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|4th February 2009|
After enjoying the established classic, 'Jupiter's Travels', Dave Blendell has been reading again...
Ted Simon wasn't the first long distance motorcyclist, not even the first to write a book about his adventures (fans of Indiana Jones will love Robert Fulton's adventures in One Man Caravan, first published in the 1930s). He can rightly claim however to have inspired the popularity of modern RTW (Round The World) travel.
Look on any website catering for and telling the tales of the long-distance rider; ask any biker you come across with a battle-scarred and overloaded XT or GS at a ferry port, even watch McGregor and Boorman's adventures and the one source of inspiration you'll read or hear about time after time is Jupiter's Travels.
The continuing success of his book, and its influence, even surprised Ted Simon as the years rolled on ... and on ... and on, and fully 28 years later he was persuaded to repeat the trip. Dreaming of Jupiter is the account of that journey.
Anyone who's read Jupiter's Travels will be able to do the maths and realise that we're now talking about a man of 69 considering travelling several thousands of miles through all kinds of terrain on a motorcycle. No pipe and slippers man, our Ted. And that's not being facetious; Simon's writing style is such that the reader feels he knows the author within a few pages. As in his previous books, Simon shares his inner thoughts with us, often his fears, his political opinions and personal anecdotes. Like Jupiter's Travels, this is as much about the man and the trip as about the motorcycle. I say 'trip' as in Jupiter's Travels Simon's 'journey' is not just the covering of ground by motorcycle but includes his own personal inner journey; one that others have been inspired and affected by, as we learn in the later book.
His main impression seems to be of change, and it's often not a positive one. Much of the wildlife, much of the culture and the individuality of the many of the places he travelled back in 1974 has disappeared. There are however some quite touching instances when he does find those he met first time around and their joy at meeting him again.
The bike fares quite well, though there are problems, nothing our intrepid traveller, usually with the freely and happily given help of people he's never met before, doesn't resolve. It is easy to see why the GS Beemers are so popular for this sort of thing.
As I already said, this is a different journey to the original and Simon makes full use of modern communications, stays in hotels frequently and sometimes changes his intended route to take advantage of better road conditions. With typical humility he tells us that he feels as if he is cheating somehow by doing this. It's this kind of soul-baring that has readers finishing his books feeling more like they've been sitting listening to a friend telling travel tales rather than reading the words of someone they've never met.
As in the previous book, Simon tells us of thoughts he's had, things he's done that trouble him afterwards and which others would probably have left out. He's very keen to not appear arrogant or to hide what he sees as personal flaws. It's called being human Ted; don't sweat it.
Most of us are aware that the world is a big place, that it's changed a lot and not always for the better. Ted Simon has been there and seen it for himself. For anyone to have the guts to travel the world alone, or mostly alone, in the later book, and to live it, the good, the bad and the very ugly parts of it, to experience cultures, and to trust strangers who don't even speak the same language is admirable. For a man to set out on such a trip at the age of 69 and return at the age of 72 isn't far short of incredible, hotel beds or not.
One of the best things we learn from Ted Simon's books is that the world is full of people. They're all different, have different customs, believe in different things … but most of them are basically decent. Acts of meanness or malice in his tales are unusual; stories of kindness and generosity fill page after page.
I really enjoyed Dreaming of Jupiter. I would however suggest that anyone thinking of buying it who hasn't read Jupiter's Travels does so first. You'll understand the changes Simon talks about easier; also the parts where he re-visits some of the places and people from his first journey.
Ted Simon hasn't hung up his riding boots just yet. Next January he's touring New Zealand, on two wheels naturally, despite fast approaching his 8th decade. An amazing bloke who writes great books.
Reviewed by Dave Blendell
Dreaming of Jupiter by Ted Simon
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