Posted by: Mat Oxley | Date posted: 23/08/2007
Ted Simon, in Ethiopia†©
Ewan and Charley are not the first people to travel the world by motorcycle. We caught up with Ted Simon, author of 'Jupiter's Travels' and Lois Pryce, aka 'Lois on the Loose' to hear about their adventures, and their tips for fellow travellers.
Ted Simon is the granddaddy of the global motorcycle ride. He almost certainly wasn't the first person to ride around the world on a bike but he may just be the first person to have done two laps of the planet. Ted's original four-year circumnavigation during the early 1970s inspired his renowned book 'Jupiter’s Travels', recognised as an inspiration to a huge number of people who have followed in his wheel tracks. Even Charley and Ewan have paid homage to its author for inspiring them to climb aboard and ride way beyond for the horizon.
Ted did his second road trip between 2001 and 2003, and the account of that ride in 'Dreaming of Jupiter' provides a vivid picture of how much the world has changed in just three decades.
Ted's attitude to epic travel is easy enough to guess from his travelling motto: 'the interruptions ARE the journey'. The Briton rode out to discover more about the world, not simply to ride around it. And he wasn’t even a motorcyclist before he started his first trip – he simply wanted a cheap and exciting mode of transport.
'At the time I was living in a ruin in the south of France, trying to write a book which wasn’t going very well,' recalls Ted, a journalist and writer by trade. 'I just wanted to get away and thought, if I was going anywhere I really wanted to see it all, but how could I do that because I didn't have a lot of money? So I came up with a really interesting adventure, thinking that the most interesting way to travel would be on a motorbike. It all came to me in a flash, as they say. It seemed like a fairly thrilling thing to do, I just liked the idea very much.'
The original plan was an 18-month trip but plenty of welcome (and some not so welcome) interruptions stretched the 78,000 mile odyssey into a much slower and ultimately much more rewarding ride. Ted had just £2,500 to bankroll his adventure that would take him across Africa, from Tunis to Cape Town, from the very southern tip of Brazil to California, to Australia and New Zealand, then home to Europe from Singapore to India and then Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey.
'I just wanted the minimum amount I could use to get by,' he says. 'In fact my whole idea was to travel as cheaply and as poorly as possible because I had a serious interest in exploring the poorer parts of the world. At that time I was really interested to know about the nature of poverty.'
Ted's advice to fellow aspiring globetrotters suggests keeping it simple, not over-planning, letting your heart take you where you really want to go, not worrying too much about anything and not necessarily doing it all by bike.
'Look for inventive and imaginative ways of doing the trip that will make it a little different,' says Ted, now in his 70s. 'Maybe don't tie yourself to just one motorcycle because one of the big changes in recent years is the problems with security and transport. Getting a bike across oceans and things like that is a real pain now, so I would say probably don't take the same bike with you the whole way. Maybe buy a bike in Buenos Aires, ride it to Colombia and sell it, something like that, and maybe find a different way to travel some of the legs to give you a different perspective.'
Ted did his original trip on an ex-police Triumph Tiger 500. 'A lot of people make amusing remarks about that bike but it was absolutely fine, and the reality was that there was no great choice in those days. Anyway, it wasn't important to me to know that I had the best bike, what was important was that I had the best feeling about what I was doing.'
Next time around Ted rode a BMW R80GS, the forerunner of the R1200GS machines that Ewan and Charley currently use. 'The R80 was great, smaller and easier to handle than the latest GS bikes, I think.'
Ted also suggests that you consider doing the ride on your own. 'I went alone because I didn’t think it'd be possible to interest anybody else in doing such a long trip. In fact it never really occurred to me to take anyone along but what I didn’t realise at the time was how extraordinarily valuable it was to ride on my own. There's a huge difference between doing it alone and doing it with a bunch of people. The response from the world is quite different, the sort of things you end up doing are quite different and what you find out about yourself is different. It’s the most valuable thing I’ve ever done in my life as far as I’m concerned because I learned how benign the world can be if you put yourself out there.'
Ted retraced his wheel tracks as much as possible for his second lap, because he wanted to visit people and places he'd experienced on his first jaunt and see how they'd changed over the decades. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan forced him to use different routes towards the end of the trip.
'It was an extraordinary privilege to see so many parts of the world after an interval of such a long time. I saw that the world has grown up, just as I have. But I think the overwhelming impression I had on this second trip was the huge increase in population. Of course, I knew about that but I simply wasn’t prepared for it – the grotesquely swollen cities and slums and the effect of those upon the environment. You don't really appreciate that until it's in your face.'
Ted's philosophy of travel means you don’t always take the pretty road. To fully experience the world you need to see bad things as well as good things. What would be the point if you didn’t see the world as it really is, warts and all? Bizarrely, it is often the more difficult moments that really stay with you, those moments when you’re in a spot of bother tend to burn themselves into your memory. You may not have enjoyed yourself at that particular instant but the experience will probably stay with you for the rest of your life.
You can find more information on Ted and his adventures on his website.
Another lone motorcycling adventurer is Lois Pryce, otherwise know as 'Lois on the Loose'.
Lois has made two major solo rides to date. Her first, in 2003, was from Alaska to Argentina on a Yamaha XT225 Serow. Lois has recently returned home from her second trip, this time following a similar route to Ewan and Charley, from London to Cape Town on a Yamaha TTR250.
'They were both incredible experiences as I'm sure you can imagine,' Lois explains, 'but Africa was by far the toughest. Crossing the Sahara and riding through the Congo and Angola by myself, there were a few scary moments, but I made it back home in once piece!'
We asked Lois if she had any advice for anyone who is planning their own motorbike adventure.
'I would say just get out there and do it, and don't let anyone put you off! You don't need loads of money or expertise, you just need to want to do it! The main thing I learned from my trips is that no matter what goes wrong, it always works out in the end!'
You can find out more about Lois and her adventures on her website.
Thinking of heading off on your own adventure? Why not read all about the travels of the Long Way Down community over on the Your LWDs page.