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March 6th 2013

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The Long Journey Home: the 1932
Motorcycle Voyage of Robert E Fulton

In 1932, Robert Fulton Jr set off aboard a Douglas twin on a round the world ride from England to America. The essence of that adventure is revealed in images in this rarely-seen hardback book...

Many of us will be familiar with the globe-trotting adventure of Robert E Fulton Jr, whose epic journey of the early 1930s was told in full in 'One Man Caravan.' On an 18 month escapade, Fulton rode a modified Douglas across three continents and through 33 countries, travelling from London through Europe and onto the Middle East, India and Asia. Along the way he shot some 40,000 feet of 35mm movie film. This book is not, then, a re-hash of One Man Caravan, Instead it's a large format hardcover edition which reveals some of the most remarkable stills taken from Fulton's miles of footage.

There are around a hundred, large format mono photos which trace Fulton's ride from the English countryside to the moment when he boards an ocean liner at Yokohama in Japan, bound for the United States and his eventual journey's end. Each image is accompanied by a sparse caption: don't expect acres of explanation for the editors have allowed the photos to explain themselves.

Kneesliders? Not for Robert Fulton...

The result is a visual documentary of a disappeared era. One of the very first photos is of Stonehenge - Fulton would have ridden through Wiltshire after collecting his Douglas from the factory near Bristol. A chap in suit, hat and overcoat stands amid the stones; sightseers stroll among the sarsens. These days you're lucky to get within a quarter mile of the stone circles themselves. The same again a few pages later at the Acropolis in Athens; Fulton himself (using a tripod and letting the film run) walks right up to the temple statues. A couple of pages after that, Fulton performs his morning ablutions in a genuine Roman bath en route to Constantinople. The banal routines of everyday life are surreally juxtaposed with images of exotic wonder. These days we're accustomed to seeing pictures of the pyramids and crusader castles - in the 1930s these would have been wondrous indeed, and the Douglas twin alongside them just makes it all the odder.

Some of the images capture motorcycling moments which can never be repeated. There is one fabulous photo of the moment before everything goes sand-sky-sand-sky in a Turkish desert.

Fulton has both legs out and is attempting to stay upright on his massively over-burdened bike but it's plainly a doomed effort.

The caption just says: 'falling off the motorcycle, Turkey.' Indeed.

Douglas stuff on Now...

There's another image, splashed across the entire breadth of the book, which shows Fulton crossing the desert, somewhere between Damascus and Baghdad. The Douglas kicks up a trail of dust. The horizon is utterly devoid of anything. There's no road. The ground is rocky. It's a blurry image converted from 1930's film, but it comes damn close to capturing the ultimate solitude of long distance motorcycling at its most extreme. And if you ever seek a reason to ride, then the silhouette of Fulton's motorcycle against the sky of the Syrian desert at sunset is a compelling call to the saddle if ever there was one.

'The Long Journey Home' also encompasses a social documentary, capturing the loves of normal people in what are to us still exotic places. We view skiers on the Hindu Kush, Indian women carrying unfeasibly extended bales of hay, the monkeys who inhabit the Jain temples, the entire population of a Chinese village who turn out to watch Fulton devour his lunch. It's a remarkable record of a remarkable journey. If you've read 'One Man Caravan' already then this book makes an excellent companion, but if you've not had that pleasure, then 'Journey Home' is accomplished enough to stand alone in its own right.

During his travels and all around the world, people asked Fulton if he didn't get homesick. 'The honest answer surprised me' he explains in the introduction. 'My soul is me and right now is in my body. So wherever that is, is home.

'I thank my lucky stars for this enlightening adventure and I hope that these pictures show even a bit of it.'

They certainly do. Far more than just a bit.

RC reviewer: Rowena Hoseason

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'The Long Journey Home' is edited by Caitlin Fitzgerald and Alexandra Rowley, and published in hardcover by August Press, ISBN 978-0967248417.
Buy a copy from Amazon at a discounted price.

Thanks to Charlie Webster for sharing this book with us.

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