Book Review: Dreaming of Jupiter by Ted Simon

[This Dreaming of Jupiter book review was originally published in the May 2008 issue of Rider magazine]

This book, Dreaming of Jupiter, can be enjoyed on several levels. As a travelogue of a two-and-a-half-year trip around the world; as the viewpoint of a slightly curmudgeonly 70-year-old going to little-visited places on a BMW GS; or as a sequel to Jupiter’s Travels, about a trip the same author took in the mid-1970s, which has probably sold upward of half-a-million copies. I read Dreaming of Jupiter with that last in mind. As well as appreciating the beautiful flow of words from an accomplished writer.

In 1973 Englishman Ted Simon needed a little breathing room and he convinced the London Times newspaper to run a series of stories that he would write about traveling around the world on a motorcycle. Simon was a 42-year-old writer, not a motorcyclist–he didn’t even have a motorcycle endorsement on his license. He convinced the Triumph motorcycle company that it would be good advertising if they provided him with a 500cc Tiger 100. He left, spent four years on the road, kept that Tiger 100 going for 60,000 miles (no mean feat in itself) and wrote an excellent book about his adventures. Which became a minor best-seller.

A quarter of a century goes by and Simon thinks that it might be fun to replicate the original trip, travel the same roads, see if he can find the same people and write another book. Right off I have to admire his guts, the sheer stamina that such a trip would require. Not only are there thousands of miles of seriously bad roads to traverse, but there is a whole new era of frontier bureaucracy and paper- work problems at nearly every border.

On that first trip Ted was a genuinely free agent, not having to be anywhere at any time. Now he was doing the 21st century thing, carrying a laptop to keep his website informed, meeting up with film crews, generally burdening himself and his trip with must-do things. Which changes the entire atmosphere. Then he falls down on a slippery road in northern Kenya and breaks a leg, which certainly puts a crimp in the scheduling.

He is not surprised to find that many of the people whom he had met before are no longer around, but as he traipses through Africa and South America he does come across some familiar faces. However, the atmosphere is very different, the world very different, and the book can be seen as a lament for times past and gone, that inevitable comparison between then and now. Maybe if some young rider/ writer who had never really seen the world did the same trip in the same time, he would have a very different view and think it all very exciting and challenging. Simon, burdened by both years and his own past, is not very happy about what he sees.

He adds to his encumbrances by falling in love along the way and inviting his Chilean lady to join him in Asia. Though such an emotion is always a positive feature in life, it might not fit too well into a motorcycle trip. I would say that if he had gone off in 2001 as he did in 1974, with no expectations, he would have had a different and more pleasurable trip.

I did enjoy the book immensely and do admire the man who rode all those muddy miles and sandy tracks at age three score and 10. I can only hope that I am that fit when I am that age.

For more information: Dreaming of Jupiter was published in Britain in 2007 and will be published in the United States in March 2008. To order the book, ($24.95), run up or check with your local bookstore


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