Sunday, July 13, 2008

Jupiter's Travels

By Ted Simon.

Jupiter’s Travels is one of those books that no motorcycle library should be without. Especially now that Boorman and McGregor’s epic motorcycle journeys, supposedly inspired by Ted Simon, have become so popular. In short, it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the genre.

Having said that, I must admit the anticipation far outstripped the reality of this book for me. For whatever reason I was just not able to really connect with Simon and his experiences. While he relates funny moments, moments (actually, days) of sheer terror, and everything in between, I found myself reading about them as a dispassionate observer – not really engaging beyond reading the words on the page. It’s almost as if Simon, who frequently talks about his feelings and the emotional impacts of his experiences as he journeys around the world, was afraid to really expose them to us through his writing in case they somehow lose potency for him personally.

However the reader does get a reasonable sense of what it was like in those far-off lands in the early 70’s as Simon – always exposed and vulnerable, just him and his Triumph motorcycle – makes his way around the world. He describes spectacular scenery, horrid road conditions, his relationship with his motorcycle, and the people, always the people. With few exceptions, complete strangers, initially just curious, become helpful and ultimately very friendly and supportive. (Having travelled North America by motorcycle extensively during the 1970’s, I can say his experiences in that regard were no different than those I had here in Canada and the US. Strangers would approach just to talk, offer assistance, or go totally out of their way to help. Quite a wonderful experience, and one that I have never duplicated while travelling by car.)

After nearly four years on the road and having travelled through Africa, America, Australia, India and points in between, Simon, not surprisingly, starts to lose interest in his journey. He senses the end is near and becomes consumed with his ‘homecoming’. In his rush to get back to England he finds himself “ ...moving mechanically through the landscape, undeviating, incurious...”. Interestingly, the exact phrase that I, had I his writing ability, might have used about the last 150 or so pages of this book.

So is it worth reading? Yes, if you are a fan of motorcycle road stories, and want to see what the fuss was all about. But it is certainly no page-turner.

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