hook Lighthouse is one of the oldest working lighthouses in the world. After a visit to the Lighthouse restaurant we were off again. Waterford City and The Copper Coast was next on our agenda.

We got new Scott jackets and pants along with Schubert helmets that are very comfortable and we are very happy with them. I am particularly happy with the communication system because I can’t hear a word she says. Probably down to my bad hearing. Perfect.

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Ted Simon’s Original Jupiter’s Travels.

“Those were the times when I felt full of natural wisdom, scratching at heaven’s very door. The days of Jupiter”.

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) dsc05444-2through 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”.

Ted Simon’s website is worth a visit. It gives mountains of information about his journeys: Jupitalia.com. The photos are from his publications or are of his books. Jupiter’s Travels was first published in 1979 by Hamish Hamilton Ltd.

The Motorcycle Diaries.

Ernesto Guevara and Alberto Granado set off on a vintage Norton around the Americas. Book describing the formative journey.

An epic journey that awakened a Revolutionary.

It was while drinking sweet “mate” that two friends decided to set off on an epic motorcycle journey from Buenos Aires in 1951. They were sitting under a vine in Alberto’s place drinking mate and discussing recent events, including Ernesto having recently quit his job, as had Alberto, that the discussion turned to travelling to remote countries and oceans, that a decision was reached: “Why don’t we go to North America?”.  “North America? But how?” “On La Poderosa, man”.

That’s how the formative journey of the famous Revolutionary, Ernesto Che Guervara and his friend Alberto Granado was decided upon. La Poderosa was Alberto’s old and extremely unreliable Norton 500 that the friends started their journey on. It was destined to fail on them and after nursing it through Argentina and Chile and Peru, it was beyond repair. The friends completed the journey by raft, plane,train, truck, bus and for the most part begged and worked their way around the Americas, eventually ending up in Miami, before flying back to Argentina.

Ernesto was a medical student and Alberto a bio-chemist who had experience of working with lepers. The two doctors were moved by the abject poverty they witnessed on their journey and helped beggars and lepers along the way when they could. They were horrified by the conditions of the miners in Chile, many of whom “didn’t even own a blanket”. Guevara, who also suffered from asthma, commented on an old woman, dying from tuberculosis, asthma and a heart condition, “only a month ago this poor woman was still earning her living as a waitress…it’s at times like this that a doctor is conscious of his complete powerlessness,  that he longs for a change”

After their journey ended, Guevara returned to his studies, graduated as a Doctor and embarked on another journey around South America. In Bolivia he experienced the Bolivian Revolution and came in contact with a Cuban revolutionary, with whom he maintained contact.  In 1954 he saw the overthrow of the democratically elected government in Guatemala, by U.S. backed forces and then joined Fidel Castro to wage guerrilla warfare against the despotic Batista dictatorship in Cuba. The Cubans call all Argentines by the nickname “Che”, and “Che” Guevara was regarded by them as a military hero and leader, particularly when his leadership resulted in a massive victory and the end of the Batista regime. He was appointed to high position in the Cuban Revolutionary Government and represented the Country internationally on many occasions. He addressed the United Nations in 1964. He was eventually murdered by U.S. backed Bolivian Forces when he was captured while on a secret trip to promote the revolution in Bolivia.

The motorcycle journeys Guevara undertook, his first on a bicycle with a small motor attached, and the later one with Granado, on the 500cc Norton, bear no resemblance to the modern adventure motorcycling that is the biggest thing in biking in decades. It is an industry all to itself now. It’s all about the power of the bike, the suitability of the tyres. The best accessories and equipment so that nothing can go wrong. Alberto Granado had a slightly different take on their motorcycle adventure, when in 2004, he said: “The trip would not have been as useful and beneficial as it was, as a personal experience, if the motorcycle had held out. This gave us a chance to become familiar with the people. We worked, took on jobs to make money and continued travelling. We hauled merchandise, carried sacks, worked as sailors, cops and doctors”.

Review of the book “The Motorcycle Diaries” written by Ernest Guevara and published by Harper Perennial in 2004.

Jupiter’s Travels in Camera

In September 2013, Ted Simon published a book of photographs from his famous round the world motorcycle journey.

The photographic record of Ted Simon’s journey

Ted Simon is famous for a motorcycle journey that lasted four years, from 1973 to 1977. His book is believed by many to have changed their lives. 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 Jupiter’s Travels. The pair actually met Ted Simon on their journey in Mongolia. The book was published in 1979 and it chronicles Simon’s journey of over 100,000 kilometres (62,000 miles), through 45 countries on a British bike, a 500cc Triumph. The journey was sponsored by The Sunday Times and the Triumph was one of the last bikes to get out the door of the factory before workers at the Meriden Triumph Factory went on strike. A strike that lasted almost two years, until a workers cooperative started manufacturing motorbikes there again.

When Ted Simon, a chemical engineer who became a journalist after his studies, had completed his four year motorcycle journey and gone to his publisher, nobody even enquired of him if he had any photographs of his travels. dsc05260Thousands of readers wrote to him after reading his book and he says almost nobody asked why there were no photographs included in the book. Now, just a few decades later when we are bombarded with millions of digital images on every media platform, that seems almost incredible to believe. In the past, readers of books and even regular publications were fascinated by what they read, and their “mind’s eye” developed images in their brain to correspond to the story before them. In today’s world we can’t even focus on a subject for more than a few moments. We are so accustomed to instant gratification and many multiples of images on our social media and all the other platforms that we encounter every day.

Ted Simon’s published works include Jupiter’s Travels in 1979; The Gypsy in me in 1997; Riding High in 1998; Dreaming of Jupiter in 2007. In 1973, a friend had recommended bringing a couple of camera bodies and a few lenses on his epic journey and dsc05241he had brought them along reluctantly. It must have been a right old pain having to lug all this equipment and try to take care of the exposed rolls of film. Nowadays you can scroll through your days’ images and delete anything not worthy of being kept, instead of holding on to roll after roll and hoping that, eventually, when they have been developed, you will have at least a few good ones.  In 2013 Ted Simon published a photographic record of his journey around the world from ’73 to ’77. His book “Jupiter’s Travels in Camera” is comprised of three hundred of the pictures that he took on his journey. This is a big book physically as well as a great read. The pictures are stunning and it is amazing that they are of such quality and still so interesting forty years later. I recommend that you get your hands on a copy and I think you won’t be disappointed reading the newly composed words and browsing through the pictures.

The featured image is a photo I took of the front cover of the book and the one of the child wearing the helmet is from the back cover. The other image is to indicate a typical layout of a double page. Original images are not mine, obviously. 

Long Way Round

Long Way Round; The International Best Seller by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. 20004.

Long over-due read. Why have I never read this before?

I had always intended to read this book. I had seen the series on TV and loved it. So why had I never read it? I can’t answer that, but a colleague recently gave me a well thumbed copy of the book and I wasn’t able to put it down. Not just because it is about motorcycling… well that too, but because it is a great read. Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman tell a story of a shared love of motorbikes that leads them to undertake an epic 20,000 miles, east from London, through Europe, Asia and North America. The book is a beautiful insight into a great friendship between the men and their families that started when they met in Ireland,  in Casey’s Pub in County Clare, when they both worked there. Both had moved their families there when they were members of the cast of a movie called Serpent’s Kiss. Originally a big bike trip had been McGregor’s idea and gradually it evolved from a trip to Spain into something much larger and infinitely more ambitious. The plan was hatched in a little workshop in London, surrounded by motorcycles and with maps laid out in front of them, to bike all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific and then to cross to Alaska, travel down through Canada and on to New York. While many experts told them it was an impossible dream they refused to give up on it. Eventually the team they put together made it happen by sheer determination and dogged tenacity, knocking on the door of every potential sponsor, TV channel, production company and motorcycle manufacturer. The journey was filmed by a combination of the two friends carrying the necessary equipment to record their exploits, as well as by the support crew, which included a motorcycle rider who was also a cameraman, Claudio Von Planta. The support crew, which travelled in four wheel drive vehicles, included David Alexanian and Russ Malkin, the directors,  as well as another cameraman,  Jimmy Simak. Also Sergey, a former special forces soldier and a chain smoking Russian Doctor, called Vasiliy,  they brought along because some of the trip was so far from any medical assistance.

Boorman had first become smitten by the motorcycle bug when he met Sean Connery’s son, Jason. Connery had stayed in their family farm in Wicklow when his Father, John Boorman, a famous director, cast him in a movie he was making in Ireland, called Zardoz. Jason had a little 50cc monkey bike which he allowed Boorman to try out. Boorman promptly fell off but he loved it so much he eventually managed to persuade his parents to allow him buy a 100cc Yamaha trials bike. A neighbour had built a motorcross track on his farm where Boorman spent hours and hours learning the art of motorcycling. He had a lot of scrapes on his bikes, being stopped on the road by local sergeant with no lights, licence or any documentation to when he defied his parents and bought a bigger bike and promptly crashed into a fence with barbed wire right in front of where his dad was playing tennis.

In contrast, McGregor was denied permission to buy a bike, even when he was desperate to do so, having lost his first love to a boy who had a motorcycle. He passed his test after he had moved away from home and rushed to a bike shop to buy what turned out to be a dog of an old Moto Guzzi. But he determinedly  stuck with it, restoring it to it’s former glory. When he became a famous actor he was usually not allowed to ride his bike when on location. Production companies’ insurance agents were determined that no movie shoot would have to come to a halt because some idiot actor had just had a spill off a bike. McGregor dug his heels in when he was being sought for a role in Moulin Rouge, a movie being made in Australia. He and Nicole Kidman had the lead roles. He insisted on being allowed ride his motorcycle and packed up the bike and rode out into the outback wilderness, lit a fire and camped for the night.

The amount of equipment they carried on the bikes nearly scuppered the trip from the outset. A combination of the excessive weight and anxiety caused by the worries of the impending trip, caused Boorman, the more experienced of the two bikers, to drop the big 1150GS twice on the morning they set off. He had been adamant that KTM was the better choice of bike for the trip but KTM were convinced that there was a substantial risk of the trip being a failure. BMW, on the other hand came good for them and were pragmatic. Delighted to be part of it and happy for them to get as far as they could in the adventure. They didn’t worry about failure as long as they gave it a good go. The adventures of the trip included being stuck for hours upon hours at the Slovak and Ukrainian borders, having a gun pointed at them in Kazakhstan and finding themselves on the banks of a huge, fast flowing river in Siberia, where the bridge had been washed away. The motley crew suffered breakdowns, illness, insect bites, thefts and catastrophic frame breaks, all in the course of the adventure. Along the route they met some extraordinary people who helped them out or just gave them encouragement. Bikers rode along with them on some parts of the journey and at the end they were accompanied by a large group of bikers when they entered New York, surprisingly on schedule, after all their experiences.

The book is made up of sections written by both men from their perspectives on the journey. The two were determined to make the journey itself the most important dynamic, not the production of the documentary. The struggles, fears, doubts and points of view of each rider is set out in detail. The reader recognises the characteristics of each and lives through the personal conflicts that they deal with on the trip and also the coming  to terms with, and overcoming their individual conflicts, along the way. A lot of things are tested on the journey: motorbikes, equipment, patience, character, friendships and much more.  Mafia, corrupt officials, border bureaucracy, automatic weapons, terrible roads and other problems were encountered. In Ukraine they visited a UN orphanage and some other worthwhile children’s projects along the way. A natural suspicion of the motives of people they met on the trip had to be re-evaluated too.  The journey was cathartic for the two friends. While adventure motorcycling has always existed, it has certainly become more of a “thing” since this journey of adventure was aired. The term adventure motorcycling was apparently coined in the 1990s, but now adventure motorcycling and the bikes, clothing, equipment and accessories that go with it are the industry standard. Our two friends, I’ll wager, had a part in making that happen. I highly recommend you get a copy of the book and the book of the second journey, Long Way Down. Do so soon, because the series is likely to become a trilogy in the relatively near future.