Ted Simon rode over 60,000 miles through around half a ton of countries and ‘drew the longest line’ on the map that he could. He has circumnavigated the earth, twice! The first journey began in 1973, sixteen years before I was born.
“It was going to be the journey of a lifetime, a journey that millions dream of and never make, and I wanted to do justice to all those dreams.”
Of course, he has done justice to those dreams including mine. I am not sure about the millions, but I too have dreamt of drawing the longest line. However, up until now, I have only succeeded in a few scribbles or points, actually, compared to what Ted accomplished. I find comfort in the fact that his first circumnavigation started when he was 42 (and second when he was 70!), so, possibly, I too have some time to live the dream.
He is not the first person to have gone round the earth on a motorcycle. There have been many before him, and certainly, there will be many after. A Hungarian duo of Zoltán Sulkowsky and Gyula Bartha did the first round the world motorcycle ride on a Harley Davidson with a sidecar between 1928 and 1936. In 1985, Emilio Scotto of Argentina started what would be the world’s longest motorcycle ride. In numbers, the ride comes to 10 years, 500,000 miles and 279 countries.
To many people all this may or probably does seem like madness! They want to know why. Why anyone would leave his home, leave his family for years; stretch his / her resources to the limit? Just for the sake of travelling, that too on a motorcycle!
To this Ted replies,
“People who thought of my journey as a physical ordeal or an act of courage… missed the point. Courage and physical endurance were no more than useful items of equipment for me, like facility with languages or immunity to hepatitis. The goal was comprehension, and the only way to comprehend the world was by making myself vulnerable to it so that it could change me. The challenge was to lay myself open to everybody and everything that came my way. The prize was to change and grow big enough to feel one with the whole world.”
The answer to as to why a motorcycle,
“It is no trick to go round the world these days; you can pay a lot of money and fly round it nonstop in less than forty eight hours, but to know it, to smell it and feel it between your toes you have to crawl. There is no other way. Not flying, not floating. You have to stay on the ground and swallow the bugs as you go. Then the world is immense. The best you can do is trace your long, infinitesimally thin line through the dust and extrapolate. I drew the longest line I possibly could….”
Indeed he did! Robert M. Pirsig in ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’, too, explains why it has to be a motorcycle and nothing else –
“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a (motor)cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”
I have just recently read Ted’s book about his first circumnavigation of the globe – Jupiter’s Travels: Four Years Around the World on a Triumph. Before picking it up I had assumed, as most other would have, that Jupiter was a nickname bestowed upon him by friends / family. I was surprised by the fact that it wasn’t so, and that it actually came about during his travels in India. More specifically during his travels in Bihar, which happens to be my native state.
“My appointment with destiny was approaching. Raj’s father was getting ready to leave for his office in Patna.
“Come,” he said. “We’ll sit in the car.”
We sat turned towards each other, and he said:
“Give me your hand.”
I held it out, and he grasped it as in a handshake, but held it in his grip for several moments. Then, releasing it, he gave my thumb a quick backward flip, and murmured:
“You have a very determined soul. This also is reflected in your mind.
“You are Jupiter….”
Why not? I thought. I like the sound of that.”
One would find, Jupiter’s Travels to be among one of the best travel books. Especially so if he / she likes riding a motorcycle. However, I observed that some of the reviewers on Goodreads do not share the same emotions. The most common complaint was that he glossed over certain parts of the journey skipping accounts of some countries fully while summarising the experience of some in a matter of few lines. While the accusation is legitimate, I find it to be one of the positives about the book. Jupiter has written about only the events on the journey that had an emotional connect and thereby, avoided making the book a day by travelogue. One has to consider that he was on the road for four years, seeing new places by the minute. The sensory overload is unimaginable. To filter out scenery, events and anecdotes out of a four year ride in a matter of a few hundred pages without sounding banal, that’s tougher than traversing through the deserts of Africa or crossing the Andes.
“…. Journey was still the main thing. What happened on the way, who I met, all that was incidental. I had not quite realized that the interruptions were the journey.”
However, the major contributing factor so as to why I loved the book so much was probably the fact that it, surprisingly, started off on a country road in India! And, that Jupiter’s journey in India is covered in detail with most of his observations about the country being agreeable for a native of the land as well (even after two decades!).
“India seems like a giant condenser, everybody steaming towards the centre to fuse.”
I happen to agree with his observations about a few other things too. For example about tourists –
“Instant information is instantly obsolete. Only the most banal ideas can successfully cross great distances at the speed of light. And anything that travels very far very fast is scarcely worth transporting, especially the tourist.”
Or on British motorcycles –
“That was what British bikes liked, a bit of trouble. They thrived on attention, like certain people, and repaid you for it. Not a bad relationship to have.”
I don’t have a Triumph like Jupiter, but I have a Royal Enfield Classic 350. Though fully Indian-ized today, the company finds its roots in 19th century Britain. And the bike, as Jupiter points out, likes some attention every once in a while, but it’s certainly a relationship I hope to continue.
At one point, during the starting few hundred miles of the journey Jupiter notes,
“Within minutes, the great void inside me was filled by a rush of exaltation, and in my solitary madness I started to sing.”
YES! Every time I have been on a ride, the songs seem to trickle down automatically. Sometimes even those that I didn’t knew I remembered the lyrics to.
Of all the memorable lines and anecdotes in the book, the one that fully encompasses the deal about riding a motorcycle, for me, is this one –
“I had forgotten about women too”
This is what Jupiter notes after riding through the highways and deserts of North Africa most of which fall in Muslim majority areas, where the women generally remain concealed from the public eye. He had forgotten about women too. That’s what a ride does, clears up the mind, brings it to a meditative state and then fills it with life!