Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon

During the 2020 COVID quarantine period, my wife and I tried to mentally escape our confinement by watching travel shows. Our favorites were (1) Travel Man, hosted by Richard Ayoade and (2) Long Way motorcycle journey series, hosted by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman (yes, Ewan McGregor). Travel Man focuses on many of travel’s fun social/cultural aspects. In contrast, the Long Way motorcycle series focuses more on the wandering/open/adventure aspects.

In one of the Long Way episodes, hosts Ewan and Charley are very excited to run into an older-looking, rather unassuming Englishman named Ted Simon. They say that Simon’s book inspired them and their show. Since I enjoyed the Long Way show so much, I found a copy of Ted Simon’s book, and this is that book! Ted Simon’s Jupiter’s Travels!

While I haven’t been on any motorcycle journeys, let alone continent-crossing ones like Ewan and Charley, I did find Jupiter’s Travels inspiring. Reading about Simon’s encounters and musings helped me understand my own life. In particular, it helped me clarify what I’m here for and what I’m afraid of. If you’re a wanderer, you might enjoy this one, too.

The book covers over four years and over 78,000 miles of motorcycling all over the world. “How do you prepare for the unknown?” he asks at the beginning of the book, cataloging and photographing the supplies he packed onto his Triumph for the upcoming years-long journey. Years later, near the end, Simon is unsure about what it was all for. What was he looking for? Why was he doing this? He keeps coming back to this image stuck in his mind of a dead body he saw floating down the Ganges. It was positioned almost as if it had been reclining in an easy chair. It was a grotesque and depressing image to him for a long time. Then something changed:

That body floating down the river was transformed for me into an image of great beauty and simplicity. It allowed me to think more calmly about the prospect of death. Unless I could do that, I thought, how could I possibly hope to appreciate without fear the pleasures of being alive.

In the beginning, he asked how to prepare for the unknown. That was his answer, in a way. Whether you are prepared for the journey or not, you are on it. If you can find a way to make peace with death, you can live.