Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon: A book about balls, bikes and bravery

By | May 24, 2016

Fucking hell that’s long.

That’s the first thought that came to my mind when I downloaded the Audible book and noticed it had 14 chapters and 17 hours of play time. I’ve always preferred short books, always preferred to finish them up in a day or two, even if it meant staying in bed from dawn to dusk, but this one was different. As THE defining book on long-distance motorcycle touring, it wasn’t really an option to give up on Jupiter’s Travels.

And I’m glad I didn’t. How can you ignore the story of a man who traveled more than a 100,000 kms on a 500cc motorcycle for 4 years, starting 1973?

As you progress through it, you realize why the damn thing is taking so long. Unlike many books about riding and riders that focus mostly on their exploits and their outward experiences, Ted Simon is all about what was happening inside his brain at that moment. That’s an extremely useful quality in a man who wants to describe the experience of an epic journey around the world, because it’s so easy to imagine you are the one the story is about, such intricate details he is able to express in words.

My first book on world tourers was Sam Manicom’s Into Africa, something that I still haven’t reviewed, but will soon. The differences between these 2 titles are vast and easy to spot. Both are incredible journeys in their own right, with their stories told exceptionally well in a way that connects with the right kind of people, but they are as different as Star Wards and Interstellar, Ted Simon’s words with an old classic touch to them, to Sam Manicom’s modern brilliance.

There are many reasons why I loved the book, the narration by Rupert Degas is touching, the story never stopped, and Ted’s understandable habit of pushing his luck made it a very interesting listen, but the reason why I liked it the most was because all through the journey, before it, and even after, he didn’t have a single clue why the fuck he was doing.

Like a true biker, he postponed trying to figure out the reason for his ride until after the ride had ended, and then promptly forgot once that had happened, instead planning future escapades on 2 wheels again. It’s hard to find this type of honesty in words nowadays, when someone writes a book about anything, it’s generally about how awesome they are and how much they know that you don’t.

This was my kind of book, a man spending 17 hours explaining why he almost killed himself in the 4 years of riding a motorcycle around the world for no particular reason.

And killed himself he did, multiple times. Getting arrested in some of the most dangerous places on the planet, hitting himself in the eye with his own fishing equipment, and riding too fast in places where walking is tough are some of the stupid things he did, but then again he got a free night of sex, lived on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, and discovered that Sai Baba was nothing more than a small dude with fuzzy hair.

But I’m sure he’d have traded any of these experiences to not have spent those 12 days captured by the Brazilian secret Police.

That part of the book is probably the most powerful one, the part where you really see the human side of him. He is a brave guy, has the balls to match anyone in history, but like all humans his thoughts were the thing that hurt him the most, much more than anybody else could. I was surprised when he decided to press on with the journey in Brazil once he got out, I would probably have said “yes yes, fuck you too” to such a country and found decent human beings in some other location, but then I guess that’s what makes you Ted Simon.

Although it’s hard for me judge the thoughts and the conditions from a time when my parents hadn’t even met, it does scare you a bit to imagine a man attempting to ride on non-existent roads, traveling through war-torn nations, and doing a world trip without posting minute-by-minute details on Twitter. There were times though when I got bored, especially when he went into too much detail, of people and places, especially India. I know my country is exotic, more so to foreigners, and they can’t stop talking about the things they see here, but for me they are daily routine, frustrating everyday experiences.

For a foreigner, India is an adventure. For a local, India is a nightmare.

But as you near the end, and as Ted starts talking about getting back to his home, you realize you’ve just listened to a guy talk about his 4 year journey in 4 days, and it kinda feels short, like it should keep going. 100,000 kms of riding should make more stories, or maybe it’s just the quality of Mr. Simon’s words that makes you believe they should.

The English are known for being pioneers, and Ted Simon is one hell of a guy. Get the book, you’ll thoroughly enjoy it.

  • Rahul Sen

    Wait… It’s star wars…. Isn’t it..